The System is the Solution

It’s been said before, by people way smarter than me,

The System is the Solution

If you’re sitting there, thinking about going back to work tomorrow (or maybe you’re procrastinating at work now, because you’re overwhelmed), dreading a shit load of tasks that just seem to eat up your time and bog you down.

Listen up.

Odds are, if you (or your staff, or your team, or your co workers, or, or, or….) are running around like a scalded kangaroo with a bunch of just-out-of-the-oven baked potatoes in your pouch, then you should take a good, long, critical look at what your systems look like.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, that’s because your shit is broken.

You are not sure of the next steps, there may be too many ways to solve the problem or reach the resolution of the process you have in front of you, or you suddenly realize you’re one quarter of the way through of what seems like an endless set of steps even though you can see the end resolution right there, around the corner that nobody is looking at.

If you’re not in control of these systems, and exist just a cog in a large machine that hums along in it’s own way, beyond the reach of your control and influence, I feel your pain. Get out while you still can, or be stuck in the quagmire of unneeded steps and hoop beyond hoop to jump through. If you can’t gain direct influence, don’t expect it to improve.

If you’re the one responsible for initiating the activities you pursue on a day to day basis, and have complete control over making changes or initiating influence onto the actual way these tasks are performed, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself. So get to work improving.

Most folks don’t even realize they are operating in a system where twenty five steps exist, but ten will do. They think step eighteen, “Make sure everybody and their Aunt Trudy know you are moving to the next step.” is an entirely critical part of the process. Maybe they like more work, maybe they have to deal with the “That’s the way we’ve alway done it.” company culture.

I get it, that can’t be your fault. That’s what we do best, what we value, being busy for the sake of being busy. Have eight hours to fill in a work day? Better fill it. Doesn’t matter if you can wrap it up in six, or maybe even four, don’t slim the process down, but add more steps to be sure you look busy when the supervisors roll through.

We commend hours worked even though the outcome may be less than ideal, and condemn efficiency in the form of getting your tasks done early, even if the outcome is above and beyond what is expected.

What now, then? You’re sitting there thinking about how you move through your day to day tasks, thinking about how they do seem a bit “busy workish”, but all you’ve got to go on is some keyboard jockey telling you that it could potentially probably maybe almost could be all your fault. How then, do you fix it? Well, don’t shoot the messenger, but here’s the bad news, you’ve got to start from step one.

Throw it all out. Every part of it. Get ready for an exercise that is going to suck, but yield benefits ten fold on the other side. You’re going to write down the process you want completed, as if you were going to give this handbook to a complete novice and tell them how to do the task. Every single step that you currently do to reach your desired outcome.

Yes, yes, I know, you’ve been doing this for years and you just teach the young whippersnappers how to do it by telling them that they are wrong so many times they eventually do it right. Congrats, you’re part of the problem (and you’re horrible at training).

Writing the process down not only serves the purpose of showing new hires what is expected of them (an entirely other conversation), but what it really does is allows you as a leader and policy maker to visually look at a process that you only think is the best way to accomplish a goal. It feels right, because it is comfortable. If you had to do it again, as if you had never done it before, what would you really do? What would you change? If the directive “This task takes an entire day, let’s get it down to three hours.” Where would you start?

You start, with writing it all down. Without taking the time to think through the process critically, you are not going to be able to see any of the failure points. And the best way to think critically about a process, is to take the time and begrudgingly lay out all of the steps. Then, trade papers with the person to your left. Have someone outside your department, or who isn’t familiar with the process that you hold so dear, take a look at what you’ve laid out. See if they can do it, find out if it makes sense, and please, please, have a civil discussion when they make suggestions on how to improve it. If I hear “Well that’s just the way we’ve always done it!”, everybody has to start over.

Have a real discussion, bust out the dry erase markers and make the whiteboard look like a brown oval roundy ball play book. Find a way to visualize the data, or material, objects, whatever, as they move through the process. I like X’s and O’s, because then people think I know stuff about sports when they come in my office. I lie, usually. I get caught, always.

It’s up to you to find out where efficiency can be gained. And also up to you to know when to stop trying to optimize. Don’t ever, EVER optimize with the expense of safety, morale, or not reaching your objective. All things serve The Beam, and so does the process, if it doesn’t get you where you need to end up, it’s worthless, no matter how efficient it is. So think critically, but don’t assume literally throwing material from station to station is a good solution, m’kay?

This can be a deep, dark, scary hole, so don’t over-optimize. Take a look at the size of your organization, and the net benefit. Now, keep in mind that if your plan is to grow, then the benefit will begin to multiply (as do the inefficiencies), so figure it out now when there are only four Bob’s, and not forty or four hundred.

So, I’m only talking about workplace processes, right? That’s right, right? RIGHT?!

Wrong.

You can use this sort of critical thinking in almost every aspect of your life. Should you? No, you shouldn’t, not all of the time. But if you ever get to Sunday night, and think about all of the thinks you didn’t  do this weekend that you wish you had, well, get it together. Unless something completely uncontrollable happened and threw the entire schedule into the trash outside of your control, you once again, have no one to blame but yourself.

“But hey, dude, are you such a stick in the mud that everything has to be outlined within a process? 7:00AM to 7:13AM (Coffee one) 7:14AM to 7:30AM (Read the paper) 7:31AM to 7:44AM (Coffee two), like that? You’re a wacko. My weekends are for relaxing you loser!”

Shut it. Just like you how you make time for things you don’t like to do (dishes, cleaning your home, taking out the trash, etc.) you need to make time for things you do enjoy.

Note I didn’t say “find time”. You don’t need to go looking for anything, time is coming at you all of the time, if you can’t find it, then you need to start looking at your other systems. The solutions are yours to find, we’re not going to go into that here. I don’t know your situation, I just know everyone gets the same hours in each day, and it might seem like some are able to squeeze every last second out of it. It’s your turn to do it now. Sit down, look at your day on paper, how much time did you actually spend looking at your Instagram feed or Snaps? Is that vital to your end goal? If not, cut it out. Move onto more important tasks, and you might just find yourself getting to Sunday night with a completed checklist and a clear head. (Side effects may vary, not a doctor).