The need to focus on efficiency is economics and physics. Economics: because every organization has limited resources (even in the best of times), and to be efficient is to utilize those resources to maximize goods and services. Physics: because a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Without a focus on changing what we do, we keep getting the same results. Focus on efficiency is about making a concerted effort to utilize our limited resources to the best possible advantage to accomplish our mission.
It can be difficult to focus our efforts on becoming more efficient. We get caught up in the details of the day-to-day. We’ve convinced ourselves that there’s no time to focus. In the absence of focus, we follow our instincts and make judgment calls that lead us down a particular path. And because we have good instincts and professional judgment, or sometimes by happenstance, we get-by and we call that success, view it as evidence that there’s no need to focus on efficiency, then we drag our patched up fire hose to the next fire.
No doubt there’s room enough and a real need for those instincts and judgment calls. There’s a time and place for “good enough” for “satisficing”. Satisficing (a blend of “satisfy” and “suffice”) is a decision making strategy that attempts to meet the criteria for adequacy rather than to identify the most efficient solution, because sometimes finding that most optimal solution is, well, inefficient. If we spend more time and other resources measuring, searching, brainstorming, etc. than we end up saving, we’ve lost the battle. There’s danger in assuming though, that this is always the case. The key to successfully focusing on efficiency is to focus on suspected highly inefficient repetitive processes that involve the highest improvement potential.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking” is based on the premise that those instincts and judgment calls can be inherently effective. The book, however, also explains that those instincts and judgment calls can be ineffective when they are influenced by likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes.
Likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes can be especially present when evaluating efficiency, because no one likes to admit that they may currently be doing things in an inefficient way. There’s a bias toward the presumption that we’re already as efficient as we can be. We must be working efficiently because: why wouldn’t we? If our budgets have been slashed and our workloads have increased that supports our theory. But that bias toward the presumption of efficiency can be a roadblock to efficiency. Our bias means there’s little appetite for examining current processes because such actions are viewed as “a waste of time.” But are we striving to be as efficient as we can, to utilize our ever-limited resources to the best possible advantage, or have we become just efficient enough to get-by?
Likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes may also prevent the implementation of new technology to increase efficiencies if:
• A manager views themselves as more the “victim” of Information Technology than the beneficiary.
• A manager has limited understanding of, and little interest to understand, the potential benefits that may be possible through the use IT.
• IT is associated with work rather than work avoidance.
• The IT department is an island on the organization chart or been outsourced off of the organization chart.
• The IT department has been culturally outsourced and presumed to have little to do with the “real” work of your organization.
• The IT department doesn’t view itself as a promoter of efficiency.
Judgment calls may also lead us to buy into a vendor’s proposition that their product will make us more efficient. But features aren’t efficiency. Instincts may tell us that when projects are implemented which have a business case for efficiency, those deliverables make us more efficient. But project success or failure is rarely measured against efficiency gains or losses.
Without focus we’re a body in motion. Procedures become institutionalized and we continue to do things because we always have (this is especially true when one division’s output is another’s input). As circumstances force change, systems and procedures often evolve with marginal modifications and marginal changes in work practices, and we end up with a multitude of addendums and workarounds. Just as sometimes it becomes necessary to replace that old furnace, sometimes it becomes necessary to focus on a process and replace those old procedures with a new, more efficient, process. A focus on the process may even lead us the conclusion that the entire process is no longer necessary.
Without focus we only become more efficient in a very inefficient way. In today’s environment there’s a need to focus on efficiency because efficiency is demanded. The time to hesitate is through. It’s time to stop paying lip-service to efficiency, and time to start focusing on it. It’s economics and physics.
For more about efficiency visit focusonefficiency.com.
Focusing on Efficiency is based on Benefits Management research, processes, tools and techniques developed and presented by John Ward, et al. at Cranfield University School of Management (many of which can be found in the book Benefits Management: Delivering Value from IS & IT Investments by John L. Ward & Elizabeth Daniel); Lean Six Sigma; Project Management Techniques; a great many other readings; and my own thoughts and experiences.