Efficient Expediency?

Steve, Tobbe and I were discussing actions and the differences between working in efficient ways and working in expedient ways.

Efficient is a non-judgemental word and rather clinical – are we working in ways that reduce or eliminate the waste of resources, effort, time and money?

Expediency has a moral element – doing things in ways that are convenient regardless of whether they are morally the right things to do.

I did not notice my attitude to visual management changing – it struck me only recently. When I first started to work with cards on the wall, I thought it was about accountability. I would feel awful if I pointed to a card that I said I would finish yesterday and I still had not completed it today. Now I feel fine using cards on the wall to see how the work is flowing. It gives me ways to capture data and articulate where the workflow is being impacted. The focus is not on me and my accountability (there are plenty of other ways to look after that in the workplace) – the focus is on how we can make the system of work flow better.

Getting back to the words – expedient and efficient. Kanban-style visual management is a very efficient way to visualise the work in order to improve it, it allows us to see queues of work that are otherwise invisible. I have also heard horror stories of it being used to victimise people – it is an expedient tool in that respect. Someone could stand at the board, point at a card and interrogate the team about who is working on it, why it has not moved and yelling could happen. Unfortunately expediency also often includes efficiency.

Because I had not noticed the change in my attitude, I am careful to explain the difference when speaking to others who are new to visual management – it is likely that they may be feeling the accountability side just as I did at first.

 

OBSERVATIONS IN HOW THINGS GO 2

As a society based in the post Industrial revolution, where productivity and maximising profit rule the landscape and dictate our daily lives. We strive for “Efficiency” in our work lives and even our daily lives and many of us never really think about what we’re doing and the costs of our search for better, faster, more!

Efficiency vs Expediency.

Years ago I was developing a database, the demands placed upon the database were simplistic and basic. In essence it was a list, used to check the availability and validity of numbers. The idea was to wash a random bucket of numbers to see if they fit the criteria set by the customer. These numbers could have easily simply occupied a simplistic table format and been fine. The customer would have been happy and content yet, I found the basic minimal number of columns, data points inappropriate for the customers future needs.

Yes, I opted for Efficiency over Expediency. The reason was I have a scientific background and we never throw anything out, especially data. The data is only as good as your mindfulness and awareness while collecting it. Many a scientific study has suffered and been less important because basic and minor data was not collected during the experiment. In science I would never disregard any data which may be needed later. Anticipating future data needs and possible uses, is key to Efficiency.

So I was predisposed to put myself in the customers shoes and try and anticipate possible future data requirements. The upshot of this was that for very little extra effort, an extra few columns and a few extra lines of code; the customer could benefit from future data mining and analysis.

The effort required to develop the database was the same !

So why do we choose Expediency over actual Efficiency ?

The daily activity of trying to finish our work items steers us towards Rapid Solutions which seem Efficient; yet this very Expediency often costs many times more with rework, rebuilds and even the complete redevelopment when parameters shift as future needs become apparent.

The old saying “A stitch in time, saves nine” springs to mind. The mindfulness and mending of a small tear prevents the need for major reworking and effort.

So next time, ask yourself is this done for Expediency or actual Efficiency, and hopefully we can get a head of the curve and put our future efforts into better things than Rework.

The way I see this is that most of us try to do the best we can but a few remind me of the Ferreters of old who would let go any pregnant female rabbits so they would get work next year, to reduce the rabbit population.

Expediency has become our efficiency.

Action and Activity

Action – doing something that will result in a valuable outcome

Activity – doing something – regardless of the result

We tend to think that if we are not doing something then we are not being productive – we need to be cautious of doing things because we think that more is better. There are many examples where more is not better – even drinking water. We need to stay hydrated and we think that drinking more water is better for us – but over a certain amount, it can cause toxic and dangerous effects on our bodies.

Since the discussion with Tobbe and Steve recently, I’ve been reflecting about times in my life when I’ve mistaken activity for action – there’s more than I’d care to admit at this point.

We should check what we are doing and ask ourselves – is it activity for the sake of activity or are we taking action and making progress – whatever the endeavour? To answer this we need to understand purpose.

One of my favourite things to check is the purpose of reports that are being generated. I’ve seen situations where there are 100’s and 1000’s of reports – and no one really knows how they are being used. The activity version of a report, likely came from an initial need to make a decision – let us imagine that we needed 3 types of data to make that decision – so we ask for a report every week with those 3 types of data. And then – due to the ephemeral role of data in decision making – we quickly discover that we need another 2 elements of data. Very quickly, we can have a report being generated every week with lots of data elements. A lovely amount of activity – but what if we are not making those decisions any more? And there are better ways to gather data when we need to make a decision – reports can be very . inefficient.

