By February 11, 2008 7 Comments Read More →

Who Is Making Sure Things Work?

Hamilton Beach HDC100B Pourover Pod Brewer

Sorry for the blog downtime the past few days. I had a great weekend back in my old hometown, Phoenix. My wife and I stayed at a hotel in Scottsdale that had some room features that just didn’t work well (although it was a nice hotel and an enjoyable stay overall). The little design glitches made me wonder, “Who, in management, doesn’t recognize this stuff is a problem? Who approved it initially and who doesn’t fix it today?”

The coffee maker was one of those things. It was a “pod” single-cup maker, as linked to above. The glaring flaw in the design is the challenge of actually getting water into the coffee maker. For a coffee maker with a carafe, even a small 4-cup one, there’s a spout for easy spill-free pouring. Not on this one — you’re supposed to brew right into the mug.

See the photo at the left? The center part with the white disc is where the coffee pod goes. The photo is a bit deceptive, but there’s an outer semi-circular ring where you’re supposed to pour the water. This opening is about 1/2″ wide. Try an experiment at home… how easily can you pour water out of a ceramic mug into a small area? You can’t. Water ends up all over the counter…. the water that landed on the coffee pod fell straight through where the mug was supposed to be sitting. A big mess.

A) Who, at the manufacturer, designs this crap and never discovers the flaw?

B) Who, in hotel management, buys this crap without ever trying to use it?

C) Who, after discovering the flaw, wouldn’t send these back, ordering coffee makers that actually work?

I’m placing more of the responsibility on hotel management…. let me give just another example of their poor design. They put a lot of effort into turning this former Hampton Inn into a cool, “hip” hotel. There was some lighting built into the top of the headboard. Problem was I had to call the front desk to figure out how to turn the lights off.

“Oh, we get calls about that all the time,” said the front desk person as they explained that the switch was hidden in the nightstand that extended behind the nightstand… move the alarm clock and I’d find it. The switch was cleverly the SAME color as the nightstand….

A) Who approves that design?

B) Who doesn’t fix that after getting calls every day?

I wouldn’t necessarily expect a root cause fix… but at least post a little sign telling us how to turn off the light (but, then that wouldn’t look very hip).

Think about our workplaces for a minute…. is there stuff in our workplace that just doesn’t work? Is there enterprise software that’s just hard to use? Equipment that’s glitchy and causes problems for people day in and day out?

Who approved those things? Who rushed them into place? Who didn’t input from those who would use the equipment or software? Who didn’t discover that it doesn’t work well? You find the same types of problems in factories and hospitals. Why do technologies get chosen that don’t support the way people work?

Can’t we do better? Do leaders need to pay more attention to these details? Or do the leaders need to care more?


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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7 Comments on "Who Is Making Sure Things Work?"

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  1. BobYokl says:

    Mark, have been following but not commenting for a while so I thought I would add a comment today on what I feel is one of the most important aspects of any business and that is “Follow-Up.”

    It is easy go just buy a product, service or technology and make sure it gets to your internal and external customers but we always forget about the life cycle and the use cycle of these products. When I work with my customers (hospital value teams) I always remind them to do their 360 analysis on this product because you more than likely are missing something along the way. That coffee maker should have been tested, piloted and tested again. What if that coffee maker spewed out hot water/coffee all over the place? Or something to that effect. Bottom line people don’t take the 5 seconds to complain and the hotel may never know the situation with the coffee maker is that bad too.

    As for the senior level management taking the time to care about these things, well I am in the healthcare world and there was just a great study done on C-Suite and the Supply Chain. This was done by Owens & Minor and presented by Jamie Kowalski a long time industry leader. (sorry you would have to buy the issue from the publication http://www.hcpro.com/ppv-203286.html) It is a facinating article but it basically tells the supply chain managers that they are not in the main focus of their bosses. Even though in healthcare they represent over 40% of total operating spend. Their bosses need to be educated and informed bottom line because they do not take an interest for the most part in the supply chain.

  2. rearden215 says:

    Who says it’s a flaw? The good folks in the IT business would call that an ‘undocumented feature’ and backbill you for the hours it would have taken to develop the ‘feature’ had you actually contracted with them to do so.

    It is unfortunate that usability and human machine interface (HMI) work fairs so poorly in the product design and development process. Most products seem to be designed first and the product description is edited to fit as an afterthought. Product designers can be a tad ‘artistic’ at implementation time , as your coffee pot demonstrates, and form usually wins out over function in the end,

    Regarding who is watching out for all this bad design, I think that you have answered your own question: no one is watching, except for the user and this flies in direct opposition to the TPS and it’s bear hug of the customer as a member of the design team.

    I know that you opened the door for commentary about the sorry, sad state of the IT industry, but I made a New Year’s resolution to stop trashing that industry for all of 2008 and I guess I should stick to it.

    That’s how we see it here in Philadelphia.

  3. curiouscat says:

    I would say the problem is that management has designed a stupid system. Those people in the should be demanding better solutions. The form that process takes to result in better solutions can vary. But management needs to have a workable system in place. I don’t think say the hotel manager needs to know about this and fix it. They need to have designed (and be maintaining) a system that avoids these problems and fix them when they occur.

    And then if the system failed so badly to have front line people know customers would going to keep complaining about a continuing situation the manager better get in there and fix it (but that is fire fighting, which should be done when necessary, but even fire fighting well is failing).

    Having stayed at hotels it is pretty obvious most focus only on cost reductions – not staff training or customer satisfaction. Ritz-Carlton is different.

  4. David says:

    Perhaps a big part of the problem is this: the view that there is such an activity as “strategy” which can be almost totally detached from operations or from any knowledge thereof.

  5. Jennifer Eliuk says:

    Every time I run into something like this, I remind myself that the people who should care probably don’t get paid enough to. Like when I go to Blockbuster and there is a messy counter overflowing with candy, and you can’t even set your purse down to pay because it’s such a mess. Well, anyone working minimum wage at Blockbuster should have my sympathy, not be at the receiving end of a complaint. They simply don’t get paid enough to care, and if I were them, I wouldn’t either.

    The maids who clean up the spilled water just wipe it up, and the managers never ever have to actually use the crappy coffeemakers, so, until it affects them directly, they don’t care. Sad, but true.

  6. Mark Graban says:

    Great comments, everyone. Jennifer, I agree that it IS said that employees aren’t “paid enough to care.” Deming said that everybody should be able to have pride in their work. The front line staff, if they ever did say something, might be told to “be quiet, just do your job” or they aren’t given enough time to do their job in a high quality way they can feel pride in.

    It’s certainly said that companies and business owners don’t hold their managers to a higher standard. Can customers hold them to a higher standard?

  7. Jennifer Eliuk says:

    Yes, I think customers can hold them to a higher standard, or at least should try. It’s difficult though when that business is the only game in town, when you can’t demonstrate your dissatisfaction by taking your business elsewhere, and explaining to them why you are. Whenever I have an issue or complaint at a business and they exceed my expectations responding, I’m always very complimentary – positive reinforcement, you know? You can very much tell when someone cares or is just going through the motions of telling you some things they think you want to hear in the hopes you’ll leave less upset (or just leave). Some people have personal pride in their work regardless of pay and their work environment, but in a place where that isn’t fostered, I personally don’t see it too often with big national name stores/service providers who pay minimum wage or only slightly better. I think pay is indicative of their respect for people or the position, too. Okay, enough rambling, sorry! : )

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