Our last AgileOpenKitchen was at Mangrove in Rotterdam. A great company that shows how people can work together in projects along side with customers. They design and build great online projects. But even though it was a great meeting and there is a lot to talk about their own agile approach. It is not something that I want to write about right now. I want to write about a very funny but sad story that is happening in their office space.
When the meeting was over and all the beer was consumed I walked towards the door to go home, one of the employees pointed something out to me that made me laugh and think. The Mangrove office is located in the centre of Rotterdam, the Netherlands and they are, with their office space, situated directly under the flat roof of a tall office building. On that roof there is a beautiful garden. It’s a very nice green place with flowers, vegetables, and fruit and so on in the middle of a crowded high-tech environment. The only trouble is that it is a bit wet in the Netherlands. And slowly some leakage started to emerge within the office of Mangrove. One day, water started dripping from the ceiling of the office. Not very convenient with a lot of computers and stuff around, so they contacted their landlord to fix the problem. And that is where the fun begins. Two workers with green coveralls showed up to fix the leak. But these men where the gardeners of the green place on the roof and not the plumbers. They approached the problem in a very genius, yet strange way. They did not search for the leak on the roof. They simply fixed the problem from the bottom. They searched at where the water was dripping and constructed a water transport system. An elaborate solution to get rid of the water by diverting it through pipes al the way to the outside of the building. A gutter within the office space.
After I had seen this and expressed thoughts with laughs and “what the fucks”. I started thinking about this. What they did wasn’t so different from what many people do everyday. When they encounter a problem they fix the problem as fast as they can. Nothing wrong there. But in most cases the problem stays and is covered up with a short term solution. Even though it might seem the right solve, it is just a short term solve. The water keeps dripping, it is only causing troubles somewhere else. So the problem is solved not the root of the problem. This is exactly why someone like Taiichi Ohno made drastic changes at Toyota. He radically changed things in that factory. He moved entire departments. Shifted management and made changes to the root problems of the company.
The two green guys simply had to dig up the garden and search for the roots of the leakage. Funny that the metaphor here is literally also the real problem. Not a simple task but at least one that in the end brings more success. It may take some time and digging but at least they don’t have to turn up every week to attach more in-office plumbing. Maybe you have seen this film by Terry Gilliam, Brazil. A parody of George Orwels 1984. In this film, humanity is surrounded by pipes. So many pipes that they get stuck and almost strangled by them. Is this what you want. Because in the end, al those short term solutions will get the better of you. They will rear there ugly (pipe) head and come back to haunt you. So don’t fix the problem. Fix the root of the problem. That way you will keep your feet dry.