Process Design Thinking

The Rework Factory is Running Flat Out

January 09, 2012

Lean Six Sigma has been around for a lot of years now—over twenty in fact. So you may have thought that everything was fixed by now. Not quite.

In spite of the ever‐growing army of Green Belt and Black Belts who are busy digesting DMAIC projects, the rate of new process problem creation appears to exceed the rate of process problem resolution.

Here's a perfect example. I took a flight on Southwest Airlines recently. I like Southwest, and in my experience they generally do a much better job than any of their peers. One of the keys to their success is process simplicity: one kind of plane, no assigned seats, and flexible job responsibilities.

But they've fallen a bit short on process design when it comes to boarding passes. Here's my recent boarding pass. Upon receipt of this boarding pass, I really only needed to know one thing: where do I go next? What gate? The Flight number is important because the gate could change. And my boarding position is important because it determines the probability that I might secure an exit row seat with extra leg room. But before any of that information comes into play, I really just need to know the gate number. Try to find it on this ticket.

If you can't see it, look under my first name. Yes, that's it in the microfont.

I thought it was ironic that there was so much unused real estate available in the lower left corner of the boarding pass, so I took a stab at a re‐design based on my VOC. In my design, the information that the consumer needs the most is the easiest to find. This effort didn't require any fancy design tools or a "roadmap" to guide my efforts — just common sense. It seems that much could be accomplished by living the process as a customer and applying a little critical thinking.

Maybe there really are more people out there designing‐in process problems than there are people trying to fix them!

It's a bit of a curse when you become sensitive to process design because there are so many instances of bad design in our everyday experience. While we're on the subject of forms, here's another example from a well‐respected design‐driven company — Apple. Maybe it's fun to pick on them because of their success, but since they charge a premium price, they deserve it.

Here's an example from my recent iPhone update. Notice that in spite of plentiful empty space, Apple cuts off the labels for Software Version and Phone Number. Why? It didn't affect my usage, but the display is inelegant. Even uglier, the message text below is cut off. It's a little thing, but Apple has built its reputation on very tight visual design standards. I wonder if anyone ever looked at this...

If you missed these earlier postings, here some other design examples:

Good Design: Eye Clinic

Bad Design: Readers

Bad Design: Wasteful Packaging from Apple

Bill Hathaway