Garbage in, Garbage Stays

Last week in New York, my fellow Consulting Hall-of-Famers and I were treat to a deli lunch at New York’s iconic Katz’s. If you are not familiar with Katz’s, it is in the famous deli scene of the 1989 hit movie, When Harry Met Sally ( At Katz’s, I met a corned beef sandwich there that made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Even as my stomach began to say ‘no’ to what must have been a pound of corned beef stacked high on rye, my mouth continued to say ‘yes.’

Katz’s for all its greatness has one idiosyncratic practice. When you enter Katz’s, a man at the door hands you a purple ticket and tells you that you must hand over the ticket upon leaving in order to be allowed to exit. No explanation offered. This ticket thing is serious business. Our waiter, who was just superb, even joked, “Don’t be like me! I lost my ticket five years ago, and now look what I’m doing!”

None of my world-class consultant colleagues nor I could figure out what on earth this ticket process is for. Maybe it was originally designed to keep people from leaving without paying, but watching how people paid and exited, it would be easy to slip out by simply pretending to be part of another party that had paid. So, it couldn’t possibly be for that.

The purpose of the purple ticket process has likely been long forgotten. Nonetheless, people continue the process simply because that is how things have always been done at Katz’s. The purple ticket process has become a waste of time in getting people in and out of Katz’s, a waste of labor as there is one full time employee dedicated to distributing and collecting purple tickets, and and aggravation for Katz’s customers. It has become sludge in the process pipeline, and should be cleaned out.

This kind of “sludge” is not confined to just processes, but is also common in databases, like CRM databases. When I do sales management consulting, one of the first things I do is audit the sales pipeline. Often I will find that more than 50% of CRM database entries are defunct, constantly slipping, or otherwise ambiguous and should be removed. Like sludge in a pipe, defunct data builds up if not regularly cleared out. CRM data sludge diminishes performance and throughput, makes meetings longer, delays decision-making, clouds judgement, and retards action. My colleague and fellow Hall-of-Famer Colleen Francis refers to the phenomenon of CRM data sludge as “garbage in, garbage stays.”

How many “purple ticket” processes do you have in your business? When was the last time database sludge was cleaned out? Do you think your business’s performance may be being hindered by sludge? How might this be effecting customers?

In organizations, we need to regularly clean out the sludge to keep performance at peak levels, and as much as possible, not introduce it in the first place.