Can you improve a business process through individual productivity?

The Freakonomics authors wrote an interesting post describing the hidden cost of multitasking.

The interesting point is the idea that focusing rather than juggling doesn’t speed up the last thing to get done but does get the first thing done sooner. In common parlance, focusing allows you to ship something sooner than trying to do a little bit of work on everything at the same time.

I can think of some scenarios where the two different outcomes create differential value, meaning there would be benefits to picking one over the other.

A couple quick thoughts: when you see the word “pareto,” start paying attention. That’s one of the ways economists say “free money.”

This article describes a research project by a team investigating the work inputs and outputs of a team of Italian judges with a somewhat specialized caseload (significant because it presumably means more homogeneous workload meaning comparisons across judges are more valid). The net result seems to be that those judges who focused on closing current open cases, i.e., getting things done, had overall better throughput than those who opened more new cases before closing older ones.

Everyone wants their case to move so everyone pushes judges to work on their case a bit. This tactic leads judges to spread themselves thinly across a larger number of cases, meaning little progress on any one case over time for the same amount of effort.

However, the authors imply that there’s more to it than just the work being done — more input and scheduled work decreases output for the same amount of effort.

What does this mean? Well, it means that with a properly conducted business process reengineering effort, especially one tied to functional analysis and unified performance management, you might be able to improve your results without requiring more or different work. Particularly at the C-level, this approach can help you improve “scheduling,” to put a common label on it, in such a way as to get more out of what you’re already doing. Pareto means free money. Do you need help to find it? Our proprietary tools and processes will help you zero in on exactly where in your business processes you can make meaningful improvements — after all, figuring out how to pay your creditors sooner usually doesn’t increase your free cash flow. It starts with a detailed analysis of how your business model really operates, from generating revenue all the way to creating free cash flow. That structure, coupled with comprehensive data-driven analysis allows for informed decision-making about what to change and how to change it. Those steps naturally lead to an ability to give intentions-based guidance to your team so that they can implement changes, measure effects, and report results for you to review in light of the initial analysis.

It sounds like we’ve just given away the keys to the kingdom. But as I’ve said before, the best strategy is one where you can tell everyone what you’re doing and how you’re thinking and your “competitors” will be either unwilling or unable to change what they’re doing. In pushing and pulling these projects in different environments, it’s not a trivial change in mindset that’s required – things do not look the same, but the bottom line is always the same. Once you see it, you realize that it’s the only way to run a railroad.