Bringing An Efficient Workflow To Its Knees

I dislike meetings unless they are focused and produce results.

I designed and implemented an electronic document control system for a Silicon Valley start-up. I set certain criteria for when a meeting was in order, a threshold that was seldom met. About 90% of engineering change orders were completed and reflected in the documentation within 2-3 hours of their initiation.

I handed off the process to a person I recruited and helped hire for my client. Within a couple of months, I got a call from my client saying something had gone wrong and could I dig in and find out what had happened. The system had become slower than molasses on a cold day.

The new manager decided:

  • All engineering change orders would be discussed in a weekly meeting.
  • Questions about an engineering change order would be resolved by the following week or the week after.
  • The manager of the function made a simple mistake incorporating an engineering change to a bill of material and was embarrassed. To prevent that from happening again, the responsible engineer would have to come to her desk to verify that no mistake had been introduced.

Delay, delay, delay.

The cycle time on engineering change orders had changed from a few hours to a few weeks. Instead of driving the process electronically, the process was driven in meetings.

The new manager decided to drive the process as she had always done in other companies and didn’t grasp the benefits of doing it the way I designed it. She was a social person who loved meetings and didn’t seem to grock the idea that very few engineering change orders required a meeting.

I was able to quickly get the process back on track.

What processes does your organization employ that have too many sequential steps with little value-add in each of those steps? What are you doing about it?

Photo Credit: Flickr by Hailey Toft

Thought for the week:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker


Praveen Puri · August 26, 2019 at 6:04 am

Dave, I can definitely relate to this post. However, I’m curious how you were able to get it back on track. Was the new manager willing and able to change? Or did she have to be forced or replaced?

Dave Gardner · August 29, 2019 at 12:19 pm

I told her that my client had asked me to get to the bottom of the cycle time issues and bring them back into conformity with the standards that were in place when I left. I then found out what had changed and told her it needed to be fixed and stay fixed. She knew it wasn’t optional. And, I also told her that she needed to accept responsibility for incorporating the changes and not push that to engineering. I spent a week or 2 shadowing her to make sure things were moving as they should. I didn’t hear of any process discrepancies from my client again. Had that not happened, it would have cost her her job.

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