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I hate driving to work. Like, really hate it. If you are lucky enough to take public transportation—be it the subway, train or even a scooter—congratulations. This isn’t your problem.
What upsets me about driving is how one small variation in the route can have a ripple effect on many, many other people.
Take road construction for example. Let’s pretend you’re driving home, and one lane of the usual two lanes is closed. The open lane, as expected, quickly stacks up for blocks or miles depending on where and when you are trying to get through. And yet, the lane soon-to-be-closed is relatively open with the occasional car whizzing past while everyone else looks over with a mixture of scorn and envy.
The most efficient process (by far) is to have both lanes go as far as possible to the “endpoint” and alternate every other car. The zipper.
We never zipper.
Fear and perception.
Fear that no one will let me in when I get to the end. I might run out of space. Perception of what the other drivers will think. They are going to think I’m one of those assholes. One driver trying to get ahead of another is perceived as personal and inefficient instead of what it actually is – organized and efficient.
The road does not have a business process, at least not where road construction is involved. Orange barrels work to curb some behavior. These alert drivers where not to go. Nothing alerts drivers where to go. Neither the unacceptable or acceptable path is defined or enforced.
The result is a long line in one lane with perhaps the occasional car merging in halfway to the endpoint (I guess they lost their nerve) or that truck moving into both lanes with three-quarters of a mile to go blocking anyone from getting around. All because the process (i.e. the best method) is not clearly defined or known to the drivers on the road and because social norms are strong.
Now consider your business.
If you are a founder or CEO or a leader of a team within a larger organization, you probably have orange barrels all over the place inside your business. Your team knows where not to drive. How often, though, do you have clearly defined processes and intuitive solutions for where you want your team to go? Are you asking them to fight their human nature to find the most efficient solution? If so, you might end up with a really long, unnecessarily line when the more efficient solution is within reach.
The zipper method is relatively easy to explain and understand but very difficult to implement. In fact, it is likely the intention of the crews that offer such long, advance notice of the lane closure. Yet, the human nature of drivers overrides the best process.
Large organizations often have shadow policy and informal training within the team that contradicts or ignores the optimal process. Generally speaking, shadow policy is almost always intuitive or aligned with human nature. It often makes a lot of sense or seems right to the team member.
Finding ways to make the most efficient method also the one most easy to access is the key to eliminating inefficiency and waste. Next time you are reviewing a “traffic jam” or dealing with frustrated “drivers” on your team – zipper your business. Seek out the perceptions embedded in each task or in how teams come together so that you can identify where the team is choosing to do something less efficient for what they perceive to be a good reason. When you find it, do not blame the team but find a way to make “the zipper” the preferred route for everyone.
And next time you are stuck in a lane closure situation, always take the lane as far as you can before merging into traffic. Alternating every other quickly and easily. The zipper. Thank you.
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