• The Osborn checklist: Asking questions is better than giving answers

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    TO err is human, but an eraser wearing out ahead of the lead is overkill. True? Well, not exactly, according to the American advertising genius Alex Osborn (1888-1966), who is best remembered as the father of the classical brainstorming. If you can find more mistakes, prepare to use bigger erasers even without a pencil.

    In management and as well as in other fields of endeavor, brainstorming is a basic strategy to create the best possible solutions even to the most complex problems—including those that make organizations poorer day by day.

    When creating ideas, stakeholders must put up hundreds of suggestions that include even the craziest concepts. The more ideas you have, the better for everyone. Sky’s the limit. This can only happen if the team members tasked to solve a problem are guided by a memory jogger called SCAMPER. It’s an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, Put to other use, Eliminate and Rearrange.

    Last week, I explained to my seminar participants the value of opening their eyes to invisible wastes, which include the so-called “extra-processing” or anything that duplicates something.

    These include the required multiple signatures in an employee’s application for a one-day vacation leave, an enforcer commanding the traffic at an intersection controlled by traffic lights, manual checking of customer-paid merchandise in a retail outlet with a sensor at the door, or a parking security guard’s manual recording of plate numbers of motorists despite the CCTV.

    Imagine the cost of duplication, or even triplication, and you can easily calculate the amount of losses incurred. And prepare to be surprised by the amount of money that you can save. Seeing is believing. Try it by asking if you eliminate the manual intervention of security guards who must work 12 hours a day on average.

    If you’ve already spent millions of pesos for those sophisticated sensors, CCTVs, and related gadgets, then why do you still require manual intervention by people who must work like mechanical robots? What’s the point?

    This is a recurring problem that we see every day. After asking the manager of that establishment, expect the unexpected: “It’s our policy.” Of course, I know it’s management policy.

    But if you can’t tell me the wisdom of your policy, then you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s a classic refrain from management guru Peter Drucker (1909-2005) who also admonished us that “… there is nothing as useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

    Invisible wastes like extra-processing is worse than losses. Organizations do it every day. They multiply the losses, and yet they don’t understand it. We’ll that’s their misfortune. That’s why I can’t understand why organizations and their self-anointed management geniuses don’t understand this simple and basic issue of redundancy.

    All they can tell you is an innocent reply that borders on: “Who cares? We’ve been doing that for years!”

    In Osborn’s Checklist, you can raise as many questions as possible starting with: What’s the point of redundant signatures and cross-checking?

    It’s like asking why you take a bath every day. Can we change anything for the better (reduced cost, faster service, etc.)? Can we minimize or make it bigger? Can we use it for something else?

    The best place to start is in our government offices. But working with people in government is not my cup of tea. It’s like wrestling with a gorilla, or talking to an elephant. You know what I mean. It’s a complex problem.

    They know the law called the Anti-Red Tape Act, and they will tell you they’re doing their best to apply it. But in real life they’re just a bunch of people who are good at making excuses, which means they seldom do anything good for the taxpayer.

    Really, if you will only take several steps back to seriously reflect on your current systems and procedures, you’ll soon discover the foolishness of what you’ve done or have been doing. And the amount of your losses in the past can be staggering.

    Now, if you come across another frivolous work process, like HRD taking three days to issue a one-page employment certificate, you can do the why-why analysis with the HR manager.

    Imagine the following conversation.

    You: What’s the point in taking three days to do just that?
    HR: We have to verify all the data from your records.

    You: But it’s as easy as checking your computer, right?
    HR: We have other things to do here.

    You: Can I help you fast-track it?
    HR: No, thanks! But if you can catch a snake in the cabinet, we can issue your certificate in one day.

    End of conversation.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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    1. As we all know digital technology has made our world borderless, smart integrated financial, human resources, manufacturing, and logistics software with electronic approval capability now resides and can be accessed in the Cloud (an improvement to dispersed key regional data centers) by global users. The core implementation methodology is process driven with all the key stakeholders represented in the pilot phase. That in a nutshell is a glimpse of what is now and the future is more of the application of artificial intelligence using this process platform to adapt to local culture and changing laws in privacy, anti-trust, and the ownership of data to name a few.
      Sadly, your sincere intention of improving a work process to avoid duplication of work as an example in your article will be lost in the lost file cabinet – worse if it is a government agency. And it is not that they do not understand your message but imagine the ramification if they listen to you. Need I say more!
      Think what you can do FOR the fight against Smartmatic/PCOS/OMR voting software system and you will have an audience to support your advocacy. Man! I feel your pain!