Many of you that get the Sunday paper may have seen John Maeda’s article on How To Keep It Simple in the last Parade magazine insert. Mr. Maeda is a computer science professor at MIT and the author of The Laws of Simplicity. Although the book didn’t get the greatest of reviews, I do enjoy the thoughts on simplicity that he writes about on his blog.
"Excellence through simplicity" has long been a driving concept for me, and is also rather fundamental to lean manufacturing. In fact, one of the very first posts on the Evolving Excellence blog way back in 2004 discussed the power of simplicity.
Maeda’s article in Parade obviously deals more with the common consumer side of simplicity, but there are some lessons that can be applied to complex enterprise and manufacturing situations. Some dot points from the article:
- Administer the single breath test. If the sales clerk can’t explain how to use a gadget in a single breath, it’s probably too complicated.
A single breath is probably an extreme for complex manufacturing equipment, but still a good concept. If it takes several days of meetings to learn if a new piece of automation equipment is really the right answer, then perhaps some red flags should be raised. Imagine an ERP sales guy trying to explain SAP in a single breath… actually we once wrote about the the complexity of SAP!
- Buy only what you need. Think about what features you need before you go to the store, then ask for the model that does everything on your list – and nothing more.
Two good points here. First, reduce assets and inventory to just what is needed immediately to reduce the waste of storage, obsolescene, expiration, and outright loss. Second, size the equipment and scope the features to just what is needed for the problem at hand. Multiple, flexible smaller machines work better than one monolithic monument.
- Look for great design. Any piece of technology is bound to give you headaches from time to time, so pick the one that looks the nicest.
Simple is not necessarily cheap, and similarly there is a lot of value in simplicity. It’s like getting into a Lexus after sitting in a Chevy. The first thing that hits you is that there seem to be fewer knobs, buttons, and gizmos… until you realize that there’s tremendously more capability controlled by extremely well-engineered human-use design. And you soon also realize that every bit of that additional capability is truly useful, as opposed to being frivolous gee-whiz or showy.
- Count your steps. When shopping, count the number of steps required on each device to get to your goal. If taking a photo takes three presses of a button on one camera and seven on another, your choice is clear.
Value stream analysis, pure and simple.
Some simple lessons to keep it simple… and create excellence.