Showing posts with label Quality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Quality. Show all posts

May 7, 2019

Really Highest Quality

Just thought this was a funny, educational photo.

Vendor is selling jewelry on the corner (outside the Metro).

They're advertising:

Products Of The Highest Quality

But would you even expect to get the highest quality jewelry off the street. 

As nice as these products may be (and he may be), I don't think anyone would really believe this. 

So while the ad grabs your attention and makes you look, it doesn't make you believe. 

Advertising and branding has to be credible to reach their intended audience or else it'll just come off as fool's gold. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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May 4, 2019

Getting The Biggest Bang For The Buck

So I had the opportunity to sit in on a colleague teaching a class in Performance Improvement. 

One tool that I really liked from the class was the Impact-Effort Matrix. 

To determine project worth doing, the matrix has the:

Impacts (Vertical) - Improved customer satisfaction, quality, delivery time, etc.

Effort (Horizontal) - Money, Time, etc. 

The best bang for the buck are the projects in upper left ("Quick Wins") that have a high impact or return for not a lot of effort. 

In contract, the projects that are the least desirable are in the lower right ("Thankless Tasks") that have a low impact or return but come at a high cost or lot of effort. 

This is simple to do and understand and yet really helps to prioritize projects and find the best choices among them. ;-)

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)
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April 15, 2017

Indian Wedding Rocks



Loved seeing this amazing Indian wedding.

The rocking music, the beautiful colorful outfits, the pageantry, and the adorned white horse.

While this looked like a relatively small and intimate wedding--perhaps quality balances out quantity. 

Although one of my good friends from India told me that he had 4,000!!! people at his wedding that was held in a stadium--I can barely even imagine how awesome that was. 

So happy...all life should be great times like this. ;-)

(Source Video: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 1, 2017

2017 Year Of The Customer

So here's a resolution for all of us for 2017...

How about this year be the year of the customer!

- Where we care more about doing a good job for someone than we do about what time we get off from work.

- Where we talk to and treat customers with respect, dignity, and ultimately to solve their needs, rather than it escalating to a yelling match and oh, did I accidentally hang up the phone on you?

- Where we make the customer feel good about dealing with us and our organization, rather than wanting to beg for a supervisor or cyanide please!

- Where the customer isn't lied to, manipulated, and taken advantage of just so someone can make another quick buck!

- Where the quality and value is #1 and it's not just a shinny veneer on a car that accelerates on it's own and with fake emissions test results or smartphone batteries that light up on fire and explode

- Where we don't cross-sell and up-sell customers, like phony bank accounts or other things they don't want, need, and never asked for just to make our sales quotas, and accrue the fine bonuses and stock options that go with them. 

- Where we don't oversell the capability of a product, like fraudulent blood testing devices and medical results, and instead deliver what's really doable and as promised. 

- Where there's no error in the charge to the customer or it's in the customer's favor, rather than always an overcharge in the seller's favor, and the price from the beginning is fair and reasonable and not hiked up 400% like on critical medicine that people's lives depend on. 

- Where items arrive on time and work the first time, rather than having delays, making excuses, and causing endless customer returns of defective items or those that didn't fit, look, or work as advertised. 

- Where the customer is happy to come back to and where they feel trust in the people, products, and services offered--not another Home Shopping Network or QVC shoddy experience of "It slices, it dices...the only tears you'll shed are tears of joy!"

- Where we solve genuine customer needs or problems and not just "build it and they will come."

- Where rather than a pure what's in it for me (WIIFM) mentality, we suspend our self-interest and greed for the moment and we do for others, because it's not just a job and we actually have a work ethic and care about what we do. 

- Where we delight! and wow!, rather than disengage and disappoint, and we put the customer first, and like first responders, we run to help and not run away. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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March 27, 2016

Making The Deadline

It was funny at work recently.

The team was having some "technical difficulties" getting something done. 

It wasn't like it wasn't going to happen, it was just taking a little longer than expected. 

I was riding herd on this, since we had made a commitment to get it done by a certain date and time and it was important to get it right. 

After a number of delays, I started to question whether we were really going to be able to meet the deadline, and one of my colleagues asks about how the boss will react if we don't make it. 

Then all of a sudden, they blurt out, "Is he going to sh*t a brick if we don't make it?"

I was a little taken aback at the saying, but then it was sort of a funny image of the extreme kvetchy face a person would be making in such a situation--trying to pass not a (little) stone, but literally a big brick. 

As it turns out, we made the deadline--although we had to use the buffer time we had carefully built in--and the team did a great job, so no bricks, no stones, and just kudos all around. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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February 17, 2016

Spending It All Down

So Parkinson's Law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

The more time you have on your hands, the longer it takes you to do something. 

I find this to be so true...like on a day off, I don't find myself typically getting any more done than on a regular work day. 

But what is true for time, also seems to apply to money. 

The more money you make, the more you need

And while you may get more or better quality for your extra bucks, you still don't have a lot in net savings. 

Thus in line with Conspicuous Consumption, we spend more on luxury goods when we have more money and we spend more of our leisure time on doing the same basic set of activities when we have more time to spend.

