July 15, 2009
Jamba Juice is a frozen fruit smoothie franchise that has consistent taste, predictable service (both timing and quality), hip marketing, and friendly staff. As a process engineer, I have always marveled at the “process line” that Jamba Juice employs. It is simple, efficient, and allows for excellence in quality in pace and accuracy (so long as the vast majority of products being sold are smoothies).
Jamba Juice uses a register station, a prep station, a blending station, a finishing station, and a washing station. The “line” works because each smoothie gets a paper ticket with the smoothie identity (product) and the purchaser identity. The paper ticket sticks to the blender carafe when moist, so information flows along the line with each carafe. As the tickets flow, carafes are prepped and pushed down the line, creating an excellent First-In-First-Out (FIFO) process line. The “line” is usually well staffed to ensure flow through the series of stations and the register station can be used regulate flow. If needed, they can reduce the flow momentarily by ceasing to take orders when they get too backed up. It is easy to see your order progress in the line-up, making the wait very predictable.
I also like Jamba Juice because they are “hip.” They use colorful advertising, clean humor, and they have a “secret smoothie menu” that appeals to teens (my kids like the “Pink Star”).
When I went for a smoothie today (it was hot outside), I found that Jamba Juice had added many new food products to their menu. I watched sadly as the once simple process gave way to complexity and FIFO flow was no longer working. The woman in front of me in line received only one of her two smoothies. Even though she muttered about the error (such that I knew), she was not assertive in requesting a correction from the staff. On the other hand, when I observed that one of my smoothies had NOT been prepared at the prep station, I spoke up immediately, because it was clear to me that the new way the paper tickets and carafes flowed led to errors and a loss of system capacity.
Indeed the squeaky wheel (me) got the grease (my order was fixed ASAP). I left advising the woman ahead of me to speak up, even though I knew that more expediting would continue to cost process capacity. They had became caught in an eternal expedite situation – as each person found an error in their order, “flow” work ceased and “expedite” work filled the capacity of the staff. The line backed up more and more because complexity unintentionally increased the rate of error and no mechanism was added to compensate.
I lament the loss of the niche excellence that Jamba Juice once commanded. I am saddened because they have lost their core to the unintended consequence of what probably seemed like an “improvement” (revenue?). Maybe only this location was duly affected with the addition of food to the menu and maybe they can create a corrective action, but I am not confident.
Jamba Juice failed to see the long view value of their core competence from a customer’s perspective: consistent fruit smoothie preparation (tasty!), FIFO process (predictable timing), and high order quality (order accuracy). It is the experience that has value. The unintended consequence of their change compromised this core value. As my friend Greg (a marketing guy) points out, “Ask your customers why they buy your product and why they buy your product from you and not one of your competitors. You will no doubt be amazed at the answer.” In summary, understand your core and the potential for unintended consequences from your customer’s perspective.
Do you know what your customers think your core competency is?
June 12, 2009
Specifically, we discussed the challenges of coping with isolated HR (Human Resources) actions that benefit a single individual/group, yet create long-term unintended consequences for other staff. One example was a scenario where HR advocated offering a higher starting salary to recruit a new employee without adjusting other staff salaries for like positions. The problem is that even if current staff salaries are economically fair (from an entirely objective perspective), the salary differential will be perceived as unfair when (not if) the details become known. This is because humans are tightly bound to relativistic thinking. Watch this great YouTube video by Dan Ariely from his work, Predictably Irrational, Ch.1, to demonstrate the point.
How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.
The question that my friend and I discussed is the WHY would anyone advocate for such a scenario? I think that the biggest issue is that organizational policy-makers may not believe that negatives resulting from relativistic thinking are real. Concerns are dismissed by otherwise thoughtful and well-educated policy-makers because they want to believe that we should not behave that way *and* because they don’t “feel” it themselves. They are more likely to be insulated from accumulating these negatives, because their own (more senior) staff better model ideal behavior. Thus, their mental models, based upon their current experience, allow them to apply idealized logic to the expected behavior of more junior staff when assessing positives/negatives.
Intentions are good, vis-à-vis accruing an immediate (short view) positive for the single/group (improve employment competitiveness by recruiting new employee at higher salary). However, as noted by Jeffery Pfeffer in his book What Were They Thinking? Unconventional Wisdom about Management, pg.117, “…executives [can be] hopelessly out of touch and unable to empathize with or even understand the situation faced by front-line staff…,” underscoring the reality that long view negatives can be dismissed. The situation is more acute if policy-makers believe that that actions/policies will inculcate ideal behavior – it won’t! Humans are wired relativistically.
