A person looking tired after a long day at work for the Fairisle article Just One More Thing

Photo by Getty Images on Unsplash (cropped)

And another thing

What is the AAT error?

 

BY SARAH WILLCOX

A person looking tired after a long day at work for the Fairisle article Just One More Thing

Photo by Getty Images on Unsplash (cropped)

Article Author Sarah Willcox

Sarah Willcox is the Founder of Fairisle Consulting

Does this ever happen to you?

You set out to do something quite specific, like say, buy yourself a sandwich for lunch. On your way out a colleague says ‘While you’re at the shops can you pick up a leaving card for Ralph?’ and you’re like OK then. So on your way to the sandwich place you drop into the gift shop for a card for Ralph. When you come out you think, there’s that place where they cut keys, I’ve been meaning to get a new front door key cut. So you go into the key cutting place. When you come out you go, oh I just remembered we’ve no milk at home so you pop into the corner shop and get a pint of milk.

Still hungry

When you get back to the office you hand over the leaving card, put the new key in your bag and the milk in the fridge to take home later. But you’re still hungry. Because you didn’t buy the sandwich you actually went out to get in the first place.

If this kind of scenario is familiar to you, you’ve experienced what we at Fairisle call the ‘And Another Thing (AAT) error’. This is when it feels like adding things to your task increases efficiency but in fact effectiveness is reduced or removed. 

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Eff words

The two terms ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ are often seen as meaning the same. But they don’t mean the same thing, not quite. Certainly, they both mean ‘capable of producing a result,’ but there is an important difference. Effective means ‘producing a result that is wanted’. Efficient means ‘capable of producing results without wasting materials, time, or energy’.

So the lunchtime shopping trip was efficient. It was capable of producing results in a shorter time than making separate, time-wasting trips would. But it was not effective because it didn’t produce one of the results that was wanted. There was no sandwich, which was the main objective.

We often see the AAT error occurring on change projects, and here’s a recent example from our work.

And Another Thing

One of our clients wanted to revamp their induction process for new staff. They had done a very thorough survey of all the induction activities new staff needed to experience. Then they’d organised the activities into themes such as Policy, IT, Mandatory Training and so on. This was a great start and saved us a lot of the discovery work we would otherwise have done.

Within each theme were dozens and dozens of items. And every time they invited stakeholders to review the themes people would say ‘What about this?’ and ‘Can we add that?’. In other words lots of AAT. The client was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. So they decided to choose a theme – Mandatory Training – and develop all its activities. This seemed an efficient approach, because they could assemble a specialist team and focus their time and resources in one area.

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Alarm bell

This was a bit of an alarm bell to us so we had the AAT conversation. 

 We started by asking whether the overall objective of the work was to improve the whole induction process or just parts of it? Well, they said, obviously the aim is to improve the whole process. 

 So why, we asked, start with Mandatory Training? Sure, this would eventually achieve improvements to this part of the process. But it would leave the other areas in the same state as before. It would also be rather time-consuming, which would mean other improvements would be delayed. A quick read of the client’s survey showed that there were a number of changes, unrelated to training, which could be made quite quickly and easily. Working on some of these would really improve the experience of new staff. For example, setting up new starters’ laptops didn’t always take place very quickly. This meant they couldn’t use some of the important tools for their job, and this was really impacting their productivity. Fixing that problem would produce results much faster than reforming the entire Mandatory Training process.

In other words focusing on one area at a time may have seemed efficient, but digging into it showed it to be less effective. Putting efficiency first would actually delay, rather than support the delivery of desired results. 

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More effective, less efficient

We worked together on an approach that put the needs of the new starter first, identifying what they need to know on day one, in week one, month one and so on. Doing this helped us to see which activities needed to be addressed first, drawing on all the themes.

This was not particularly efficient. It would mean revisiting certain themes repeatedly, and probably re-working some activities, but it was much more effective from the point of view of the new starter.

The approach we’ve described here is a version of the Scrum Agile technique of ‘Story Slicing’, where you break big things down into smaller chunks, to help you deliver changes effectively.

If you’re interested to learn more about the AAT error and Story Slicing, get in touch and we’ll be happy to explain in more detail.

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