The better elevator

I’ve never seen an improved elevator. I’ve seen improved cars, trains, and planes. Never elevators though. You would think that there would be more to elevators today than simply up, down, and selecting buttons.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I’m a stickler for efficiency and optimization. During our in-house Agile training class, we set aside time to play a game called “What’s your MVP”. This game allows people to get into teams and come up with either a real or made up product and come up with it’s list of MVPs.

Since I’ve played the game several times, mine is always elevator improvement. I mean, 10% of my day is riding up and down elevators. They are extremely slow and out dated. They may have new parts if they were recently built, but that’s it. So, if I owned an elevator company, these would be my improvements:

1.) First, there is no arrangement. People crowd in first come first serve, or if there are gentlemen, they will let the Ladies on first. Inevitably, though, people that end up in the back get off first pushing through others and people in the front get off last.

Solution: Create some type of “grid” or system where those that are getting off on certain floors stand in a certain place. For example, in a 9 floor building, floors 1-3 get stand in the front 1/3rd of the elevator; floors 4-6 stand in the middle; and floors 7-9 stand in the back 1/3rd.

2.) While there is a weight limit to elevators it’s just a maximum. You could literally let 15 people on and still meet the limit; yet the elevator would be extremely overcrowded. Still, even if the capacity was full (not the weight limit) the elevator will still stop on floors assuming more people could get on thus wasting time.

Solution: Have a built in sensor that can tell when there are too many people on the elevator. Typically, any more than about 6 people is just too many. This would prevent elevators from stopping on floors when no other people would fit. It would still be a weight limit, so something like 6 (people) x avg. Weight ($170 lbs?).

3.) At the end of the day, and since I’m on the top floor, we play a game called “guess how many floors we stop on today before we can go home.” The point is, you can’t tell which floors an elevator is going to stop on. It’s really annoying!

Solution: Add an extra light panel allowing for different color lights on the buttons. If the buttons are normally orange, make them red when the elevator is going to make another stop.

4.) Elevators never seem to be there when you need them. There are three times of the day that there is excess use: Morning, lunch, and closing. It seems in the morning you have to wait 5 minutes for an elevator to be available.

Solution: Come up with a better algorithm for these specific times. For example, between 7 AM and 9 AM have all of the elevators automatically go down to the first floor vs. staying on the floor that was let out.You’d do the same for lunch but have the elevators evenly dispersed among floors, and at close you’d have a majority of them at the higher levels.

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The Shortest Distance

“All complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked.” – John Gall; Gall’s Law

We’re always looking for ways to get better and faster at what we do. I was thinking the other day about how in Geometry the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Look at this image I created:

Straight Line

“A” and “B” represent directions. Perhaps these include research, design, and implementation. In the middle there is a decision point. Either way, whichever direction you go, you’re not taking the most optimal path. Both “A” and “B” have right angles, or in this example, extra work.

Now look at this image:

Straight Line

A new path, “C”, has been established. This is the most optimal path to take. It has a shorter distance and is a simpler solution.

Strategy: Keep it simple! The best way to think of this is that by introducing “turns” we increase complexity. These are simple drawings and most projects would have many more factors to consider. Imagine the drawing with 10 or 15 angles. Keeping things simple, in order, and straight should be a goal. Obviously, scope changes and things happen, but overall the “keep it simple” model is what I always try to use.

Note: The shortest distance between two points being a straight line is only true on flat surfaces. Introducing depth changes this fact.

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Priority Consideration Table

It can be difficult when trying to determine which project should get priority over another. If left up to business leaders, they would all get priority. I’ve actually seen instances where different business units could not come to an agreement on the top priority because no one would give an inch.

This table, if used, can actually prevent this scenario from even happening:

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This can be edited to better suite your organization. The key take away is that each project should be put up against something similar to this.

Strategy: Assign points to each category: 5 points for High, 3 points for Medium, and 1 point for Low. For each check box selected, add up the total points. The project with the highest point count gets the #1 priority tag. A project with two high priority categories trumps a project with three Mediums for example.

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Nerf Wars!

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I was recently taking  a training class across town. During the class the instructor said, “Oh, at about three o’clock the room next to us will have a nerf gun war. So, sorry if they get loud.”

Most of us in the room looked at each like “what?”. Well, right at three o’clock, not only did we hear the nerf gun war but we saw nerf bullets flying by as well.

