Saving Time With Your Microwave

It’s amazing how time-motion systems studies applied in business contexts appear ridiculous when applied to daily life.

Steve Pavlina artfully shows us this by taking personal productivity a bit too far in this amusing yet instructive bit on microwave use. In sum:

1) Reduce unnecessary keypunches by reducing 1:20 (three key presses) to 77s (two using only one button), saving precious seconds;
2) know your microwave’s rotational period so that everything nuked comes out handle first (e.g., if your machine has a 11s rotation, only enter times that are multiples of 11), thus eliminating precious seconds of fidgeting;
3) build a microwave farm so you can nuke everything simultaneously.

He doesn’t go far enough here; what, no analysis of interdependencies? I want a PERT chart, dammit. 🙂

Now, system optimization is important. Saving half a second on a process seems pointless, but if it’s something done a million times a year, that’s 138 hours – not shabby. Of course, if system optimization sucks up more time than it saves, it’s a net loss.

It was great as a formal systems design exercise, but it took a long time to generate, maintenance and updates were time-consuming, and the sheer magnitude of it confused a lot of people (although I personally found it quite cool). In the end, most team members needed to know system integration issues specific to their parts – not everyone else’s. The net ROI from this system optimization process was negative.

Systems integration nevertheless happened (indeed, Cornell’s team is well known for just that) but in a much more low-key, low-tech manner. Given that the racecar is a moderately complicated system, low-tech, contextually specific solutions to systems integration and administration work just as well or better, and are much cheaper and simpler to start and administer.

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