Thursday, November 5, 2015

What We Can Learn from Japanese Efficiency in IT

I personally don’t use Twitter very much, but yesterday I was tempted to create a “hashtag” topic to see if it would gain traction and begin trending. What was that topic? #spoiledbyjapan.

I’ve recently returned from a short trip to Nagoya for my brother’s wedding, and I’m still aglow from the experience. This was my first trip to Japan, and I’m already hoping I will have another opportunity to return. I think the best single word I can come up with is “satisfying.” You know that feeling you get when you peel off the plastic protective layer from a new smartphone, or when a box fits exactly into another box? That’s what a lot of Japan feels like. Where there is an opportunity for something to work efficiently and effortlessly, they are the undisputed masters of implementation. Visual attentiveness to detail is of the utmost importance, and all of Japan’s citizens seemed to contribute to that same robotic mantra of proficiency and cleanliness.

You can imagine my chagrin when I returned back to the United States and visited a popular chain clothing store in a shopping mall. There were plenty of clothes on the floor that had fallen off racks, unfolded jeans and shirts hastily strewn on shelves and tables, and large dust bunnies visible to the naked eye everywhere. It was an absurd and frustrating wakeup from my Japanese dreamland of all things visually appealing. Needless to say, I walked out without buying anything. 

We all know that pictures are worth a thousand words, and think of the phrases that come to mind when you see this picture – regardless of whether you understand what’s going on here, or not:

  • The persons responsible for this do not care about how it looks, as long as it works.
  • The persons responsible do not properly manage their time to make something right. 
  • The persons responsible for this do not know what they are doing.
Now, take a look at this picture:
What are you thinking now?
  • The persons responsible for this understand that others that see this will appreciate efficiency, even if they don’t understand how it works.
  • The persons responsible for this take pride in their work.
  • The persons responsible for this take time to make things correct.
Now, put on your C-level hat and ask yourself which you would rather have in your datacenter. Try to stop yourself from the same excuses – we have all heard them before. I’ve also been in Information Technology for a long time, and I can guess what you are thinking.
“It requires downtime and overtime to keep a datacenter organized. It is not cost efficient to make things ‘look nice.’”
Not correct. Though it can be an arduous task to “clean up” a datacenter cabling rack from the state of Picture one to Picture two, that does mean it is inevitable to return to the previous state. It requires a consistent mantra of disciplined attention across your team. If there is something new to be added or removed, it takes far less time to make that single thing right, than it would be to take a shortcut mentality and allow them to continue. Once one person sees that it’s OK to take a shortcut, others will likely follow suit. This is essentially how things get slowly disorganized. Remember, laziness pays off now… but hard work now pays off later. 
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit any datacenters in my trip to the far East, but it’s a safe bet that they would look like Picture 2. Organization eliminates errors caused by disorganization, and in this industry, you simply can’t afford to have it any other way. It requires discipline and attention to detail across all members of your team. When everyone subscribes and contributes, everyone wins together. 

-Jason S.
Jason S. has been in Infrastructure Technology consulting for 17 years, and has an extensive background in various methods of business application delivery, hardware and virtualization, storage infrastructures, and enterprise communication processes.  In his spare time he reads tabletop game instruction manuals and chases his lifelong dream of finding the perfect guacamole recipe. He is married with two children and hopes to move to the Ozark Plateau someday.


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