Hazards of Lean Service: Jet Blue’s Valentine’s Day Massacre

The February 2007 debacle at Jet Blue, which could lead to a Passengers Bill of Rights, raises a serious question. When service organizations strive for efficiency goals, do they risk catastrophic results for their effectiveness? Is Lean Service a bad idea for some service industries? If Jet Blue’s experience was an isolated one, we could say it’s an anomaly, but both United and American have had similar problems in the  winter of 2006-2007.

For the past decade we’ve seen manufacturing plants implementing lean principles, based on the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS has made inroads into all facets of the economy, including hospitals — and goodness knows, we need efficiency gains in health care delivery! Concurrently, Six Sigma philosophies have also made inroads.  In fact, many companies implement a hybrid, “lean six sigma” program. Xerox and Thermo Electron have followed this route. Service organizations, including airlines, have implemented aspects of these programs to reduce cost, whether under the named programs or not. Yet, I’ll argue that a blind adherence to the efficiency side of the argument can lead to the disastrous effectiveness outcomes, which in this case could actually sink Jet Blue.

So what are lean principles?  The heart of lean is the elimination of waste. Seven types of waste — or “muda” as the Japanese call it — exist.

  • Overproduction beyond the customers immediate needs
  • Unneeded transportation of product — think about a poorly designed kitchen
  • Wasted motion
  • Waiting for parts etc. that leads to worker idle time
  • Processing that is unnecessary to the finish product (think of health care billing)
  • Inventory to buffer the system, but which can go bad
  • Defects in outcome, which leads to rework or scrap.

www.gemba.com has a very nice summary table.

Basically, waste can be found is any activities that do not add value to the end product or service. By eliminating waste, material velocity is increased. That is, a product goes from raw material to the customer’s hands very quickly. This delivers huge strategic advantages beyond the cost savings. Bad quality cannot be tolerated, and customers lead times are shortened.

Six sigma gets to the same end through a different path. Six sigma focuses on reducing variability, which is the enemy of efficiency, through various project work focused on specific steps where opportunities have been identified. A six sigma process has variability reduced to the point where there are fewer than 4 failures per million opportunities. Less variability means more predictability, and thus waste can be eliminated.

In both lean and six sigma, the result is a dramatic reduction in “buffers.” We buffer operations with longer lead times to address the uncertainty of production times, and we buffer with inventories to address the uncertainty of demand peaks and spikes. As we reduce uncertainty through more predictable processes, the need for buffers goes away. When you hear the improvement numbers from lean six sigma stories, you’ll think they were made up. They are real.

Waste elimination is a laudable goal in service operations as well as manufacturing operations. But there is a difference, and that lies in the source of the variation that causes the waste. Manufacturing operations, compared to service operations, are far more controllable; it’s almost a laboratory setting in comparison. Uncertainty does result from material and labor inputs, but those can be anticipated and controlled to a great extent. (In the days after 9/11 when the US closed its borders, we did see the uncertainty of raw material inputs dramatically after the car industry, but these types of experiences are rare.) The workers, the design of the product, and the production tools are all under the control of the operations to a very large extent. If sales and marketing are part of the process, the demand uncertainty can also be reduced.

In contrast, services operate in a sea of uncertainty and variability that are much harder to control. Let’s look at these sources.

Uncertainty in task times. The nature of service products is that the execution of each service delivery has some uniqueness. This variability typically leads to a negative exponential distribution of task times. Simply put, this means that while most task executions will fall within some tight range, some executions will take a long time. Consider airplane boarding. There’s uncertainty here, yet Southwest found a way to reduce the uncertainty and achieve faster turnaround times at airports, increasing effective capacity.

Uncertainty in demand. While service demand can be forecasted, no forecast is 100% perfect. Manufacturers can buffer this forecast uncertainty with some finished goods inventory. The simultaneity of production and consumption in services precludes this tactic. The capacity must be available when the demand arises.

Customers’ production roles. Both of the above uncertainties have much to do with customers. We introduce uncertainty. And because customers typically have some role to play in the production of a service, we introduce variability based on how well we perform our roles. Customers almost always have to provide information to service agents to initiate service, and we typically also have tangible tasks to perform.

Lean & six sigma work best in repeatable, standardized operations. While many services are repeatable, how well can they be truly standardized given the above? Let’s look at Jet Blue’s experiences.

