Office Space is a cult classic for cubicle dwellers of all generations.

"Aah, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?" - Bill Lumburgh in Office Space

The Second Hardest Thing to do in Business

Previously, I wrote about the hardest thing to do in business being choosing which priorities not to do. The second hardest thing is to choose the right level of bureaucratic reporting systems for your business.

When a business is small, it is easy to work without complex reporting systems. But these systems are like weeds. They do not need to be planted to get started and they do not need to be fed to grow. They will take root and grow on their own.

Do you need information to run your business? Of course you do. Sales, cash, payables are all legitimate things to know. Expenses, inventory, receivables? Can't live without those for long.

Scott Adams, in The Dilbert Principle identified the need to focus on fundamentals and avoid excess activities."Look around your company and see how many activities are at least one level removed from something that improves either the effectiveness of the people or the quality of the product."

By "product," he adds, he means "the entire product experience from the customer's perspective, including the delivery, image, and channel."

Although it's hard to define what's "one level removed," he offers examples:

  • If you're writing code for a new software release, that's fundamental, because you're improving the product. But if you're creating a policy about writing software then you're one level removed.
  • If you're testing a better way to assemble a product, that's fundamental. But if you're working on a task force to develop a suggestion system then you're one level removed.

He acknowledges that almost any "one-off" activity can be justified as having value. But also, any "one-off" activity can be tossed as non-essential without critical impact.

So, if your current job assignment consists only of activities which are one level removed from a core function, you might be vulnerable to the next layoff.

Is there a simple way to select what non-core activities to do or which information reports are essential? No, that's what makes it the second hardest thing in business.

This is just like the previous page's problem of selecting what not to do. The same axiom applies here: "Every choice to do one thing is a choice to not do another thing". Good management takes skill and guts. And we have not even gotten to leadership yet.

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