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Fix Everything

by Andrew Smith

When I was a child, I studied percussion. I had an instructor who, after a few lessons, must have sensed that I was either talented enough or stubborn enough to continue practicing. He told me that, in short time, I would begin to hear rhythm in everything, it would consume me, and there was no avoiding it.

He was right. Before long, I couldn’t brush my teeth without feeling eighth notes from the bristles. A walk down a hallway would echo the rudiments of drumming that I practiced over and over. I don’t know if this sensation is universal to students of percussion or if I’m a special case but, as an adult, I find the same phenomenon applies to my awareness as a consultant.

Everywhere I look, I identify problems and, rather than wallow, I seek to solve them. It’s a particularly exasperating trait, but it’s also one that is probably inescapable for anyone with aspirations of a career in consulting.

It’s November as I write this, which means turkey and stuffing and holiday cheer. It also means lots of time spent with family in the coming weeks. In order to spend time with family, you might have to get onto an airplane. To demonstrate my obsession with identifying problems and their solutions, I thought I would dedicate a few hundred words to this holiday tradition that’s at times both miraculous and unbearable: travel. I recently took a trip from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and I made note of all the dilemmas I encountered along the way.

Problem #1: I have to dress for November in Chicago when I’m traveling to San Diego. In Chicago, I need my heaviest winter coat and mittens in order to be comfortable during my 40-minute Blue Line ride to the airport. Upon arrival in Southern California however, I’ll want flip flops and a t-shirt. This leaves me in a predicament where I’m best off being either too cold before takeoff or too hot when I land.

Solution: What if the airport had a coat check?  I could wear my down jacket on the train, and then when I get to O’Hare, there’d be a place where I could exchange my coat for a ticket. When I return from my trip (and it’s probably snowing or worse), my coat is there waiting for me for the ride home. The airline could even manage the coats. As we all know, airlines are passionate about finding additional ways to extract money from their passengers. Speaking of which …

Problem #2: I have to pay for everything when I fly. Whether it’s a checked bag or a drink or Wi-Fi or priority boarding, there’s a fee involved. Airlines used to offer almost everything within the price of your ticket. At some point, probably because of rising fuel costs, the airlines needed to find additional avenues for revenue. I believe that the idea of baggage fees actually came from a consulting company (some consulting companies mistakenly serve their clients, rather than considering the impact on their clients’ clients).

Solution: This feels like a problem, but fixing it may actually be a step backward. Including everything in the price of the ticket would necessitate a more expensive ticket. At the same time, not everyone needs to check a bag or use Wi-Fi or sit down before everyone else. In this way, users of these products or services pay the cost and the people who don’t use them don’t have to pay. This also means, however, that the passengers will alter their behavior in response to fees, so airlines may not earn as much as they are expecting. Is there a way that everybody wins? I’m not entirely sure, but this is a long way of saying that sometimes a problem doesn’t have an easy solution, or sometimes a problem isn’t a problem at all.

This scenario happens in the world of consulting all the time. A client may want a solution, but Kenway performs the proof of concept prior to implementation and could come to the conclusion that the solution the client wants isn’t the right or necessary solution at all. Kenway is happy to make that recommendation, even if it leads to less work for us, because it best serves the long-term interests of the client.

Problem #3: I go to the wrong security line, twice. Certain security lines are for passengers with different levels of class, occupation or security clearance. Some security lines just naturally move faster than others. I go to a line for boarding passes with TSA PreCheck and, even though I actually do have TSA PreCheck, for whatever reason it isn’t on my boarding pass so I walk down the concourse to a line that will have me. I go to the first one, and it makes me wonder if there is a slower line in any airport in the world at this moment.

Solution: We already have Waze for driving. Why not have a mobile application that tells us the most efficient way to get from the ticket counter to the gate?  All you need is a map of the airport and some basic user information (airline, class, clearance, etc.). From there, the app tells you the fastest way to your destination by tracking the movements of other app users, much like Waze does with highway traffic.

Problem #4: I can’t find a seat at a bar. I’m not a nervous traveler, but I find my trip can be significantly more enjoyable if I have time to sit down for a drink before departure. The problem is that many other travelers share this opinion, which leads to crowded bars and the inevitable holding pattern of standing travelers waiting for a seat to open up. Airport bars are generally small. They might have 10 or so bar stools to fight for. Some travelers might have hours to kill.

Solution: Perhaps a more efficient approach would be to offer to-go drink service, and then provide lounge-style seating with televisions where passengers could gather. Or maybe the airport could have a mobile app that will tell you which bars in the airport have available seating. Airport traffic has hot and cold zones, and this may be leading to overcrowding at a subset of bars, and lower demand at other areas.

If this all sounds like complaining, it is. But I also always look for solutions, whether the problems are substantial or just minor annoyances. I like to think that all problems have solutions but, in order to find them, sometimes we need a little help from an outside perspective. And that’s where Kenway comes in.

Identifying the problem is step one. From there, Kenway isolates root causes and, ultimately, recommends a solution. Finally, Kenway applies an iterative approach to implementing the solution, partnering with our clients by leveraging subject matter experts and end users throughout the process.

We can all be better, we all have goals, and we can all help each other achieve them. For more information on how Kenway might be able to help your company be better and achieve its goals, visit kenwayconsulting.com.

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