Necessary But Not Sufficient

by Dan

I remembered these wise words while I was doing the filing tray exercise at the weekend, and as promised I’ll note them here. They have also inspired today’s Daily Act of Simplification which I’ll outline in the next post.

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The title above is the title of a book by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt. Dr Goldratt’s books, in particular his bestseller The Goal are a staple diet of leaders and process improvers in all industries. He is the brains behind the Theory of Constraints which has transformed manufacturing companies (and those in other industries) over many years.

The article linked here contains the introduction for Dr Goldratt’s book Necessary But Not Sufficient in which he outlines the reasons why the deployment of computer technology systems in many companies fails to deliver the expected benefits. This was very relevant ten years ago when many companies began to rely on computers to keep up with the times and drive efficiency. His basic point is that companies often buy a new computer system and integrate it into their business without utlilising the real power of that technology to fundamentally change the way in which the business functions. Instead they put the technology in and carry on doing things the way they have always done. The new computer may be faster, creating some efficiency, but they miss the big opportunities. His 4 key steps outline what you need to do to get the full benefit of a new technology. They are contained in the above linked article with more explanation, but for the speed readers the steps (paraphrased by me) are:

1. Identify the real power of the technology
2. Identify your current limitations that the technology could diminish
3. Identify the current rules you use to workaround your limitation
4. Identify new rules to use now (i.e. use the power of the technology to do things fundamentally differently)

I can relate to this. I have spent many an hour with a new computer, or new software, trying to make it work exactly as my old one did so that I could do everything the same way I used to. What I’ve rarely done is rethink how I do things and use the additional power and features of the new version to make myself more efficient and to make things more simple.

Recently I have done this at work (albeit the penny dropped quite slowly!). My team used to use an Excel spreadsheet as a database to log all of our work. This is quite a flaky way to store important information, so the clever people in our division created me a new browser-based, secure, easy to use version. To start with, away we went trying to make it work exactly as we were used to with our spreadsheet and we got it pretty close. What took longer to realise however was that we had some limitations created by the use of Excel (namely only one person could log work at any given time without multiple users causing a real mess). This meant we had some email folders in our shared inbox to store the completed work so that it could be logged in one go, by one person. When we got the new database we carried on as usual, storing up the emails to log later in the day. However, the clever browser-based database allows more than one user to input data at the same time. This means that the team could actually log all of their work as they were going along, never needing to store them up for later. When this penny dropped, we implemented immediately. It took some getting used to, but quickly the new process was adopted and efficiencies were created (its so much easier to log the data when all of the information is fresh in the mind rather than needing to reread it later). We saved literally hours a day as a team just by tweaking this process slightly, all made possible by a simple feature of a new technology.

Much better, much more efficient and much simpler! This change slightly pre-dates this blog though so I can’t claim it as today’s victory against complexity. However I have discovered one more step I can take which will be today’s focus!

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