I play a little game in the car on my way to the office every morning. I try to think of ways to remove myself from the flow of the business.
I’m a firm believer that after a company has grown to a certain size, the founder/owner becomes more and more of an impediment to the daily operation of the business. More to the point, the need for the founder to be involved in each and every decision becomes the impediment.
A business should be able to, if not run, at least chug along smoothly without you. Perhaps for a short period of time initially, but eventually it should be able to function without you indefinitely. If this isn’t the case, what you’ve got yourself there is a job rather than a business — a job, perhaps, without a proper boss, but a job nevertheless.
At any rate, every morning on my way to the office I try to think of ways I can remove myself from the path of the business. In the past, this has led to things good and proper, like direct deposit for employee payroll, removing the need for me to be at the office to sign the checks twice a month.
I’m not being intentionally lazy when I say that I don’t want to be at the office to take care of payroll, I’m saying that there is something wrong with a situation where business stops if I’m not physically able to be at my desk. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a day late with payroll. I have. I wasn’t able to make it into the office because of a meeting and the payroll packet just sat there on top of my desk. It may not be the worst thing in the world, but being a day late with payroll is shameful somehow.
So today I was thinking about the office water delivery. We have a water cooler thing. It uses 5-gallon water bottles. The kind where new jugs are delivered and old empties are taken away. Water usage at the Antair offices does not follow a predictable curve. Sometimes we have visitors. Sometimes folks work from home and the traffic at the office isn’t as high.
The water delivery service is managed online, which is good. The last thing I need is to have to call someone twice a month to have more water delivered. But the cycle of delivery, consumption and renewal, is still anchored on me. We don’t have an office manager, and while we run well without one, the water delivery situation bugs me to no end, simply because I can’t think of a good way to automate the process and remove myself from it.
If the water bottle is running low, someone at the office has to notice it. If we don’t have any extras around from the last delivery, I have to be notified about the situation, regardless of where I happen to be. I then have to log into the water delivery service website, and, assuming I remember the login information, check when the next delivery is scheduled for, and inevitably schedule an extra, earlier, delivery as soon as possible. I don’t know what the point of the scheduled deliveries is. They’re never in sync with our needs, so we wind up either having extra jugs that are still there when the next scheduled delivery rolls around, or we run out of water weeks before a delivery is due.
So I log into the site, schedule an extra delivery, and then proceed to either inform someone at the office about the delivery date, or put it up on the intranet calendar myself.
This entire process rubs me the wrong way. Normalized, the bad taste of the situation comes down to the fact that getting water delivered to the office requires the full attention of the President of the company. For as few brain cycles as the process may require of me, the fact that it requires any at all is what makes the situation feel wrong.
So here’s what I want from my water delivery company.
Give me an API. I’m going to solve this nonsense once and for all.
I’ll stick a cheap $2.00 sensor on the water cooler and have it signal an intranet app when the water level is getting low. One API call later, and our water delivery is instantaneously and automatically scheduled and the intranet calendar is updated accordingly. More importantly, I don’t have to be involved, and the business can chug along that much smoother without having yet another thing to be dependent on the boss for.
But alas, I doubt the company selling water inside plastic jugs will be delivering an API to us anytime this century, and I’m not going around writing screen scrapers to hack the thing together with noodles and band-aids.
So I guess I’m off to write that wanted ad for an office manager.