Either way, more time and money often means more wasting of each, with people finding it extraordinarily difficult to save when they have (too) much of either. 

Perhaps, that why the big time hip hop artist, Kanye West recently tweeted about being $53 million in debt.

Or why Benjamin Franklin said, "If you want something done, ask a busy person."

Your personal decision is what you end up spending your extra time and money on. 

The only real difference with time and money is that money you can put in the bank, but time passes whether you are busy or not.

Perhaps the best investment for both is to spend on education, experiences, on loved ones, and on helping others. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Parg)
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March 30, 2015

That's Getting A LIttle Personal

This was a funny advertisement hanging in Hot Topic in the mall. 

It says: "Get in our pants"--well, excuse you!

Using sexual come-ons to sell, sell, sell...is not a new marketing strategy. 

As they say in the biz world, "Sex sells!"

Perhaps a more targeted ad about quality, fit, and pricing would be more to the product point.

But why sell with facts, when you can sell with fantasy. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)
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January 20, 2015

Buyer Beware, Else Buyer Remorse

Just a quick lesson I wanted to share from my grandfather.

He used to say (or so my dad used to tell me), "You open your eyes or you open your wallet!"

Put another way is that "A fool and his money are soon parted."

But I like the way my grandfather put it even better--easier to remember and no name calling involved! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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October 14, 2014

Not Exactly A Genie

Okay, we all like a genie in a bottle (with G-d's help) to grant us our wishes for the good. 

A colleague told me that if he had a genie in a bottle, his first wish would be to have infinite wishes; his second wish would be for all his wishes to come true; and his third wish would be that all the wishes would be free of ambiguity such that the intent would be fully clear--nice!

But this here is no genie...this is an umbrella in a bottle. 

Twist the top (handle) and pull it from the bottle (case) and whoola, an umbrella. 

Cute design, but when I tried to open the umbrella, it felt functionally, like a piece of garbage (IMHO). 

Oh genie, how about an umbrella that actually works and who cares if it's in a bottle or not. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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December 16, 2012

Amazon Will Bury Walmart

I've never seen the great allure of Walmart. Actually before I moved from NYC to the DC area more than a decade ago, I had never even seen a Walmart--and that was just fine. 

But I had heard these amazing tales of how they were superstores with everything you could ever want and at low prices and the shopping experience was supposed to be, oh what a delight!

So I cannot tell you my utter disappointment the first time I went to Walmart--shabby storefronts, elderly door greeters handing out store circulars and stickers, messy aisles and shelves, with low price tags on a swirling everything, and sort of the image of crummy leftover merchanidse throughout, and top that off with pushing crowds trying to save a couple of bucks on the junk. 

Let's just say, I'm not running back to Walmart, especially when we have online shopping experiences like Amazon--now that is much closer to nirvana. 

No drive, no crowds, no wait, no up and down the aisles looking for what you want, no shlepping, and no in your face "everyday low prices" image and we won't let you forget it--instead easy to find, interesting, varied, and quality merchandise of all types, at reasonable prices, with an easy checkout process, home delivery, free shipping, and easy returns. 

And as opposed to Walmart which is stuck in costly and inconvenient large brick and mortar stores, Amazon is investing in infrastructure of the future with convenient warehouse and delivery centers throughout the country, and more recently with their purchase of Kiva Systems in March 2012 for implementing robotics in their fulfillment centers. 

On top of it, Walmart (with nearly 2.2 million employees worldwide) in its endeavor to keep prices low, have spun up their workforce with jobs--that are often part time and unpredictable, low wage, lacking proper benefits, unsafe working conditions, and with questionable advancement opportunties (especially for women). Throw on top of that bribery allegations for which they've hired a new complaince officer. Yet, Walmart has also somehow managed to keep their workforce from unionizing to improve things. 

So how should we say this: how about straight out--Amazon gets it and Walmart does not!

And while Walmart has their own .com site--which coincidentally looks very much like Amazon's--Amazon is eating Walmart's lunch online, with according to NBC News a 41% revenue increase for Amazon's online sales versus just 3.4% for Walmart's. Moreover, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 March 2012) reports that Walmart's 2011 online sales amounted to less than 2% of their U.S. sales--they just can't seem to make the digital transformation!

So While overall Amazon sales at $48 billion are still only about 1/9 of Walmart colossal $419 billion, Amazon with it's high-tech approach (including their successful Kindle eReaders, cloud computing, and more) is anticipated to reach $100 billion in online sales by 2015

Like the other big box retailers of yore, Kmart, Sears, JC Penny, Circuit City, Best Buy, and more, Walmart will decline--it will just take a little longer and with a little more thrashing, because of the size of their checkbooks.  

Perhaps, as the New York Times implied years ago (17 July 2005) only stores like Costco (and throw in Nordstroms as well) with their tall aisles stocked neatly with quality goods, at low prices, and with better human capital ethos, will survive the big box retailer Armageddon.

My prediction is that within a generation Amazon will bury Walmart, if not literally so they are out of business, then figuratively with the best and most lucrative online shopping experience around--and as for the matchup betweent them, it won't even be close.  ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Fuschia Foot)
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October 1, 2012

Prefabricated Skyscrapers

Eleven years after the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centers, we are still waiting for the new Freedom Tower to go up.


