Friday, January 25, 2008

Design versus Execution

In my life, I have often dealt with people who want to just "get the job done." They prefer not to waste time determining how to do something faster repeatedly in favor of just finishing the job now and going on to other things. One example of taking the time to figure out how to be more efficient, I looked at a process of posting our daily numbers (sales, changes in cash and other balance sheet items, etc.) and saw it took at least two hours (my recollection was more like four, but that gets disputed by the person who took that long) to hand input them into four separate Excel workbooks. I saw two problems with how the job was done: it was error prone and highly inefficient. The errors could come because of keystroke errors from one sheet to the next, making the data somewhat less reliable. The inefficiency was because three of those sheets built on each other - the data from one was included in the next - and also relied on the same basic statement from our software. By implementing a software solution, that same two to four hour process takes five minutes. How? We now feed the data directly from Quickbooks to two Excel workbooks that then feed to a four page workbook (brought together from those four separate workbooks). Now instead of spending time recording data, we can examine our data and find real errors, or more importantly, look at our business activity and hopefully decide where we could improve. Data again became a tool instead of a chore. I preach to anyone who owns a small business how valuable a resource Quickbooks is on a day to day basis, especially thanks to its ability to feed reports to Excel (one of the most important pieces of software for any accountant). We generate reports on sales history, collections, customer contacts, and many other things all from a piece of software that costs a lot less than industry standard packages that have far less utility.

I have gotten somewhat off topic, so I will return to the importance of design. By taking a few hours once, I built those Excel workbooks into one workbook that used feeds and removed hours of work from ever day in the future. If I know I will be doing a task over and over, I take the time to look for the fastest way to do it accurately, and then improve my method as I learn over time. When I have worked for other businesses, I have received promotions (despite only having an internship for three months in one case) because I have demonstrated the willingness to find a better way instead of just getting the job done. By finding a faster way, I helped my summer employer cut temporary staff and better utilize their information room in their sales. I took a room where previously materials simply got dumped into drawers and organized it alphabetically, placing the most popular packets in a more noticeable location to help those seeking come in and get out quickly. I lost count of the number of compliments I got from people regarding that change. To me, it was obvious: organizing their materials would make everyone's life easier and shorten the time wasted and give more time to the sales staff to actually sell. I still look for ways to improve efficiency in anything I do.

Thanks again for turning my thoughts to the question of design versus execution, Melissa.

-- Robert


le35 said...

There's a saying that says, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." I think that's generally true. However, there are other times, when if it's worth doing, it's worth getting it done. I can spend hours and hours trying to do something perfectly and get halfway done, or I can spend those same hours and finish the project and then go back to perfect it. I think that there's a beauty in design, but there's also something to be said for just finishing the project

Robert said...

As I said, I tend only to worry about things I will do again when considering whether or not to design a good way to accomplish it. If I know I will only be doing something once, I tend to just do it to save time.