Process Improvement? Dont Throw People at the Problem!


    The Associated Press reported that over 2007 summer, there was a huge surge in applications for U.S. Citizenship. Rep. Charles Schumer of New York pushed for hiring retirees from the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration Services Division back to reduce the backlog.

    This is a classic case of throwing people at the problem! Expedient? Sure. Making sure that these new citizens can vote in the 2008 Presidential Elections? Sure. That may have something to do with it!

    Throwing people at the problem is more often done than spoken about! Whether you are shorthanded in a customer service center during peak demand times or you a BPO services vendor who just found out that your client is mad about you not meeting certain Service Levels (SLAs), throwing people at the problem is what is done, nine times out of ten!

    Never works in the long run! Just costs more money, resources, all wasted! I can at least understand that while throwing people at the problem, a parallel intensive study is started to see ways of simplifying and improving the process. Most often, not!

    C.K.Prahlad, the management guru called this "Paving The Cow Path". One cow starts walking across the meadow meandering through the grass, the second one follows, people take this for a hiking trail, and pretty soon there is a lot of traffic. Mistaking this for the best way a road can be laid across this land, paving it would be the "paving the cow path".

    Processes are very similar. I bet that if someone took a closer look at the Immigration Application Processing, they can find a hundred, outdated, wasteful steps involved. They were most likely designed 20, 30 years ago. New technologies may have come along making many of the steps easier to do or unncessary, duplicative or simply too wasteful. There may be bottlenecks in the processing pipeline that are holding up applications while other parts of the process have excess capacity.

    This is where before throwing people at the problem, it may be worthwhile to see if we are paving the cow path or laying a more direct, shorter and more efficient, effective route to the destination.

    Nowhere is throwing more people at the problem worse, than in Software Development. Many senior managers have the wrong idea that if 10 engineers can get some software done in 10 days, 100 software engineers can get it done in 1 day! Throwing more people in software development only increases the span of communication among stakeholders and things get progressively worse!

    When a task cannot be partitioned because of sequential constraints, the application of more effort has no effect on the schedule. The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned. – Frederick Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month


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