11 December 2014

Organizational Time Wasters—What Are They?

I'm struggling to describe a phenomenon that is acute in the military, but it must exist in many other organizations.

The realization came to me more than five years ago, while deployed to Kosovo. I found myself spending inordinate time doing tasks that merely kept me in good standing with the Army bureacracy. 

Some might be tempted to call these things maintenance or compliance tasks. But they were more wasteful than the former implied, and less a bow to outside authority or regulations than the latter suggests.

They were things like updating this or that form, verifying the accuracy of a piece of data by resubmitting several pages of data, and giving information to a new person in charge because the last person in charge has been reassigned.

A classic one is redoing an online "cyber-awareness" training module because you haven't logged into your network account for 30 days.

It has only got worse. For instance, our demobilization rituals here at Fort Dix include completing medical forms eight or nine times, all with the same information. It will clearly speed things up for the medical personnel who have to see us, dozens after dozens, but this is information that a) is simply repeated on several similar forms, and b) the military already has! A junior high drop out could come up with multiple ways to get that information replicated and delivered to the right people, all before I show up in the flesh.

You know of our travel adventures. Did you know that we did pre-deployment stuff here in New Jersey for six weeks before landing in Afghanistan? And once we got there it was at least two weeks before we were really up to speed. The flip side of that is two weeks to a month before leaving theater most units start scaling back operations in order to accomplish the dauntingand I used that word advisedlyjob of major movement. So in a seven-month deployment the Army might get four and a half month's worhth of solid woork out of me.

I understand that the two things, the time-wasting tasks and the ramp-up and ramp-down time that bookend operations, are different. But they lead to the same thing: inefficiency. And it really comes down to this: Soldiers spend less and less of their time and energy doing the work the Army hired them to do, and more time and energy on simply being in compliance with broader organizational requirements.

Anyway, I'm trying to find out more about these maintenance tasks in the organizational literature. And I can't. Someone has had to come across this.

What would you call it?

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