Jet Blue has a very efficient operation, and they have achieved very high ratings in customer satisfaction — until Valentine’s Day. The disaster all stemmed from the horrible storm that struck the eastern third of the US. Weather is one of those uncertainties that airline service simply can not control. Flights will be cancelled, and passengers will need to be rebooked. This is an extreme example of demand uncertainty that leads to huge demand spikes. But to eliminate the muda (waste) of inventory going bad, airlines have cut capacity. I seldom fly on a plane that isn’t 90 to 100% booked.  With little bandwidth, it can take days to rebook all passengers on canceled flights. (Consider what happened to United after the Denver blizzards in December 2006.)

Airlines’ bandwidth to handle surges is further strained by other external factors. Government regulations restrict a pilot’s on-duty time. Time sitting in delays on tarmacs counts against this time window. Thus, even if they have the planes and the crew in the right place, the crew may not be able to fly, necessitating bringing in a new crew — but from where? How?

Jet Blue exacerbated the problem by having too lean an infrastructure in its central operations. Apparently, crews couldn’t contact central operations to get flight orders. 99.99% of the time that infrastructure was just muda. Not now.

In manufacturing, waste elimination in one category tends to reinforce other waste elimination. For example, wasted motion or transportation helps reduce defects. In services, the wastes more correctly can be trade-offs. To avoid the defects of poor customer service, some buffers are inevitably needed for those sources of uncertainty that cannot be controlled or contained.

So what’s the answer? (If I knew it in full, I’d be a rich man.) The airline service industry needs buffers against uncertainties caused by Acts of God. Jet Blue, being a young airline, had never experienced a need for an extensive contingency plan. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get a gentle wake up call to this fact. The legacy carriers — for all that we hate them — do have these contingency plans. But contingency planning doesn’t eliminate the need for buffers; it just uses the available buffer more effectively. Passengers can still be affected terribly, like the folks United abandoned in Cheyenne, but part of the dissatisfaction results from lack of explanations. (But that staff is just muda, right?)

However, the financial structure of the airline industry is such that they can not afford extensive buffers. While the fault lies in many corners — the government-structured bankruptcy system that hasn’t let the industry rationalize, management mistakes in labor contracts, etc. — a big part of the blame lies with us, the consumer. We have become so price conscious in our airfare purchase behavior that we are blind to a better value.

Imagine an airline said, “We are going to deliver a higher level of service to you. Bags will be handled better. Cabin comfort will be improved. We’ll serve food. Waiting lines will be reduced. And in the event of weather disruptions, we are 90% certain we will rebook you within 24 hours of the end of the weather disruption.” Would that appeal to you?  Of course it would. But would you pay $100 a ticket for that extra level of service? $50? $25? I doubt many of us would opt to patronize this airline. (Airlines that have tried a value approach have failed.)

Much of the blame for our price consciousness goes to the airlines. Their yield management systems mean that prices seem capricious and bear no relationship to value. But even if pricing were more transparent, understandable, and value related, would consumers pay for the value? The government used to dictate airline fares. This meant that airlines competed on service. It also meant much higher fares. While we grouse — with the aid of the media — about airlines, air travel is a bargain these days. But wouldn’t it be nice to have real options in a value framework?

The disaster at Jet Blue is particularly surprising given the company’s background and guiding principles. When the founders were outlining their service design in 1999, they didn’t start with some operating model, e.g., hub-and-spoke versus direct connections or type of airplane. Rather, they started with a values statement: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun, and Passion. Yes, a cultural foundation lies at the heart of the company. Their operational design has reflected the values of the company — until now. But if they are true to their values and become a little less lean where expenditures are justified, they have a chance. (Can they sell the value of the “insurance policy” of contingency planning to customers? Talk about a tough sell!) If any airline could come back from a disaster of this magnitude, I’d bet on Jet Blue.

Tech Support as Training Ground: How MathWorks Finds Strategic Value in Customer Support

What are the events that a support manager most dreads?

  • An irate phone call from a member of the owner’s family looking for support?
  • Being told to locate any new support office in a low-wage area?
  • Release of a new product with known and serious defects?
  • Having a 50% annual attrition rate, including losing many seasoned, key staff members to another department in the company?

