Routine activities – a source of waste and additional cost?
I don’t write too much on my blog about my research interests, but this one I just have to share. To be honest, I have been putting it off for a while too. Brian Plowman (a consultant specialising in productivity management) wrote a short, but to me really inspiring piece in Financial Management in May of this year (pp. 29-30 if you have access to a copy).
Institutional and organisational theory would define a routine along the lines of; a routine is a repetitive, recognisable patter of interdependent actions involving multiple actors (see an article by Feldman & Pentland 2003, in Administrative Science Quarterly). The article from Financial Management takes a more practical approach to routines. It mentions the term “interfacing activities” which become routine. These interfacing activities are links between the tasks carried out by individuals in organisations. In themselves, these interfacing activities are not a problem, but what tends to happen is that lots of informal interfacing activities creep into organisations. These may be quite wasteful. For example, the article mentions a hospital worker looking for a particular piece of equipment. It is not where it should be or where a computer systems says it should be. So the employee has developed a whole series of interfacing activities to find it. This is turn have become so common place that they are now a routine and accepted activity. Wasteful? Yes of course it is. The article proposed that up to 50% of an organisations interfacing activities may in fact be wasteful (as in the hospital example). Can this be remedied. Finding these informal and potentially wasteful activities is difficult, but it could reap huge benefits.