It is much better to avoid the conflicts than to have to deal with the unintended negative consequences. Thus, what is needed is for policy-makers to understand the effects that they are not currently considering. My advice:
- Teach Concepts: show the video clip to demonstrate the global concepts – Ariely has done excellent work to unequivocally demonstrate that relative thinking is universal and unavoidable,
- Explain Specifics: describe the specific logical effects of the proposal under scrutiny, and
- Gain Acceptance: get agreement that relativistic thinking causes significant negatives before you begin to discuss a direction for solution.
Are you taking time to teach concepts, explain specifics, and gain acceptance to those who do not “feel” them directly?
June 4, 2009
The long view advice when faced with pettiness is to take the high road. No durable happiness is ever derived from succumbing to pettiness in others. Revenge is fleeting and often filled with long-term negative consequences. It is okay to channel the bumper sticker that reads, “Mean People Suck” to sum up our emotions and feelings from being taken advantage, but keeping negativity appropriately directed (safely venting only!) is the best course. I share this wisdom as I face down my own challenge with a backyard fence:
The shared fence between my neighbor’s home and my home is in severe disrepair. It has been that way for about ten (10) years. Five years ago, when a significant portion fell, our neighbor did not want to replace the fence and because we planned to redo our backyard in a few years time, waiting seemed like an acceptable option. We agreed to an unaesthetic functional repair. A few years later, when we redid our backyard and approached our neighbor to replace the fence, it became clear to us that he was an obstructionist. Unfortunately, what before seemed reasonable became precedent. With the fence failing again and the homeowner’s association notifying us that it needs to be replaced/repaired (to maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood), we still cannot get our neighbor to agree to replace the fence!
Recently, my husband and I decided that life is too short to not enjoy our backyard more and have decided that we will shoulder 90% of the cost of the fence replacement (the neighbor would pay 10%, which is equivalent to half the cost of another unaesthetic repair). Shockingly, our neighbor is still obstructing by demanding terms of the contractor, timing, and more, before giving approval for the work to proceed. Aaarrgghhh…..
- The high road, the high road, the high road, the high road….my mantra to get me through those emergent thoughts of effigy burning.
- What else works is laughter to ease the frustration. Jim, my fence guy (who has quoted this job many times over 10 years, but never been given the go ahead to do the work), regales me with tales of much worse neighbors. He makes me laugh and it never seems so bad after I talk to Jim.
- Lastly, perhaps there is prayer? Yesterday, I attended a special occasion prayer service and learned that the psalm for Wednesday is a prayer for spiritual retribution: “…Judge of the earth, give the arrogant their deserts…destroy them with their own evil…”
Although I continue to take the high road, I concurrently pine for more Wednesdays!
Do you take the high road or pine for more Wednesdays?
April 26, 2009
All too often, we hear “warnings” but proceed without heed. Sometimes it is a small voice inside one’s head that says, “things do not add up,” sometimes it is a real warning (do not use lawnmower as hedge trimmer or bodily injury might result), and sometimes it is a recitation of all possible observed “rare events,” such as on drug labels.
Two weeks ago, my doctor prescribed me the antibiotic levofloxacin for a sinus infection. As he prescribed it for me, he hestitated because I am an avid athlete and he said that it was known to be associated with spontaneous tendon rupture. Although I was warned, once I felt better I did not think about that warning as I returned to my regular repertoire of sports. Last Thursday morning, as I perilously dangled after I lost my footing on a V2 bouldering problem, I had to strain hard to regain my footing and overgripped my left hand/arm to finish the route. Later that afternoon, I could no longer open my car door with my left hand and the previously faded memory of the “tendon rupture” warning had resurfaced.
When faced with warnings, there is a tendency to discount that which causes us to deviate from plan. As busy humans (never enough time!) we are risk averse especially to the loss of time. We have an ability to proceed with any number of justifications: the probability is small (rare event), the concern does not apply (no associated risk factors), and/or the risk is overstated, because we have not deliberately considered the unfavorable outcome’s impact on time.
Deliberately planning for undesirable outcomes based upon “warnings” is the long view approach. By including contingency for the unexpected, we are more objective in dealing with risk.
I have since learned that strenuous sports activities predispose patients to quinolone-related tendon rupture [Gold and Igra, “Levofloxacin-Induced Tendon Rupture: A Case Report and Review of the Literature,” The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 16:458-460 (2003)]. Yikes! Had I been sufficiently deliberate to more fully understand the potential for tendon rupture and had planned for a twelve week (or more!) tendon recovery, I would not have been bouldering on Thursday morning. Swimming would have been a much better long view choice!
The good news is that my elbow pain is already better (probably unrelated to the drug concern). But, nevertheless, now that I know the full implications, I will not be placing high loads on my tendons while taking levofloxacin again!
I am duly reminded to take the long view and plan for contigency in order to be more objective in dealing with risk. I hope you are too!