Yes, there were political disputes on what type of building and memorial would be erected, what security features would be included, what the insurance would pay, and so on.

But then there is also just the shear length of time it still takes us to build a building—a skyscraper, but also other smaller and simpler structures too.

Wired Magazine (October 2012) is reporting on a new method for building construction coming out of China.

Unfortunately, China has been known for some time for unsafe building practices—perhaps doing things on the cheap and then paying for it in terms of consequences later.

Yet, this new technique promises to increase safety, as well as speed, while lowering costs.

If you are willing to give up some building pizzazz, then Broad Sustainable Building is perfecting the prefabricated skyscraper—and these have tested “earthquake-proof” for a 9.0 quake, cost only $1,000 per square foot (versus $1,400 normally)—a 40% savings, and a 30 story building can be built in just 15 days!

Now, Broad says that they even want to erect a 220 story mega skyscraper in 6 months—by March 2013.

Here’s how they do it:

  • Identical modules—each section is prebuilt in identical modules in the factor.
  • Preinstalled fixtures—Pipes and ducts are threaded through each module in the factory for AC, hot and cold water, and waste.
  • Standardized truckloads —with two stacked pallets, each pallet has everything needed to erect a section including wall panels, columns, ducts, bolts, and tools.
  • Lego-style assembly—sections are lifted by crane and installed quickly in snap-like fashion, including pipes and wires.
  • Slotted exterior—heavily insulated walls and windows are hoisted by crane and slotted into the exterior of the building.

Aside from a standardized, consistent, high quality building—it is energy efficient, generates less than 1% the construction waste, and is safer to construct.

As with the rest of the industrial age, this is just the first step in mass producing—in this case buildings—and like the Ford Model T, which came in only one color black and evolved to meet consumer tastes and needs, these building will soon come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but at a fraction of the cost and the time to build.

This is enterprise architecture applied to building architecture making use of modular design and construction, standardization, and consolidated engineering, manufacturing, and assembly to develop next generation products. 

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)

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July 6, 2012

TED For Everyone

The New Yorker (9 July 2012) has an article on TED Talks. 

TED stands for Technology/Entertainment/Design and is a conference venue for some of the most magnificent speakers.

Just looking at some of TED's "most popular this month"--turn to TED if you want to hear about:

- Information being collected about you on the web
- How through vulnerability, we can empathize, belong, and love
- Whether through evolution our kids will be different than us
- Ways to prepare for Alzheimer disease
- New ideas for cleaning up oil spills
- How schools kill creativity
- The talents and abilities of introverts
- How to inspire and be a great leader 


TED is literally a world of information and it is presented in a high quality way.

Almost anyone would be floored by the honor to present at TED.

Talking at TED means not only that you have something important to say, but that you can pull-off saying it the right way. 

What makes TED lectures great though (and viewed 800 million times so far) maybe also makes them more than a little sterile.

Firstly, the 4-day TED conference itself is only for special people--admission starts at $7,500 and no that does not include lodging and travel, and you have to have an "invitation"--posh posh--to attend. 

Then, the actual presentations are "closely governed"--speakers are carefully sought out and vetted, material that is counterintuitive is of interest, and "TED's eye for theatre...[with] vigilance about immersion and control" are a strong part of the showmanship. 

However, while on one hand, these things perhaps are a hugh part of the TED success--wash, rinse, repeat--on the other hand, it also makes for a feel that is very scripted, uniform, almost molded. 

The New Yorker article even describes how the speakers practice again and again--repeating their monologues hundreds of times and to whoever will listen. There is essentially nothing impromptu, ad-libbed, or in a sense real about the entertainment-aspect of what you are watching and listening to. 

While the information seems to always be great--the presentation with the speaker, sound, lights, slide show, audience shots, etc.--comes across like a row of identically-built houses in a development. 

Each "house" (or presentation in this case) may be filled with interesting people, things, and love, but on the outside, as one of my friends says--they are identical, so that coming home after a long day at work, you almost don't know at times which row house is yours anymore. 

If TED ever did a lecture on how they could improve TED. these would be some of my suggestions (and there is no gloss here):

- Open it to everyone--Restricting TED to invitation-only is elitist and maybe worse. Opening TED to more people to attend, learn, and enjoy--let's everyone have an opportunity to benefit--regardless of who you are or where you come from.

- Diversify the speakers--It is nice to have scientists and entrepreneurs and stars present at TED, but it would be even nicer to have regular, common people too. Everyone has a story to tell--whether or not you have a Ph.D. or run your own company. While it is great to learn from the "experts," it would be fascinating to hear from everyday people on their challenges and how they deal with them and overcome them or not. Just as an example, regularly, I see an incredible homeless lady on the street in DC--yes, well-dressed, talkative, polite--and I would want to hear how she ended up where she is and how she copes and survives her experiences on the street everyday. The point it that every person is a world onto themselves and worth hearing about--the key is how to get the experiences, the feelings, and the lessons learned. 

