When we are looking at Productivity, we have a tendency to approach the easy stuff first. There is nothing wrong with getting “Quick Wins” in any Operational Excellence Programme, especially if you are trying to get traction in a new programme, by demonstrating the power of the system. However, there is a danger that we get ourselves into “Tick Box” mode, and we end up working through check lists. This means that we delay tackling the big issues, as we think we are making progress. This is not surprising as humans have what are known as cognitive biases. These are psychological states that can affect our rational thought processes and our ability to look at data objectively. There are many documented biases ranging from 15 to 20 in number. In this particular case we are talking about “Task Completion Bias”, which gives us the sense of achievement when we view a 70% or similar complete list. A recent two year study of 90,000 patients in the hospital emergency rooms, showed doctors not necessarily choosing the patients on the basis of the severity of their condition, which should be the primary focus. They were falling into this bias trap (HBR Paper – Task Selection & Workload)
So how do we deal with this practically ? This may sound obvious, but we need an execution plan. Depending on the scope of work , we can have a simple spreadsheet or a full blown project road-map supported by a Gantt Chart. Whatever we think is appropriate, I find simple colour coding referencing the degree of difficulty, on these activities works. The problem is that when we are in activity mode, our opportunity to step back and think about these aspects is diminished, so the cognitive bias can become self perpetuating. Ultimately, the best way to deal with this is to have a serious think about what resources are required, and reference the activities with a genuine appraisal of man hours to complete. More importantly this is your opportunity to engage your leadership team and workforce, get them involved in the process, and flush out any barriers.
Reference : Task Selection and Workload, A Focus on Completing Easy Tasks Hurts Long-Term Performance. Diwas et al HBR