People & Company
Bailey working. Me daydreaming about how to make our work more efficient.

Efficiency = Preparation

June 18th, 2018

I put some time into making my company‘s processes more efficient—creating templates and auditing our project tasks. I’ve been itching to do it. Until recently, I thought of optimizing our work as a pursuit to just get stuff done faster.

Like a kid eager to finish his homework so he can play video games, the goal of saving time was enough.

Then I listened to this lecture discussing the impact of variability on work processes. Higher variability leads to longer queue times, especially in systems with high utilization.

In other words, when our work varies, the work takes longer (e.g. highly customized tasks, different situations, diverse deliverables).

Imagine running a hospital. If patients come in with business-as-usual cases, they’re more quickly admitted, treated, and sent on their way. But if the cases are all over the place including never-before-seen ailments, the system is tested.

The lesson is:

With less stress, the system can handle variability.

— Hugh McManus

No matter how well you plan, the unexpected comes up at work. Unforeseen obstacles arise. Fires must be put out. We should streamline our efforts but often, getting the “variability” low can be hard or impossible.

Making processes more efficient frees up resources to deal with the hard stuff.

Results from a simulation showing how time goes up with variation, especially at high utilization. Source: Ses 3-2 Variability Simulation, MIT’s Intro to Lean Six Sigma Methods

It’s not about efficiency for efficiency’s sake. Efficiency is preparation. Efficiency gives people the time and brain space to handle what comes at them responsibly. That’s a goal worth rallying behind.