Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zipcar: Systems Improvement

Zipcar Customer Experience: Variability, Utilization, and Queueing

Late returning of cars appears to be a problem and long-standing theme with Zipcar. In fact, for late returning cars, the customer is charged a substantial late fee of $50. With such a high late fee rate, one can only surmise that late returning cars is a large enough of a problem and Zipcar’s response to this is to change the behavior with a large penalty.

Good stuff. Without knowing the situation (myself) couldn't a high late fee be the solution? The high late fee makes those renting cars very likely to return them on time to avoid the fee. It isn't clear if you have data that the high late fee is just a penalty that doesn't make the system perform better or not (to me reading this anyway). I agree, I think zipcar is an interesting innovation. It would seem to me real time (internet enabled communication) would help a great deal - notify of bottleneck, report cars needing service, tell user that car is late but these 5 nearby location have a car... Some of this is just trying to make the problem have a lessor negative impact.

I really like innovative ideas like zipcar especially that find solutions that are more efficient. Zipcars can reduce the waste of cars sitting around unused in millions of driveways.

Related: Zipcar Innovation (2008) - Traffic Congestion and a Non-Solution - Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stop Letting Technical People Get Away With Social Ineptitude

Stop Letting Technical People Get Away With Social Ineptitude

it’s often believed to be true because there are so many engineers and technical personnel with poor people skills. I never have seen statistics to support the notion that the ratio is higher in these professions than in others, yet employers often find that people filling these roles with poor people skills are still employable. This needs to stop.
I’m of the opinion that every position is customer-facing.

It seems fine to me to wish everyone you hire is strong at every aspect of work. I think it is a bit unrealistic but maybe my standards are too low (this is the opposite of what most people find who know me though). It seems to me people that are very skilled (have skills that are not easily found) have leeway to do poorly in other areas and still be a net gain to the employer. This is true for divas, athletes and technical people. There are lots of technical people that are great working with people. My experience though, is you often have trouble finding only them for every single technical job (though I am sure the more demand there is for working at your organization the more possible it becomes).

My belief is most technical people could be better in this way if they wanted to. They just can get away without and so do. yeah it isn’t great, but the real world often has things that are not as the “should be.” If you want to work at Trader Joe’s and want to be anti-social they can just move on to the next person and find plenty of people that are great with people and have all the skills they need.

One thing that comes into play also is the desire of technical people (and academics) to challenge ideas and pick at weaknesses. This is a very beneficial trait. Some people can’t distinguish criticism of ideas and being mean to people. It is not wise to set a standard where people taking offense to ideas being criticized is protected over sensible critical discussion of ideas.

I do agree with your mindset, I just think a bit more flexibility may be warranted. I would agree the corporate culture should be one that expects and coaches everyone to customer friendly and that works well with others.

Related: Understanding How to Manage Geeks - Respect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in Work - Respect for People – Understanding Psychology - The Manager FAQ

Friday, August 05, 2011

Experimenting to Discover

Causal Reasoning in Science: Don’t Dismiss Correlations

Box, Hunter, and Hunter were/are theorists, in the sense that they don’t do experiments (or even collect data) themselves.
Science is about increasing certainty — about learning. You can learn from any observation, as distasteful as that may be to evidence snobs. By saying that experiments are “necessary” to find out something, Box et al. said the opposite of you can learn from any observation.

William Hunter was my father. He did many experiments. George Box did many experiments. You are entitled to your opinions obviously but the claim that they only dealt with other people's data is not accurate. It is true they were world renowned experts on experimenting and had many people consult them about their experiments, for help: designing them, analyzing them, what to do next, how to improve the process of experimentation in their organization, etc.. While it seems to be implied in the post that such consultation was a reason to distrust their thoughts on experimentation I hardly think that is a sensible conclusion to draw. Most of those they helped were running experiments in industry, to improve results (not to publish papers).

They were, and are, applied statisticians (and though I am obviously biased, I think many would agree, 2 of the most accomplished in that field in the 20th century). What experiments need to be done is critical for an applied statistician. What matters is making improvement in real world processes. If you don't run the right experiments, you won't learn things to help you improve.