I have to be honest, this put a smile on my face. What a cool and fun way to let off some steam! I could tell this place was all about fun because they also had a ping pong table in the middle of the floor with plenty of balls and paddles as well as snacks and soft drinks freely available.

Boosting morale is something that companies should have high on their to do list. Happy employees should be a top goal – and is something that gets pushed aside due to “business as usual.” It’s not always expensive and difficult to achieve this. It may just take a few toy guns and a few minutes each day.

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Prioritization between projects

The most efficient way to prioritize projects and complete the work is one item at a time. See the below diagram for further explanation:

Prioritization

This diagram was borrowed from the book “Scrum” by Jeff Sutherland (which I highly recommend). The explanation is as follows:

1.) The top line shows that traditional project management follows the line of thinking that everything is important so work on every project at once. By working multiple things at once, you lose a % of time to context switching i.e. waste. For example, working on three projects at once means you lose 40% purely to waste and only leaves 20% per project. (Scrum pg. 91).

2.) The bottom line shows that Agile says to focus only on one project at a time. You do not incur waste due to context switching and you finish all three projects sooner than focusing on all three at once.

Strategy: Focus on as few items as possible. This goes along with WIP limits. As well, it may be necessary to enforce hard project limits per person i.e. no more than two projects at any given time.

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Team Health Check

This is an idea that leaders can use to gauge the overall health of a team. This should NOT be used in a negative way such as comparing one team to another or making a team feel bad for having a lower status. The point should be that if a team rates themselves low then we must ask why. Here is a very simple graph that can track this metric:

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The team should rate themselves and no one else. If a team is in the red we should start asking questions. Why did they rate themselves as red? What can we do as servant-leaders to improve their status? They should put reasons next to why they rated themselves a certain way.

Strategy: This is a drawing that can be made on a marker board or a stick and peel easel pad. It can then be placed into an area that the team often frequents such as the daily stand up. Let the team choose their health status and the reasons why. Use real sticky notes as shown above. There should be consensus from the entire team when going from one status color to another. This can be used for both scrum and silo’d teams alike.

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Leadership at all levels

If you’re not being a leader because of your title then you’re missing out. I’d like to think that I’m a leader even though I’ve never been a manager or executive and haven’t had an official “leader title”. The point is that your level, be it a new hire or seasoned veteran, should not dictate whether you bring leadership to the table.

Leadership is one of the most important intangible skills because it takes a combination of the others (communication, positivity, etc.) to possess it. During hiring I look for leadership skills and other intangibles over technical skills because, in my opinion, it’s harder for someone to learn those skills vs the “0’s and 1’s.”

The book The World Is Flat is about economics, but you could also apply that title to leadership. Businesses are increasingly going to a flat management style. This is putting more onus on individual contributors than ever before. I think this is  a good thing. Too many layers creates bureaucracy. It also means, like it or not, you’re going to have to step up your leadership game. Better to start now than to wait around.

Here are some ideas on things you can do to further your leadership skills:

  • ALWAYS have a positive attitude. I can’t stress this enough and it’s personally my #1 leadership skill. I’ve been around too many people with jaded attitudes and it’s just awful.
  • Do good work. It’s that simple. If you’re putting out the best work and are the most efficient team member others will recognize that. It may also lead to promotions.
  • Have answers to questions that no one else does. This is not easy but it is possible. If you’re always the one with answers management will go to you above anyone else.
  • Think outside the box. This is a bit of  a cliche, I know, but it is true. If you do things only because that’s the way they’ve always been done then you’re not innovating.
  • Innovate. You can do this by learning a new skill-set or bringing new ideas to the table.
  • Lean on someone you feel is a leader and learn from their habits.

Update 3/30/16: I came across an article on linked in called How TO Be A Leader When You’re Not The Boss. It was written by Ilya Pozin, the founder of Pluto TV and  writer for Forbes. I was extremely surprised by this article for two reasons: One, it was a nearly identical article to this post, and two, in the article is a survey done by Waggl that says the top Human Capital priority of 2016 is “Leadership at all levels” – the exact title of this post. My post was written in Oct. 2015. The survey was done in Dec 2015 and Ilya’s article written 3/2016. I’m gratified to know that my thinking is in line with Ilya’s!:)

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