There are a number of ideas floating around out there that suggest management are one of the biggest areas for improvement in business. I've seen the claim that "management attention" is a key constraint when it comes to project management. There are other ideas along the same lines that I've come across. I find it in Harold Jarche's discussion of transparency and how it can make work more effective (thanks for using that word and not "efficiency"). Transparency: embrace it.
How do you make work more effective? Make it transparent, as Sigurd Rinde did with his client. He redesigned an advertising agency’s workflow, identifying the main choke points, four “big meetings” where one of the “owners” had to be present, and then made the workflow visible so anybody could see what was happening.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't turn out so well. The "owners" were not willing to change their ways, even though they were clearly the constraint - to the point of significant loss of profits (THE definition of a constraint). Classic.
I had a client in a similar situation to that described above. It took about two months to turn around of specific type of work - with a huge variability from one week to nearly a year. Most of this two-month turnaround was waiting time. Upon digging into the situation, I discovered that the owners of the process required that they personally review the process several times, even though there was no explicit business requirement to do so. On the suggestion that they only provide the final review - saving easily 50% of the waiting time - the process owners refused. Digging further, it turned out that there had been past incidents of very poor quality for which the owners were held responsible. They instituted the internal checks to save themselves being surprised. However, the situation had changed: their people were better trained, the business process associated with quality had changed, and even the "punishment" mechanism had been removed. But the owners could only site the incident from years previous in their desire to keep the slower process.
Why does this happen? One aspect that I want to touch on is that people are uncomfortable saying "No" to new ideas, new requests, etc, even when they are already overloaded with such work. I just spoke with an old friend who runs a business, and he is the go-to guy when there is any particularly tough problem. While this might be great and challenging for him personally, it means that he also becomes the constraint of the business, rather than encouraging more people to solve these. Or another friend in a business where more and more interesting ideas keep arising - and they keep trying to do them all. As my friend said, this ends up creating a situation where the leadership are involved in more and more activities, and none of them are getting done well. And some critical things are falling through the cracks.
I still wonder why, when presented with evidence like that in the quote or my example, people still resist taking action - or outright refuse to change. A lot of it is baked into the psychology of change. Depending on what you read and what your approach to change management, the reasoning could be lack of urgency (don't see the problem or the opportunity); or there might be too much for people to absorb / accept in the proposal. But it's difficult to know from these high-level descriptions. To find out, though, change agents need to keep asking why. What is it about the current operations that is working? What created the current policies? And then how can you address those policies and the structures that those policies have created to help make the change more effective.
In my example, we were able to meet the process owners part-way. They still review internally, but they added a measured on the turnaround time, so material to review doesn't sit on their desks for weeks and weeks. The people within the process also developed a number of other innovations within the process to remove waiting times and make the review process more streamlined. The turnaround time dropped by about 30%, but they also have a longer-term goal to get the entire process down to a few weeks, rather than months.
[Photo: "NJ - Montclair: Montclair Art Museum - Listen" by Wally Gobetz]