Life Without Tap Water in Boston – New Standardized Work
I'm sitting here on a Sunday morning, drinking a cup of coffee I made at home with bottled water. Why bottled water? Because of a massive water main burst west of Boston – Boston and 30+ other communities currently have unsafe drinking water and a boil order in effect. Cambridge, across the river, has a different water source so they are OK and we'll be able to drink the water at the LEI office on Monday.
This water emergency is leading to new “standardized work” at home, restaurants, Starbucks, and local hospitals. This requires new habits – how do we communicate them and put the new methods in place? How do we communicate effectively? How do we remind ourselves to NOT drink the tap water? Will “just in time” be blamed? Here's my post…
I caught wind of the problem via a Facebook friend's post. Ah, the new way to learn about news. I then checked Twitter and found an official announcement from the City of Boston. Amazingly (and this was true through 10 PM) the mobile site for Boston.com (run by the Boston Globe) had NOTHING about the water emergency (but they had the updated Red Sox score). They don't even have this water emergency featured on the main mobile.Boston.com page today at 10:20 am (see screen grab on right). Shame on you, Boston Globe (although it is the huge headline in the print edition of the Sunday paper).
So there's a communication challenge — you have to get word out to as many people as possible. After 7 PM, the local CBS affiliate was running a news scroll across the bottom of the screen, but not the Fox affiliate. An effective way to communicate this emergency would have been NESN, as many Bostonians were watching the Red Sox game — but no announcement there.
Any change management initiative requires effective communication and it seems like a less than coordinated response. Boston police cruisers were driving the streets making announcements over bullhorns. But, even today, there aren't signs posted on street corners.
Some communication is taking place via the two Starbucks on our street, with signs in the window (different at each location) explaining the situation (sort of):
Yet, people were walking the street with Dunkin Donuts hot beverage cups. So, somebody's making coffee, it seems — bottled water? Correction: The Dunkin coffee probably came across the bridge from Cambridge, where the water was OK.
The sign was later updated (probably based on customers repeatedly asking the same questions over and over). I guess the baristas taking action to update the sign is an example of kaizen. They didn't need a central top-down order from Seattle headquarters to make this happen.
One thing missing from all of this, even the Boston Globe and the city announcements was any information about WHY it is unsafe to drink the water. Would it kill you? Make you mildly sick?
The MWRA website and its announcements say nothing very specific:
Boil water orders are preventative measures issued to protect public health from waterborne infectious agents that could be or are known to be present in drinking water.
What infectious agents? To what effect?
If you dig a bit, you find this Boston Globe article (“Residents, businesses race to adapt; water vanishes from stores“), and it says:
All water to be ingested, including water used for cooking and making baby formula, should be boiled for at least a minute to kill potentially harmful bacteria such as E.coli and giardia, Convery said.
So now we know WHAT is in the water. It's harmful, but how harmful? This different Globe article says:
Q. What are the risks if I drink the tap water?
A. For most people, minor gastrointestinal illness. The biggest concerns are for those with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV or who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Emergency water reaching many taps was being channeled from open-air reservoirs such as Chestnut Hill and Spot Pond in Stoneham, watering holes possibly contaminated by goose and deer droppings.
Why isn't all of that information in one consolidated place?
Why aren't news sources and authorities doing a better job of explaining WHY? Just being authoritarian and saying “don't drink the water!” isn't as a effective as more specific communication that explains the impact of not following the order. I wrote about a similar theme a few years ago after I toured the NUMMI plant (“NUMMI Tour Tale #3: The Power of Why“).
So, my challenge is to explain “why” as much as possible. Not just asking why, but explaining why. I hope you can take that challenge on for yourself. Why are we doing lean? Why is it necessary to standardize our workbenches? Why is it important to get these parts off MRP and onto a kanban system? I bet we would all do better by taking the time to explain why.
Some of the new standardized work involves hospitals that have dirty water. Doctors are being told to scrub in for surgery with bottled water, because of the bacterial risk. Let's hope that new temporary standardized work is communicated effectively (with some “why” statements) and that it's being followed.
Here at home, I'm trying to help error proof this. We're not supposed to brush our teeth with the tap water, so I set a gallon of water on the sink the bathroom as a visual reminder. I guess I could post a bunch of warning signs. I'm trying to make it easy to do the right thing.
We managed to buy some water. Even this morning, the CVS store near us had bottles of water (not gallon sizes). Bottles of drinking water were even still on sale (thanks for not price gouging!).
As the news stories show pictures of empty shelves, I'm just waiting for the articles criticizing “just in time” inventory practices.This is clearly an unusual situation where demand for bottled water is not normally this high. You can't plan inventory for all eventualities. Heck, the stores in Boston don't have enough room to store that much inventory anyway.
All we can hope for is more frequent deliveries at this point and I assume the retailers will be able to respond quickly.