Wasted Data Entry on my Microwave – Why Enter the Date??

March 11, 2012 — daylight savings time starts and it’s time to revisit this post from August 2011… and to set the date and time on my stupid microwave.

I’ve heard it as a good data collection rule of thumb – for surveys or software: don’t collect data unless you are going to use it.

My GE microwave violates that rule!

When we have a power outage, we have to first enter the time before the microwave can be used. OK, fair enough, I guess. The time display is helpful, but it’s hardly necessary for cooking as long as the timer still works. I can live with entering the time.

The danged thing ALSO makes you enter the month, date, and year. That’s crazy.

The data entry looks like this, as it’s prompting you to enter MMDDYY.

There’s zero reason, that I can tell, for the microwave to be greedy about being fed with a six-digit date.

The microwave never displays the date. I don’t think you can pre-program the microwave to start at 6:00 PM next Thursday.

I tweeted about this and I got this response from Kevin Meyer at Evolving Excellence:

I’d be a cynic and think the microwave is programmed to break and stop working on a certain date (apparently in the future). Planned obsolescence and more sales for GE, perhaps?

Channeling Jerry Seinfeld on Saturday Night Live – “who is the ad wizard who came up with that one??”

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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 book 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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23 Comments on "Wasted Data Entry on my Microwave – Why Enter the Date??"

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  1. Rob Worth

    If you ask why a few times it sounds like the real villains are the power company that give you frequent enough outages that you notice the microwave’s shortcomings.

    • Mark Graban

      There are many contributing causes, including extreme heat here in Texas and our power grid. You could start blaming deregulation, or excessive regulation (which might both exist) or look for the root causes (if any) of the extreme heat… but then we’d get sidetracked, wouldn’t we?

      My power goes out maybe 2x / year. I think GE and other equipment makers should assume that customers would lose power occasionally.

  2. Has someone worked out the Mean Time Between Failures and actually programmed it into the microwave?

  3. Jim Piana says:

    A 2 digit date field? Didn’t GE learn anything after the Y2k disasters?

  4. The blessing and curse of Lean thinkers.

    I have trouble eating at restaurants with broken processes and Theory X management styles.

    What other daily encounters bug you as Lean thinker?

    • Mark Graban

      Things that bother me are poor flow (especially at lunch buffets or registration desks at lean conferences) and workplaces, as you said it Isaac, where you can tell the employees are abused and disaffected (which I see a lot during air travel).

    • Conal Scanlon says:

      Traffic patterns, especially ones that interrupt flow, always bug me. The large amounts of work-in-process road construction (living in DC, there are always long stretches of road that are blocked off with no work being done) seem wasteful, too. May be some civil engineering reason for this, but from my standpoint, I’d enjoy smaller batch sizes and faster throughput.

  5. Chris says:

    Daylight Savings Time switch-over twice per year? – Of course if you live in Arizona, Hawaii, or most of Indiana you don’t want that feaure… BTW, you beat me to the punch on the planned obsolesence thing.

    Our GE microwave has a “feature” (a thermal fuse) that routinely breaks (due apparently to poor choice of wire gauge – leading to SELF heating) and kills the power to the whole unit. Ours first broke about 3 months out of the warranty period. I replaced the thermal fuse AND the wire, but now my wife’s afraid to use the “Speedcook” setting.

  6. Brian Buck

    What is sad is that someone at GE might read this post and decide to add a GPS and/or wi-fi setup that gets fed the proper date and time so the user never has to reprogram it. It might add cost to the microwave but it saves the user time from entering the date. Must be value added to automatically add the date right?

    Oh wait. The customer doesn’t want or need the date on their microwave.

    PS: The idea of someone leaving uncooked food in a microwave for it to autostart next Thursday doesn’t sound too kosher with food handling rules. If there was a way to program it to cook at a later time, the unit facilitates potential health problems.

  7. Re: Brian’s comment – perhaps an integrated freezer/microwave device would be the solution, keep the food frozen, then thaw it, then microwave it (JIT). I can see plans being drawn now…? Obviously bypassing the “is there a need?” question :-)

    • Mark Graban

      There are “refrigerated ovens” on the market that can keep food cool for 24 hours before baking/roasting/cooking. I’m not sure how big the market is for that though. I personally don’t have a need for that, no value to me, and I wouldn’t pay extra for that feature.

  8. Brian Buck

    That kind of oven wouldn’t need to input date either. All it needs is a 24 HR countdown feature to begin cooking once cooling stops.

  9. Jeff Hajek

    I could see the value of the date if it automatically adjusted for daylight savings, but I suspect it is just due to an off-the-shelf component that requires the date. Of course, you could make the argument that the shared component strategy brings down costs on GE equipment. I’d love to write more about that, but I have to go now. My microwave needs resetting….

    • Mark Graban

      The microwave doesn’t change the time for DST automatically. Even if it did, it wouldn’t need to know the year. This microwave was built before Congress changed the dates for when DST kicks in, so that “feature” would be pretty broken now anyway. Interesting thought on the component strategy… but I’d have to think more appliances just deal with time, not date.

      • Jeff Hajek

        what came to mind was vcr/lighting systems/high end thermostats/security etc. The year drives the day of the week for dates. But I can’t think why an appliance would need a date either, though.

        I am having that date change problem with a light timer–shifted the time too early.

  10. Robert says:

    Am I the only one reading this whose immediate reaction is:

    Why are you setting the clock?

    I’ve got more than enough clocks in the kitchen already, I don’t need one tied to the power line.

    Maybe your microwave is insistent but mine will happily work without the clock being set and if you just use it without setting the clock the clock display goes away as well. Come to that I think my previous microwave did as well.

    Don’t give in to the tyranny of setting electronic data just because it’s there to set.


  11. Trevor Ryan says:

    Hmmm…if it needs a year and the cynics amongst us think that it’s a planned obsolescence feature;

    I wonder what happens if you purposely pop in a year far in the future. Say, the year 65?

    Then try and reset it to the current year?

  12. Cindy says:

    Well few possible ideas are :

    1.You can putt your kids toys inside as “hostages” for not cleaning the room or putting put the garbage out, set the timer and inform them that the Barbie have 3 days left.

    2. Buy 31 more and set each one for every day of the month. Hey frozen food is not so bad!

    3. They made it this way to make you think and contemplate.

    4. They have a troll in the company.

    5. They where drunk when reviewing this idea.

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