- Genuine, less scripted speeches--Part of good entertainment is making it real, but when it is just another (over-)rehearsed performance, the speakers seem almost robotic. Wouldn't it be wonderful to hear human beings talk in a more relaxed and yes, genuine-way about very important human topics of significance to us all? Right now, people crave information --heck, it's the information age and nice informative lectures are racking up the views, but at some point soon, people are going to want and expect more.

- Shake it up with the venue--TED is conservative extraordinaire. The one (or occasionally two or three) speakers on the stage, the dark background and spotlighted speaker, the PowerPoint or Prezi presentation, the dangling microphone, the opening applause, the slow and methodical speech--yes TED is "ideas that inspire," but it is also a venue that bores. Perhaps, if you are an avid conference attendee and like the routine, copy-cat set-ups, you feel at home in TED.  But why not let people talk here, there, and everywhere--let someone speak on the street, in a park, on a ship, or even parachuting off a plane.  How about someone on the International Space Station?  Or on the front lines in a major military engagement. People have a lot to say and where they say it--says a lot about them and adds to their message. A stage is a stage. Even a snake-oil salesman has a soapbox. 

Not to be confused with TED, there are TEDx events--"TED-like" that are organized by volunteers on a community-level, a "do-it-yourself TED" that is occurring at a "global rate of about five per day"--and these come closer to the open ideal, but still more can be done to make TED itself an organization where truly ideas come from all people, for all people.

While TED's brand is exclusive and valuable--perhaps more important is education that is valuable for the masses.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Juhan Sonin)

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January 29, 2012

Platforms - Open or Closed

Ever since the battles of Windows versus Linux, there have been two strong competing philosophies on systems architecture.

Many have touted the benefits of open architecture--where system specifications are open to the public to view and to update.  

Open sourced systems provide for the power of crowdsourcing to innovate, add-on, and make the systems better as well as provides less vendor lock-in and lower costs.  

Open Source -----> Innovation, Choice, and Cost-Savings

While Microsoft--with it's Windows and Office products--was long the poster child for closed or proprietary systems and has a history of success with these, they have also come to be viewed, as TechRepublic (July 2011) points out as having an "evil, monopolistic nature."

However, with Apple's rise to the position of the World's most valuable company, closed solutions have made a strong philosophical comeback.

Apple has a closed architecture, where they develop and strictly control the entire ecosystem of their products. 

Closed systems provides for a planned, predictable, and quality-controlled architecture, where the the whole ecosystem--hardware, software and customer experience can be taken into account and controlled in a structured way.  

Closed Systems -----> Planning, Integration, and Quality Control

However, even though has a closed solutions architecture for it's products, Apple does open up development of the Apps to other developers (for use on the iPhone and iPad). This enables Apple to partner with others and win mind share, but still they can retain control of what ends-up getting approved for sale at the App Store. 
I think what Apple has done particularly well then is to balance the use of open and closed systems--by controlling their products and making them great, but also opening up to others to build Apps--now numbering over 500,000--that can leverage their high-performance products.

Additionally, the variety and number of free and 99 cent apps for example, show that even closed systems, by opening up parts of their vertical model to partners, can achieve cost-savings to their customers. 

In short, Apple has found that "sweet spot"--of a hybrid closed-open architecture--where they can design and build quality and highly desirable products, but at the same time, be partners with the larger development community. 

Apple builds a solid and magnificent foundation with their "iProducts," but then they let customers customize them with everything from the "skins" or cases on the outside to the Apps that run on them on the inside. 

Closed-Open Systems -----> Planned, Integrated, and Quality PLUS Innovation, Choice, and Cost-Savings

Closed-Open Systems represent a powerful third model for companies to choose from in developing products, and which benefits include those from both open and closed systems.

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January 22, 2012

Work Off Of Standards, But Stay Flexible to Change

Interesting book review in the Wall Street Journal (18 January 2012) on Standards: Recipes for Reality by Lawrence Busch.
Standards are a fundamental principle of enterprise architecture, and they can mean many things to different people--they can imply what is normal or expected and even what is considered ethical.
Reading and thinking about this book review helped me to summarize in my own mind, the numerous benefits of standards:
- Predictability--You get whatever the standard says you get.
- Quality--By removing the deviation and defects, you produce a consistently higher quality.
- Speed--Taking the decision-making out of the routine production of standardized parts (i.e. we don't have to "reinvent the wheel each time"), helps us to move the production process along that much faster.
- Economy--Standardizing facilitates mass production and economies of scale lowering the cost of goods produced and sold.
- Interoperability--Creating standards enables parts from different suppliers to inter-operate and work seamlessly and this has allowed for greater trade and globalization.
- Differentiation--Through the standardization of the routine elements, we are able to focus on differentiating other value-add areas for the consumer to appeal to various tastes, styles, and genuine improvements.
While the benefits of standards are many, there are some concerns or risks:
- Boring--This is the fear of the Ford Model-T that came in only one color, black--if we standardize too much, then we understate the importance of differentiation and as they say "variety is the spice of life."
- Stagnation--If we over-standardize, then we run the risk of stifling innovation and creativity, because everything has to be just "one way."
- Rigidity--By standardizing and requiring things like 3rd-party certification, we risk becoming so rigid in what we do and produce that we may become inflexible in addressing specific needs or meeting new requirements.
The key then when applying standards is to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks.
This requires maintaining a state of vigilance as to what consumers are looking for and the corollary of what is not important to them or what they are not keen on changing. Moreover, it necessitates using consumer feedback to continuously research and develop improvements to products and services. Finally, it is important to always be open to introducing changes when you are reasonably confident that the benefits will outweigh the costs of moving away from the accepted standard(s).
While it's important to work off of a standard, it is critical not to become inflexible to change.
(Source Photo: here )

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July 22, 2011

When The Cheapest Task Is Too Expensive

TaskRabbit is a new way to get odd jobs done by simply posting them online for others to bid on and perform them.

