Search This Blog

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hot Dog Stand – Customer Service?

At the game I went to the concession stand for some snacks and drinks, to be greeted by a long, slow-moving line. While the second quarter evaporated and the line inched forward, I looked at the hot dog stand operations to see why there was such a delay.

Here's some highlights:
  • 8 enthusiastic people - 5 at the counter and 3 doing prep in the back
  • the counter folks reminded me of a demolition derby, bumping each other and constantly crossing paths
  • the preparation folks were paying no attention - standing and talking
  • supplies (napkins, plasticware, cardboard trays) were on the right end of the counter but condiments were on the left end
  • the menu and prices were on a banner on the back wall of the stand
  • finally, the line was amorphous and confused, people lined up on a server but some also thought it was next available server

If a transaction takes an average of 4 minutes from order to payment per customer per server, a back-of-the-envelope calculation of service capacity is about 75 customers per hour. A person joining the end of this line at its peak can expect about an hour before heading back to the seat, partially due to the absence of training and flow.

From this experience, I saw several general guidelines for improving customer service, based on the pinch points and frustrations of the patrons at the hot dog stand. Consider these 5 items (the examples tie back to my quest of food and beverages):
  • inform the customer what you expect from them – in our example, how to navigate the line was unclear and the menu and prices were not visible until at the counter
  • design flow for efficiency – the servers bounced around to fulfill orders and customers had to cross the line and go to two locations for supplies and condiments
  • train staff on role and assignments – servers were swamped while preparers ignored the chaos while chatting – alternative roles for all staff are required for peak demand periods
  • manage customer perceptions – customers get angry while waiting when they see staff standing around - regardless of the reason
  • create as positive an experience as possible while addressing the customers' needssmile, be upbeat when serving the customer and remain focused on addressing the customers' need, NOT on why it can't be done.

It is not unusual to be too close to this issue to see the gaps and over-servicing areas clearly in your customer service operation – and an outside advisor will review and assess how things are actually done, not influenced by how insiders think things are being done.

Customers want to be heard and receive accurate, timely answers to their questions or concerns. Preferences aside, there are several channels to reach the customer – web site information, interactive topic search, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), employee blogging, telephone tree with simple questions answered by automated systems with an opt out for a real person who can do more than simply read the same web site screen to the caller. For the complex problems, one-on-one service by phone, in person, or by video call gets satisfying results.

The best approach to customer service is to put yourself in the customer's shoes and proceed the way YOU would like to be served.

Don't come to the game hungry is NOT a solution to the hot dog stand problem, even though you may see the second quarter.

Your thoughts?

Join us at DevFestDC September 28th, for awesome new and emerging technologies, innovative startups, and resources for building projects and companies!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

User, Maker, Prototyper

Dark. Parking lot. I’m with a really smart research scientist, and we’ve been talking long enough we’re getting into new areas.

“Have you ever finished a prototype on time?”

He laughs, “If it’s controlled by time it’s a project, not a prototype.” Aha!

Many watchers try to judge the value of prototype work as if it were production work. Whether due to placement on some theoretical organization chart, or just our inalienable self-given right to sprout an opinion, most default to Tommy Smother’s dictum, “I’m an American, I don’t have to know any facts.”

Should prototype work be optimized? Always. But that seems more in the province of leadership than management.

Kevin Kelly’s Found Quotes 6 posts: I confess that, in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that men would not fly for 50 years. Two years later, we ourselves were making flights. This demonstration of my inability as a prophet gave me such a shock that I have ever since distrusted myself and have refrained from all prediction. -— Wilbur Wright Speech at Aero-Club de France, 1908

Clearly, Wilbur was demonstrating the hard-won skills to lead development.

There is even an award for valuable original work that was not understood when it was done.

Years ago, I was a master carpenter at a Fortune 20 Industrial when the chairman announced the company would no longer invest in basic research, just applied research. This was so long ago I had to go to the library to find out that basic research was defining properties and applied research was solving specific problems. Since that announcement they have shrunk. Or perhaps rightsized.

