Saturday, August 24, 2013

Process thinking

I once worked in a place where things would often go wrong, and the question on the boss's lips would be "Who...?" as in "who did this?" "who was in charge of this..." so that the person would be in trouble and presumably the problem would go away.  
Engineering processes
As an engineer, I found this to be the most puzzling thing.  Why waste your time on such an irrelevant question as "who"?
Because the more important thing should be maybe "what" happened, and then "why" it happened, and then "why" that happened, and in that case you find yourself with the "root cause" which you can fix (along with the team, the who's that run the process) and then hopefully that issue would not crop up again.
Good engineers are lazy
 Along with the inclination to abuse the "stupid employees" was this baffling habit of designing stupid processes, ones that put a great deal of strain on the boss and the people, and that relied more on hard work than on intelligence, and still produced a high error rate in the results.
I think the missing knowledge was of something called Process Thinking.  Process thinking is important.  It will make you calmer, and make your work many times easier and your results a lot better.
Individual and society
So too in my country in Africa, we think relationships are key to everything.  In the name of basic relationships (what does my wife or my father think of me is the familiar question) we have institutionalized actions that harm self and harm the larger population too.
We think in small groups (I better pass my neighbour, God give me promotion) but ignore the self (does this make ME happy, can I sleep at night?) and ignore the whole too (is this the right thing to do, does it hurt somebody else?)
This mindset is understandable because we've come so recently from small worlds - small village, small ethnicity, small clan - but in the current world we all see that it doesn't produce very good outcomes.  Individuals are frustrated and the country is poor.  Working harder may not solve the problem.  Defeating your neighbour, "feeling rich", getting promoted, "achieving success" may not be the answer. 
Engineering systems
Even on the political front, have some not tried to solve our misidentified "leadership problem" by replacing people?  But we come to the realization that no, we must re-engineer systems instead.  We must fix a risk-reward system at the individual, group, and institutional level.  This is to say, we might think of a country or an economy as an abstract thing, or as an organism, or as a machine, in order to repair it. 
School for intelligence
This is why I respect a good engineering education.  It's one of those things that (hopefully) prepares you to understand systems (like the human body, the global economy, or the market for films) and processes (like the workflow at a branch office, the election of a president, the Arab spring).
a sketch of a helicopter by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago
A decade ago, I read that engineering was "the new liberal arts" degree. Along with whatever specific facts and knowledge it might give a student, it would develop his/her critical thinking, systems understanding, process thinking, and design ability.  Then also it should broaden knowledge of the world and importantly of self.  It is a good training for an uncertain job title in an interesting life. 
Cartoon showing laziness as the mama of invention
 Links for more learning
Lazy engineers: Unusual habits of good engineers
Process Thinking: It can make you happier at work and at home
Policy analysis: The Nigerian subsidy example, The technocracy example


Seun Idowu said...

Very true!

t said...

I like this comment :)

t said...

Just what I was saying: The CBN is forcing banks to lower fees. One key reason the fees remain so high is the processes are convoluted, raising overheads. Incidentally, last week, I spent four working days and 60 USD wiring about 1000USD. If you add the effort involved in creating a special , so-called domicilliary account, you can see that the bank folks really think wiring money should be a big ordeal for the customer. You can imagine how many staff-hours were devoted to my project. Paypal does the same transaction maybe with seconds of staff effort and invisible fees.

So I support the CBN's pressure on the banks.

How come, however, in that time the fixed fee (before the per-dollar and VAT charges) went up from 25 dollars to 50 dollars at my bank (UBA) - it still says 25 on the website, then 0.5% variable. On the website of GTBank it says 0 fixed but a flat 1% fee (which indicates more streamlined operations) .

So when I read this, UBA Bank's African Operations...I thought aha, same thing I've been stressing, if we don't get operations rationalized somehow, we're going down.

"Amid the rising cost of operation occasioned by the prevailing stringent conditions, United Bank for Africa Plc has continued to reap bountifully from its spread in the African market, reports Festus Akanbi
Original Source: This Day
With many banks coming under pressure from the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) cut on banking fees, UBA’s African operations are providing a buffer to its earnings. UBA Plc has operations in 18 African countries, besides Nigeria. The bank’s foresight in spreading across Africa is now yielding fruits as recent CBN policies put pressure on the earnings of Nigerian banks.

The CBN, in the last few months, has cut the Commission on Turnover or CoT by 40 percent to N3 per mil from the previous N5 per mil with a target to phase out CoT totally by 2016. The apex bank has also directed banks to fix interest on savings at a minimum of 30 percent of the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), effectively moving up interest rate on savings to a minimum of 3.6 percent. Other policies that are having a negative impact on Nigerian bank earnings include the rise in Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) levy from 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent of assets and the significant increase in cash reserve ratio (CRR) on public sector deposits from 12 percent to 50 percent.

Nigerian bank earnings have thus come under significant pressure from the different policies, which have seen many banks experience drop in earnings growth and profits in the released financial results for the first half of the year ended June 2013. However, UBA is one of the few Nigerian banks that have been able to retain its growth momentum for the first half of 2013 despite the pressure on earnings and increased cost of operations arising from the CBN policies. Analysts link the bank’s resilience to its extensive operations across Africa. The bank’s 18 African subsidiaries outside Nigeria contributed an average of 20 percent of first half deposits in 2013.
“The bank’s operations across Africa are a significant advantage now that earnings are coming under pressure in Nigeria. With most of those subsidiaries now coming into their own, whatever earnings are lost in Nigeria, can be made up from the African operations,” said one analyst familiar with the bank’s operations. “UBA’s net interest margin was largely stable at 5.8 percent despite the regulatory induced pressure on industry earnings,” said UBA CEO Phillip Oduoza, during the half-year presentation by the bank to investors.
“We expect to see improvement, following recent and ongoing loan book expansion,” he explained."

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