Can you deliver it?

April 22, 2010

– According to your specifications? Absolutely!
– The way you need it? That question should not be directed to me.

The first question is usually irrelevant. I could probably build you the Great Wall of China given the time and resources, but if your reason for building the wall is to keep your budgie in place, then I can’t help you until you’re willing to cooperate around the specifications.

The second question is one that you mainly need to ask yourself. Are you willing to jump into the unknown? Are you prepared to express your innermost needs? Do you really know what problem it is that you want to dissolve and are you prepared to handle the consequences of dissolving it? Unless your answer to these questions is Yes, then I won’t be able to help you with what you need.

To dissolve a problem, you first need to acknowledge the root cause of your problem. This often means confessing to have implemented a less than optimal solution before, a confession that hurts. You were wrong the first time around when you tried to guess a solution so we can pretty much assume that you’ll be at least a little bit off this time as well. This means that we’ll have to explore new ways. To try new and uncomfortable solutions that haven’t yet crossed your mind. Are you willing to do that?

Dissolving one problem will usually put the spotlight on another one. If you can guess where your new itch arises, are you prepared to show it to the world?

So you want a software tool for your employees to punch data into. Sure, I can build that.

But don’t build a software that’s supposed to support your employees if your true reason for building it is to control your employees. Build a software that controls your employees instead.

But whatever you do, don’t build a software to control your employees if your true reason is to get quality and predictability in your business. Build a system in which your employees can deliver with quality and predictability instead. (BTW, I’m pretty sure that this system has nothing to do with software at all.)

So if we design a system in which your employees can deliver with quality and predictability, where do you think the spotlight will land next? Are you prepared to stand in the limelight for the next improvement effort? Yes? Well, in that case I just might be able to help you with what you actually need.

A couple of days ago I went to donate blood. I consider it an easy and cheap way to assuage my conscience. It’s also my only way of enacting my life as it might have been in the 50’s.
NL = Nice lady at blood bank aka my 50’s wife

NL – Do you want something to eat before we begin?
Me – Thanks but I’ve already had lunch.
NL – Can I get you something to drink?
Me – Thank you I’m fine.
NL – Are you comfortable like this?
Me – Definitely.
NL – Are you sure I can’t get you something to drink?
Me – No, I’m fine thank you.(A whisky wouldn’t hurt but I could only see pitchers with juice in them)
NL – Ok, this is just going to hurt a little. (I’m not sure where this last comment fits into my 50’s fantasy though)

Anyway. When I walked into the clinic there was a whiteboard by the entrance. I’m not sure if it was new or if I only noticed it now since I’m reading Deming’s “Out of the crisis”. The board looked somewhat like my poor drawing below.

Curiously I asked the nice lady, while she stabbed me with the needle, about the goal figures on the board.

Me – Where do you get your goals from? How do you set them?
NL – Uhm … goals? Hmm. Don’t know really. I guess that’s how much blood we need. … But we need more so it’s probably not that.
Me – Ok, so you don’t know why you’re supposed to get that many donors each day?
NL – No.

Problema número dos: (The first problem being the actual existence of the board)
Someone has set a goal for someone else without even letting the person know why. Where does the goal come from? Why is it important to reach?

Me – So how do you make sure that you reach your goals?
NL – Well we have commercials and we have booths at fairs and such.
Me – But that’s done on a central level right?
NL – Yes.
Me – So how do YOU make sure that you reach your goals? Can YOU affect how many people walk through that door in any way?
NL – Well, no. But we have commercials etc etc.

Problema número tres:
Someone has set a goal for someone else that the person has no way to affect the outcome of in any positive way.

NL – Maybe the board is there for you as a customer?
Me –
But I’m not interested in those numbers in any way. I would like to know how long I’m likely to have to wait though.But I don’t see any numbers for that.

Problema número cuatro:
The person who’s work results are exposed does not know why her result is being exposed on a big sign.

NL – Oh, and we also text our clients when we really need their blood type.
Me – From this clinic?
NL – Yes.
Me – Do you control that decision in any way or is it done automatically when your stocks reach a certain level?
NL – It’s done automatically.

Problem number five:
The worker only has an illusion of being able to affect the outcome of she’s being measured on.

Me – Does it ever happen that people walk out of here before they’ve donated their blood because the line is too long?
NL – Oh yes. That happens almost every time we put out a commercial or text people for their blood.
Me – That’s about the worst that can happen to you isn’t it? That a sure customer leaves before the deal is closed because you don’t have the time for him?
NL – Yes that’s a real pain. But we can’t do anything about that.

Problem number 4711:
One thing that really needs improvement and can be improved isn’t measured and the worker does not feel she can affect the outcome of it.

NL – Here’s a band aid. Thank you very much!
Me – No, thank you!

Not only did the nice lady act like my 50’s wife but this whiteboard made the whole organization look lika a factory from the 50’s where workers have production quotas posted on the walls. I don’t know. Maybe I misread the entire situation and interpreted way too much into our short conversation, but would you want your production results posted on the wall for everyone to see? Especially if you didn’t feel that you could affect the outcome in a positive way?

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