The sting (Just in time)

1/June/2008

I was driving in a shallow street, only three lanes wide, with the righmost allowed to park, so there were only two free for the cars. There was not too much traffic, but enough to fill both free lanes all the way. Suddenly everything started to slowdown a lot, almost to a full stop. After some minutes at near zero speed, there was the answer: a person parked ok the left; a taxi driver to be precise and he was with the emergency yellow lights turned on. He was for sure waiting for his passenger; in fact, we all were waiting for his passenger. Both of them, taxi driver and passenger, pissed me off.

I can assure, almost without a minor chance of a mistake, that there is in the world no city designed to support the number of vehicles in its streets in this days. But a lot of people, I assume, work everyday to redesign the traffic flows so the city, at least, doesn’t colapse. And is a very difficult task; and I know there are situations where people not doing his chores can ruin everything. Like the taxi driver and the delayed passenger.

This is a world of performance. There is so much distributed knowledge and is so easy to get that knowledge, that the competitive advantages a company can have over others will be effective only if they are doing their best in the most basic and commoditized areas. So, companies focus and spend a lot of time designing, redesigning and optimizing their processes, as the traffic experts do for the cities (I am not happy with the job done by the latters, but is not the point in this post). The production processes are so optimized that everything must go very smoothly; just in time, to add some theory. If something happens, it can crash the whole process.

I remember a professor in my last year in high school: he asked our team to design a platform that can be used to transport a car over it. When we where done, the question was: With what tolerance did you designed it? We asked back: Tolerance? And here comes the expert’s answer (the professor): did you expect that something four meters long will be built up to the millimeter? 

Today, some processes are build so tight, that a minor delay in one area can crash it completely. It can be human factor or mechanical or external, but there will be one. The responsibility of the process designer is not to have a backup for every situation, but to know all the significant situations that can occur and to have the impact evaluated for each instance, and to implement workarounds for those considered important enough. For the taxi driver example, probably the construction of booths where the taxis can stop to wait for a passenger will be enough to keep the rest of the traffic flowing smoothly. Another example: remember the movie The Sting? One of my favorites. The planner (Henry) decided to put a protection on a critical part of the plan (Johnny); he really didn’t know if it was going to be necessary, but the risk was so high that it paid by itself.

By the way: don’t forget to put the impact on the people, being them the company’s employees or the citizens affected, when evaluating the consequences. They are not just spectators; they area also your clients and investors, the people you live with. You do it everyday (add tolerance) when you add some minutes to the time you expect will spend for going from here to there to be sure you arrive on time. It is suboptimal for sure if you only take your time as the important factor in the equation, but is the correct one when you add the respect for the others as one of the factors. In a production process, you will probably size for 11 units if it is very critical to obtain 10; again, is suboptimal, but probably will be worst if something in the process fails and you can have only 8 o 9 units of output.

I am leaving; I have thirty seconds to get to a meeting two floors from here. I should take the stairs, just in case someone stops the elevator to chat with a person in the lobby…

Regards,

    Diego :D

 

The constant gardener

29/May/2008

First of all, I tell you that one of the central ideas is not mine, but from a professor at a University where I teach when I have time, Universidad del CEMA.

Again, I will start with a driving example. It happens that I found a lot of examples while driving, probably because I have plenty of time to think about what is happening around me.

In Buenos Aires the transit is chaotic. I know: there are cities worse than mine in that aspect, but I live here and the example applies very well to other sites. I remember hearing the thoughts of an actor visiting BA, when the reporter asked about his feelings on this city. He said ‘I don’t know why you bother to paint the lines on the street, nobody cares!’. I agree. Almost nobody cares, but it is enough that only a few percentage do not care to generate this chaos.

That is what characterizes the transit in BA: there are more than a few drivers that don’t respect the laws. Probably is only a matter of obtaining benefits over the rest of the “group”, as I wrote in a former comment (A beautiful mind), but I am falling short if assigning all the responsability to sellfishness.

In my country die more than 20 people per day because of transit accidents. Not all of them are because the same problem, but I assign a very big number of them to one common cause: there are insufficient punishment for breaking the laws.

In the movie “The constant gardener”, some people were killed because they started to sniff around a pharmaceutical company testing new drugs in people at a country in Africa. The risk of punishment there for any of the crimes (the killing of some main characters and the killing of the africans who were using the drugs) was so low, that there was no incentive to act differently. Before anyone yell, of course it depends on your own values, way before the incentives (that will be matter of another blog entry).

The worst punishment one can receive because killing someone in an accident (providing it is not demonstrated that it was deliberate) is the indemnization you must pay in a civilian trial. And it is here where I am using the ideas from the paper: that amount is a number of pesos (my country’s currency) calculated based on the worth of the live of that person, which happens to be so low that the incentive to do the right thing is almost null. But even that situation have diminished risks under some circumstances, if you are a person with power, connections or lack of repentance.

