One of my associates at GBMP sent me this cell phone picture recently to suggest that it was time for me to upgrade my phone service.
So on Sunday morning I added my faithful old flip phone to a growing devices junk pile and headed to my service provider to acquire a spiffy new iPhone – incredibly usable technology. I was thinking to myself, someone must have actually asked customers about this product before designing it. I waited for a short time in the service queue and was greeted by a smiling salesperson seated at a computer terminal. She entered my phone number to pull up account information, and there my positive customer experience came to a halt – or I should say a delay. It was Sunday morning and I was in no rush. But for the associate? Mental Muri!
She turned to another employee and said, “Here we go again!”
“A little delay?” I asked.
“They do system updates on Sunday mornings and the system crawls,” she replied apologetically, “I hope you’re not in a hurry.” (The nefarious “they”, a topic for a future post.)
“No, not a problem for me,” I said, “but I feel bad for you. It seems that your productivity is not positively impacted by your automation.”
Another employee further down the counter jumped in: “You have no idea!”
Some portion of our lives must now be surrendered to a familiar new form of delay caused by computer dwell time. I think there is currently no term to describe this so I’ll coin one:
dwellay \dwel-ˈlā\ [origin, Eng. ‘dwell’ + ‘delay’]
noun: the state of being delayed by computer dwell time <The dwellay at the service counter was caused by a periodic system update.> :an instance of being delayed <The ER admitting dwellays occur at peak periods.>
verb transitive: the act of being held in suspense awaiting a computer response <I missed my flight because I was dwellayed at the ticket kiosk.>
There is an irony in dwellays that even as processing cycle times are reduced below nanoseconds, apparent lead-time to users continues to be painfully slow. Computer guru, James Martin, predicted in 1975 that future computer users would enjoy “deci-second response” within that decade. I’m still waiting. The cute little dwellay icons, like the hourglass, the tapping finger and the stopwatch, remind me every day.
So what does this dwellay have to do with Lean? Here are few common examples:
- Computer transactions are typically saved up and batched by operation as a countermeasure to the dwellay caused by switching from one transaction type to another. Or they are held for off-peak periods to reduce dwellays. So much for “real-time” information.
- An outcome of batch entry is batch output. This may be in the form of a heaping pile of computer reports, or it may be “paperless”. Companies that brag that they’ve gone paperless are often just hiding the piles in a computer work queue, the information equivalent of an ASRS. Information is both delayed and hidden.
- Sometimes multiple machines (computers) are used side-by-side in customer service to enable customer service reps to improve the apparent lead-time to customers with questions. Our lives are filled with these kind of pricey workarounds.
The moral of these stories is that speeding up information flow through operational improvement (i.e., faster devices) is not effective in reducing the elapsed time to provide a service to the customer if the process is inherently wasteful. In the case of the frustrated iPhone salespersons, for example, someone at a management level of the provider might have guessed that system updates during business hours might not be wise. I suggested to the friendly but frustrated salesperson who helped with my iPhone purchase, “Maybe you should bring this to the attention of your management.” She just laughed.
How much of your work or personal life is wasted by dwellays? Share a few with us.