Eliminating waste from the bottom up

One of the things that gets lost in the complexity of getting a job done or doing the next task, is a focus on group work. You need to be able to take a step back from the pieces of the system that you’re involved in and:

  • understand what’s supposed to come out the other end of the organization

  • what’s the value of what you are doing

  • understand your role in the organization

  • understand how the process within your organization help support that value

Over time, whether you’re management or somebody that is working as a component of that system, it’s important to be able to understand when what you’re doing needs to change. Things you should be asking yourself are:

  • How do I get rid of extraneous actions

  • How do I slim down what we’re doing as an organization so there’s less waste

  • How do we more effectively meet our goals

One of the things that people often don’t think about but it’s of critical importance, is that the things that you do in your day to day job that don’t drive value are things that are making the organization less competitive. They are the things that are taking you farther away from the goals of your organization. Waste to the organization aren’t just the big 100, 000 million dollar line items they are the time wasters such as the forms that have no point and the meetings that bring no value. Those things add up and if they are pervasive enough in an organization they can significantly change the competitive landscape. The world is moving towards a higher performing environment and these time wasters will breed bad consequences for the organizations that don’t eliminate them.

People don’t think of that at Monday morning status meetings that go nowhere as the thing that is going to put the company out of business. While that may not be the one thing that ends an organization; it’s emblematic of things that are happening within the organization on a grander scale that could put you on the brink of going out of business. So I can’t stress how critical it is to focus on the big picture but sweat the details a little bit too. If there are things that you’re doing that don’t add to the bottom line then you really need to question whether you should continue doing them. Those things are by definition luxuries and if you’ve got time wasting meetings that add no value, maybe you’d get more value just by giving people that hour off. Maybe you could get some sort of benefit for being a kinder gentler organization, but certainly no value status meetings are something to be avoided.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Susan Lehmann

I hear a lot about the generational divide among federal employees. My impression, after 6 years in federal service following 16 years in the private sector, is that a major obstacle is that too many people default to spending most of their time on the passive activities that require little intellectual investment. By passive activities I would include both sitting silently in useless meetings without proposing solutions to issues that need solving AND sitting at one’s desk and constantly tweeting or texting inane ego boosts to people who are not doing anything substantive.

How about a discussion about why a lot of federal employees don’t feel motivated to take on any task that requires gathering new information, researching new approaches, working toward consensus among colleagues, training colleagues in new approaches, and/or offering more effective/efficient/creative ways to serve the public?

True problem-solving, particularly in a highly developed system like the federal government, requires digging in and doing some serious, unglamorous, thinking. It is much easier to blow up the system, or in the case of start-ups, create something entirely new, than it is to modify a developed system that has to keep functioning while it is being modified. This can be really creative, challenging and rewarding work.

How can we change the federal culture so that this challenge looks exciting instead of hopeless? Big, important change to systems which impact people is rarely easy, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it can’t be fixed with a slick new piece of technology.