Soft-Work Efficiency

Posted on 2009/03/07


This is a follow-up of this post. Summary: I call soft-work the planning, organization, preparation and optimization done in order to work on a task with more efficiency.

Soft-working can improve your efficiency, but it could also put you badly down your schedule. It depends on the quality of your soft-work. I found myself in situations where I circled around a task by trying to solve tangential problems, and at the end I accomplished nothing. It was a personal failure, but also an important step that taught me something: soft-working should be targeting the main task, with efficiency.

The fastest route between two points is always to walk on a straight line (or its best approximation); you’re just taking your time to buy roller blades, but your route should not change.

How much does soft-work improve your efficiency? I’m trying to take an algebraic approach here.
Efficiency in this case is intended as the amount of work done by unit of time.
Suppose you need to perform a task; let W be the amount of work to do.
The task is performed using a certain well-known procedure, let’s call it Procedure A.
Assume that there’s an estimate, based on Procedure A efficiency, that the task will need a time TA to complete. The efficiency of Procedure A is then EA = W / TA.
Suppose you have an idea about a new procedure, slightly different from the original one; let’s call it Procedure B. In order to start working with Procedure B, you need to perform a preliminary task, identified as Preparation B. You need to spend TP time to perform Preparation B. The Procedure B lets you perform the task in time TB. The net efficiency of Procedure B is W/TB, but taking into account the preparation, the gross efficiency is EB = W / (TB + TP).
You have an improvement of efficiency if EB > EA, that is:

W/(TB + TP) > W/TA
TB + TP < TA
[W, TB, TP, TA are > 0]

The formula is simple. Simple as the question that must be posed before starting to soft-work:

Will I improve my efficiency by working in my own new way?

In order to answer this question, some estimates must be made:
How much time do I need to perform this task in the traditional way? (TA)
How much time do I need to perform this task in my new way? (TB)
How much time do I need to prepare stuff before starting doing things in my new way? (TP)
These estimates should be accurate or pessimistic.
If TB + TP < TA then the answer to the question is Yes. Now do it! Go create your time.
If TB + TP > TA then the answer to the question is No. Try again.
If TB + TP is about equal to TA then my advice is that the answer to the question should be Yes. This will give you experience in soft-working and experience for the next estimations.

These estimations are usually everything but trivial. I still fail a lot; but I always try to understand why I was wrong. It’s important to understand what has been underestimated and why. The devil is in the details. This way of thinking exercises planning skills, and brings to a better position for managing other people, too.

Efficiency is a bitch. Make it your bitch.

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Posted in: Working