Okay, they’re all pretty dreadful, but that last one is a particular headache since the ramp up time for new hires is long and knowledge transfer is a challenge. So, would you believe there’s a software company that has that level of attrition from technical support as a goal — more specifically, as an explicit program? It’s a unique view of a strategic role that technical or customer support can play for a company — that of a development group for entry-level employees to teach them about a company’s products and, perhaps more importantly, to develop a customer sensitivity.

The MathWorks in Natick, Mass., a publisher of MATLAB, SIMULINK, and other scientific simulation software, has a rather unique charter for its tech support department, called Engineering Development Group (EDG). EDG is explicitly used as an entry level position for about 25% of the company’s open positions. How did this happen and what are the benefits to MathWorks?

Allison Babb, senior manager in EDG, notes that “The technical support industry has lots of ideas on how to keep people, but little about how to help them move on — and stay in the company. No one has looked at how to make that turnover a benefit to the company and not a loss.” She said the first step in the transformation in thinking that unfurled at MathWorks was to “embrace the reality of the situation. Lifers in tech support are rare.”  Support people were transferring to other groups, and it became noticed by senior management that these people were “solid successes” in their new positions, typically performing better than people hired directly to their positions with little to no ramp-up time. The company’s top management asked for some program to be developed that would leverage this value that EDG informally had brought to the company.

Having recognized and embraced the opportunity, the second step in this process was to form “internal partnerships” with other groups at MathWorks. This was made easy by the fact that senior management asked for the formal program to be created. Since no other companies were doing a similar program, Babb was inventing as she proceeded. She held one-on-one meetings with department heads — such as engineering, quality assurance, training, documentation, and product management — to get their input on a level of collaboration with EDG that would work for their department.

The program evolved into a form of a “job bank” for new hires into EDG. The various functional groups put together short term projects they need performed with skill set profiles. Employees hired into EDG select from this project request list or network within the company to find projects on which to work. Effectively work about half of their work week on these projects. This project job bank model was an easy sell to the other functional group managers since they didn’t have to manage the people and no binding commitment was made. To date, though, not one EDG employee has been pulled off a project.

Obviously, a key internal partnership was between EDG and HR. This model complicates HR staff forecasting. No certainty exists for the number of EDG employees who will be hired permanently by other groups. Currently, EDG is filling about 35% of other groups’ positions, and — here’s a migraine headache for a support manager — EDG does have that 50% annual attrition rate. “If you had told me we’d be transferring half my people each year, I’d said you were crazy. It would break technical support.” Since timing of the internal hires is not readily predictable, EDG hires ahead of the need, in effect having a buffer of employees.

This type of program will only work if EDG hires the right people. So, “external partnerships” were also key to success. While led by HR, EDG employees go to career fairs at select colleges to help with the recruiting. MathWorks will host events on campuses where EDG employees will deliver technical presentations. MathWorks also hosts college days at the MathWorks campus every Friday from December to March. EDG hires masters-level people only. Yes, that’s right, this tech support organization hires only people with masters degrees in engineering since that’s the skill level its internal partners required.

MathWorks receives a huge volume of applicants since the jobs in EDG are highly attractive to candidates, belying the notion that tech support jobs would not be desirable to those with advanced degrees. Candidates used MATLAB in school, and the product reputation is a draw. More importantly, the project model presents opportunities to learn and explore before choosing a more narrow career path.

Hiring at MathWorks is highly competitive and a “well-oiled machine.” For every 100 resumes reviewed about 20 will lead to interviews, which will lead to one — yes, one — new hire.  Interviews last for the better part of a day involving the hiring manager and peers. Both soft skills and technical skills are evaluated. A debrief at the end of the end will determine whether the candidate fits the MathWorks culture. Several comprehensive references are required — and they are reviewed in detail.

The seriousness of the interview process is reflected in the new hire development. New hires have three to four months of training, delivering real support for customers under supervision. They rotate across the product teams in EDG to gain a breadth of product knowledge. Each employee has milestones they are expected to meet, and they are expected to develop technical skills as well as soft skills — teamwork, leadership, initiative, assertiveness, communication, and project management. They’re also trained on “how to work within the MathWorks culture.” Project work starts at about 10 months of tenure, although they have the option of starting projects right after being hired. While EDG currently has no required stay period in the group, it’s currently just over one year.

