Sometimes just having a simple methodology for approaching your work helps provide focus and achieve better results. One of the approaches I commonly use is Eliminate, Automate, Delegate, and approach them in that order. This is no means rocket science, but I commonly run across efforts that fail to deliver the best results that could have used this approach.
Eliminate is by far the best result that can be obtained. Start by brainstorming ideas to completely eliminate the need for whatever you’re looking to improve. If it can’t completely done away with, can at least some portion of it go away? Twenty years ago I was involved in a project to access email via the telephone. The original approach was proving daunting and threatening to kill the project. A group got together and looked for a way to resolve the problem. The solution involved moving from a full-screen to a line-mode interface which eliminated seventy-five percent of the coding effort and made the service much more reliable. Considering an option that looked like going backwards (line-mode was so 1970’s) prove to be the key. The prototype was available a few days later.
Automate is replacing human effort with a non-human effort. Job scheduling is a common data center example and robots welding cars applies in the manufacturing world. How many web sites do you check out each day for information? Perhaps moving to an RSS reader, a form of automation that pulls in articles of interest, is a more efficient way to gather that information. Alerting is a common output of automation, only interrupting you when necessary. In this case, you’ve both automated the task and eliminated the need to check it out as often.
Delegate is taking the work done by a higher-paid person and shifting it to a lower-paid, but still qualified, person. Too often professionals spend a large amount of their time doing work at a grade level far below what they are paid. In some cases a person’s desire to perform a lower-valued task comes from their pride in building a solution from the start and its “their baby”. What the reason, good or bad, spending too much time performing lower-valued work will limit your time for new projects, ending with no more new “babies” to take pride in. Delegate takes a commitment to training, letting people make those mistakes (after all, you made yours along the way) and encouraging them. Think hard before you accept a “I’ll just do it myself” attitude.
Things you eliminate can no longer go wrong or waste money. Tasks that you automate usually cost a fraction of a human and it never gets tired or bored. Delegation creates valuable time for the highly skilled and develops new skills in others. But the key is to approach them in the proper order and get enough ideas generated to fully explore an opportunity.