A user takes something already made and gets value from it. Ordering a book from Amazon, making holes with a drill press, cleaning up around the house, users use tools to create value.

Makers create tools that users use. It’s the next step up in understanding. When you can’t decide if someone is a luthier or a mean picker, luthier, the maker, takes precedence...and I would figure he has some important insights about playing.

In Keith Richards” autobiography, Life, he details his search to understand how the blues developed. He learned the story of how Sears offered an inexpensive mail order guitar to musicians who played homemade 5 string banjos, so they played their new guitars tuned like a banjo. Keith tried it, mastered it, put it on a Telecaster, and that’s why a bar band can’t quite get Honky Tonk Woman.

So prototyper, maker, user, where does a cost conscious manager put the guys who don’t want to pay attention, don’t want to improve their work? Pretty obvious, isn’t it? Somewhere else!

At each level there is a need for constant improvement, which comes from the people doing the work.

In the construction trades, one who has mastered the craft and continues to get better is called a mechanic, a term of admiration.

Join us at DevFestDC September 28th, for awesome new technologies and resources for building projects and companies!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Importing Best Practices

I no longer think different ways of working are inherently better or worse. I find the most productive workers in any task group have found an optimal process. Often that structure can be improved by adding processes from outside the environment.

That’s harder than it looks, as Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.

Yet, I have seen several times when importing a little knowledge from another discipline made for great gains.

My second tour selling COBOL, we started changing our offer every six weeks, borrowed from something I had read about cosmetics retailing. Prospects were meeting with us just to be entertained, but as long as we were there, would we take a look at...

Wasn’t too long before senior management wanted to renegotiate commissions if it was that easy...

Building a cellphone empire, we had enough hard partiers that we used parts of the 12 step approach to improve our global scalability. They understood the need for weekly meetings, for having everyone define their reality, for finding individual solutions. The level of managerial opinion went way down, and we set industry records for five years.

More frequently, I’ve seen best practice candidates that appealed to someone’s ego or how they THOUGHT the world should be. I wasted six weeks once because my boss kinda read a book on an airplane and thought he had found the silver bullet. My tribe thought I’d lost my mind.

Years later I learned Best Practices Better Be Blatantly Obvious, Otherwise They Are Not Best Practices. Wish I had figured that out.

Just when we’ve optimized all we know, that’s when we get to participate in disruptive innovation, ready or not. Just when you perfect the carburetor, you get fuel injection.

Stewart Emery says there are two requirements for growth, an absolute commitment to telling the truth about reality and surrounding yourself with people who are committed to growth.

Isn’t that the real secret of best practices?

Join us at DevFestDC September 28th, for awesome new technologies and resources for building projects and companies!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fantasy And Reality

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truthSherlock Holmes. Holmes never wavered from his rule, no matter how bizarre the outcome appeared. No speculation; no projecting an easier path; no daydreaming or fantasy about what would have or could have been.

I recall as a kid, pounding the pocket into a new ball glove (they were made flat back then) and daydreaming that I would be playing like Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, or Ted Williams. Reality set in with the very first play on the field, new glove on my hand – it would take more practice (much, much more) to get there - there's no shortcut for pounding in the pocket.

Sometimes a leader, manager, or collaborator fixates on a vision or desired outcome instead of addressing an issue head on.

Do you know of an incidence where a problem was ignored while the trivial and mundane were given priority? Or the 'let's wait and see' procedure was invoked? How did it turn out – did the problem self-correct or fester, getting worse?

Individuals rarely follow the Ostrich Model of head-in-the-sand, knowingly. However, they can be seduced by self-talk. This can be very persuasive, sound logical – even innovative – and offer a more desirable (and less painful) fantasy alternative to what's facing them right now.

Ever dread making a phone call or meeting – finding many ways to put it off? Then, the result of the call or meeting is nowhere near the disaster you had anticipated – in reality positive results happen most of the time.

I have found over and over that nothing is more effective than a direct approach. And yet, we still seek to take an indirect path or delay taking any action.