While the program certainly increases EDG’s stature in the company, it’s not without its drawbacks. Imagine Babb’s dilemma of having a “perpetually green staff” and few to no senior staff members to take on her group’s projects. Her job also takes on much more of a coaching role rather than supervising for which she is well suited.

But the program does provide one major benefit for EDG: bandwidth. With 50% of their work force effectively working for other groups, EDG can meet a short term demand surge, for example, from a new product release, by having the EDG employees focus on support. EDG can in effect double its work force almost in real time for short term issues.  Further, they had a large number of EDG alumni upon whom they could call in an emergency. Perhaps equally importantly, the tight relationship with engineering provides for rapid knowledge transfer as new products near release.

This model would not work for every company. The culture and the supporting environment have to be correct. Perhaps most importantly to ensure the collaboration, EDG is a cost center, not a revenue or profit center. If EDG management had P&L responsibilities, the shadow pricing and chargebacks to the other groups would have to be contorted beyond comprehension. While we may think that a P&L responsibility for customer support would be best for a company, it’s important to recognize the full complement of strategic value customer support can bring to a company. While customer support can generate revenue from external customers, we see here at MathWorks that customer support can generate incredible value for its internal customers with roles that are optimal for the company but would be hard to reconcile with a performance appraisal system for customer support geared toward profitability.

This model also works for MathWorks now in part because the company is growing and new opportunities open up in the functional groups on a large-scale basis. What happens if or when growth slows, and the opportunities for transfer become limited to backfills for attrition? That day may come and will certainly test the mettle of MathWorks management and culture. Hopefully, the value that support can provide in developing a “reserve of high caliber, well-trained engineers ready to transfer” embedded with customer sensitivity will remain in the strategic crosshairs.

The Support Bullpen

I am a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. Only with the Sox triumph in 2004 has that statement lost its sense of being the confession of a masochist. It’s also a strange way to open an article on customer support, but there is a connection.

In the mid ’60s when the Red Sox were a perennial 9th place finisher in a ten-team division, their one bright spot was Dick Radatz, the Monster (pronounced “Monstah” in Bostonian). He was one of the premier relief pitchers of his day, a pitcher who could bring a fast ball to the plate at 95+ miles per hour and intimidate batters the way Randy Johnson does today. Mr. Radatz’ current career is as a sports talk commentator on a local Boston radio station. In that banal medium, he’s a joy to hear because he brings as much intelligence to his insights as he did speed to his fast ball.

Frequently, he talks about how the role of the relief pitcher has changed in baseball. In his day, pitchers were starting pitchers — period — unless they weren’t good enough. Then they were “relegated” to the bullpen. The best relievers then were used far differently from today. Relievers were brought into games in the 7th or 8th inning with runners on 1st and 3rd, one out and with the heart of the opponent’s lineup coming to bat. If they got through that jam, they’d be expected to finish the game.

Dick Radatz was one not-good-enough-to-start pitcher who prospered in the bullpen. Perhaps his most storied appearance came in a Friday night game at Fenway Park in 1963, when the Sox were leading the ever-dominant Yankees by 1-0 late in the game. Radatz relieved Earl Wilson, inheriting the bases loaded, and proceeded to strike out Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard — on a total of 10 pitches. Now that’s a firefighter!

And that’s what relievers were back then: firefighters. Today, the best relief pitcher on a staff only pitches when there’s a lead to protect, and he pitches only one inning: the 9th. He starts the inning, only facing jams of his own making — or his fielders’. He’s a closer, not a firefighter.

Mr. Radatz bemoans the highly specialized nature of baseball today. The best relievers don’t pitch when their mettle would be most tested. Radatz thrived in the pressure situations, and he most respects the pitchers who want the ball in the crunch. As a baseball fan, I share his feelings, but when it comes to support service organizations, I’ll opt for the closer role.

After all, Support groups are the relief pitchers of their organizations. Their job is to make sure the company wins the game in crunch time, keeping the customer. Product marketing and design engineering are the starters, pitching the early innings of product development. Quality assurance takes over before the 7th inning stretch and, if everyone does the job correctly, there’s no need for relief at all. If relief by Support is needed, hopefully it’s as a closer, coming in to answer questions about using the product in a unique environment.

When the starters and middle relievers don’t do their jobs and the customer gets a flawed product, then Support comes in as a firefighter. The Support firefighters compensate for the poor quality of the delivered product, responding after a quick warm-up, always pitching from the stretch. Many in Support bemoan the firefighter role but I suspect many also cherish it, getting a thrill over meeting the challenge and saving the day.

