From Where I Sit: KISS My Asset!

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By Tim Springer

Published in the June 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Most people are familiar with the acronym, K.I.S.S. Far be it from me to impugn the intelligence of anyone reading this publication (especially not the enlightened readers of this column), so let’s just use the more polite version and say it means “Keep It Sweet and Simple.”

This familiar expression is a modern version of a maxim known as Occam’s Razor. Attributed to a 14th Century Franciscan friar, it is often translated from the original Latin as “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” No lesser genius than Albert Einstein added a tiny qualification when he said, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

But enough of this history tangent; let’s get back to analyzing what KISS has to do with facilities management (FM).

How much of what you do on a day-to-day basis is driven by policies, procedures, practices, customs, forms, and habits that are unnecessarily complicated? How much more effective and efficient could you, your staff, and your facilities be if you eliminated complexity and pursued the simplest way possible? Thus the suggestion—KISS my asset.

Life as we know it has become increasingly complex. But there is growing evidence to suggest that much of people’s daily activities are loaded with complexity that, when considered objectively, is unnecessary at best; at worst, it can be cripplingly ridiculous.

There are many examples, but consider three that apply to FM.

Help lines. Have you ever called a help line and felt like you had entered an illogical, circular, phone based version of Dante’s Inferno? Have you ever hung up before you actually got help, because none of the voice mail prompts applied? Then, when you finally reach a live human being’s voice, it asks you to repeat all the information you had to punch in to get to talk to a live person!

Sadly, it’s getting worse. Many help lines have gone to voice recognition systems that are truly infuriating. Ever heard the delightful phrase, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Let’s try again.” It feels as if the voice prompt is channeling Mr. Rogers and has decided to treat everyone as slow witted kindergarten kids. I have heard people actually yelling “agent!” into their phone when using these systems. (OK, I’ve done it myself.)

Computer software. I’m no idiot when it comes to computers. But it seems to me that everything from e-mail to Web browsers to operating systems has gotten ridiculously complex. I thought these ubiquitous machines were supposed to make our lives easier, more productive, and enjoyable. By my scorecard, that’s a failed mission.

Forms. As I write this, we’re just a few months removed from the mother of all messed up form fests—the annual IRS filing. I think everyone can agree the federal tax code and the forms it generates are models of inefficiency due to complexity.

Whether online or paper based, most forms seem hopelessly complex by design. Why is that? When collecting information, the first question one should ask is, “What information do they (or I) really need?” Too often, forms seem to collect information just because they can. If I’m asking for help or reporting a problem, does it really matter my gender, age, ethnic background, or where I was born?

Do you see any connection to FM? Managing the principal physical assets of an organization can be a challenging and complex undertaking. But certainly, both the organization and FM operations would benefit from simpler rather than more complex systems and practices.

As service providers to the people who occupy and use those buildings, fms should lead the way by implementing KISS principles—especially when it comes to help lines, computer based systems, and forms. Are these things simple and easy to use? If not, why not?

Why should it matter? What is the one thing that is the same for everyone who works, regardless of any differentiating characteristic? What’s the one thing everyone at work gives and can never get back?

The answer is time. Everyone has 1,440 minutes every day. It’s how it is used that matters. Too often, precious time is wasted doing things that are stupidly complex by design. That’s wrong.

The Northern Illinois University School of Business and the Jensen Group conducted a study of complexity and its effect on business. The authors found complexity is crippling business performance.

Almost all complexity is generated internally in an attempt to exercise control. “We’re not structuring goals, communication, information, and knowledge in ways that the majority of the workforce can use them to make decisions.” (The Jensen Group & Northern Illinois University College of Business, Entrepreneurship Program, “Changing How We Work: The Search for a Simpler Way,” 1997.) Decisions are what count. Data show the average worker could recoup one or two hours every nine hour day if things were easier to use. That adds up to millions of dollars per organization per year.

With 1,440 minutes in every day, a simpler approach to everything we do should make life more productive and enjoyable.

That’s the way I see it from where I sit. Of course, I could be wrong.

Springer is president and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. and frequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affecting organizations, work, and workplaces. For past columns from Springer, go to From Where I Sit and for future musings from Springer, visit his Web site.

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