Transferring inefficiencies

Every organization is always in search of making itself ever more efficient. If you are a keen follower of quarterly reports that every organization puts out every four months, there is not one that gets written without the words “improved efficiency” that is embedded in there somewhere. Even governments talk about efficiency in governance and efficiency in services. But is there truly such a thing as eliminating inefficiencies? Do we really rid the world of inefficiencies when a process is improved or do we simply transfer this inefficiency to another part of the system?

It all started on Monday morning when I had to report for Jury duty at the courthouse. You can never go for one of these things without at least one person giving you a horror story about the grinding waiting that has to be done for anything to happen. First day went by with no activity. At the end of the wait the judge did come over and tell us that she was unable to get to us because of some delays and will do so the next day. The following day we were summoned and immediately dismissed telling us to appear again on Wednesday. Wednesday there was a useless waiting time of two hours before we were told to go home and come back the next day. And finally on the fourth day we were excused immediately. There were about 100 people doing these four rounds and waiting for a collective 500 man hours. And we weren’t even questioned for eligibility. To the judges credit she did try and dispose us off as soon as she could.

I bet they have done extensive studies in the judicial system and figured that this was the best way to expedite the jury selection process and reduce wasted court time. But what about the 500 man hours wasted waiting the jury room? By coming up with this method of jury selection, didn’t the judicial system simply transfer the inefficiency into the individuals? Has there really been progress made in finding an efficient solution in the bigger picture?

This is true even with corporations. Your phone provider or cable provider always gives you a 4 hour window when they will show up for repairs. This is because the company can then route these technicians in the best possible fashion to reduce the time they spend on the road trying to keep appointments at different locations. This improves productivity of the technician and the predictability of his work. Brilliant!! Well so what about the 10 customers who spent 4 hours each waiting for this person? That’s 40 man hours wasted.

A lot of the times the efficiency that is claimed by one organization comes at the cost of efficiency of somebody else. It is okay for private organizations to do something like that since the customer demand and necessity will dictate if that will work or not. But government organizations will do well to study this phenomenon of “transferring inefficiencies” that is introduced into the system. After all it works for the people and not against it. Eventually if the sum total of the countries productivity is hurt no one truly gains.


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