Support in a closer role is evidence of a mature company. There’s cross-functional collaboration with starters sharing information with the relief corps, and the relievers sharing information in turn and helping plan the pitching strategy for the next game. In a mature company, those not good enough to open a game aren’t relegated to the Support bullpen. The Support closer position is now a positive career move.

As I watch the Red Sox tease me into thinking they might do something in the post season — besides proclaiming “wait ’till next year” — I may be nostalgic for the less specialized use of a team’s roster from years gone by, but in business let’s strive to avoid facing Maris, Mantle and Howard with the bases loaded.

~ ~ ~

On March 16, 2005, Dick Radatz passed away from a fall in his home in Easton, Mass. But those of us who saw him pitch will always remember him fondly.

True Customer Care

At the start of another year, many of us make resolutions for the forthcoming year. For me, the time has led me to reflect back on 2003 and self-assess. Personally, 2003 has been a tough year, having become an orphan with the passing of both of my elderly parents. (We also lost a cherished feline friend in the fall.) The passing of a loved one opens up emotional wounds, but it’s also a time when those wounds are healed by family, colleagues, and friends who reach out. Until one walks in those shoes, the meaning of that caring cannot be understood or appreciated.  It lends new perspectives even for our business lives.

When my mother passed away in March, I was touched by some in a way that holds lessons for our world of customer service. My mother was 86, living in a nursing home with my dad, suffering from Alzheimer’s, and her passing while sad was in part a blessing. My sister and I were with her when she passed at about 7 in the evening.  Being there with her lent a sense of closure that is hard to describe.

It was known in the home that my mother was under hospice care, and her passing quietly became known to the staff on the floor. After she passed, my sister and I went into the hallway to tell our father. He understood, and we sat there for some time sharing our grief as a family in silence. Then something simple, yet powerfully beautiful happened. The three primary care workers on the floor that evening came over to us, hugged my dad, and expressed their condolences.

No one told them to do that.

They did it on their own — because they genuinely cared about the people in their charge. Both my sister and I were sincerely moved.

Consider this basic, humane act for a moment. These three workers have a job that few of us would want. It pays barely above being a hamburger flipper, and it is truly a job that must try one’s patience. The positions are typically filled by immigrants, in this case predominantly from Haiti, people who have come to this country with a strong work ethic and a desire for a better life for them and their family — much as my grandparents did over a century ago.

Yet, they genuinely cared about their charges.

The next day, one of the aides, Sanna, who typically cared for my dad spent considerable time with my dad. That may not seem special at first glance — except that it was his day off.

Many of you reading this article work in organizations called “Customer Care.” Is it merely a slogan meant to try to instill a feeling of empathy into your employees’ interactions with your customers? Or do your employees truly care? My experience related above shows that it is possible for front-line workers to truly care, and I wish I could bottle the elixir used at the Devreux House where my parents lived their final days. Is it hiring practices, training, the culture practiced by leadership — or a combination of all?

Lacking that elixir, I do know that for 2004 I’m going to show the people in my life how much I care for them.

Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights

Spring never arrived here in the Northeast in 2003, Summer is here, a vacation is on the near horizon, and I should be happy — no more getting stuck behind school buses. But I thought I’d start the summer off with a good rant.

Do we need a Bill of Rights for computer owners?

No this isn’t a rhetorical question. Senator Mark Dayton from Minnesota is inquiring into this idea. His official website is soliciting input from anyone on this topic. (Note: the link is now dead.)  Below is an excerpt from that website.

Have you ever had a problem with your computer, called for help, and thought you’d be on hold for the rest of your life? Or finally get connected to a tech rep who was uninterested, incomprehensible, and wrong?

Ever buy a new or upgraded computer, parts, or programs, which didn’t work, and find that no one else cared? That no one would take responsibility? And that there was nowhere to report rip-offs, fraudulent advertising, or failed assurances?

That is why I am putting together legislation to establish a “Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights.” But first, I would like to hear about your experiences with computer manufacturers and retailers, hardware or software companies; how they did right, or how they did wrong; and what you think should be done — and not be done — to bring better reliability and accountability to this always changing industry?

