[This post is by ASEM Fellow Donald Kennedy]
A common critique of my articles is that I often do not have a recipe to offer to avoid the pitfalls of events I discuss. Management is complex and therefore explicit instructions tend to have other pitfalls in execution as severe as the situation they intend to fix. Most often my point is to simply be aware of how things really work. Two people working physically close may have very divergent interpretations of the status of the processes in their organization. The one with a more accurate view will be the one that will consistently make better decisions.
I am going to provide an example of what I call “faux automation” to show how I intentionally provided false information to reach completion in the most effective route. I did not believe it was my role to inform the management above me that things are not always the way they believe they are. To stop processes and work through things would not add value to the current endeavour.
I was working on one of my $100 million projects. The chief inspector would provide progress from the contractor in terms of percent complete for the various elements of the work breakdown structure. These values determined the amount of the progress payment for the contractor on a lump sum contract. The reported progress had zero impact on the total money the contractor would receive at the end, it only set the amount of the partial payment for that period. The inspector derived the percentage complete basically by holding up a thumb and looking around the construction site. “Uhm, piping is 37% done.” The inspector would write the numbers on a piece of paper, scan it, and email it to the contracts clerk. The clerk would type the numbers into a spreadsheet and inform the contractor how much they could invoice that month. The VP learned of this method and we discussed it in a management meeting. I volunteered to automate the system.
Four months later, the project was completed. The VP asked the clerk how the automating of the invoicing went. The clerk said it worked perfectly as the step of manually transferring the inspector’s numbers was eliminated. Everyone was satisfied and the initiative was recorded in the list of items in the Continuous Improvement program that increased efficiency. At the bar on Friday afternoon, a coworker asked me how hard it was to automate the system. I said it looked like it would be very tough initially and would take around 40 hours to develop and debug a process. But I came up with a solution that took only 15 minutes of my time. Since there were only 4 more invoices to be processed, I just typed the numbers in, instead of the clerk. Problem solved!
About the author
Donald Kennedy is a Fellow of the ASEM. He is the author of the ebook “Improving Your Life at Work” available on Amazon. After working with over 50 companies, Donald has moved out of the Oil and Gas Industry with its boom and bust cycles and started a new phase in agricultural machinery manufacturing.