It's been 5 1/2 years since I locked the front door at JUMP and removed the expensive, antiquated phone system that gave the outside world a direct connection to our production staff. I took a lot of criticism from a few customers and some friends who said it wasn't good customer service to take away that human connection to customers and potential customers.
I had decided to provide my business process improvement abilities to my own company. We had been operating too long in the mode of "this is what you are supposed to do, we hear."
So to my naysayers I pointed out that the activity we were accomodating wasn't profitable business or potential business for the company.
My analysis showed that the majority of telephone contacts fielded by a receptionist had to do with potential vendors who wanted to use my time to find out whether or not their product fit our needs even when I wasn't shopping for their products or services. She also spent a great deal of her time helping people who mixed our address with another building.
We're not a walk in business. Why did we need a receptionist? If a customer was coming by, the project manager had an appointment and would great him at the door.
What about the phones?
Well, customers who contacted programmers directly were bypassing our analysts and project managers causing cost and schedule overruns. Again, not profitable business.
However, the single most important reason for the changes was my concern for the staff's ability to focus on their work. Every interruption costs well beyond the time the interruption took. For example, a 10 minute interruption to a worker who is involved in problem solving or critical thinking tasks might cause up to an hour's impact on his productivity.
The mental shift between the task and conversation also makes it convenient for the worker to further delay for fear of other interruptions or to check on new information.
So, let's say John is working through several procedures when he is called on the telephone at 11:00. He answers the phone and engages in a 10 minute conversation about a work related topic that is not related to his current task. At the end of the conversation, his momentum in his work is completely gone. He knows it will take him approximately 10 minutes to get back to where he was in his thought process and even then he may still be in the middle of the problem.
But now it's 11:10 and John's lunch break is at 11:45. So he's looking at less than 25 minutes of quality output before leaving for lunch. John may be hesitant to shift his attention back to the task for fear of how the inadequate amount of time may affect the quality of his work. He may be tempted to catch up on email messages and spend the next 25 minutes in tasks that are not nearly as important for the satisfaction of achieving something during that time.
And all of this happened for the convenience of the person on the other end of the phone. The information may have been important or even urgent to the other person, but for John it was a productivity killer.
It's funny that we respect a person working as a chef more than a person whose job requires thinking. We would never dream of interrupting the chef in the middle of cooking the meal for fear of ruining the outcome.
I saw an article this morning on information-management.com which pointed to the increasing problem of information overload. The article, "Interface - Information Overload: None Are Immune" inspired me to consider whether or not I was effectively managing information overload.
While technology can help us manage a lot of things, we have to make decisions about our own processes for managing the information and putting "first things first."
5 1/2 years later I can report that the changes I made did increase our productivity and quality several times over.
While I certainly like to accomodate and please as many people as possible (yes I am high blue), I never regret focusing on the wildly important, even if that means I have to tell someone "no", or "not right now".