Let me tell you a story about a company I worked for. This story never stops fascinating me, because it shows how a simple “hack” in a complex system of processes within an organization can save millions, before you even start solving the problem.
What the hell do they do?
It happened in a local manufacturing site of a global company. Their products are quite labor intensive, so they hired me and the team to help them use their human resources in a smarter way, using lean manufacturing. One of the problems that they complained about was huge amount of overtime hours of hourly-paid workers that cost them millions.
The workers come in their free time and on weekends to do extra work – special maintenance, cleanups, installation of new equipment and other things. It is coordinated and signed off by their supervisors.
“I only have a vague idea what they do. I am not a production guy,” the client’s HR director told me. “I just know that we have double the overtime hours than our other sites.”
They were suspicious that the overtime hours is often not necessary, but pushed by the workers as a source of extra cash.
It is hard to give advice before knowing the current situation, so I suggested this: Every time a worker comes for overtime hours, his supervisor needs to track the time spend and the reason why he was there working. And this will be reported to management.
The surprising end
I came back to the HR director after a month to check the data and start fixing the problem. I could not believe what he told me:
“In last month, overtime hours dropped by half. We are fine now.” he told me. Apparently, tracking the reasons for overtime and presenting them to management discouraged the people from abusing them. That simple thing saved them millions.
Ok, what’s in for me?
This solution I proposed would probably not work long term, but it helped me learn an interesting point: Ambiguity, missing data, oral agreements, and vague processes – these aspects create dark corners in your operations where shady things happen.
Process visualization and collection of data helps you see what happens and where the problems are. And it often discourages them from even happening. Do not let it happen to your company, turn on the light too.
Lean management is something and that make your everyday life better. I recently stumbled on this case study done by young Slovak designer that shows great example of it. When I train Lean, I always tell my students that it is not a management method for factories and banks, but more a way of thinking about objects, systems and its users. Have look how Lean can be used in user experience design.
“Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away”
Peter Fabor is a young Slovak UX designer that pointed out and amazing thing: User interface of washing machines is simply user-unfriendly.
I decided to visit the nearest store with electronics. They had about 50 different types. I explained to the shop assistant, that I’d always had problems with user interfaces of washing machines and I wanted to buy something really, really simple. She finally understood and showed me this type. Yes, the simplest type offers 15 special washing programs….
Complicated user interface creates a lot of waste: Waiting for help, searching, wrong decisions leading to destroyed laundry, unnecessary use of mental energy for such a dumb task like washing your clothes.
So he gave himself a challenge to redesign the washing machine interface. You can read more in his brilliant article on Medium. He was able to redesign the washing machine like this:
No settings like speed of rotation and tens of ambiguous programs, icons and buttons you never use. I consider this a perfection.
Simple is difficult to achieve
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Lean thinking is simply just removing everything that customer or user does not pay for. It is not just a set of methods for reducing inventory and lead times in banks or factories. It is not a tool with heavy use of statistics and Excel spreadsheets. It is a soft skill, a way of thinking about things, problems in everyday life. Just look at the Lean startup, for example. It is easy to create a complicated system and it is difficult to create simple system that works.
What is your customer paying for?
Next time you start your working day or a project, create a process, an app or a new product, ask yourself these questions: “What are the things the customer/user/employer is paying for? How do I eliminate the rest from what I do?” Let’s make the world more productive, efficient and user friendly place.
After the tech and IT revolution of the last 30 years, transportation, especially cars, will be the next big thing that will change the most. Predicting anything in car industry is walking on thin ice – we were supposed to drive hydrogen-fuelled cars since like 2010 and now it appears to be a dead end (Elon Musk thinks they are “silly”). Anyway, current development shows that autonomous cars will help drop the total number of cars significantly. And there are dark sides of this as well.
Why do you own a car?
I own my car mostly for one single reason – it is cheaper and more convenient compared to alternatives (taxis Uber, rental cars, public transit). But what if wasn’t? I believe that autonomous cars will change this equation and Uber knows it well:
“The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car. When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”
Travis Kalanick, CEO of UBER
These are strong words – as cars are also owned as status symbol and a hobby by many people – they won’t replace their Ferraris by Uber.
It does not have to be just autonomous taxis that will be cheaper than owning the car, if carsharing grows big enought, that can be strong alternative, especially for medium- and long-haul rides.
90% of time your car is a piece of junk occupying a parking spot
There is more than the other dude in the car. I come from Lean management background – I help my clients focus on activities, processes than add value to their customer and eliminate the rest.
My car adds me value when I am using it to get to somewhere. As I use extensive Prague public transit to go to work, I only drive around 6 hours a week. That means that my car adds value only 4% of its lifetime, the other 96% just standing somewhere, prone to decay, damage or theft. People usually drive more, especially in the US, but I don’t expect the average car utilization to be more than 10%.
As there are strong demand peaks for transport (high on commute times or weekend nights for bar-goers, low on late nights, weekend daytimes), 90%+ long term average utilization of cars is probably not achievable. If we start massively sharing cars, can the average go to 30%? I think that is perfectly possible.
It sounds like heaven!
If the average utilization is 30% instead of 10% and the total mileage stays the same, we will need three times less cars to satisfy the demand. If carpooling rises as well, the total number of cars can down even much further Imagine how much less parking space will be needed. Counting with other massive benefits of autonomous cars => less power consumption, less congestions, les accidens, smoother traffic flow…the world in 2045 sounds like car heaven! But is there anything that can go wrong?
The dark sides of the “Uber revolution””
Car manufacturing industry challenged – one would think that if there’s three times less cars, the car manufacturing industry will just suffer like hell. It might not be the case, if they can adapt. In order to maintain 30% utilization of cars, they will either need to be replaced much more frequently or needs to be built to last much more. So as the mileage stays the same (assumption) or go up, the car manufacturing industry will be fine on average. Maybe some makes will adapt better, some will clear the place for new players.
Centralization of power – this is something that might be the biggest change with unpredictable long term outcome. Currently we have hundreds of thousands local companies serving the transport industry – local taxi companies, car dealerships, garages, carwashes, parking lots. If there will be let’s say 4 global car transport players (Google, Uber, Apple and Volkswagen), they will integrate all the services, control them from one place and collect margins there. This will lead to super-centralized economy which may not be the best thing for all stakeholders
After years, it seems to be clear now where the car industry is going. First we thought that change from fossil fuel to alternative power source will change the game. Now we believe it will be autonomous cars that will revolutionize transport. And not just transport. This will change will be even bigger than with rise of internet. Let’s see if it is a good one.