Saturday, May 24, 2014

Using the Wrong Tool

This came to me today while I was riding home on Main Street East Hartford.  I noticed a bicycle lying in the back of a full size pickup truck.  The kind of pickup truck that hasn't ever been used for a construction job.  Spotless paint and shiny.  A vanity truck.  17 MPG and obviously the wrong damn tool for the job, unless the job is compensating for something.  How is that truck the right tool for picking up groceries or commuting?  It's insult to injury to see a bicycle in the back of a vehicle like that.  The funny thing is that they were probably driving to a bike path.

The ultimate lean machine
As an engineer, I think a lot about efficiency.  The entire reason that P&W is still in business is the geared turbofan engine, a step change in air travel efficiency.  At work, we're trained in things like Lean Principles and improving a Value Stream.  Being so trained, it always amazes me that folks, especially P&W engineers, don't apply some of those concepts to their day-to-day life.  Not so much that life gets boring and work-like, but just enough to improve your quality of life and save some wasted time.

For example.  So, so many of the engineers I work with have the typical house in the burbs with the sprawling lawn and the long commute.  They complain about cutting the grass, talk about their "new expensive tools" needed cut the grass faster, and bitch about getting stuck in traffic.  If they spent 30 minutes evaluating the things they like to do (consider that their value added activities) and then listed the fluff and suffering (non-value added activity, wasted time, and rework).  Consider the list below for example.  I know some folks enjoy cutting the lawn and their jobs, but let's not get stuck on that.   You can make your own list, it will be different.  The important thing, I think, is to actually make some sort of list like this once in a while.

Value Added (increase these)

  • Spending time with family and / or friends
  • Unstructured time spent relaxing or recreating
  • Going out to a nice dinner
  • Seeing shows or attending cultural events
  • Exercising and staying healthy
  • Improving my community
Non-Value Added, Wasted Time (reduce or eliminate these)
  • Stuck in traffic.  Commuting to work and other things.
  • Time spent at work - assuming that your job is stressful and you'd rather do other things
  • Cutting grass
  • Standing in line
  • And it could go on and on...
With that list in hand, a reasonable person might conclude that their lifestyle is set up to maximize non-value added activity.  The full hour spent commuting per day in a car.  The two nights per week spent cutting grass or pulling weeds in the lawn.  The 400 yard long driveway that requires an industrial snow blower.  How did they get there, in a life overweight with wasted time and busy work?  The opposite of a Lean lifestyle.  Spending their valuable time during the week making money to support expensive after work activities that they don't even enjoy.  Tirelessly chasing the suburban dream until they retire and full time commit themselves to the non-value added list.  If they moved closer to work, down sized the lawn (moved near a park), and changed some structure in their lives the balance of the list could change.  

A side benefit of a value added life is that things get more interesting.  As soon as someone starts talking about mulch, cutting the grass, or highway traffic - it's the most boring thing in the world.

The closed section of Mountain Road over the ridge into Tarrifville
And we'll be hip deep in the "right tool" on Saturday, June 7th.  In the morning, there is a bike swap meet in Wethersfield.  Then Dinner and Bikes that evening in Hartford.  After Dinner and Bikes, there are local bands and DJ's at Arch Street Tavern - come get some Shag Frenzy.  This is what I call maximizing the value added activity.  Huzzah Hartford!


dario said...


BTW (By the way), check out Paul Tranter's essay, "Effective Speed: Cycling Because It's "Faster" in the book "City Cycling", edited by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler. There are some pretty good observations and insights about how fast is fast and efficiency.

Anonymous said...

Another complaint I love from co-workers is about the price of gas to fill up de SUV, John Deere, or snow blower! But then again, they probably hate my complaints about people in cars!

Drive into the city? I will have to pay to park! Oh my friend, nothing is free!