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The Dirty Secret Behind Efficiency

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That’s apple pie.

This labels a word or expression that everyone will erroneously accept as common and at the very core of our professional existence. Everyone will agree that efficiency is good. Who won’t accept a slice of apple pie?

Efficiency is overused, uncommonly understood and practically meaningless in most engineering and corporate discourse.

Every company seeks efficiency. Every manager aspires to create efficiency. Every vendor trumpets greater efficiency. The dirty secret is—NOBODY EVER DEFINES WHAT IT MEANS.

Walk down the hall to a half dozen offices. Ask each person to define efficiency for their company, or department. You’ll receive a different answer from all six. It’s likely  that no answer will be in the form of a ratio of measurable inputs divided by outputs.

Now get those six folks in a conference room for a meeting. Let someone proclaim the virtues of efficiency as a call to action. Watch the others nod their heads in agreement—six different ways.

We see this in oil and gas all the time. Is it barrels per day? Is it barrels produced per asset employed? Is it dollars per day? Is it revenue per cost by well, by field, by region?

In AG it’s the same thing. Is it bags per day or dollar value per day? Is it revenue per ton or revenue per plant per month?

If each person agrees to engage a project, product or process based on their different view of efficiency there’s a problem. The word ought to be prohibited. Without the word, people will begin to express the concept in specific terms that everyone will understand and pursue.

Go get some pie.

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