Thursday, January 18, 2007

Time horizons

Most of us spend much of our days solving (or attempting to solve) problems. We each probably have our own approaches, tailored by our life experiences, ideas we've read, and training we've received.

Here's a suggestion from the system dynamics tradition: pay attention to the time horizon of your problem.

Sometimes a problem is a one-time event. That's great, for those problems are often simpler to solve: fix it, and you're done.

Sometimes, though, a problem is part of a pattern. It's not just that you had a production or sales or financial (or other) problem at the end of last month; it's that you have such a problem at the end of every month (or quarter or year).

Such pattern-related problems usually arise because of something structural in your organization or work. If you fix the problem, you'll see it again next month (or quarter or year). If you fix the structure, you might just make it disappear.

The next time you're faced with a problem, take a few moments to look back, oh, at least twice as far as you think is reasonable. Do you see a pattern now?

For a real-life example, see "Pipeline Inventory: The Missing Factor in Organizational Expense Management" (National Productivity Review, Summer 1999) and "Applying System Dynamics to Business: An Expense Management Example".

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