The water is rising

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Develle
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Plans and Programs chief
Do you feel like you are drowning in work? Ever been assigned to a job only to realize that there is more work coming in than you can handle?

I have. And maybe you have too.

When faced with this situation, I am reminded of the following story.

Two boats enter a storm. Each one is taking on water. On both boats, crewmembers are bailing water out of the boats with buckets.

On the first boat, the crew spends all of their time bailing water. By the end of the first day, they are able to keep the water level below their knees.

On the second boat, the crew is up to their waist in water. They have adopted a different strategy. Every few hours they stop bailing water. With the boat filling up, they take time away from bailing water to start assembling a pump. Their boat is no different - both crews have pump components onboard - but the first crew is afraid that if they stop bailing water they will drown.

Over the next few days, the storm grows and the water flowing into each boat increases. The first crew bails faster and works harder. They take shorter breaks for meals and increase the length of their work shifts.

But the second crew hasn't changed a thing. They have assembled enough pumps that they are able to keep bailing water at the same rate, even though the amount of water flowing in has increased.

Finally, the first crew can work no more. They have cut their breaks and their rest, increased their workday, and are working as fast as they can. The water is rising and they need more people to do the job.

By this point the second crew has several pumps working. Although the storm has increased in strength, they are working less. The time that the pumps saved them allowed them to build more pumps. And all those pumps moved so much water off the boat, they were able to take longer breaks - breaks to call their family and recharge before the next storm.

By now you know I'm not talking about boats. I'm talking about the work we face every day. We face storms with rising water in the form of increased regulatory and mission requirements.

The pumps in the story are the improvements that allow us to handle those rising requirements without additional personnel and without drowning.

There are several lessons we can take from this story.

First, sometimes you have to accept a higher water level to ultimately improve the situation.

Second, you need to plan for increased requirements in order to be successful when the increase occurs.

Finally, we will always have to move the water off the boat. And if the pumps are not moving that water, sometimes you may have to get out a bucket and move the water yourself.

Knowing that, the next question is how do we build the right kind of "pump"? There are many choices that look like they will do the job. I would argue that any proposed improvement should accomplish one of two things:

1. Improve our capabilities without increasing our overall cost in time and money.

2. Maintain our capabilities while decreasing our overall cost in time and money.

In the long run, the mark of a good process improvement is this: does it meet one of the two goals stated above, and does it last? Will it survive a changeover of personnel and leadership without losing the benefits?

If so, then the improvement you are planning is a good one - one that will pay dividends for years to come.