The "people ready" journey

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.

Comments (7)
  1. Anonymous says:

    As I’ve explained before I like to do mail in the morning before I leave the house. Finding myself running

  2. James ONeill says:

    Good points Doug.

    In my view, a company gives managers objectives to meet to and budget go about it. I can only waste the company’s money if my manager agrees that I waste *her* budget.

    A thought about frequent flyer programs: your comparison of train and plane is interesting. I’ve yet to use the free flights I’ve earnt – but I want the status points so I get somewhere nice to wait for my flight. Which wouldn’t be an issue if I was going by train! (Though the train to Belgium wouldn’t have got me there in time. )

    But isn’t the argument for "sitting comfortably with space, calm and the ability to get some real work done," etc making the case to spend the extra flying business class ? 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    I blogged yesterday about the database stated and referred to No2ID including their example of International

  4. Steve Lamb says:

    I like the tool. It’s just getting to it that’s WAAAAAY too painful.

    I’ve bookmarked the real URL that I need and with the exception of being able to access it without being on corpnet I’m happy and agree that it’s better than the call centre.

  5. Doug Packer says:

    One of the tenet’s of this blog suggests that if people were left to do their own purchasing, then they would get a better deal. Yes, I think it’s likely they will often get a better “technical” deal for the company when buying equipment, services and materials, but looking deeper, when the deal involves personal gain or comfort, then I suggest that the high morals go out of the window.  For example, going to Brussels or Paris from most places outside London by Eurostar, I have timed as being within 10 to 30 minutes difference – either way!

    However, this will not buy you free flights to other destinations through frequent flyer points!

    It will however, improve one’s mental state, especially in the “wee small hours”.

    As I see it, there are at least two types of traveller:

    Those who want to feel they are moving quickly and those who are actually get there quickly.  

    It’s a bit like the difference between those who aspire to being powerful and those who are [powerful] The truly powerful are often quiet, pleasant people.  See “Who impressed me most?” in my profile at

    Train v Plane

    Consider; two hours(ish) of being shunted from check-in to lounge, lounge to boarding lounge/area, one hour in the air, disembarkation, travel from 20 miles outside of the city into the city during rush hour arriving at your destination feeling that you have rushed all the way to get there quickly.

    Now consider, after a rapid check-in, a relaxed coffee or a complimentary drink if you need one that early in the morning (yes, I’ve seen it), followed by two hours(ish) of sitting comfortably with space, calm and the ability to get some real work done, whilst (if you wish) being able to use your phone, have a sleep or whatever you want to do within reason.

    Price: around the same for the same booking conditions.

    So, who’s getting the better deal for the company?  The person who spent the two hours travelling, doing some work for the company, or the one who arrived at harassed by the taxi driver? Hmm I wonder?  Me, I chose the train – and I was paying with my own money!

    Doug Packer

  6. Doug Packer says:

    Yup James,  a great point – I must remember that one.  Having got my tongue out of my cheek so I can smile properly :^) I’m not really having a go! But usually it’s good to see other points of view.  I did spend most of the last six years travelling to and from Paris and Brussels twice a week and it was so much better by Eurostar – try it sometime, as for any other travel; business or first class gets my vote when I can afford it! In the meantime, great to hear your continuing evalgelism and I guess longhorn is the next stop.

  7. jon honeyball says:

    i live 20 miles from stansted airport. I have a client who has offices one street away from the gare de midi train station in brussels, which is the eurostar terminal

    I can get there three ways:

    1) fly from stansted

    2) train via waterloo

    3) drive via eurotunnel

    number 3 is consistently the quickest, most reliable and less hassle.

    I dont fly anywhere in uk any more. I dont fly most anywhere in west europe. And since my driver managed to do berlin to calais in 7h40 mins last week in his astramax diesel van, I am tempted to go to berlin a few weeks by car…

    (typed at LAX airport!)

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content