Feb 162012

This week we had a minor disaster involving a washing machine, several-to-many gallons of water and some extremely soggy carpets. I received a call at work from she who must be obeyed. “I’ve flooded the house!” she cried. I dashed home while imagining burst pipes and scenes from “Das Boot” and “The Poseidon Adventure” to find we had a paddling pool in the utility room along with the adjoining kitchen and bathrooms. Water was flowing at a steady rate from the top of the washing machine, which had decided it didn’t want to pump out anymore.

I turned off the electric and water supplies and set the wife to the task of mopping up… A little while later I returned home with our new mop and bucket. I then resumed my examination of the machine. While it was no longer pouring with water it was still full, REALLY full. Opening the front loading door at this point wasn’t an option and reaching the drain behind was impossible.

I found pulling hard on the bottom of the door just broke the seal allowing the water to drain out slowly. I was able to capture some of the water in a square sided bucket pressed up against the machine, “Keep mopping dear!” This was taking too long and my fingers were starting to ache, so I bit the bullet, positioned the bucket and opened the washer’s door. “All hands to pumps! Prepare to blow main ballast….” Das Boot popped into my head again. “Keep mopping dear!” Eventually the washing was recovered from the machine and mopping up was well underway, so I returned to work with a cheery “Keep mopping dear!”

I was talking to colleagues at work about this and was surprised how many asked, “Is it five years old?” It seems apparent that Washing Machines are built to last nowadays. Built to last five years that is, and no more. The number of people with the same story of a machine breaking down, spectacularly or otherwise, soon after its fifth anniversary was amazing.

I’m sure that the technology is around that can mass produce mid-range washing machines that perform for years and years, however this wouldn’t be good news for manufacturers. Building in obsolescence makes sense if you want to keep on selling washing machines, but the fact that they all seem to go around the same time does hint at some sort of cartel like conspiracy.

I paid around two hundred and fifty pounds for the replacement machine including delivery and installation. Assuming this one lasts another fives years, that’s fifty pounds a year for in-house laundry facilities. If we didn’t have a washing machine I’d happily pay someone fifty quid a year to lug the laundry to and from the launderette several times a week, so I still think it’s reasonable value for money.

If only I could be confident that when it does breakdown, it does so without allowing gallons of water to pour out. If a manufacture was to come clean and state their machine will last five years and then die gracefully without soaking the carpets, I would be first in the queue. Better still, provide us with a warning light that comes on a couple of weeks before it dies so we can replace it before it commits suicide. Now that would be selling point considering the risk of flooding.

Many other items, especially among household goods must be built to a pre-defined lifespan. The manufacturer must have a lifespan in mind when they source their components. Everything is built to a quality standard, be it good, or be it not so good. Expected lifespan of a product is just one element of the quality specification.

Maybe they think telling us when something is likely do break down will put buyers off. If manufactures were more open and honest about the expected lifespan of their products I think they’d find more customers willing to invest in them. I’m not talking about warranty periods; we all expect things to last some time beyond its warranty. However, no one really expects anything to last forever, but knowing how long we can reasonably expect something to last would be a great selling point.

Sep 262011
Scocial Networks

Many companies are trying to jump on the Social Networking bandwagon in the belief that they can harness the power of social networking. There are several reasons touted for doing so such as empowering their employees, generating innovative ways of working and improving communications among a diverse workforce. Companies are investing big money in implementing social networking solutions in the belief that we, the workers, will all subscribe and collaborate to improve our productivity and therefore improve the company.

The key thing about a social network is the people in your network are there because you want them to be. On Facebook you invite people into your network or require someone accept you.  On twitter you Follow people you find interesting and ignore the rest. You can’t just connect strangers and expect them to collaborate in same ways a social network does.

Most people consciously (and correctly) separate their Social life from their working life. This doesn’t mean we can’t have real friends at work or that we can’t talk about work when we’re out with them. It’s the way we interact, and the fact we feel at ease while doing so. Anyone who’s ever been on an Office night out or a Team Building event will attest that, as fun as such events can be, they fall a bit short a truly “social” event.

You get the guy who tries to impress the boss at the bar by talking the talk, vis-à-vis value stream objectives within the delivery space from the product development perspective in a consumer driven schema across the global enterprise. (Yawn!).

You get the guy who wants to be talent spotted and immediately, annoyingly and loudly tries to take charge whenever the opportunity arises to take a leading role making sure that anyone in authority notices him.

You get the includer who goes around making sure everyone joins in (whether they want to be or not) forcing you to comment just to make them leave you alone only to leap on every syllable as if it’s the most profound thing they’ve ever heard, thus making the shyer victims recoil even further in embarrassment.

Then there’s the old guy who seen it all before and dismisses everything with a “been there, done that” or starts every sentence with “In my day” and constantly goes on about how things should be done and/or how the management are doing it all wrong. These guy’s are often accompanied by the enthusiasts who are usually novices who hang on every word and if they could, would follow the old guy around with a notebook. These are our future captains of industry and the reason we keep going around in circles.

You can probably think of quite a few other “types” to add to this list. The point is, that the way we interact with these types is totally different from the way we interact with our friends. In fact, other than the brief interactions demanded by social etiquette we probably wouldn’t socialise at all outside of work. We also know that during these events we too are being observed and typed and we subconsciously, or even consciously, adapt our behaviours accordingly. A company provided forum or social networking platform is exactly the same.

So why would anyone actually subscribe to a company social network (assuming it’s not compulsory, but let’s not even go there)?

Initially curiosity will get the better of most people, especially those who already use social networks anyway. The company involved will perceive this as a successful launch and announce it as such to the world. “Look at us, we’re a futuristic company with hip technologies!”

However once they start gathering metrics and measuring everything as all companies do, they will come to realise how many of these subscribers actually continue to contribute in the longer term. I suspect very few will for the reasons discussed above and then the reality will hit that they’ve spent shed loads of money on a party nobody wants to go to apart from a few “types” of employee . Meanwhile all the other users are just watching and making fun of the “ types” with their friends on Facebook.

The companies will then subtlety and quietly cut their losses and retreat from the social network arena and go back to doing what they do best. Telling us what to do and then making sure we get on with it.

Jul 212011
A job to die for

IT Service Delivery is the customer facing side of our IT department. After the Helpline, we are the people the customer phone when they’ve suffered poor service and we end up having to take the flak when things go wrong. As IT regularly does go wrong in a large organisation like ours, at any one time there’s always at least one dissatisfied customer looking for an opportunity to vent in the expectation that we will drag the people concerned out of the IT office, line them up against the wall and shoot them on their behalf. The secret is to [More…]

May 062011

We’ll the early summer sunshine finally broke yesterday and we got our first proper rain for several weeks. A huge sigh of relief from everyone as we now have something different to say to our colleagues in the mornings and a ready excuse for being miserable as we arrive for work. When the sun is shining you feel obliged to look cheerful and greet your co-workers with a smile and a “turned out nice again”. No such pressure when it’s raining, you can arrive grumpy and start the day as you mean to continue. A feeling of doom and gloom [More…]

May 032011
Back in harness

Back in harness today. It doesn’t take long for the daily routine to reclaim your soul and file away the events of the holiday in the memories file, but before I close the file drawer I’ll share some of my thoughts and observations on my week in Northumbria. When we describe something we generally do so by comparing it to something else we already know well. So where The Lake District is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak with a funny accent (mainly Polish). Northumbria is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak [More…]