This is human nature – BUT – it is not a positive leadership trait. As with the boy and a new glove, or an adult facing a complex problem, it's not too difficult to slip into a fantasy to avoid reality.

To return to reality, I find it helpful to say the thoughts and plans out loud – to a trusted advisor. Not only will this help to better focus the ideas, it also churns up new ideas as well from both people's viewpoints. The outcome is more in tune with reality, since it is quite difficult to enroll your external self and your advisor in a fantasy. Perhaps that's why people say a good conversation is 80% listening!

As we wrestle with the gap between fantasy and reality, John Adams' words are a useful guide:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
John Adams,'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,'

How do you see fantasy and reality?

Join us at DevFestDC September 28th, for awesome new technologies and resources for building projects and companies!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Users work differently from makers, for good reason. If you make a mistake buying a book on Amazon, you can usually go back an action, or a screen, call it a redo. Makes sense to just keep hammering keys until you get what you want.

Makers often don’t have redo, so there’s an emphasis on using a planning and structure to reduce rework. I cut that board three times and it’s still too short! Well then, Measure twice, cut once.

Working in an IDE (Integrated Development Environment – programmer’s code-making software) discovering an error can require taking out days of development.

The old observation that one programmer can do the work of a thousand programmers is valid because many programmers spend the next morning tearing up whey did the previous day. One step forward, two steps back.

Sales Lab’s Planned Workcycle addresses the need for Architecture and Design before Executing, and came from construction contracting. If you order a crane, it better be busy the whole time it is on-site, and after it leaves, you best not need that crane again.

The Workcycle also has an original structure for how to do Evaluation which makes Evaluation work a whole lot better. I’ve found it increases efficiency in many types of complex projects.

How does the availability of Redo change the value of Planning, the process of Executing?

Monday, September 17, 2012

New Model Requirement

I use the idea of model a lot. 32 search mentions on Sales Lab Posts and a like number on Through The Browser, plus they are all over my presentations and projects.

I use models because they are a fast, efficient way to stay current on many subjects, to dynamically address changing situations.

A model is a simplified version of reality, with the minimum required inputs, to return an accurate prediction about how a situation will resolve. That may sound like a spreadsheet exercise, and often is, but my most common models are predicting how someone will act after they make a commitment.

The observation, If someone borrows twenty dollars from you and then avoids you to keep from repaying, that’s probably a good investment is both a quick and frequent model.

You can always expect someone to continue doing what they’ve been doing saves a lot of time, as does transformation is possible, just don’t underestimate the cost.

A good model will increase path and speed to desired result. An inaccurate model creates humor and carnage. I am constantly amused by people who choose to believe model over reality.

Over time, reality changes. The best indication of reality changes is when a model no longer accurately predicts actual results. I am amazed at the number of people putting their full faith and credit in models that haven’t been accurate at any time in recent memory.

The solution for an inaccurate model is to go through the process of defining a new model. The more you do that, the faster and easier, (and more accurate) the models become.

My new requirement for models is they should provide information leading to improvement. A friend has a go-to model for any distressing situation. “She does that because she lacks self-confidence. Self-confidence is the problem.”

Well, how do you fix that? Self-confidence, like self-esteem is earned by that self person. An observer having that opinion of the problem doesn’t lead to a solution. The correct response is, “Yeah? So what?”

My new requirement is that a model should provide potential solutions to improve a sub-optimal situation.

What are your best models?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Making The Point

I was trying to get through M Street at New Hampshire and a bicyclist ran through a red light, running over several pedestrians.

He was a young yup going home from his policy job, and he started yelling at the pedestrians, the drivers, the air.

He was also stopping two roads with nothing but a bicycle and an rush hour.

People started walking around him, shaking their heads. He figured if he yelled louder more would understand him, like his mommy. He was enjoying his moment.

There was a minute of silence as he inhaled and the man next to him said gently, “I ride a lot, and you’re giving us all a bad name.”

The traffic jam resolved in seconds. We’re all in this together despite what you’re told.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Carriage Return

Why is it that training is the last item considered in planning for change, and the first item to be scrapped when the budget gets tight?

