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Efficiency Doesn't Matter

June 1, 2018

I recently told a friend that I was at a theme park with my kids. My friend's response was "ugh! I hate that place! I'm always trying to improve the queue lines."I used to be like that, I told him, but then something changed. "I don't think about it as a place to ride rides; the park is a place for me to spend time with my family, broken up by a few roller coasters." I don't know if I convinced him that this particular theme park is worth his time and money, but that change in perspective made a huge difference for me.


Industrial engineers like myself naturally focus on efficiency. We're driven towards eliminating waste because waste equals cost. But cost is only one variable in the very complex equation that is life or even the slightly less complex equation of business. Considering only cost or time ignores the larger picture.




Efficiency is a subset of the larger, more holistic practice of optimization. When we focus on efficiency have decided, whether we recognize it or not, that the most important variables are cost or time, and then we perform optimization with those variables in mind. But think about all of the other variables, some of which require more effort to quantify, which we ignore in the process: new revenue opportunities, employee engagement, work/life balance, customer satisfaction, and even good agile practices like creating MVP's and refactoring code. None of these make sense when efficiency is our only concern, but in some cases any or all of these might be orders of magnitude more important.

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