Sunday, 1 June 2008

Does excess breed inefficiency?

Does excess breed inefficiency? If so, does scarcity breed efficiency?

The optimal state for a system is the state where the system produces the expected output without any wastage of resources. In engineering terms, the state of 100% efficiency.

Now, the estimation of the right amount of resource to allocate is a challenge with most systems. Particularly when you are dealing with systems that involve people. Practically, there are two ways of arriving at the optimal state when you are dealing with such systems where accurate estimation is not possible.
Route 1: You over-allocate a resource and gradually reduce the supply till you reach the optimum.
Route 2: You under-allocate and gradually increase the supply of the resource till you reach the optimum.

Which is the better way?
I feel, the latter holds more promise.

Here's why I think so:
Do we tend to use a resource irresponsibly/inefficiently when there is too much of it to use? Looking at a few daily-life observations, I must think, the the answer is yes - if I have a hundred rupees in my pocket when I am waiting for the bus on a normal day, I wouldn't think twice about calling for an autorikshaw. If I have just ten, I'd rather wait for the next bus. If there is no shortage of electricity, I'll probably not bother to switch of the fan when I walk out of a room for five minutes. If there is abundance of water supply, I may tend to be careless about it.
And, here's a really interesting observation I made while staying abroad, an average household in USA or UK seems to generate more waste in a day than an average household in India... why? one main reason I felt is that these countries have a much better waste management system (in other words, a surplus of waste management capacity) which people tend to over-use. The real reason behind all this may be subject of a deeper study - may be it's economics, maybe it's just human nature.

Okay, now if all that is true, then the converse must be true also. If the supply of a resource is restricted (naturally or artificially), then the efficiency of its use has to increase (bringing it closer to 100%). If so, this would be the easiest way to increase efficiency of any system where people are involved.

Applying the theory to time management - you should be able to get more done in your day if you restrict the time you allocate yourself for each of your tasks.

Applying to project management - you should be able to get more productivity out of your team, if you restrict the number of people in it.

Applying to waste management - restrict waste disposal systems, and you get a much cleaner (pun intended) waste management system. In fact this is something I've seen being tried out in parts of London - to my surprise I found no trash bins in sight after getting down at Liverpool Street, and had to dump my coffee cup in my laptop bag:). By the looks of it the ploy seemed to be working.

To summarize, I feel the better way to get a people-system closer to 100% efficiency is by under-allocating and then scaling up. (But of course there are situations where this may be too risky to do)

Comments welcome; author not responsible for any unwelcome consequences of applied theory:)