Several years ago, I saw a sign that read "It is hard to drain the swamp when you are so busy fighting alligators!” This quote has resonated with many of the people that I have consulted with over the years. They confide that they are so busy just trying to keep up, that they cannot get ahead.
Dr. J.M. Juran, one of the fathers of the field of quality management, encountered this situation also. Juran advocated using what he called "Pareto’s Principle" or the 80/20 rule. In Juran’s initial work with manufacturing quality, he observed that 20% of the defects caused 80% of the problems. Juran’s insight was that to achieve the best improvement, it made sense to focus on the top issues that were hindering performance first and to tackle the other issues in rank order.
We all have an unlimited number of possible choices, but only a limited amount of time. We must decide to do some things, and to leave others undone. Effectiveness is as much determined by the things we do but shouldn’t as by the things we don’t do but should. The art of efficiency is determining which things to focus on.
I recommend that the goal should be to balance the time spent between:
- alligator fighting (reactive problem solving) and
- swamp draining (proactive improvement activities)
Carefully consider which few activities will reduce the most problems and/or result in the most improvement.
Remember, if you do not drain the swamp, more alligators will hatch!