Publish a New Route Map and Erect New Road Signs to Direct Everyone to Rapid Profit Growth

19th of October 2009 0

Publish a New Route Map and Erect New Road Signs to Direct Everyone to Rapid Profit Growth

“I keep finding myself getting off the freeway at familiar landmarks that turn out to be unfamiliar. On the way to appointments. Wandering down streets I thought I recognized that turn out to be replicas of streets I remember. Streets I disremember. Streets I can’t tell if I’ve lived on or saw in a postcard.”

–Sam Shepard

Boston has long had a well-deserved reputation as one of the most difficult cities in the United States in which to drive. Out-of-towners sometimes hire cabs to lead their cars through the city. Since most of the roads were originally cow paths during colonial times, it’s not surprising to find that it’s challenging to drive Hummers down these often crooked and narrow roads.

For many years beginning in the 1990s, Boston underwent what was called locally The Big Dig. A better name would have been The Big Fiasco. Someone originally had the bright idea that you could clear up a lot of traffic congestion and make the waterfront nicer.

So far, so good. But how? The plan was to depress the main north-south road through town to an underground level and add a new tunnel from the turnpike’s end directly to the airport.

As the plan was put into action, no one could know what they would find when they began to dig, and the challenges proved to be greater than expected. The project went on for many more years than expected and exceeded its original cost estimates by several hundred percent. For a decade, Boston resembled a war zone.

A key drawback of this decade-long activity was that the route you had to use to drive to any location in Boston changed almost every day . . . and sometimes several times during the same day! If you stopped traffic officers and asked for directions, they often wished you good luck as they shrugged their shoulders. They had no clue either!

Many of the completed tunnels eventually sprung leaks. That meant that contractors shut down the tunnels at night to make extensive inspections and repairs. More recently, a part of a tunnel’s ceiling fell on a motorist and killed her, requiring more extensive closures and repairs. Where did these problems leave motorists?

Here’s a story to give you a sense of the difficulties. One night, a suburbanite left her home to pick up her husband at the airport. Under normal conditions, this trip would have taken 20 minutes. Fifteen minutes into her trip, she found that the road to the airport was closed and she was directed by temporary signs that said “Airport” to exit into the city streets of Boston.

For a few twists and turns, there were more “Airport” signs. But then she couldn’t find any more signs, and there were no traffic officers in sight.

She decided to cross Boston from south to north to reach the Charles River and take Storrow Drive east to the airport. After a half hour of this self-made detour, she found that the entrance from Storrow towards the airport was also closed.

She was again on unfamiliar Boston streets with no signs to the airport. Assuming that she would eventually locate a sign to send her towards the old tunnel to the airport, she headed to the waterfront.

No such airport or tunnel signs could she find. After two hours of this Odyssey, her husband reached her by cell phone. She was so lost now that she wasn’t sure she could find her way back to the suburbs.

The good news was that she was in front of a hotel. Perhaps the doorman could direct her back home. Her husband then stood in a taxi line behind 400 people who also hadn’t been picked up while she struggled west as best as she could.

They arrived home almost simultaneously. The total of the taxi fare and tip, tolls, and gasoline for the “trip home” of 12 miles cost almost double what the air fare had been for the flight and took as long as a 1,500 mile air journey. Even the taxi driver thought that was ironic.

Before you dismiss that story too quickly as an unusual case, remember that organizations often spend millions on design, development, and facilities for new offerings . . . while forgetting that people need help to use these new choices. Have you ever bought a toy, a piece of furniture, or a tool that needed extensive assembly? Did you ever have a smooth and easy time making such an assembly?

What’s the source of the problem? Letting people know how to use a new offering is often the furthest thing from the minds of most people in the organization, including the leaders. Instead, everyone is focusing on getting the offering ready on time, meeting budgets, and ironing out recently detected flaws. There’s no time and attention left for anything else.

Imagine if a bride-to-be planned her wedding this way. She would be racing around fussing with the caterers, arguing with the photographer, cajoling the clergy, pinning ribbons in the hair of the flower girl, and trying to keep her makeup from smearing. Would that distracted bride-to-be remember to tell the clergy, musicians, and wedding party about a needed, last minute change in the order of the service to adjust for a flaw in the printed program? Probably not. Confusion could easily follow as the ceremony ignored the printed program while the guests stared around in puzzled fashion.

A road designer once shared a shocking secret with us that explains why easing new use is so difficult. Many drivers cannot read road signs well enough to know what they should be doing before they need to take action.

Here’s why. Some drivers don’t read the language the signs are in very well. Others don’t read well in any language. Still others see the letters and numbers in jumbled order. Even the symbolic signage can confuse quite a few people . . . such as those with poor eyesight and almost everyone who is driving through a downpour or a winter blizzard.

So take the time to be sure everyone gets the new directions, understands them, and can go in that new direction.

Good luck!

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