Browsing the list of tasks out there now, I see everything from driver for a day to laundry, matching paint colors to organizing a library, picking up items from the store to installing a t.v.--I suppose if you need it (and it's legal), you can post it. :-)

The service is available in LA, San Francisco, Orange Country, Boston, and NY--so far.

Basically, the way it works:
  1. You, the "Sender", go online and name and describe the task, including when and where you want it done as well as the maximum you are willing to pay.
  2. "Runners" are alerted and bid the minimum that they are willing to accept to do the job.
  3. You review the bids and select one.
  4. The runner performs the work.
  5. You review, rate, and reimburse for the work.
Wired (August 2011) calls TaskRabbit the "eBay for real world labor," although there are other competitors out there such as AirRun and Zaarly.

In TaskRabbit, "Customers pay by credit card, and the runner's share gets deposited into a TaskRabbit account, with checks cut every Friday."

"TaskRabbit takes 12-30% cut of each transaction."

97% of tasks get a bid from at least one runner and 75% of tasks get completed.

If you want to become a Runner-- you apply through a 3-step process that includes an application form, video interview, and a federal criminal background check.

Gaming mechanics is used to rank top runners, display their experience level and average customer reviews, and provide them a progress bar to show points needed to get to the next level.

TaskRabbit fills an important niche in our society that is increasingly time-presured, convenience-oriented, and service-based and where more and more people hire themselves out as consultants, freelancers, and Guy/Gal Fridays.

While I can see the benefits to people who need to get work done and for people looking for work, there is something about this process where we bid out our labor by the individual task--like in the video where we need someone to pick up dog food--that it can get a little degrading and meaningless. No longer are we hiring people for their knowledge, skills and abilities for long-term contributions and growth prospects, but rather we are tasking out the smallest and most mundane of tasks to the lowest bidder.

Harvard Business Review (July-August 2011) in an article called "The Age of Hyperspecialization" wrote of the new social challenges with companies such as TopCoders that crowdsources out IT work to 300,000 freelance developers in more than 200 countries, such as: "the possibility of exploitation as work quickly finds the cheapest takers, and the opportunity for deception when workers can't see the larger purpose to which they are contributing."

Crowdsourcing or outsourcing these everyday tasks can bring speed and quality to what we are looking for, but the true cost comes in terms of "digital sweatshops" and potentially "dull and meaningless" work.

Is this level of economic efficiency going to cost us all more in the end?

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February 27, 2010

Why Reputation Is The Foundation For Innovation

Toyota is a technology company with some of the most high-tech and “green” cars on the planet. But right now Totoya’s leaders seem to lack integrity, and they haven’t proactively handled the current crisis. As a result, everything they have built is in danger.

Too often, IT leaders think that their technical competency is sufficient. However, these days it takes far more to succeed. Of course, profitability is a key measure of achievement and sustainability. But if basic integrity, accountability, and open and skillful communication are absent, then no amount of innovation in the world can save you.

Looking back, no one would have thought that Toyota would go down in a flaming debacle of credibility lost. For years, Toyota ate the lunch of the largest American car manufacturers—and two of the three were driven to bankruptcy just last year. Moreover, they had a great reputation built on quality – and that rocketed Toyota to be the #1 car company in the world.

A reputation for quality gave Toyota a significant edge among potential buyers. Purchasing a Toyota meant investing in a car that would last years and years without defect or trouble—it was an investment in reliability and it was well worth the extra expense. Other car companies were discounting and incenting sales with low or zero interest rates, cash back, and extended warranties, and so on. But Toyota held firm and at times their cars even sold for above sticker price. In short, their brand elicited a price premium. Toyota had credibility and that credibility translated into an incredibly successful company.

Now Toyota has suffered a serious setback by failing to disclose and fix brake problems so serious that they have allegedly resulted in loss of life. Just today, the Boston Globe reports that Toyota has been sued in Boston by an individual who alleges that “unintended acceleration (of his Toyota vehicle) caused a single-car crash that killed his wife and left him seriously injured.” The Globe goes on to report that “dozens of people reportedly have been killed in accidents involving unwanted acceleration.”

While nothing is perfect, not even Toyota engineering, in my opinion the key to recovering from mistakes is to be honest, admit them, be accountable, and take immediate action to rectify. These are critical leadership must do’s! Had Toyota taken responsibility in those ways, I believe their reputation would have been enhanced rather than grossly tarnished as it is now, because ultimately people respect integrity above all else, and they will forgive mistakes when they are honest mistakes and quickly rectified.

