James O'Neill's Blog

March 27, 2007

The "people ready" journey

Filed under: Events,General musings — jamesone111 @ 7:08 pm

I’m off to Belgium tomorrow and, fortunately, I’ve just printed my boarding pass. Despite plans to the contrary I’ve ended up on British Airways. And I’ve had to do work with the our new travel tool. Although it is a external web site, you can only authenticate to use from the corporate network. Fortunately I don’t travel enough to need to book a trip while on a trip. The best thing about this site is no longer having to go through a bunch of intermediaries. When I worked in Microsoft Consulting Services the process worked liked this.



  1. Go to expedia, or the airline’s web site and find the flight

  2. Phone or email the departments administrator and tell her the flight details

  3. Wait while admin contacts the travel agent, travel agent reserves wrong flight / hotel / price and forwards it to me

  4. Go back to admin with a description of what is, or appears to be, wrong

  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4. Sometimes more than once.

  6. When travel agent gets down to the price on Expedia, Attempt to confirm flights.

  7. If policy entitles you to fly business spend a further 2 days getting the secretary of the director who has to sign it off to read the policy.

  8. Go on-line to enter frequent flyer number

  9. Travel.

  10. If flying with British Airways complain about their handling of executive club tier points.

In that job, I was billed out at MCS’s hourly rate; so the time involved making the booking was worth more than the flight. In this job (where my time isn’t charged) I could go straight to the travel agent’s call centre. Reading Mark Wilson’s blog I know I’m not the only person who feels a crushing sense of gloom on calling these places, and travel isn’t the worst one I deal with. I’d never use them again after they sent me to a rough part of Madrid with a note on their computer saying the hotel was full and the confirmation code on my itinerary was bogus. But we have a purchasing agreement with them. Now, I’ve quoted Robert Townsend before, here’s what he said about such things.



Fire the whole purchasing department.
They cost ten dollars in zeal for every dollar they save through purchasing acumen.
And that doesn’t count the massive unrecorded disasters they cause. Let’s say somebody has persuaded a young Edison or Steinmetz to go to work for General Conglobulation, Inc. By the time he’s found out that there’s no way to get that $900 desk calculator through the purchasing department he’s lost all respect for General Conglobulation (“They’d hire Einstein and then turn down his requisition for a blackboard.”).
So let’s be sensible. Fire the whole purchasing department. The company will benefit from having each department dealing in the free market outside instead of being victimized by internal socialism.* And don’t underestimate the morale value of letting your people “waste” some money. If you must, have a one-man “buying department”   for those who want help in the purchasing area and ask for it.



* I’m told that the federal government, with all their joint-use purchasing economies, really pays 20 per cent more for a pencil than you do


You get an idea of his thinking when he talks about delegation of authority, he gives the example of renewing an important contract, too many managers see too much risk in letting people below them do it. He says they should, starting:


Find the man in your organization to whom a good contract will mean the most.
and He concludes
Is it a risk? John is closer to the point of use. He will be most affected by a bad contract. He knows how much the company gains or loses by a concession in each area (and {the supplier knows} he does). And he’ll spend full time on it for the next thirty days. Would you? I maintain the company will get a more favorable contract every time.


Steve and I have some thoughts about what this means in the IT world, which we’ll share another time. Townsend was describing aspects of a people ready business about 35 years before we picked up on the term, and few businesses have got there yet. So I’m left with new on-line travel tool, and let’s be honest: Microsoft can’t be such a bad place to work if this is one of the suckiest things about working here. Steve has summarized nicely what it’s like to use, to put it simply this tool is to Web Usability what Scrapheap Challenge (or Junkyard wars in the US) is to automotive styling. And Steve also points out we have to give the travel agent a ton of personal data and agree to their sharing it with their credit card company, their insurance company, and anyone else they please OR not travel. 

Still I can avoid the Call centre and unlike Steve I think it saves time. It passes my frequent flyer details through so I can check in more easily – the call centre never did and they mailed trip details as a protected PDF – which I couldn’t copy into my calendar. The new tool e-mails me text but it neglected to tell me I need Terminal 4 for Brussels flights. Most BA short haul flights go from Terminal 1 -when you’re leaving the house at 5.00AM the last thing you want is an unexpected 30 minute trip across the airport. I found out because I went to the BA site and printed my boarding pass. Why couldn’t I do the whole thing on their site ? It seems we’re not that people ready yet. But at least we have started the journey.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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