As before, I will try to connect this to the attitudes at a job or in the society.

I live in a regulated world, where I supposedly receive benefits, provided I obey some rules. At the job, I am given a pay for doing some tasks according to some rules. If I don’t perform the tasks or do them against the rules, I should not receive the pay. Sorry to say this, but that applies only to some people and not to others. Some people know that the risk of not receiving the pay, or even being fired, is extremely low under some very known circumstances: if they are in a certain position (the power position), if they have a boss or a union that protects them (the right connections) or if their behavior was deliberate to benefit some person (lack of repentance) who can protect them, even hurting others.

There must be a balanced amount of prize and punishment, and both must be applied with the same rules for everyone. To live in a society or to work in a company means you are part of the system, there are a lot of people that depend on you doing the things you ought to and according to certain rules. You can not go through the live crashing people with your car just because you know nobody can punish you; in any moment, someone can crash you, knowing that he will not be pursued for doing it.

See you soon.

Diego :D

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The godfather

21/May/2008

I was in a hurry while driving (very frequent for me, mainly because I hate driving), but going by the rules, as always. I was going on the lane next to the leftmost because I needed to follow straight, but a bus
made me stop: he wanted to turn right, and was left of me. I don’t want to discuss how he got there given that the buses must travel on the two rightmost lanes, but instead about his attitude: he started to turn right, and he didn’t care about anybody else. He has the most powerful weapon and knows that his liability was almost null; neither he must pay for the damages he could incurr in his vehicle nor mine, nor even worry about a trial, because the owners of those companies are very well connected and can threat anyone who try to get justice. He had power and know he can use it, and he did. He pissed me off.

Reading again my own words, I discover two of the main reasons why a person uses what he thinks is power: he assumes there is no risk (he is not paying for the consequences for the others and for the assets he is
managing) and there is a very small chance that anyone will start an action against him because he is sorrounded by people like himself that will protect him.

There is only one side on his equation: himself. The harm that can be done to the others doesn’t count. Regretfully, these people use to be seen as very succesful, since they usually get very good results to
the eyes of their peers.

Companies used to reward very high the results oriented people in the past. But times changed; some very important people loose their jobs or even went to jail in known cases of threatening, sexual harassment or
mobbing, because the companies and government started to understand that not only the results matters, but also the means by which they were obtained. You can’t go through life getting what you want from
your neighbours just because you wanted it. The governments started to write laws against some damages that were not taken into account before, like the time the damaged people loose to get justice or the
psicological consequences of the actions; the companies started almost the same kind of actions, and started to evaluate people based in a mix of attitudes (competencies) and not only on results.

I am not against powerful people or getting power, but in the way the power is used. It is very different to use the power to get knowledge than is to use it to force people to your will, as a leader is different than a dictator, even when a lot of people is under his command in both situations. Even the first situation is border to the law (for example, if you used privileged information obtained by means of your power position), but to manipulate people’s will is not only criminal, but also shameful.

One point for those who think are powerful enough to ignore the law aspects: there is a very big chance that someone have power because someone else gave him that power, and that means that person is more powerful than the former, so he can take the power away from him in any moment. Is like natural numbers: there is always a number bigger than the one you thought about.

What this “naked” people will have in that case, is what they have constructed, without the faked environment. Did them make friends or just accomplices in their “powerful” life?

Anyone has a Sherman tank to replace my car?

See you soon. Regards,

    Diego :D

Out for lunch

13/May/2008

Going home last night, the traffic was insanely congested. It was not very late, but it was not rush hour. After about 15 blocks, there is the reason: a public services company made a hole in the avenue, blocking more than half of it. I am sure the problem they have justify the hole, but there was nobody working, and it seemed that there would be no one working until the next day. And that, friends, pisses me off.

I know: everybody have the right to go to take lunch during work hours, and also have the right to rest, be it at night or when it was arranged with the employeer. And there would be no exceptions, but there is a phrase that characterizes the roman law principles: your rights are delimited by the rights of the others. This company, as a lot of others in the city, was causing a traffic congestion, very big traffic congestion, limiting my right to take rest. Should the workers of this company work all night? I think they should; not the same workers, but they shoud have shifts to work all night and all day to reduce the time to solve the problem, even during lunch hours.

Just picture in your mind a neural surgeon, in the middle of a surgery, saying all the people around ‘OK, i am going to take some lunch’ and leaving the surgical room. It is also wrong if that surgeon must work 10 or 12 hours without stopping. He must have a backup. It is very difficult to have that backup if you are the specialist, and that means that the situations where you are involved are not everyday. But the people that should fix the problem the public services company has at the beginning of this post are not specialist. They should have backup, or shifts, and that is a company responsability.

