The actual idiom is "Penny Wise and Pound Foolish," and it is 500 years old. This post puta a modern twist to this famous saying.

"Penny wise and pound foolish describes the act of concentrating so hard on economizing in small matters that one misses the opportunity to save or gain a large amount of money in larger matters."

I am the first person that wants easy fixes to complex problems. I would even accept the ability to explain complex problems clearly. I desperately want to point at a report or Powerpoint deck and say, "There is the problem" [MIC DROP]. Then I could send the minions to go fix the "All the Things." Unfortunately, most problems we face in our day job are not that simple. We love to opine (this is becoming a popular word) on how we would solve the problems if we were the President or CEO. Unfortunately, this isn't how it works. The President or CEO doesn't get softball problems that they can magically solve with a bold statement or declaration. Complex problems are hard.

Why Modern Problems are Tricky

  • The Knowledge work "Process" is hidden. Contrast this with going out to the manufacturing floor and observing the production.
  • The significant changes require collaboration between multiple departments and competing political factions.
  • Minor changes are frowned upon or considered unworthy because they don't produce the massive step change required by the market.
  • The ten thousand foot view of the problem seems apparent and straightforward to the outsider, which provides the illusion of executing a simple massive step change.
  • Making changes that reach for the massive step change leaves a wake of confusion for people doing the work.
  • The quarterly business cycle often does not provide enough runway for the business to adopt the new changes.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about "Process Debt," where I mentioned that adding complexity without equal or greater value to the business creates waste. Below I want to delve into why it is easy to be "Report Wise."

A Case for Process Debt
The idea of Process Debt stemmed from constantly hearing that this or that software was terrible. Looking under the hood, you will most likely find that the software unwieldy customization made it terrible. Any customization that doesn’t add value or assist the workstream increases “Process Debt.”

The Fallacy of Being Report Wise

  • When we look at a report, we all want to be the hero that finds the hidden golden nugget. But most of the time, we find a perceived problem and have our workforce go on a witch hunt that leads nowhere.
  • Reports are just easier to change. Reach out to the analyst who made the report and direct them to change a number or add something new. Problem solved. The report might look better, but if you asked someone doing the work, did it solve the problem or give you a false sense of security.
  • It is easier to think we are right and move forward and when we are wrong, claim ignorance.

Don't be Process Foolish.

  • Small adopted process changes are additive and lasting. For example, make a change that saves an hour a week, and you get an hour a week in perpetuity.
  • View the costs of the system as a whole. In other words, if you itemize your process, you might miss that you are wasting labor when paying for tooling can reduce the system costs.
  • Effective processes change slowly and with intention. What would any nation be like if their rules just changed haphazardly?
  • Walkthrough any requested change from beginning to end. Make sure you are fixing the real problem and not just a symptom.

A friend works with a company purchased by a famous "Blue chip" company. We talked about the sales department having so much change to provide executive visibility that no one knew what the expectations. They didn't trust the process because it was likely to change. The executives were frustrated by a lack of "Reporting" visibility. The sales team is tired of fixing the "Process" of the month. If your company is Report Wise and Process Foolish, don't pick up any rocks because you will find a scary amount of Process Debt living out of sight and mind (and frustrated employees). Be "Process Wise" and patient. Fixing a process is like managing money. It isn't the one big thing. It is the consistent investments over the long term.