Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Surprise of the Unexpected

"Tales of the Unexpected" by RoaldDahl has been the inspiration to the following. Reading "The Power of PULL" for the last couple of days, it makes me go back in time to some emotions connected with my past work experience. Back in 1998 I started my first job. I was so to say invited to join an international team to build -which was back then the first privately operated and publicly financed- rail-road-intermodal terminal, KTL Kombiterminal Ludwigshafen. I had to do a lot with IT, was the guy in charge to make the operation system for handling the trains get ready and in place.

After we had the terminal in operation a new challenge was awaiting: getting a almost slowed to a standstill tracking & tracing program, CESAR, to make it from the funding stage into the customer paid stage. Early in the beginning the data was not always as 100% sober and so customers complained.

Seeing the potential of that program (also in monitoring the data flowing between the operators and different customers) I just couldn't give up. I found a handful of dedicated supporters in some customer service departments of forwarding agents with whom to check data and find correct ways. Every error that occurred in the system worked as a small prototype to improve. Either it was the program itself that produced the error or some new procedures that had not yet "mirrored" into the program lines.

We hadn't much to loose: not getting the program forward to broad use by customer was not an option! Every small improvement (KAIZEN) was leading us to the goal to providing outstanding customer service with online real-time information service on container movements across the train networks of Europe.

So errors were "allowed" in order to make the program a success!

Almost 10 years into the program now 460 customers are using frequently the service, 55.000 daily requests in 2009 (which represents a 30% increase compared to the year before).

Thinking back to the early times in 2001 (I only had run the quality management for CESAR and "bring it into the world" for six months (!)) I remember the key success factors very well:

  • acting on the periphery of the day-to-day operation
  • having on single goal in mind (get the program running on its own)
  • internationally diverse project team
  • direct personal contact with the programmers
  • open-minded customers willing to get on the service first and commit to it with own ideas
  • (last but least) no interfering higher management, meaning no fixed plan and so enabling the serendipity that was necessary to find new ways through interactions with other people on the periphery and outside the system
When has the serendipity in your work field occurred? What has driven it?
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