Unfortunately, this has not occurred with Toyota, and the brake problems appear to be mistakes that were known and then not rectified—essentially, Toyota’s transgression may have been one of commission rather than simply omission. For example, this past week, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, testified before Congress that “we didn’t listen as carefully as we should—or respond as quickly as we must—to our customer’s concerns.” However, in reality, company executives not only didn’t respond, but also actually apparently stalled a response and celebrated their success in limiting recalls in recent years. As Congressman Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, stated: “Toyota's own internal documents indicate that a premium was placed on delaying or closing NHTSA investigations, delaying new safety rules and blocking the discovery of safety defects.” (Bloomberg News via the Austin American Statesman)

In other words, Toyota strayed from its promise to customers to put safety center stage. Rather, profit took over and became the benchmark of success.

Even the company’s own managers acknowledge the deep wound that this scandal has inflicted on the company, and have doubts about its leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, a midlevel manager stated, “Mr. Toyoda cannot spell out how he plans to alleviate consumer worries….it is a recall after another, and every time Mr. Toyoda utters the phrase ‘customer first,’ it has the opposite effect. His words sound just hollow.’” Said another, “The only way we find out anything about the crisis is through the media….Does Mr. Toyoda have the ability to lead? That’s on every employee’s mind.”

Indeed, the Journal echoes these sentiments, noting that under Toyoda’s leadership, there was a focus on “getting the company back to profitability, after the company last year suffered it first loss in 70 years.” In other words, in an attempt to “reinstate frugality,” it appears that CEO Toyoda went too far and skimped on quality—becoming, as the saying goes, “penny wise and dollar foolish.” We will see if this debacle costs Toyota market share and hurts the bottom line over the intermediate to longer-term.

In recent times, we have seen a shift away from quality and credibility in favor of a fast, cheap buck in many sectors of the economy. For example, I have heard that some homebuyers actually prefer hundred-year-old homes to new construction due to their perception that the quality was better back then and that builders take shortcuts now. But somehow Toyota always stood out as a bulwark against this trend. It is therefore deeply disappointing to see that even they succumbed. While the company has a long road ahead to reestablish their credibility and rebuild their brand, I, for one, sincerely hope that they rediscover their roots and “do the right thing.”


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February 9, 2010

Why The Customer Should Be The Center Of Our Professional World

It’s intuitive that organizations should manage oriented to serve their customers, because it’s the customers who keep them in business. Yet, in the name of “shareholder value,” many organizations continue to put short-term results at the forefront of their decision-making and this ends up damaging the long-term success of the organization to the detriment of its owners.

Harvard Business Review, January-February 2010, in an article called “The Age of Customer Capitalism” by Roger Martin states that “for three decades, executives have made maximizing shareholder value their top priority. But evidence suggest that shareholders actually do better when firms put the customer first.”

The author continues: “Peter Drucker had it right when he said the primary purpose of a business is to acquire and keep customers.”

Clearly, we serve our customers in the service of our mission. Our mission is why we exist as an organization. Our mission is to provide our customers with products and/or services that satisfy some intrinsic need.

The equation is simple:

Shareholder Returns = f (Customer Satisfaction)

Shareholder returns is a function of and positively correlated with customer satisfaction, as HBR notes. If we serve our customers well, the organization will thrive--and so will the owners—and if we do this poorly, the organization will die—and the owners will “lose their shirts”.

The problem with concentrating exclusively on stock price is that we then tend to focus on short-term returns versus long-term results, and the shareholder ends up worse off in the end.

“The harder a CEO is pushed to increase shareholder value, the more the CEO will be tempted to make moves that actually hurt the shareholders…short-term rewards encourage CEOs to manage short-term expectation rather than push for real progress.”

The article cites companies like Johnson & Johnson and P&G that “get it.” They put the customer first and their shareholders have been rewarded handsomely—“at least as high as, if not higher than, those of leading shareholder-focused companies.”

One good example of how J&J put customers first is when in the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, in which seven Chicago-area residents died, J&J recalled every capsule in the nation, “even though the government had not demanded it.”

Another good example in the article is Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry. They recognized the importance of the customer versus the focus on the shareholder and already “in 1997, just after the firms IPO, the founders made a rule that any manager who talked about the share price at work had to buy a doughnut for every person in the company.” The last infraction by the COO had him delivering more than 800 doughnuts—the message was heard loud and clear.

These examples are in seemingly stark contrast to the recent handling by Toyota of its brake problems, in which there has been delayed recalls and the government is now investigating. As The New York Times (8 February 2010) reported: “The fact that Toyota knew about accelerator deficiencies as far back as December 2008 “raises serious questions about whether car manufacturers should be more forthcoming when they identify a problem, even before a recall,” said Robert Gifford, the executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a nonprofit group that seeks to advise British legislators on air, rail and road safety issues.” Note: this is out of character for Toyota, which historically has been a car company known for its quality and safety.

