On my travels through startups and the corporate world I see small to gross acts of negligence. They usually come in the wrapper of something like, “because that’s our process.” Metrics are gathered for the sake of reports no one acts on. Information is collected to feed otherwise ignored databases. People fill out forms to protect the company from a long-forgotten infraction.
Policies and processes we adopt over time are corporate inventory. We have to maintain them, administer them, and be annoyed by them. All these actions are waste.
The tricky thing here is that all policies can be defended by “what if” arguments. “We can’t get rid of that policy … what if someone does something bad?”
Well, what if someone does something bad? How likely is that to occur?
We know for certain that the waste is making the group less effective when subjected to the policy. What is the likelihood of your What If?
A gross example of this is airport delay post 9-11. The 9-11 hijackings had nothing to do with airport screening points. They were a systemic breakdown (and a highly improbable one) of the global intelligence network. Yet, the 631,939,829 people who flew in 2010 all were delayed at least one hour by needing to get to the airport early, stand in line, and subject themselves to security policies. At about 40,000 as an average income, this quickly pencils out to about 12.5 billion dollars worth of delay every year. That delay can be easily compounded by the lost time of collaboration that people have endure by leaving the office early.
The What Ifs here are obvious. But so are the costs. Are there better ways of dealing with terrorist threats than incurring billions of dollars in passenger delay?
Other examples are regular reports that show the progress of various business metrics. One company we visited generated a weekly report of dozens of pages and nearly 100 metrics every week. Not only did report generation take more than a combined 40 hours to produce (an obvious cost), it delayed the very projects it was trying to measure. In the end, the overwhelming number of charts, graphs, and numbers created a culture of managing by the numbers while totally ignoring what was really happening. Managers would comb through the document until they found the metric or two that went in the wrong direction, then they’d come to find out why.
More often than not, the why was a normal fluctuation in the number. The conversation was waste, the “analysis” was waste, and the generation was waste. But those receiving the report had become so fixated on it that they couldn’t see beyond it. “What if we didn’t have this report? We’d never know what was going on!”
Examine your policies regularly. Make sure that you don’t have policies to create waste.
Photo by Anders V