They worked on the problem of where to focus, in order to learn, quite a bit. One significant part of there belief was to have those involved in the work do the thinking about what needed to be improved. This isn't tremendously radical today but in the past you had many people that thought "workers" should do what the college graduates in their office at headquarters tell them to do. Here is one of many such example, from Managing Our Way to Economic Success by William Hunter:

The key is that employees at all levels must have appropriate technical tools so that they can do the following things:

- recognize when a problem has arisen or an opportunity for improvement exists,
- collect relevant data,
- analyze the situation,
- determine whose responsibility it is to take further action,
- solve the problem or refer it to someone more appropriate...

I don't have the book in front of me, but doesn't it start with an example on learning where you can use inductive reasoning and from the facts that you see you can draw conclusions and construct a theory that fits the facts. If so, it seems to call into question the idea that they claimed "[the] opposite of you can learn from any observation." is not actually accurate. They understood you can use inductive reasoning to create theories. You then use experiments to test theories.

The books is called Statistics for Experimenters, right? Not statistics for drawing conclusions when not doing experiments. When you are experimenting you can test whether beliefs you have are accurate and you can learn about things you try. Smart people can make guesses what will happen and be right. I know the authors would believe those knowledgable about the system in question are well suited to determine what variables to test. It is that knowledge that will lead to experiments that are likely to be effective.

The authors of the book were trying to help those that often failed to learn as much from experiments as they could. Far too many people still don't use the most effective statistical tools when experimenting.

They emphasized, consistently, the need for those doing the work to involved in the experiments. The job of statisticians was to help in the cases where advanced statistical tools and knowledge would be useful. The reason for those who do the work (are familiar with the process) is because they have knowledge to bring to what should be tried in experiments.

When I read through The Scientific Context of Quality Improvement, 1987 by George Box and Soren Bisgaard it seems to me it discusses the types of issues you raise: how do we learn without experimenting? I am not sure if it is just me, or if it clearly addresses that issue. Here is another, Statistics as a Catalyst to Learning by Scientific Method by George E. P. Box. And another, Statistics for Discovery. There are many other sources, I am sure. They understood the importance of learning as much as you could from available sources. They just also understood the importance of experiments and learning the most you could from experiments. And the book, Statistics for Experimenters, was focused on the most effective ways to improve using statistics to learn from experiments..

Here is what Box, said in his own words about the objective (and it isn't proving the hypothesis):

[too many people ]"can’t really get the fact that it’s not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things. There aren’t enough people who will apply [DOE] as a way of finding things out"

Statistics for Experimenters: Design, Innovation, and Discovery shows that the goal of design of experiments is to learn and refine your experiment based on the knowledge you gain and experiment again. It is a process of discovery. That discovery is useful when it allows you to make improvement in real world outcomes. That is the objective.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Evaluate Advice on Merit Not Whether the Advisor Follows It

It is not lean/smart is evaluating an idea based solely on if the person follows their advice. Often I see people use the excuse that some leader isn't applying lean tools well to say that mean I don't have to. Just because someone else doesn't follow good advice doesn't me you shouldn't follow the advice. Good advice is good advice whether the person follows it or not. And bad advice is bad advice whether the person giving the advice follows it.

related: Do as I say, Not as I do? - Bogus Theories, Bad for Business - How We Know What We Know

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Book Publishing Process is Broken

The publishing model is about as broken as can be. They add value in editing (but that can easily be separated from them - I believe many just use independent editors anyway). I suppose they can help with marketing. A few decades ago marketing and distribution were barriers to alternative solutions. I can't really see much need for traditional publishers anymore myself. If I felt like writing a book I would just do it myself, pay an editor, publish and "distribute" it myself. If I went with paper at all (I probably would if I thought I could sell much, just because, it wouldn't seem real if it was just electrons), I would just use some print on demand shop to deal with all the logistics. I can imagine the bookstore process may also be pretty broken so getting copies into stores may be a challenge (if it wasn't worth the hassle, I wouldn't, if it was, I would outsource that hassle to someone).

I couldn't believe how broken the publishing process was decades ago, when hearing my father and his author friends talk about it. And they haven't done much to improve. Publishers and those responsible for the closing process on home loans have done about the worst jobs of improving of any groups I can think of.

comment on: Of Blogs and Books (or from Solo to Silo)

Related: Problems with Management and Business Books -