As a long advocate for User-centric Enterprise Architecture, I applaud the organizations and the people that put the customer first—and by this, I mean not by words alone, but in deeds. It is easy to put the customer into our mission and vision statements, but it is another to manage our organization with a true service creed.

While the HBR article emphasizes short-term shareholder value as main culprit diverting us from a positive customer-focus, there are really numerous distractions to realizing the vision of a customer service organization. Some examples include: organizational politics that hinder our ability to accomplish our mission; functional silos that are self-serving instead of seeking the best for the enterprise; certain egocentric employees (a minority) that put personal gain or a lack of strain above a service ethos; and of course, greedy and corrupt individuals that seek to profit at the expense of the customer, perhaps even skimping on product quality and customer service, thereby even endangering health and safety.

While most people are essentially good and seek to do the right thing, the organization must put in place controls to ensure that our focus is never distracted or diminished from our customers. These controls include everything from establishing values, policies, processes, requirements management, product development, training, testing, measurement and reporting, and best practices implementation in order to ensure our finest delivery to the customers, always.


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December 13, 2009

It's the Customer, Not the Technology, Stupid

Two of the finest customer service companies these days are Amazon and Apple. Amazon with free shipping and generous return policy for just about any reason is amazing in their no nonsense customer-service orientation—they inspire virtually complete customer trust. And Apple with their try it, you’ll like it stores full of computers, iPhones, and iPods, as well as their extended product warranties, training classes on products and awesome service desks is just another great customer shopping experience.

We need more of these positive customer experiences:

· Products—products should be true quality through and through (not the shoddy stuff made on the cheap to maximize profit and minimize customer satisfaction).

· Commitment—companies stand by their products with hassle-free money back guarantees (forget the 15% restocking fee, the mandatory return authorization number, and the 4-6 weeks to get your money back).

· Service—customer service has got to be easy to access and quick to resolve problems (banish the cold and calculating automated calling systems with the loop-de-loop dialing—“dial 1 if you want to jump out of a window!”—and where routine service problems are resolved without having to escalate numerous levels to get a supervisor only to then get accidentally disconnected and have to start all over again; oh, and did I forget having to give your basic information over 3 times to each service rep you speak with).

Aside from these basics, we need new ways to improve customer experiences to give the customer an absolutely satisfying experience.

In this regard, I loved the recent commentary by Steve Kelman in Federal Computer Week entitled Customer service Tips From Developing Countries, where some simple yet novel customer service innovations were identified, as follows:

· Chinese Passport Control and Customs provides a kiosk for passengers to “report on their travel experience by pressing a smiley face or a frowning face.” Whoola instant feedback!

· Saudi Arabia ATM Machines, while withdrawing money “offered an option of paying parking fines and some government license fees.” That couldn’t be simpler and quicker.

· Singapore Passport Control “placed a bowl of candy at the counter.” A tiny gesture that goes a long way.

From a simple smiley/frowny face feedback mechanism to a candy bowl as a way to say thank you; it is not rocket-science to be kind, gentle, and caring for customers—most of the time, it’s the basic manners your mother taught you.

In technology, these customer services lessons are especially apropos, since it is easy to get enmeshed in the technology and forget the people and processes that we are supporting. (Or to put it in another way, “it’s the customer, not the technology, stupid!”)


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November 27, 2009

Right In Front of Us, but We Are Blind to It

Last week, there was a 13-year-old boy, with Asperger’s syndrome, who ran away from home and rode away in the NYC subway system for 11 days undetected!!!

The boy went missing with $11 dollars in his pocket. “According to CNN, the boy's mother says he survived on fast food and candy he purchased in the subway system. He spent the majority of his time riding the trains. He wore the same clothes for the duration and lived underground, sleeping in subway cars and using underground restrooms.”

Many people were out looking for this boy, including the police, but neither the searchers nor the extensive surveillance apparatus in New York picked him out. Apparently, no one on the trains reported seeing this kid riding endlessly around 24x7, and the boy was invisible to the myriad of hardworking transit workers and officers who are all over the transit system, until day 11 when finally one officer recognized the boy from his missing picture.

How can a boy be there for almost two weeks, but be seemingly invisible to the thousands of riders and workers passing thru the subway system and what can this teach us about leadership and organizations?

Information Overload—This is truly the information age. We have morphed from not having enough information to being flooded with it and not being able to process it. With the missing boy on the NYC MTA subway system, he was literally lost amidst the more than 5 million riders a day and 468 stations. This is a common situation these days where we have access to stores of information, on databases and through the Internet, yet we frequently struggle to find the golden nuggets of information that really mean something. Post 9-11, our military and intelligence communities are being flooded by sensor information from a vast network of resources, and the challenge now is to find innovative ways to process it quickly and effectively—to find the proverbial “needle in the haystack” and to stop the next potential attack. Our organizations in the public and private sectors need faster, more accurate, and finely tuned systems to find the dots, connect the dots, and see the picture.

