The Ripple Effect (December 2008)

If there is one thing that causes inefficiency in the work place more than any other, I think it may be ripple effect of missed deadlines. Generally, missed deadlines come in two forms. One is the simple passing of a deadline without it being met. But the other, somewhat more difficult to assess, is when a deadline is met with inadequate information or work product being provided. Whether we are talking about the flow of internal information or the provision of a product or service to a customer, the result is the same. Ultimately, that missed deadline causes a ripple effect throughout the receiving organization and is the cause of substantial inefficiency.

Much like tossing a pebble in a pond, the effect doesn’t stop immediately but continues almost indefinitely. A missed deadline causes others to spend time waiting (never a productive task), changing their work plan (also known as “scrambling”), and going back to ask people when they will provide what they have already failed to deliver (my least favorite activity).

Many times, we don’t know or think of the effect of not delivering on a commitment to someone on the other side. While I have never tried to calculate this cost, I have no doubt it is substantial. Perhaps if we could calculate the cost, and somehow charge it back when someone didn’t deliver as promised, it would solve the problem. While major construction projects often impose penalties when the final deadline is missed, the same doesn’t hold true in most day to day activities.

Think of what happens when someone doesn’t deliver upon a commitment to you. In the best case, that causes increased pressure on you to do your part in a shorter amount of time and still meet your commitments. In the worst case, the ripple in the pond continues to the detriment of companies, departments and people you may have never thought about (or even know about).

Perhaps the worst part of the ripple effect is that it is so very difficult to stop once started. Obviously, there is no way to “unthrow” that stone in the pond. It simply has to run its course (or in the business world, someone has to go to the extra mile to meet their commitments even though they got a late start). Obviously, the best course is to not let the ripples start. Realizing how big a problem can become, we should all take extra care to not be the pebble in the first place; and that starts with all of us meeting our commitments on a daily basis.

While there are many things that businesses need to do to prepare for 2009, clarifying expectations around deadlines is certainly one that will add value throughout the year. Ultimately, it gives everyone the chance to be more productive and that is something that will be appreciated by both your employees and your customers. It might even increase your “top line”!

If your business could benefit from fractional CFO services, I would welcome the chance to speak with you. Please give me a call at (314) 863-6637 or send an email to [email protected]

your cash is flowing. know where.


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