Too Close to the Margin

An interesting example from Computing of the drawbacks of going for maximum efficiency.

Cultural change takes time: Jobcentre Plus is a lesson in how not to handle staff reduction

Whenever we go for efficiency/productivity targets, we tend to go to the farthest edge.  In notice it when I’m running.  I use a heart rate monitor to pace myself on the runs – running within a certain training zone.  Yet I almost invariably run at the high end of that zone, so when I hit a hill and my pulse rate rises (don’t let anyone ever tell you Bedfordshire is flat – "undulating" was invented for round here) the consequence is that I’m out of my target zone.  And getting back into it is difficult.  To re-balance and get my heart rate back into the zone, I need to slow down dramatically.

And the same applies with efficiency – if you’ve cut back to the bone to ensure every resource is maximised, any hiccup throws a complex system out substantially – and restoring it to simple efficiency is tough.

Efficiency and productivity targets have their places, like most things.  But we tend to ignore the boundaries beyond which they should be applied – like in situations of change.  I’d suggest these targets are applicable in long-term stable systems with no need for innovation.  I can’t think of too many systems like that in the organisational world, of course.

My favourite quote from the article, one that I’ll be using in the future, I’m sure:

As the chief executive of the Disability and Carers Service put it to the committee, it is no use hitting all the targets and missing the point.