Monday, July 30, 2007

Narrow bodies and narrow relationships

This morning I read the news of increasing canceled flights for Northwest Airlines. The CNN article impartially listed the arguments from the airline and from the pilots union, which each blaming the other side for the ongoing problems.

Amidst the crossfire, an amusing pearl from a Northwest spokesperson:
"Beginning Friday morning, we noticed a spike in certain narrow body absenteeism"

"Narrow body", in this context, is Northwest speak for pilots.

Not to pick on Northwest in particular, but using such impersonal terms to address otherwise real people seems a sign of of modern times. Maybe technical definitions eliminate ambiguity, or maybe they preclude pain-inducing human bonds during times of economical duress for the company.

No matter the explanation, there is something terribly wrong with the distance, for I am a strong believer that there should be mutual loyalty between employees and employers. Treating each other as a collection of parts is never a good start.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A prescription for creating great products

Have you ever thought about what causes a company to create a bad product?

I could quote from dozens of sources that have extensively analyzed the work environment; ranging from immature technologies, lack of executive focus, passing through the rising cost of supporting pension plans, incompetent vendors, unmotivated work force, and on and on.

Instead, I offer one thought that summarizes them all:
"People do not create bad products because they are incompetent;
they create bad products because they cannot tell the difference."

The quality transfusion

My best advice to any business trying to end a losing streak on the market is to expose each employee to a product recognized as the best in its segment. It should not be a competing product; while you are trying to copy their product, they will be busy building something better - not to mention the potential of copyright lawsuits.

During the next department meeting, place an iPod on the table and talk about it. If you are feeling venturous, skip the meeting, and take the people to a BMW dealership to inspect a 3 Series.

Tell them to take their time, turn the knobs, touch the material, operate it. Hint: Do not take your entire department to the BMW dealership if you really want a shot at a test-drive.

Letting them see and touch a product recognized for its excellence will infuse their senses with something new: the feeling experienced by a customer purchasing a great product.

Knowing the difference

The next time your team designs something that does not live up to that experience, they will know. And by knowing the difference, they will go back to the drawing board and will ask what is missing until they get it right.

It may take several trips between prototypes and sketches, but fear not, the losing streak will be over on the first one.

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