Change drives  progress – and when we change, we need to learn how to use the new tool or features to achieve better results, greater speed, or use less resources. However, we often breeze through any training with a 'yeah, yeah, yeah' attitude and get little of use or recall.

As a boy, I was given a hammer and immediately set about making nails in the shape of a number 7. It's a hammer – how much training could you need? A carpenter showed me how to start and finish pounding a nail and I was then building wooden things.

When the personal computer came into the office, and the IBM Selectric was moved behind the desk, secretaries would create documents with hard returns at the end of the line – just like with the Selectric: type, type, type, type, clunk. The training consisted of reading a manual with the first 50 pages devoted to installing the software and the last 50 pages listing commands (it was a DOS program back then). The secretaries would learn how to create documents, letters, and notes – but insisted on using the Selectric for envelopes and labels.

When a new procedure is introduced in a team, typical training consist of documentation of the procedure and a walk-through of a simple example. Rarely are the training materials created by someone familiar with the actual work being done and users find it difficult to visualize how the new procedure fits with the old way of doing things. Therefore the users come up with their own interpretations and work-arounds.

A quick look at the hammer and PC examples illustrate there is a cost to inadequate training – nails and wood are sacrificed to bent nails and hammer-head scars; editing the PC documents requires considerable time and effort: adding or removing a word means changing the entire document because of the carriage returns on each line.

Successful training is best done hands-on by the user with a meaningful project, followed by practice. A useful help resource is an on-line user forum supplemented by a subject matter expert. Continuing use completes the training.

If we do not provide sufficient training the users make up how to operate the software in ways that are limited and inefficient, reducing its effectiveness and expected productivity gains.

Want to rely on the informal 'expert' or invest in a trained and experienced team?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Only A Few Are Champions

Rick 'Doc' Walker was the keynote speaker at a recent Comcast event I attended at Redskins' FedEx Field. Fans may remember Walker as one the HOGS, or more recently as a champion for research and cure of Muscular Dystrophy, Cystic Fibrosis, Alzheimer’s, and Arthritis (he does an ESPN 980 radio show “2-4 weekdays” as he will cheerfully tell you).

Doc is a loud, practical, 'from-the-heart' insightful speaker – he ask the room of 100+ people at the event to raise a hand if they ever won acknowledgment as a champion (while not so subtlety flashing his Superbowl ring) – a couple of people put a hand up.
He asked the room to look around at how many raised a hand.

Next he asked for a hand by anyone winning first place – the group saw a few more hands go up. Walker then ask for a hand by anyone who won second place – more hands. He had everyone put their hands down.

Doc's last question was for everyone in the room to raise a hand if they had NOT won as champion, first or second place – I estimate at least 90% of the room now had their hand in the air.

He ask us to look around the room and recognize that, even for a group of successful and accomplished people (Doc said “ I know you are successful and accomplished – otherwise Comcast would not have invited you to attend today!”) only a small few of very talented people win champion, first, or second place. As with the response in our room, most of us do NOT achieve top honors.

Those folks are special and it requires hard work, drive, commitment, and constantly developing and improving skills – just to get into the competition. To be recognized as a winner requires being even better than the others you are competing against and getting the results sought.

The profound – but simple – point Doc Walker offered is this:
Being the best is not a right, nor is it a common, ordinary, or casual occurrence – this is very special, requires hard work, and deserves celebration when achieved.

Do you remember to celebrate success? Superbowl, Nobel Prize, landing the sale, Doers' innovation – all are significant and worth of acknowledgment and celebration.

Something new to celebrate - Check out Sales Lab Video! Tell us what you like!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dropping The Other Shoe, Again

A baby girl, just taking her first steps, fell backwards, hitting her head on the sidewalk.

She looked up at me trying to figure out what had just happened. I looked back at her and started a big laugh.

She thought for a few seconds and started laughing with me. Crisis averted.

Her mother started screaming, swooped over, picked up the baby, and glared at me. Scared me and the baby, who started howling, turned red, began choking, hiccuping, all in all had a very scary experience.