If you know the contribution you do to your company, I am sure you don’t regret working 12 or 14 hours in a row to solve a problem or an urgency. But it has to be an urgency. If everyday you have to work that much, there must be something else going on. We, the managers, have a responsability in that kind of situations. You ask one of your team leaders to prepare some kind of document and give him 3 days to do it. Pretty long time, right?  But that person have to choose between doing it by himself or delegate to his team. If he chooses the second, he must meet his team, give them the assignment and deadline, assure he will have time to review the resulting document before giving it to you, and even to have time to suggest changes. And, of course, to leave time to lunch and rest to his team. He will probably choose to solve it by himself. And he will probably do a wonderful work, surely delaying some other work he had planned. The next time you ask him for something you will think ‘Hey, he can do it in 3 days’. No, he can’t; at least, he can’t do it always.

So, the responsability of the manager is to really know how much time should take to solve the problem. And, if you have a deadline, to assign people to do it without hurting their rights, but also without missing the deadline. The public services company have a ‘deadline’: to disturb the citizens as few as possible. That means sizing their resources accordingly, so they can work, rest and go out for lunch, but without stopping the work.

There is another thing: the worker also has a very big responsability. He is paid for doing his best at the job. And that means that the “out for lunch” hour should be delayed if necessary, and he should not be so negligent to extend that time if he has work to do.

Do you want an open question? I like them, because they give me the opportunity to get feedback and to write another post. Does the government have a responsability in the traffic congestion caused by this company?

I am going out for lunch. See you in a couple of days.

Regards,

    Diego :D

It pisses me off en español

11/May/2008

I started a parallel blog in spanish. You can find it in http://mehaceenojar.blogspot.com

Comencé a escribir este blog en español. Lo pueden encontrar en http://mehaceenojar.blogspot.com

See you. Regards,

    Diego :D

A beautiful mind

30/April/2008

I drive to work every day. I usually drop the kids right in front of school and go to my workplace, being early enough to avoid the peak traffic hours. But even with so “few” traffic, some of the drivers piss me off.

This morning, I made two blocks from my home when a driver passed me by the left, violating the double yellow line in the street. I thought ‘she was in a hurry’, so it’s “almost” OK. But two blocks away she was there, stopped in the middle of the street, trying to turn to the left, without the turning signal blinking, and made me stop suddenly, and that stop made me miss a traffic sign ahead, which is synchronized with a railroad at-level crossing. It ended up with me and my kids waiting almost 5 “clock minutes” (not a perception, but real ones) at that traffic light (besides the short but loud of the kids because the sudden stop), just because that lady violated the double yellow line. It pissed me off.

Have you seen the movie A beautiful mind? If you are manager of something, or even if you just “live” in a society (I presume all of you), you should give it a try.

There is a moment in the movie that is key to fund some of my thoughts today. It is at the bar, when Nash realizes that if all the group of males give up trying to get the “big prize” (the blond girl), all the group would have a better ending position (all of them can get a “second prize” girl), but if only one of them tries to get the blond, there is a big chance that the group, as a whole, will be worse.

In a more simple example, suppose there is a possibility to choose between a gift that worth about $1000 or another one that worth $400. There is no doubt you will choose the $1000. But what if the rules are different? Now you are a member of a group of 4 person; there is one gift of $1000 OR four gifts of $400, and everyone must choose individually. If any one chooses the $1000 gift, then there will be three people with nothing. The better result for the group is that all of the members choose the $400 gift, with the group as a whole obtaining $1600. If one of them chooses the $1000, that person will be significantly better than the rest of the group, but the rest (and the group as a whole) will be a lot worse.

The lady this morning choosed to get better than anyone else, probably gaining 30 seconds of time, but some others (including myself), lost almost ten times what she gained. She very probably doesn’t know me, so she wouldn’t see me as part of her “group”. This means that my loss worth nothing to her. But we are part of a society, and this little everyday acts are what differentiate a society that grows from the others: the respect for the others is more than a civilized act, is economically positive for the society as a whole. And the implications inside a big company are of bigger and more direct impact that my examples. Just think about it.

See you next time.

Diego :D

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About opening ‘It pisses me off’

30/April/2008

Hello to everyone. The first thing I want to mention is that english is not my mother language, nor I have advanced english courses taken, so please understand some slips (and falls) I will surely have while posting. Why did I choose to do this in english? Sincerely, I pretend to write about matters that I hope will help people, and there are mucho more people speaking english around the web than there are in Spanish, my mother language. If I see that this grows enough, I will probably start posting in both languages.

I want to write about things, or behaviors, that really piss me off, but not to show you that I am angry, but instead to try to characterize those behaviors, add some theory and try to get some conclusions.

It is my first experience with blogging, although I participated in a lot of forums very actively. It is not the same level of responsability, but I will try to keep up with it.

I want to thank Daniela, a nice lady from the HR department, who, without knowing, suggested the name of the blog while we were talking yesterday.

Regards,

Diego :D

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