Whatever we are doing, ask about the purpose of it. Is it activity for the sake of doing something? (And therefore can we stop doing it?). Or is it action? (And we should continue).

Activity vs Action.

In our modern world we are constantly expected to rush and frantically finish our tasks in the name of efficiency. Yet often we find that activity does not translate into the desired action or outcome. It is this “Rush to Action” which is the actual issue, often leading to poor outcomes and undesirable states of mind.

So why do we do it?

The basic fact is that we generally can not distinguish between activity and action. The realm of busywork is populated with people filled with a sense of accomplishment. The simple fact is we are driven by the evolutionary reflex of Fight or Flight. This predisposes us to rapidly respond by reaction, it is this proclivity to activity which makes us feel a sense of control when we are in activity. The difference between activity and action, is often only observed in the final outcome therefore it is very difficult for us and any onlooker to distinguish the two.

Doing things make us feel empowered and better; we feel in control and have a sense of fulfilment because we are doing something about it. Yet this activity is a hollow victory, if the end goals are not reached. The true reward is when we attain our objectives and goals.

If we take the real world example of Cave Diving, a highly technical and inherently dangerous activity, which happens to be fun and scary. Imagine you are diving in a sinkhole cave system and before you know it, you realise you’ve reached the bottom and have lost your bearings and the rest of your group. Initial instinct would be to begin searching for the others and this naturally becomes more frantic as time passes. Although this is a natural and understandable reaction, it usually is not the best course of action. This initial behaviour which manifests itself as activity, will often cause greater problems. The reason frantic activity in such a situation is not a good idea is that you will stir up any silt and mud off the bottom, this will muddy the water and reduce your visibility to the extent you can loose your orientation to the stage where you don’t even know which way is up.

Activity is not always the best action.

So in the above example reactionary activity is highly problematic but even in this example calmer heads and cool action will prevail. Surrounded by zero visibility, not knowing which way is up many would feel lost yet the fact that the bubbles you expire using SCUBA gear will always rise actually will help you identify which way is up. This simple fact and calm action can and will safe your life.

This predisposition to activity can and often does muddy the water when we are trying to determine the actions necessary to attain our goals. Running around like a headless chicken, is an apt description because we loose our senses in the frantic rush. We don’t see, don’t hear and can not clearly understand which are the best options, opportunities and course of actions.

Observations In How Things Go

Have you ever noticed the way new ideas and innovations seem to decay with their mainstream acceptance and growth?

The usual scenario plays out something like this….

1) A new idea or innovation is developed. The core community which includes the originators of the concept and a small group of early adopters contribute to its betterment, fine tuning and working the concept. These early adopters also promote the particular idea, innovation or methodology.

2) The community is comprised of mostly like-minded people all contributing their particular talents for the betterment of the whole. This is the pinnacle of the communal symbiosis for any new idea or innovation. The community is focused only on the betterment of the concept.

3) Now things begin to get noticed by the larger population and the core community starts to grow. This seems a good thing but in reality, the growth of the group leads to the decay and ultimate corruption of the original value of the idea of innovation.

So why is there; this inevitable degeneration and how does it happen?

What seems to happen is that as more people become aware of the concept, the fewer true collaborative contributors you get entering the community. The new idea quickly becomes the latest trend and is USED in the truest sense of word. The new community becomes widely known and becomes seen as a must do/have item. It is during this transitioning that the foundation principles of the original community are under the greatest threat.

The core community becomes the latest bandwagon to jump onto by the rest of the broader community. It is this extra weight of the “Hangers On” jumping on the Bandwagon that breaks the axel and makes the wheels fall off. These “Hangers On”, USE the new idea or innovation as a means to virtue signal and big note themselves. The focus drastically shifts from collaboration and the concepts improvement, to a “What’s in it for me” narrative.

This often leads to the decay and ultimate failure of most new ideas.

These “Hangers On” join the new community not out of like mindedness or a collaborative philosophy with a willingness to contribute and embrace the foundational idea or philosophy of collaboration. Their motivation is to be seen as part of, what I call, “the leading herd”.

So how do you identify the “Hangers On”?

They rarely understand the innovation or the collaborative nature of learning, they just want a quick fix to their problems. Just like students wanting to know the answers rather than putting the effort into actually learning and understanding the lessons they are taught.

Some final thought to share.

“With great acceptance comes greater corruption.”

If you are a member of a core group be watchful of the decay which will degrade the foundations of your community. This doesn’t mean not to share your ideas or innovations but to understand that you can only really learn when you have reached the particular mind set or mental maturity to actually learn and understand.

Knowing something does not mean you understand it.

Knowledge is not Wisdom but only its starting place.

Anything learnt needs to become part of your daily experience.

Not everyone is ready to learn and embrace new and foreign ideas at any particular time.