Reducing actions - how is it called in engineering

Ive been told of this principle by a show in the history channel. It said that in engineering or product design, the goal is to achieve the same goal with less actions.

It said that if for example to boot your computer you need to press a button, insert a floppy disk, press a lever and insert a code, if you take away the lever it is considered a success because youve achieved the same result (booting comp) with less actions. The holy grail is to boot only in a press of a button.
Now i dont remember the show, and i dont know what to write in google to find more about it. Anyone can help me here?

Did it have anything to do with therbligs?

Do you mean “time-motion studies” Time and motion study - Wikipedia ?

I’m also reminded of Steve Jobs’ statement that speeding up the boot speed of a Mac was saving lives (in effect)

“Well, let’s say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that’s probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you’ve saved a dozen lives. That’s really worth it, don’t you think?”

Therbligs and time-motion reductions apply only tangentially to product design - they aren’t wholly separate issues, but even a well-designed machine can be poorly used (and sometimes vice-versa).

I’d say the answer to the OP’s question is just “simplification.” As designs evolve, ways to achieve the same result with fewer parts that move or “work” less are almost a natural consequence.

As for the Jobs quote… yeah, there’s nothing bad about faster boot times. But I doubt many users sit and do nothing while the system boots, making the “time saved” a little questionable. (I solve the problem by rebooting as needed, every six weeks or so. :D) This view is a bit like programmers who spend weeks optimizing startup routines that are called once and take milliseconds. There are far more productive ways to “save lifetimes.”

Well, 50 million seconds a day for a year is around 578 years. If we say that a lifetime is 65 years, that’s something under 9 lifetimes.

(And this ignores the possibility that people might find something useful to do while the computer boots.)

… or develop a workflow which doesn’t involve booting the computer quite so often.

A tall order for 1984 Macs, but these days it makes a lot more sense.

Jobs was great at projecting an image, and most images can’t stand up to much prodding into their underpinnings.

Anyway, the most general subject heading this thread would fit into is called ‘ergonomics’, which isn’t primarily concerned with minimizing the number of actions but would certainly be a good place to start looking for workflow-optimization ideas.

It’s pretty clear that Jobs wasn’t serious about his calculation of lifetimes saved - he was just trying to motivate his staff to work harder on speeding bootup (probably because if you’re trying to demonstrate the usefulness of a Mac to a potential buyer, you don’t want to have to sit for a couple of minutes waiting for the bootup to complete)

Implying that Apple stores keep all the computers turned off until a customer walks in? Or that the Word of Jobs is always correct but mere mortals might misunderstand it? :slight_smile:

I think the Engineering term for the OP is “optimization.” At least that’s what I call it. :slight_smile:

They didn’t have Apple stores in 1984, afaik. I was picturing a sales rep visiting Acme, Inc. with a Mac in a case and doing demos, starting with turning the thing on. I could be wrong.

There is an opposite, well nearly so. A production engineer acquaintance back in the 80s was employed to *add *man hours to a car production line. British Leyland, a long defunct British motor manufacturer whose best known product was the Mini, sold a production line to a car producer in India. The Indian government was financing the deal as part of a job creation scheme. The natural consequence was that they wanted as many jobs to be created as possible.

Maybe they were referring to some Japanese terms like muda, muri, or mura.

BOM reduction,

Well, not Apple Stores™ but stores selling Apple computers, certainly.

I suppose. Me, I remember the startup sequence for the IBM DisplayWriter, which was dazzling and impressive… the first few times. After that, it was tedious as hell. :slight_smile:

Ah, you just reminded me of kaizen. Is that it?

Wouldn’t you want to draw a distinction between merely simplifying the end user experience and actually simplifying the process as a whole?

I mean, from an engineering perspective, it’s not much of a gain if you remove an end-user step by complicating the behind-the-scenes actions that much more.

But if you take an entire step out of both the end-user experience AND the behind-the-scenes actions, you’ve accomplished something.


When it comes to software, it’s perfectly acceptable to seriously complicate things in order to simplify what’s expected of the user. An example (out of a great many possibilities) would be an airplane’s autopilot. Or voice control of a smartphone. Or the smartphone itself.

I didn’t see any specific field of engineering mentioned in the OP, but in software engineering I frequently hear the term “refactoring” when discussing how to rewrite code for better readability or future maintenance.

Kaizen is about reducing errors in the process not always about shortening it in fact it can add steps for cross check purposes. Ahh how I remember TQM and six sigma back in the day!

Optimisation is what I would call it.


There is an old adage in engineering that says…

“An engineer is someone who can do with ten shillings what any fool can do with five pounds”

“Add lightness and simplify”

according to R.J Mitchell. The Supermarine Spitfire designer.

Good engineering is always about “the bang for the buck”

Time is money.

Take care…