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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Don't Educate, Automate

It doesn’t always make sense to teach people. Sometimes it is better to automate the process and eliminate the need for training. Training is time consuming, expensive and not always effective. In fact, many software training programs, classes and manuals are necessary because the designers of the software did not take the time to think through how those using the software would be interfacing with it.

Here is something from Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning that helps explain the point:

In high school, I literally had a lesson on how to fold a map. The lesson was part of a six week class on how to read and use maps. I vividly remember the lesson because it confounded me how re-folding a simple piece of paper could be so darn frustrating. I always had the last flap inside out. Instead of the nice map cover, I had an obscure piece of Pennsylvania highway on the front. I did not do well folding a map and only a little better reading it.

When I got older, I always seemed to have jobs that required me to travel (someone has a warped sense of humor). Therefore, I always had various types of maps in various stages of being folded shoved into the glove compartment of my car—just enough so it would close. The maps had highlighter all over them from my efforts to determine the quickest route to my destination. Then one day, after being forced to take my car because hers was in the shop, my wife bought me an atlas. It had all the maps in a nice neat book I could keep on the front seat. It was a great improvement for the aesthetics of my car.

Then, a few years ago, I started to use automated directions from the internet. It was fantastic; all I needed to do was type in my home address and the destination address. My printer would instantly provide turn-by-turn directions and even small pictures of the route highlighted in purple. I received a printed set of instructions guiding me to my final destination. I could throw away my atlas.

Whenever I traveled, the electronic directions provided pinpoint accuracy for about 99% of the trip. For some reason, they seemed to break down all time during the last mile. The last 5280 feet were always wrong. Leading me to believe that gas stations created the web based directions so you would stop in and ask for directions. It was also a little scary from time-to-time trying to read the directions at 60 miles an hour to determine whether or not I should get off at the upcoming exit which was three lanes over.

Another unfortunate side effect, was that my car now had dozens of sheets of paper scattered about. Every trip required one set of directions for my destination and one set for the return trip. If I wanted to take a side trip, I needed to print directions for that little jaunt as well. These directions were a definite improvement over maps, no folding, but my car was back to being a mess.

Enter Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. I now have a small device that looks like a tiny television monitor stuck on the inside of my windshield and plugged into the outlet of my car. It is a GPS receiver. This receiver, no bigger than six inches, displays a map showing the route I need to follow and providing a visual image of my car on the highway. It also gives me verbal turn-by-turn directions from a female voice named “Jill.” It has eliminated both my need to print directions from the internet and the danger of trying to read instructions at 60 miles an hour. Technology has replaced the need to teach people how to read (and fold) maps and it made my car neater.


Can you think of any areas in your company that would benefit, not from training but from automation? Can performance be improved through automating simple processes or even complex ones?
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3 comments:

Mike Gaal said...

Automating a new hire's entry into the company as much as possible can surely reduce overhead and allow for a consistent and streamlined process for the employee to experience. I'm a big fan of less paperwork and more real work.

Rupa said...

Hi Prof Kapp,

I read Games Gadgets and Gizmos for Learning and simply loved it.

I am sure your book is a big hit.

Thanks
Rupa

david said...

I believe that automating certain processes can be a big advantage, but I'm not one for automating anything that could provide or support learning. Even with the map example, many people will say that learning to read a map is useless in today's world, but I strongly disagree. There is always a chance that a situation will occur where using automated navigation will not be an option which will render the driver useless. This example can carry over into many other real life situations. It is important that we learn how to think for ourselves and learn how to properly complete tasks. I know that isn't a popular view with today's "what is the most time and cost effective" model, but as we continue to automate everything, we stifle any sort of creativity or learning. Taking the time to learn a skill and stimulate growth can have a far larger impact than the immediate aim of being able to read a map.