Note: I apologize to my mother in advance for improper English grammar. I should say “For what am I optimizing?” but that sounds pretty weird to most people.
Here is a question that leaders and managers must ask and answer:
What am I optimizing for?
Fact: You can’t optimize for everything simultaneously. There will be no significant progress until you decide what to optimize for, and accept some compromises elsewhere.
For example, you might optimize for minimum cost. You’ll accept lower quality, delays, inconveniences, lack of variation, temporary break-fix problems, etc.
You might optimize for process efficiency and repeatability. You won’t please those who want exceptions and variation for their convenience. You won’t retain some team members who aren’t sold on the process-first mindset.
You might optimize for time — speed of execution, or to deliver by a certain deadline. You’ll accept reduced scope, or the costs of more resources.
You might optimize for customer or client experience. You’ll accept inefficiencies in your processes, possibly higher costs and return rates, higher wages for better customer service people, less standardization, inconveniences for your team, etc.
You might be thinking, “But I need to deliver a good customer experience, sharpen my processes, and reduce my operating costs!” These can be interrelated. It is possible to optimize for one primary objective, and then moderate that with a secondary effort to partially optimize another deliverable. For example, you can optimize for customer experience, and then work to optimize certain process flows which support a good customer experience, or reduce costs to deliver the same customer experience. But you must first select one objective to be primary, and accept compromises elsewhere.
Another way to think about what to optimize: Which stakeholder do you want to please the most? Which stakeholder would you prefer to have disappointed, even angry with the results?
It’s much easier to lead when you’re clear on your optimization framework. Once it’s clear to you, then relentless communicate in words and actions to all the stakeholders. You’ll find it makes it easier to make some decisions, as well. Decide in favor of those things which contribute to optimization in your preferred direction.
Optimization isn’t just for “work” situations. It applies to relationships, fitness, hobbies, etc. We don’t aim for procedurally-efficient conversations with our loved ones. Walking our dog is optimized for his need to “express” himself and happily inhale half the state of Iowa. Any exercise we get is a bonus. Certain holiday meals take about the same amount of time to eat as a regular dinner but we gladly put a lot of special effort in to fix traditional favorites.