Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 09-21-2021 08:12 AM

    I was wondering what the view is on "efficiency" in your place of work. Are there tasks that are currently done inefficiently that you feel could be handled better? Are these tasks limited due to their complexity, or do they have poor documentation? Does one person in the office keep doing the work just because they are the only one who understands it, and woe is the next person who has to eventually take over for them when they leave? Is it a task that everyone recognizes could be handled automatically with a script or piece of software, but nobody knows how to develop it and so you continue on with business as usual?

    I can start with examples of my own.

    We definitely struggle with almost every one of these issues where I work from time to time. Due to the sheer number of tasks, different ones inevitably start getting handled consistently by only a few people. SOPs are developed, but then keeping them up to date becomes another task in and of itself. Over the past few years, I will note that we have developed a number of scripts in R/python/VBA that have greatly reduced the amount of time needed to complete certain tasks. I will not say it "simplified" these tasks because maintaining the code and input files requires time as well, but I would argue that it is time better spent than continuing without these things.

    In the past year, I can also think of a case where I identified an opportunity for a script to be developed to help improve a certain task's efficiency. After we found someone willing to help write the script, I asked why it was never done before when this task has been in existence for years. The answer I received was a combination of "nobody cared enough to write it" and "it was understood that it was going to be much more difficult than it turned out to be".

    Are these issues that appear across the industry?

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 2.  RE: Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 09-28-2021 07:33 AM
    I can think of a few more reasons that more efficient methods were not implemented. It could be due to project budget and schedule or there wasn't anyone that was comfortable enough to take on the challenge. Or it could be the old (manual) ways work for years, so no need to change anything and risk breaking them. In our group, we encourage people to improve existing workflows whenever possible. Usually the assignments would come with certain working procedure but you are free to do it differently and more efficiently as long as the deadline is met. I think the key is to break them in pieces and start improving them one at a time and from project to project. Sometime even just a small Python script to export maps from many ArcGIS mxd files or an R script to extract model results from DSS files can bring a lot of values in terms of time saving and reproducibility.

    Tung Nguyen, PhD, WR Modeler
    Sacramento, CA

  • 3.  RE: Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 09-30-2021 10:57 PM
    • Q. Are these issues that appear across the industry?
    Yes, they do, on a daily basis. Of course not in all of our firms,
    just in about 96.4% of them!
    Dr. Deming replied to a similar question years ago.
    Deming said, "Your company's system is perfectly designed to keep giving you the results you see."
    What stands in the way of what seems like a need for "Obvious Change" is that most C-suite people are
    unwilling to say it out loud.
    Stay Healthy!
    p.s. BTW, the expression "effective and efficient" is to be used without exception.
    One addresses what you do and the other how you do it.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 4.  RE: Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 10-01-2021 10:01 AM
    Christopher, Tung, and Bill:

    You may find some value in the following best practices article which is based on my experience and research:  http://www.helpingyouengineeryourfuture.com/improve-written-guidance.htm 


    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 5.  RE: Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 10-01-2021 02:03 PM
    Stu: Great article and approach. I would expand written guidance to include process maps. These could show workflow steps at a proscriptive or performance based level depending upon task and skill and experience of those performing the work. The normal sequence of a project follows a process (e.g., assessment, concept selection, preliminary design, final design) but may not be recognized as all as a process, but is one. A process is nothing more than structured approach to improve work efficiency and effectiveness. A process can be developed, tailored and right sized to almost any repetitive task. Sadly, processes often get a lot of pushback or fall into disuse as human nature comes into play and someone always thinks they know better or can do it better.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 6.  RE: Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 10-01-2021 05:29 PM

    Yes, written guidance often includes more than text such as process maps (flow charts, network diagrams), photos, graphs, tables, etc. 


    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 7.  RE: Workflow (in)efficiencies

    Posted 10-04-2021 10:04 AM
    "Are these issues that appear across the industry?" I think yes, because some people are okay doing the things they usually do (talents is varies from field of experts), and it's not your control, but I understand what you want, and yes it might help if they will be encourage to learn and know how they can handle its complexity like helping each others tasks by simply coaching them sometimes if they asked. In fact, being efficient will save time and you can become more productive. That's why, special training/ seminar is a good support that the company could give in their employees. While in the statement "Does one person in the office keep doing the work just because they are the only one who understands it" - it must not be romanticize, because were all suppose to grow and learn from our responsibilities to become more progressive. 

    When you said "next person who has to eventually take over for them when they leave" this things is relatable when they're submitting a valid leave, worst case a resignation letter and vacation during the midst of all of it; and I feel the pressure, and more stress among the people that are left but no choice because it's a contract. Where I previously witness in my last internship. But I really adore the good companionship among its employees. But it doesn't mean that the problem must be ignored because at the end of the day, the company is accountable for the productivity, well-being, and loyalty of everyone to the company.  

    Llala Chrishaye Ocampo S.M.ASCE
    City of General Trias Cavite