Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 41;   October 12, 2016:

How We Waste Time: II

by

We're all pretty good at wasting time. We're also fairly certain we know when we're doing it. But we're much better at it than we know. Here's Part II of a little catalog of time wasters, emphasizing those that are outside — or mostly outside — our awareness.
An apple and a skyscraper full of windows

An apple and a skyscraper full of windows. Among the most pointless of pointless debates is "Which is better, Apple or Windows?" It's pointless, usually, because the question is usually framed out of context. The question can be easily resolved in the form, "Which is better for X, Apple or Windows?" for some specific value of X. But until you specify X, resolving the issue is difficult.

So it is with most endless workplace debates. The issue people are trying to resolve is often hopelessly — and unnecessarily — broad.

One reason why we waste as much time as we do is that some time wasting masquerades as real work, or, at least, as prudent risk management. We continue now with our catalog of techniques for wasting time, focusing on these more subtle techniques. See "How We Waste Time: I," Point Lookout for October 5, 2016 for some more blatant examples.

Write-only metrics data
Much of the world is in the midst of a decades-old metrics fad. We gather data, but even when we analyze it, we don't always act on it. When we do act, the value generated can be far less than the cost of data acquisition and analysis. To address this, gather and analyze data about the costs and benefits of gathering and analyzing data. Prepare to be shocked. One shock: why, when we measure the costs and benefits of so many processes, do we so rarely measure the costs and benefits of measuring costs and benefits?
Distrusting experts
Some teams lack expertise, but are nevertheless engaged in difficult work. To manage the risk of error, we review their results in detail. But some teams actually know what they're doing. Their work might also benefit from review, but must we review that work as closely as we review the work of the less-than-expert teams? Can we not reduce review costs without increasing risk?
Training at the wrong time
Sometimes we waste training. For example, learning a technique that we plan to use in the distant future can be futile if that future never arrives. Learning to use software or hardware too soon can also be wasteful if we need the knowledge only after the next release or model becomes available, when that knowledge has been invalidated by the new release.
Pointless debate
Some of us Some of us tend to engage in debates
that seem crucial to the debaters,
but which bystanders easily
recognize as pointless
tend to engage in debates that seem crucial to the debaters, but which bystanders easily recognize as pointless. Often, the debate isn't really about what it appears to be about. Rather, it can be little more than a disguised dominance struggle. Supervisors must recognize these debates for the performance issues that they are, and intervene appropriately.
Technical debt interest payments
Technical debt is the accumulated set of technical artifacts — hardware and software — that ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, or re-implemented. As long as these artifacts remain in place, they accumulate "interest charges" by adding to the effort required to operate the enterprise or to maintain or enhance its assets. Technical debt remains in place, in part, because most organizations are unaware of its scale. These organizations lack any means of accounting for either technical debt or the interest paid on it. Technical solutions to this problem are available, but in my view, the problem is fundamentally political. [Brenner 2016]

Every organization has its own specific sources of wasted time. What can you find in your organizaton? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: I  Next Issue

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Footnotes

[Brenner 2016]
Richard Brenner. "The Psychology and Politics of Technical Debt," Cutter Business Technology Journal, March 2016. Back

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The lies inside the truthComing May 25: On Reporting Noncompliance
Regulating compliance with process design in organizations requires monitoring process usage. Typically, process monitors depend on reports by process participants. In blame-oriented cultures, fear of retribution can limit what these reports contain. Available here and by RSS on May 25.
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