Optimization: Fix the Process or the Details?

This is a simple concept that has several big scary words that will probably scare you, but it’s not as bad as it might appear! As a software engineer, I was periodically given the task of optimizing certain features. These were certain features that were too slow, and my job was to speed them up. I could try to fix them in one of two ways.

  1. I could change the algorithm, which means using a new process to solve your problem.
  2. I could change the implementation, which means changing the details of how the process works.

Let’s use a silly example to understand how this works.

Imagine a fire department that uses a bucket brigade to put out fires. You are hired as a consultant to increase their efficiency. You have two choices:

  1. You could change the process by introducing them to pump trucks instead of a bucket brigade (new process).
  2. You could change the details by replacing their one-gallon buckets with five-gallon buckets (same process, new details).

Details control 20-30% of a process’s efficiency. Breaking past that barrier almost always requires a whole new process.

How does this apply to us practically?

When I budgeted my time, I discovered that I spend 41% of my waking hours at work. If I don’t feel like I don’t get enough time to do what I really want to do, on weekends I choose to drive above the speed limit to get my errands done sooner. This is changing the details, and it amounts to little more than trimming fat. If would change the process and leverage my work to give me what I want, I would encounter a huge efficiency gain!

If you’re facing financial strain, you can save a few pennies by cutting coupons and eating out less. These are details, and they will benefit you! However, they won’t benefit you as much as changing your big lifestyle decisions. To dramatically change your financial picture, you need to change the process. Sometimes it mean a lower lifestyle (cheaper car, cheaper housing, simpler living). Sometimes it means a different job. Sometimes it means both.

Many times when we find ourselves up against a barrier, we begin to change the details. If the result is unsatisfactory, we often wear ourselves out trying to continually improve it, and it never occurs to us that we need to change the process. Big change comes at a big cost, and many of us are unwilling to pay the price, which is why so few of us experience the rewards.

Where are you inefficiencies? What will be your approach to streamlining them?

I could also change the implementation. This is simply the details in the big-picture approach.

One comment

  1. Dude, your perty smart……

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