One of places I usually go for lunch in the weekdays is the food court at the Esplanade Link. It is only a short walk from Raffles City complex, it has variety of foods, the foods are generally good and the price is reasonable.
My favorite stall in that food court is the Economic Rice. This stall always has the longest queue during lunch time; and yet people don’t mind to queue. Despite the long queue, the queue is surprisingly fast, thanks to the way they serve the customers.
The stall is in the corner, in “L” shape, something similar to the image below. There were usually four stall keepers manning the stall, other than perhaps another two or three at the back who do the cooking. The queue started from the stall keeper in the corner, marked with ‘1’.
The stall keeper ‘1’ main responsibility was to ask the customer what he wants: whether he wants rice or porridge and whether he wants to eat the food at the food court or to ta bao (take away). He then scooped the rice to the plate or a take away box. He was responsible to scoop the first one or two side dishes that are closest to his area.
The 2nd stall keeper, marked as ‘2’ on the picture above, would then take over the dish. The customer move dto the left and continue to order side dishes from the area closest to the 2nd stall keeper. Meanwhile, stall keeper ‘1’ took new order.
Once completed, stall keeper ‘2’ handed over the plate or takeaway box full with the food to the 3rd stall keeper, marked with ‘3’ on the picture. In front of this stall keeper there were two big bowls, one with gravy and another one with curry. Stall keeper ‘3’ main responsibility was to ask the customer whether he wants curry or gravy to be added to the dish. If the customer ordered porridge, stall keeper ‘3’ would scoop the porridge to the bowl. He then put the dish in front of the 4th stall keeper.
The last stall keeper, stall keeper ‘4’, marked with ‘4’ on the picture, was mainly responsible to handle the payment. He was also in-charge to put the takeaway box in the plastic bag. Customer would then leave the stall.
As illustrated above, each stall keeper in the stall had a very clear roles and responsibility; and they followed it to the dot. There was also a coordination between stall keeper ‘1’ and stall keeper ‘2’; the moment the 2nd stall keeper was free, he would immediately take the plate/box from the stall keeper ‘1’.
Putting the curry and gravy in giant bowls was also a brilliant idea. Without those bowls, if the customer wanted curry or gravy, the dish needs to move back to stall keeper ‘1’ or ‘2’, disrupting the order from other customers.
All of the arrangement above resulted in an efficient queue. The customers would have a great experience as they could get their meals fast. The customers would then willing to queue despite the long queue. The stall also benefits, it could get more income as they could serve more customers within the same period.
However, the stall owner might realized that the arrangement could be improved further. For example, not all customers would want extra gravy or curry. The 3rd stall keeper was not as busy as his colleagues.
The 4th stall keeper, the cashier, was busy with money (the stall does not accept cashless payment), worse if the customer gave him a big note. For takeaway, he need to close the box, get one plastic bag and put the box[es] in the plastic bag. This was slower than the speed the first three stall keepers in serving the customers, caused a delay. It was uncommon to see three to four customers waiting to pay.
Today, I came to Esplanade Link’s food court again and I noticed the layout of the stall changed a bit and I noticed the queue was even faster.
There was no change in roles and responsibilities for stall keeper ‘1’ and ‘2’; however once stall keeper ‘2’ completed the order, he would hand it over to the cashier, who occupied the space originally meant for the big bowls of curry and gravy.
Customers would make the payment. The cashier did nothing but accept the payment. If the customer did not want to get curry or gravy, he would simply pick the dish and leave. For customer who want extra curry or gravy, he simply moved to the left and then scoop the extra curry or gravy himself from the giant bowls.
Stall keeper ‘4’ was responsible to put the boxes to the plastic bag or to get the porridge.
This simple improvement, swapping the role of stall keeper ‘3’ and ‘4’, is brilliant. It removed bunching at the cashier – when the cashier was busy putting the takeaway box[es] into the plastic bag, which slowed down the whole process.
Customers who eat in the food court and who don’t want to get curry/gravy could immediately pay their meals and go. The queue for them was faster; other than there was no bunching issue, they also skipped the gravy/curry step in the previous process.
For customers who want extra curry or gravy, they could get the curry/gravy themselves. As there was no bunching, they could get the food faster.
For takeaway customers, the experience may be the same as before, or perhaps slightly better because there was no bunching.
This small improvement does improve customers experience, simply because the queue moved faster and they could get the food faster.
I am not so sure whether there is a financial benefit, too. However, as the queue moved faster, it would lead to shorter queue, which may attract more customers.
Whether the stall owner realized or not, he had improved the process and customer experience. He also showed that such activities could be done even by small business like his. Huge Improvements could be achieved by simple (and looked trivial) changes, such as swapping the stall keepers.
One day I was asked to draw how the applications we have are interfacing with other applications. It was a quite big task to come out with such diagram, but I managed to do it.
The diagram looks like this.
(of course, I need to remove the details)
When I presented the diagram, the most comments were about how messy the applications are.
I disagreed. Such messiness, in fact, should be EMBRACED.
Firstly, there is no application that can do all the functions that the organisation needs. An organisation typically uses different applications and integrate them at the back-end so that to achieve a good user experience across different applications.
When an organisation moves to the cloud, it opens up even more applications it can use. The integration between cloud-based applications (and also with Intranet-installed applications) would even be more pervasive.
With the advent of microservices and container, the integration would even more complex than typical application-to-application integration. A particular business function may be served by multiple microservices, each may call other microservices.
Microservices and container when combined with DevOps also introduces more complexity. If properly configured, a container can run in different hosting environment at different time, transparent to the user, but introducing a more (at least to what some people think of) another dimension of messiness (and complexity) as the service has no ‘permanent home’.
Trying to simplify the interfaces between applications would simply not work. What the organisation needs to do is to embrace such messiness with some measures to prevent chaos.
For a start, the organisation should put in place governance. The organisation should know what interfaces are being deployed, who is calling what, version, security, schema and which interfaces to be retired. This will also allow the organisation to better reuse existing interfaces, rather creating new ones.
However, governance itself is a rather tricky concept as may hinder application development. Governance implies set of rules that must be followed by developers otherwise there would be some kind of penalties. The scrum team may also see governance slowing down their works as they need to go through ‘review’ process. Some pragmatic approaches on governance needs to be applied.
The organisation may also consider to implement some systems, such as API Gateway or message queue to provide the layer of governance on interfaces. It also provides additional layer of security with the cost of additional complexity and reduced reliability as such systems may become a single-point of failure in the whole organisation.
Data governance is also important. An entity should have consistent data structure throughout organisation and across all applications. An inconsistency would simply create confusion, not only for users but also for integration. It would make interfaces more complex as application would need to transform the data to its own data structure. Intermediary systems such as API Gateway could used to do transformation; however it would simply move the complexity into such system and with more complex governance as there is a need to track the transformation logic.