In modern business-speak people will often say that a problem is really an opportunity. This is a cliché, of course, but how true is it? Sometimes a problem is just a problem. A broken window or a floor slab subsiding are definitely problems, and it's hard to see the opportunity in them. Of course, the optimist would say that they present an opportunity to install a better window or to remount the factory on a more solid footing, but is it really an opportunity?
The problem with opportunity is that it needs to be something that's worth achieving. Right now you have the opportunity to go and fall down a set of stairs, but that's not a meaningful opportunity. Surprisingly, this brings us to the heart of ergonomics.
The idea behind ergonomic improvement is that you might be able to find a better way to apply your efforts. The keys here are the words “better” and “effort”: a better effort is one that improves your position - but that depends on your goal. Although there are many opportunities available and many ways to pursue those opportunities, the opportunities themselves must be relevant to your goals, or they will lack meaning.
Businesses and organisations have come to realise this in recent times and have adopted the now ubiquitous “mission statements” and “strategic goals”. Whilst this alignment of action with objectives is understood by some, it's not something that is well understood throughout most organisations. Often if you ask for a frank opinion on the floor, people will tell you that it's one of those corporate cheerleading things. What the mission statement is trying to do is define meaning for the organisation or business.
People often understand that cost accumulates from the smallest widget used in production all the way up to massive capital plant purchases, and it all accrues into the cost of doing business. People understand that if you want to keep operating costs down, everyone needs to consider the smallest aspects of their work. Unfortunately, it is not well understood that this is also true of meaning.
The smallest actions in daily work contribute to the aggregate meaning produced by the business or organisation. This is a critical notion to grasp when considering efficiency, because a very efficient action in a work process is actually detrimental if it is a meaningless action. In this sense, efficiency is two dimensional: purpose (“meaningfulness”) and productivity (cost to take the action versus produced outcome).
If one axis of efficiency is ignored, efficiency will not be achieved, even though you might believe that it has. Simply, if you are headed in the wrong direction, doing so more productively is only harming your cause the more you continue.
It is for this reason that baselines are important. If you don't have a good way to understand outcomes achieved, you will be uninformed. You may believe that you have improved efficiency, but may be mistaken, even though you believe you can demonstrate the improvement. It's an easy error to make because it's easy to overlook one or other axis of efficiency.
Thus, proper and clear measurement and baselining is needed to understand your own efficiency position. The methods required to do this are the concern of the field of enquiry known as ergonomics: the study of effort. Time and motion practitioners will look at work in terms, not of efficiency, but of ergonomics. In this way, the complete picture of achievement by effort can be understood.
If one axis of efficiency is ignored, efficiency will not be achieved
"Simply, if you are headed in the wrong direction, doing so more productively is only harming your cause the more you continue."