Monday, August 26, 2013

Editing and Auditing (A Work-Related Post)

We have a rather nice coffee service at work. (The coffee, well, that's another story.)


I have had an opportunity to see it evolve over time. The coffee machines (real and fake) and hot water dispenser as well as the cups have always been on the right. The gray tub is a new addition in the past few years, holding sweetener, stir sticks, lids and tea. Previously, the lids were on the counter next to the cups and the other items were in their boxes. And then the sugar and creamer. They got their own post recently. And then a bin with the cardboard sleeves to keep you from burning your fingers or wasting a second cup. (They, too, used to just be in a box.) And then the paper towel dispenser and a receptacle for used grounds, a new addition this month.

To the left of that is a sink, a trash can and a really sparsely stocked first aid box.  The paper towel dispenser used to be on the wall to the left of the sink above an open trash can. The trash can now has one of those spring lids and the paper towels got moved to where they are now. Drawers under the cabinet hold spoons, knives, forks, filters and coffee.

But here's the problem - as the offerings have grown and moved over time, some problems have occurred. First, everything was moved to the right and there wasn't much counter space.  Now, it's all spread out. But you can't get the paper towels - they require a downward pulling motion. So instead they rip, so you pull out a lot. Or you pull at the wrong angle and a lot fall out. So there's waste, there's clutter and things aren't working as they should (there's often paper towels stacked on top of stuff or little bits of ripped towels sticking out of the dispenser).


Now, this is just coffee service. There are far worse problems in life than inconvenience in paper towel retrieval. But if you've read me long enough, you know this isn't a rant about an untidy coffee service (sorry, my OCD friends), this is an object lesson about how the best of intentions lead to changes (improvements, even) over time that may make things better, but may not all fit together well.

In coding we call this an integration problem - "Recycle the coffee grounds in the planters? Excellent idea!" Receptacle provisioned, label maker employed, receptacle installed, checklist checked.

It's time to edit... should the receptacle be stored elsewhere? Should the paper towels be relocated? Would a more vertical storage option for coffee stirrers, lids, offer more space to locate the coffee ground recycling closer to the machines and out from under the paper towels?

Make sure when you're making incremental or evolutionary changes that you consider the entirety - not simply additive, whether subtraction or adjustments beyond the change itself are warranted. Or whether it's more appropriate to make revolutionary changes.
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