This article marks the start of a series entitled Patterns of Inefficiency; a list of “worst practices” that we frequently find – and resolve – in our business. By changing the focus from positive to negative, we are not intending to promote an attitude of pessimism, but rather point your attention towards issues that are actually obvious, but frequently ignored.

Let’s start with one of the most prevalent topics of daily operations: decisions.

In-Line Engine Trouble: Decision Paralysis

The In-Line Engine pattern of inefficiency is related to the omertà dilemma we talked about in the previous newsletter issue – it’s a process of brushing issues under the carpet while giving the impression of being busy.

Imagine that a team member addresses an issue in a team meeting:

“The error rate in production has risen by 0.4% in the last month.”

The group starts a lively conversation on the subject of error rates, but shortly before they decide on a plan of action, another team member throws in this comment:

“The error rate is important, but the IT outages are just as important!”

Quickly, the team turns its attention to this topic and they discuss the IT outages … until yet another person says:

“We’ve been wanting to go over the IT contract for months. But our legal department is always overloaded!”

… and so on and so on and so on. Three hours of intense debate produces no tangible outcome, and at the next meeting, you are likely to hear that “we’ve already discussed that!” The engine is running at high revs, but no gear is engaged: It isn’t moving anywhere. 

Patterns like this often creep in gradually and imperceptibly over the years. Frequently, there is no particular reason to be found – apart from human nature, which sometimes tempts us to blank out disagreeable situations.

Alignment Incentive: Utilize Pattern Skills!

If your team is stuck to the In-Line Engine pattern, there is good news: the team has mastered the skill of reliably adhering to a pattern! If your team can adhere to the In-Line Engine pattern, it can learn to adhere to different patterns. Motivate them to make use of this skill and introduce an alternative and more productive pattern.

For example, always insist on a decision on topic A before topic B is discussed: Only when a decision is made and actions are resolved upon should the next topic be tackled.

To make this happen, use the four-quadrant sheet pictured below as a simple yet effective aid for improving problem solving processes. Should the in-line engine start up, i. e. if there are interjections or attempts to change the subject, note them down on a flip chart to be discussed later – and continue with the topic at hand.

If your team’s in-line engine has more than 400 HP, schedule at least one meeting solely for the discussion of the engine: Help your team explore the pattern and use past meeting minutes as reminders what went wrong – and what can be improved. As soon as people become aware of an automatic pattern, it will begin to change on its own.

What’s Keeping us Busy: Current projects in a nutshell

Global change management concept and implementation in a DAX company: In our client’s company, a multitude of change processes, methods and tools have accumulated over time. Too rarely have they been prioritized according to business need. We are analyzing the current approaches to change management and develop specific suggestions for improvement of processes, tools, roles and responsibilities. To carry out the implementation, we offer support in implementing a new change management team and as a process that enables important change projects to be defined directly by the Board. This will create a change orchestra out of the many change soloists, enabling relevant and effective transformations to emerge from coordinated measures.