Now I’m not generally in favor of fall-down-go-boom, but when it happens, we have a choice how we react.

Technically, the kid was yowling over being snatched by a hysterical big person. Big people are supposed to know best.

If my boss is going to lose it, I should, too. A contact panic, if you will, or at least team loyalty. Possibilities come when you Drop The Other Shoe.

When the going gets tough, are you the cause of the problem, part of the solution, or a hysterical distraction?

I haven’t noticed any of those three roles keep tight situations from occurring, but they have a lot to do with successful outcomes, building a crew, and having experienced arms and legs for the next opportunity.

And for all you pre-planners out there, I haven’t seen that avoidance is a better strategy. The penalties for avoiding a problem are to some extent debilitating and can be terminal. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

A heroic opportunity is a terrible thing to waste. 

New! Check out Sales Lab Video! Tell us what you like!

Also, don't miss our next show! September 11, 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Drop The Other Shoe, the first 300 seconds of The Next Business Opportunity: Big Data, Cloud, or Social Media? featuring Chida Sadayappan. Capital Technology Management Hub, Tysons Corner, Free.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Legend of Bagger Vance

I'm reading The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield (in the movie Will Smith plays Bagger and Matt Damon plays the golfer) which is about a mystic caddy and has-been golf champion. The story is told and retold over time and has become a legend. Within the community everyone knows about Bagger, his odd training exercises and far-ranging discussions to get golfer Junuh back into a champion's frame of mind.

What makes the story compelling is the novel approach by Bagger and the overcoming of adversity by Junuh to again become a champion. Legends are constructed from accomplishments.

We spend much time and effort to increase our knowledge, skills, and experience – our accomplishments – but are we doing anything to update our legend which chronicles these results?

As in the book, our legend grows by word-of-mouth in the community by people who know us and what we've achieved. Like asking a neighbor about which company to use for lawn service or to paint the house, a person's knowledge of your good points is conveyed by conversation but typically the story does not travel very far.

Today we have many tools to develop and disseminate our legend and increase visibility for our accomplishments, thoughts, and ideas. Social and professional media networks offer vehicles to create a personal and business profile in text, pictures, and video. Blogs and forums offer a platform for sharing your thoughts and ideas with others. The internet and search creates a permanent accessible repository of items related to you and your activities.

Writing a profile on networks like LinkedIn, Google Plus, Blogger, Twitter, GovLoop, and Facebook, gives you a public presence – routinely updating the profile gives you a public personality.

Does this seem like it would take a lot of your time, or that you are self-absorbed and just bragging about yourself? Neither is accurate – done right. You can easily keep your profile current with a consistent investment of about 10 minutes per week. You will be sharing information about capabilities, knowledge, and skills, not bragging about going to the mall or the symphony.

What is the worst comment to hear when vying for a project or a job? “I didn't know that you had experience in that area”

How do you feel about creating and updating your profile as a competitive edge?

This may also be of interest to you -
September 11, 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Drop The Other Shoe, the first 300 seconds of The Next Business Opportunity: Big Data, Cloud, or Social Media? featuring Chida Sadayappan. Capital Technology Management Hub, Tysons Corner, Free.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Autonomous Economy

I walk into an airport, feed a credit card into the kiosk, which spits out a boarding pass. At the same time, my seat is blocked, my meal, beer, and pillow are released, TSA knows I am coming, the gate knows I am coming, the flight crew knows I am coming, the incoming gate at my hub knows I am coming, and I am boarded on my next flight.

I didn’t realize that until one time I was transferring in Philadelphia and the video board was down.

A human attendant looked at his clipboard, and told me to go to the wrong gate all the way across the airport. I got there and found out my exit gate was actually just two away from my entry gate.

When I got back to my gate, the airline was holding the plane. They knew I was in the airport somewhere.

Now before all this computerization, a small part of that data was communicated by harried humans with clipboards. They are mostly gone now. That’s why when the plane system burps, there is no hope of getting a fix by standing in line.

Switching a business from the carbon-based units with clipboards to the silicon-based units with screens takes time. Humans are better at improvising, and can communicate with other humans.