Process Matters—According to Digital Journal, “the disappearance was reported to police immediately, who treated it as a runaway. After five days had passed, it was being treated as a missing persons case.” The police were following their processes in handling this little boy, but it resulted in five days passing without the assumed more intense search that occurs with a missing persons case. Lesson to note is that having standardized, documented business processes are important in efficiently managing operations, but we should not get so caught up in the process that we become rigid and inflexible in handling cases according to the specific situation. While I am not an expert in this, the question does come to mind, whether the search for a child with a known disability may have been escalated/elevated sooner? And the point, I am really trying to make is that we need to keep our organizations and processes agile and responsive so that we can act meaningfully and in time.

Break through the Apathy—Having been a former New Yorker (and I suppose, it never truly leaves your blood), I am well aware of the accusations and jokes made about rudeness and apathy from people in the “city that never sleeps.” NY is a tough town, no doubt. The people are quick and sharp. They work and play hard. They are good, productive people. But living in a city with 8.3 million people in one of the most dense urban centers of the world can take a toll. Even with major clean-up efforts in recent years, NYC still has its fair share of crowding, pollution, and crime and this can take a toll on even the best people. I remember daily sights of panhandling, poor and ill people, aggressiveness not limited to the yellow cabbies. I suppose, one disabled boy could get lost amidst the city chaos, but the challenge is to break through the apathy or callousness that can easily overtake people and continue to care for each and every person that needs our help. This is no small challenge in a city with a 21.2% poverty rate (US Census Bureau 1999), let along in a world where 1 in 4 (or 1.3 billion persons) live on less than $1 a day. As leaders, we need to push for caring over apathy and for seeing and acting versus blinding ourselves to the pain and misfortune of others.

Could we have found this little boy sooner? Maybe. Could it have ended a lot worse? For sure.

While this missing persons situation is now over, we need to prepare ourselves for future events and contingencies. We can do this by continuing to create better systems and mechanisms to process information better, faster, and cheaper—it’s not longer just the quantity of information, but the quality and it’s timeliness and relevance; by reengineering our business processes so that we are alert, nimble and responsive—rigid processes lead to hard and fast rules that serve no one; and building camaraderie with one another—seeing that we are more the same, than we are different—and that everyone matters—even a kid underground in a subway system spanning 656 long and winding miles.

And lest anybody think I’m giving New Yorkers a hard time, believe me when I say – it is “the city” that has given me the street smarts to navigate the Beltway and challenge anyone who says that something can’t be done!


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September 26, 2009

The Doomsday Machine is Real

There is a fascinating article in Wired (Oct. 2009) on a Doomsday Machine called “the Perimeter System” created by the Soviets. If anyone tries to attack them with a debilitating first strike, the doomsday machine will take over and make sure that the adversary is decimated in return.

“Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.”

The Doomsday machine has supposedly been online since 1985, shortly after President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or “Star Wars”) in 1983. SDI was to shield the US from nuclear attack with space lasers (missile defense). “Star Wars would nullify the long-standing doctrine of mutually assured destruction.”

The logic of the Soviet’s Doomsday Machine was “you either launch first or convince the enemy that you can strike back even if you’re dead.”

The Soviet’s system “is designed to lie dormant until switched on by a high official in a crisis. Then it would begin monitoring a network of seismic, radiation, and air pressure sensors for signs of nuclear explosion.”

Perimeter had checks and balances to hopefully prevent a mistaken launch. There were four if/then propositions that had to be meet before a launch.

Is it turned on?

Yes then…

Had a nuclear weapon hit Soviet soil?

Yes, then…

Was there still communications links to the Soviet General Staff?

No, then launch authority is transfered to whoever is left in protected bunkers

Will they press the button?

Yes, then devastating nuclear retaliation!

The Perimeter System is the realization of the long-dreaded reality of machines taking over war.

The US never implemented this type of system for fear of “accidents and the one mistake that could end it all.”

“Instead, airborne American crews with the capacity and authority to launch retaliatory strikes were kept aloft throughout the Cold War.” This system relied more on people than on autonomous decision-making by machines.

To me, the Doomsday Machine brings the question of automation and computerization to the ultimate precipice of how far we are willing to go with technology. How much confidence do we have in computers to do what they are supposed to do, and also how much confidence do we have in people to program the computers correctly and with enough failsafe abilities not to make a mistake?

On one hand, automating decision-making can help prevent errors, such as a mistaken retaliatory missile launch to nothing more than a flock of geese or malfunctioning radar. On the other hand, with the Soviet’s Perimeter System, once activated, it put the entire launch sequence in the hands of a machine, up until the final push a button by a low-level duty station officer, who has a authority transferred to him/her and who is perhaps misinformed and blinded by fear, anger, and the urge to revenge the motherland in a 15 minute decision cycle—do or die.

The question of faith in technology is not going away. It is only going to get increasingly dire as we continue down the road of computerization, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Are we safer with or without the technology?

There seems to be no going back—the technology genie is out of the bottle.

Further, desperate nations will take desperate measures to protect themselves and companies hungry for profits will continue to innovate and drive further technological advancement, including semi-autonomous and perhaps, even fully autonomous decision-making.

As we continue to advance technologically, we must do so with astute planning, sound governance, thorough quality assurance and testing, and always revisiting the technology ethics of what we are embarking on and where we are headed.

It is up to us to make sure that we take the precautions to foolproof these devices or else we will face the final consequences of our technological prowess.


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