One of the things that I try to do on a daily basis at Smart Dolphins is to look at problems differently. I think that as human beings (and especially technicians), we become conditioned to programmatically apply the same fixes to the same problems over and over again. Often a few slight tweaks to an old solution can save a few minutes every single time a problem recurs, which can add up to hours or days over the long term. Likewise, often a big tweak can eliminate a problem or change the solution altogether.

Breaking old habits is hard. Stopping in the middle of a busy work day to think about a problem when you already have a verifiable answer to it takes a concentrated effort, but it’s usually well worth doing.

It’s an interesting position for me, because I’m not actually fixing problems anymore. My job is operations, so I basically get to nit-pick others all day and walk a fine balance between trying to get results without driving everybody crazy. It does give me a unique perspective though as I always have a bit of a bird’s eye view of things.

Here’s an example that we see a lot at Smart Dolphins. Due to various problems such as viruses or hard disk issues, computers sometimes have problems which require the operating system (ie. Windows) to be reinstalled in order to fix. Reinstalling the operating system is no quick task, as it requires us to take the computer back to our shop, back up all of your data, reinstall your operating system, restore your data, return your computer, setup your applications, and more. If you had hardware issues then we have to repair those too. As you can imagine, the time and costs involved in this can be considerable. That’s two onsite visits (at least), a bunch of lab work, and a bunch of onsite time. You’re also without a computer!

Given the low cost of a new computer these days, it’s very often preferable to just purchase a new machine rather than go through all of this if the damaged machine is more than a year or two old. This allows you to put the costs of the repair towards a new machine instead, while also reducing your downtime. You can often have your new machine right away rather than waiting for the repair. Downtime costs you money right?

For the tech company, the new computer greatly reduces the time spent dealing with the problem. The new computer can replace the old computer on the first visit if things are planned correctly. That’s one car ride and almost zero time in the shop.

But people aren’t programmed to think this way. Generally speaking, most technicians will pick up your two year old computer and repair it for you and that’s what most customers expect. The idea of replacing the machine will not even occur to anybody involved. The cost of the customer’s downtime isn’t considered, nor is the cost of the technician’s time. There are certainly situations where the cost of fixing the two year old machine are warranted, but the other facet is too rarely considered.

It’s admittedly a very simple concept, but when we ‘do it wrong’ it hurts our customer and it hurts us. By stepping back and realigning our thinking a little bit, we have a solution that is magnitudes better for both parties. The next step is to build some real process around this idea and then dig up the next problem.