March 14, 2009
As a veteran of understanding complex systems, it is not terribly surprising that sometimes the unexpected occurs. It is not so much that humans have poor intuition, it is more that we 1) oversimplify (we focus on a specific element and not the whole), 2) we underestimate the affect of randomness, 3) we do not account for a changes in underlying assumptions of our mental models, and 4) we overvalue the expected outcomes because we become emotionally attached to the outcome.
As a trivial example of the unexpected, I am whining about my sore hands after having returned to running and climbing after a month of ankle injury hiatus (the climbing calluses on my hands receded and my hands became soft). So even though I expected to be most challenged by my ankle, it is actually my hands that are unexpectedly sore — I did not anticipate the whole picture.
As a really BIG example of the unexpected, the core of the financial mess that the world is currently experiencing can be traced to an oversimplified quantitative model that failed to account for changes in market assumptions – see Wired (March 2009): “A Formula for Disaster.” (Very interesting yet short article).
My experience in managing complex systems coincides with all of the wisdom and experience of others before me — take the long view: pay attention to the capacity constraint of the system, be wary of process steps with similar capacity to the constraint either upstream or downstream (they could easily become the constraint), and stay aware of external factors that can impact the system. The most important advice is to assume that Murphy exists and plan for managing it. To that end, if you do not have good intuition under different scenarios and want to build it to plan for it (for example, recovery from disruption), I recommend discrete event simulation with Simul8.
I am sure that there are other reasons than the four (4) I listed for the unexpected to occur. I invite you to add reasons 5, 6, 7….
March 10, 2009
The process of attribution is effectively taught in engineering school and in the technology workplace – we see acknowledgements in presentations, references in papers, and funding thanks in reports. However, attribution alone is insufficient to be successful over the long term. The long view requires us to nurture and build relationships with colleagues over the full spectrum on our road to success. To that end, it is the dark side that is often unappreciated – how to say you are sorry and make amends for slights which take the form of omission, overvaluation of one’s own work above others’ points-of-view, and unintended consequences of expediency.
An honest awareness of daily actions and inactions will likely uncover a host of things for which our need to be right got in the way of being collegial. When we recognize these situations, it is imperative that corrective action be taken. We must offer a sincere apology and accept the discomfort of doing so knowing that it will help us to do better next time.
Delivering a sincere and meaningful apology falls into the realm of things technologists need to know to be successful. What is needed is a sincere acknowledgement of the error, acceptance of blame, and no further explanation. This strategy meets most primal needs for satisfaction. Although there are entire treatises on an apology, the “on defense” advice in How to Be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Hustad) is very appropriate and helpful (how I wish I read this book when I first started my career!). She warns of the non-apology like “I’m sorry that you’re upset” or some variation, which will backfire and not effectively gain long-term collegial appreciation.
Even though apologies should routinely be timely, I learned in kindergarten (or thereabouts) that “It’s never too late to say you are sorry.” This adage is just a special case of the quintessential long view adage “better late than never.”
March 3, 2009
Each of us only gets one body. From an early age we are trained to care for ourselves — brush & floss our teeth, eat right, exercise regularly, and rest appropriately after illness or injury. Although most of us do all of these things regularly, it is the last one that can be the most vexing. It is challenging because injury and illness are inherently unplanned, undesirable, and unintended. Recovering from injury or illness requires expenditures of time and effort to recover that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.” So there is opportunity to be bitter and angry. The reality is that there is risk in sports (one cause of injury) and being around others (one cause of illness transmission). It is the payoff: fun in sports or the creation/nurturing of a social/professional connection, that makes the risk worthwhile.
In an analogy to business, routine care is required for operations — develop products, purchase raw materials, manufacture products, sell products, account for the flow of money and products, and take time to recover from setbacks. As in illness or injury, setbacks require expenditures of time and effort that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.” Similarly, there is risk in business — if it was easy, it would not be a long-term business. It is the payoff: money (in a for-profit business), that makes the risk worthwhile.
In both cases (body or business), routine care requires planning, precautions, and prudence. Yet these cannot prevent all setbacks; they minimize the severity, duration, and frequency. Thus, in order to be truly successful, we need to take the long view and be disciplined in our recovery from setbacks. We must expect setbacks, plan to expend time and effort to recover (relative to the risk of the payoff), and not be negative or rushed in our recovery execution. One way is to buffer projects from uncertainty by realistic planning, disciplined tracking, and adequate resource deployment for recovery using Goldratt’s Critical Chain, all the while staying, persistent, passionate, and positive!
On a personal level, I am working hard to recover an ankle sprain (a moment’s inattention to a pothole in a running trail left my ankle discolored, swollen, and sore). Since I want to enjoy the wind in my face (from running) for as long as I live (the long view), I am in rehab (toe-raises, gentle stretches, and swimming). Only nine (9) more days until I can run on my ankle again! But who is counting?!