The Unsolved Efficiency Equation
“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker
It’s a fair bet that two seconds ago in a conference room somewhere, somebody asked “How much are we going to save?” in a meeting regarding a technology project. Variants of this question, and attempts at answers, have been asked since the invention of the wheel.
- It is the wrong question. The right question whether contemplating millions worth of a new ERP implementation or upgrading one wireless router, is “What is the value to us of this investment?”
- There is no good answer. One answer, if one were to be provoking, is “Quite the reverse.” Because you are presumably contemplating spending money on hardware, software, cloud solution, and people’s time. Last I knew, the words ‘spend’ and ‘save’ were not synonymous.
- It’s not a misguided inquiry, per se. Paying attention to one’s cost structure is a necessary management responsibility. And cost reduction relative to that structure can most certainly be an outcome associated with a technology investment. If efficiency is a desired outcome then design the related program with that in mind.
The movie “Desk Set,” from 1957, a romantic comedy starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, is a timeless example of the hope, fear, tension, and opportunity that embody technology implementations. A computer called EMERAC, called a ‘scientific brain’ in the movie, is brought in to a television company to handle research inquiries. The research department panics because they fear EMERAC will take all their jobs (change management!). EMERAC has a melt down at one point, producing pink slips for everyone in the company (buggy software!). In the end, EMERAC enables the department to do more, and everybody’s happy.
Hollywood endings, whether happy or sad, are designed by the creators of the movies. Technology project endings need to be designed also. So if you want efficiency, design for it.
“Start as you mean to go on.” My grandmother
I was recently asked about my experiences with change vs. transformation. In the main, change is incremental, you can usually see at least a shadow of the ‘before’ in the ‘after,’ and it is typically internally generated. Transformation is either very gradual or extremely fast, the ‘after’ cannot even be compared to the ‘before,’ and it often is instigated externally (especially in large organizations with entrenched culture). Change is reorganizations, new product launches, continuous improvement initiatives, ERP initiatives. Transformation is the wheel, the airplane, the Internet, the slow inexorable death of Wang Computer and DEC, the meteoric rise or renaissance of companies such as Google and Apple.
Why are jerks still successful? This Atlantic article explores that question.
New ‘words’ that have recently come on my radar that I have mixed emotions about: ‘bro-grammer’ and ‘blog-her.’ The first perpetuates the irritating attitude that technology is a boys’ club. Programmer is only one role related to technology, and replacing ‘pro’ with ‘bro’ is insulting to any female who knows how to code. Second, ‘blog-her’ – really? Not sure we have to gender-identify people who blog.