Computers are vastly cheaper, and when the system is complete, can communicate better with computers.

From an operating cost model, reducing your business to computer driven data makes sense no matter how difficult it is. The first in an industry to successfully implement an automated system gets an enormous advantage. The problem is when your system inadvertently maximizes customer prevention.

Banks and airlines know that a mal-system interlude can tank your customer sat. If the Internet never forgets, how long do angry customers hold a grudge?

When I read about the disappearing middle class, I remember all the people with clipboards outwitting their business systems to get me home. By the same token, anyone who hides a known system burp has to be taken out of the loop, as that burp often represents hundreds or thousands of instances that went unreported.

Open Source Leadership teaches us that more eyeballs get the problem fixed easier and faster. It used to be that we were trying to get a little more time before reporting to try to come up with a solution. Today that is exactly the wrong way to play.

Where do you see the autonomous economy changing your life, for better or worse?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jobs of the Future

When speaking with a current job-seeker, she said “while I was working, the working world changed!” This seasoned individual is finding her specific experience is not of interest to employers in today's job market. With a dozen years in responsible internal analyst roles, what arcane experience and skills are being ignored by potential employers?

She was one of an army of analysts who collect data from a variety of sources, do basic analytics, and create reports of the results to send on to another section for further processing and analysis – the role might be viewed as an interim consolidator and analytic reporter.

I also spoke with a guy working on a maturing grant, his role is 'critical checker' – data comes from four unrelated databases, is consolidated on a spreadsheet, with three think-tank analysis units manually transferring the data to word processing or statical software, reports and attachments from the units are returned in a similarly uncoordinated format. The critical checker verifies the data to assure it is error-free after being moved to a different platform. Imagine, a manual check of massive data multiple times because of work-arounds in using the technology. He does this data check at every stage out and back!

Jobs that consist of simply moving paper, or checking the computer's addition are evaporating – they are being replaced by technology. Systems and software handle more of the intake, data consolidation, basic analytics, report generation, and distribution. New approaches, like Big Data and Splunk, permit consolidation of data from multiple sources and formats, and related tools make even complex analysis manageable for us mere mortals. Long ago, sponge divers experienced a similar realization as the technology of the cellulose sponge replaced the natural sponge.

The Doers' Theorem says a person must update their experience portfolio and technical knowledge every three years to keep up with the job market – things are changing that fast!

What does the job of the future look like?

  • It can not (yet) be done economically by computer or automation
  • It requires a physical presence to accomplish results
  • It adds value to the product or service produced
  • It requires judgment, knowledge, and interpretation as critical inputs
  • It embraces technology (not the equipment but how it is used) to achieve outcomes
  • It is eternally assessing improvement for faster, better, more accurate results requiring less resources
  • It directly satisfies the need or want of the customer/client, or is in direct support of the satisfaction thereof
  • It is dynamic, not static – if you are not improving, you are slipping behind.

For example, today this could include people working with their hands – carpenters, plumbers; with their presence – care givers, clinical specialists and doctors; with their creativity – programmers and artists; with their vision and decision-making – leaders, department heads; with their commitment – the inventor, entrepreneur; to name several.

In a role where you are adding value - from areas such as your knowledge, insight, creativity, relevant experience, ability to translate the theoretical into the executable, your persistence in pursuing results – you are in a stronger situation as jobs evolve.

But – nothing is stagnant – no longer can you graduate from school and stop learning, or just attend a workshop every couple of years – the New Normal is about the evolution of technology and working's about applying new tools to reduce resources and improve accuracy and acceptable quality. It's about collaboration and working independently as an individual (like the two characters in Makers).

If you trade your car for a newer model with style changes and improvements in performance every few years, why wouldn't you upgrade yourself as often – new skills, new experiences, new knowledge.

And, if you are doing all this work on improvement, don't overlook the opportunity to showcase the 'new you' – update your LinkedIn, GovLoop, and Google Plus profiles to let the world know!

Lead the change – don't be caught by it.

What's your take on 'jobs of the future'? Care to add to the list?