Now, do I believe that companies should provide good support? Of course I do. And as someone from the support industry nothing ticks me off more than lousy support (except the Yankees always winning). But do we want the government to muck around in the computer industry — and I think Senator Dayton means any IT products? Sure there have been bumps in the industry in the past few years, but has the IT industry been the engine of growth because of the government?

Governments have some legitimate roles in promoting commerce and the economy.  They should provide the infrastructure — legal, financial, and informational — but is there such a gross market failure in the computer industry that there is a compelling need for the government to intercede? There have been recent moves to amend the Uniform Commercial Code in regards to software, which would virtually absolve software publishers from any responsibility for the quality of their products. (For detailed information click here.) But the legislation that the senator appears to be contemplating would go toward regulating on a detailed, process level. Will it do more harm or good? The most troubled industries in our economy are typically the ones most regulated by the government. Is the government regulation an effect or the cause?

I’m not saying there aren’t flaws in the way we comport ourselves as an industry. In fact, this type of legislative solution to bad marketplace practice should be a wake up call for the industry. But what do we need? In my opinion we need education and more complete disclosure of information to aid rational decision-making. Most of you reading this are in the support industry. When you bought your last home electronics item, did you check out the support the company offered on the product? Did you even bother to find out what support they offered? I doubt it. If we in the support industry don’t do this, then who else would?

I’m “writing” this on a spanking new laptop, and I did check out the warranty that Fujitsu offers. (My business is on this PC, after all.) I even bought 2 extra years of warranty for $100. But did I check out the support offered by Eisenworld on its $70 Alohabob product that moves applications, settings, and data from one PC to another? No, I didn’t, and I wish I had — but that’s a topic for another good rant.

Perhaps the best indication of the general lack of knowledge about the importance of support lies in product marketing. How many companies market the support they provide on their products as a key feature consumers should consider? We constantly hear the statistics that acquisition costs represent a small portion of a product’s life time costs, so why isn’t this a compelling area for competitive advantage and effective marketing? Got me.

What are your thoughts? Don’t tell just me. Tell Senator Dayton. (Well, you can’t anymore…)

Challenging Support Paradigm: Problem Rectification or Problem Prevention?

If you have attended recent conferences in the customer support industry, you have probably been amazed at the number of products developed for our industry. Each conference brings a new technology vendor with a product addressing a particular problem area. Knowledge bases codify existing product information eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel. Call management systems direct and manage our human resources. Expert systems isolate relevant knowledge more quickly. Fax-back systems and web-based knowledge tools deliver answers to customers with no human interaction on our part. The list goes on… But step back for a moment and examine the goal of these products: their aim is almost solely to improve the efficiency of delivering support to our customers.

Am I some Luddite who is arguing against technology and the efficiency it can bring? Of course not. But it is a useful exercise to question the underlying assumptions of the paradigm from which we are working. Does more efficient rectification of customer problems increase a company’s long term effectiveness? Is efficient problem rectification the best way for support to increase a company’s competitiveness?

To answer these questions, ask your customers to describe the ideal state when they use information technologies. While some may say they want fast, accurate resolution of problems, most will prefer problem-free product use. A truly effective support organization will help achieve the latter objective. That means preventing as many problems as possible before they ever happen.

A problem prevention paradigm requires a changed mindset. One’s planning horizon now must be longer term. Interaction with customers becomes an opportunity to scout for valuable information about product quality issues rather than a costly transaction to minimize. The definition of one’s customers must now include internal groups, such as product engineering, and the support group’s product expands to include capturing data and providing advice to these internal customers. Management’s focus on controlling support costs or expanding service revenues must be augmented with identifying and exploiting synergies within the company. The support group’s mission evolves from managing the end of the value-added supply chain to a strategic partnership throughout the value-added chain.

The pay back on these prevention activities will be hard to isolate and even harder to measure. You might ask if there even is a payoff! In a recent research study, I examined the impact of customer support’s contributions to product quality improvement.  I found that support cost per customer over successive product releases decreased far more rapidly — by about 20% faster — when customer support was an active participant throughout the product development process. And the customer received a higher quality product!

Implementing the problem prevention paradigm was a long and difficult change management process, and each company’s support organization followed different paths. However, the rewards reaped were well worth the effort: a more challenging, rewarding, dynamic, and effective professional organization.

For information about a major research report on best practices in Design for Supportability, follow this link. You can request a complimentary copy of Chapter 1 of that report.