Understanding the Objective

First, let us get back to basics.  We know that

You are being effective, if your activities achieve the objective or desired outcome. You are efficient when you achieve that objective or desired outcome at minimal cost or effort.

So both effectiveness and efficiency require us to be clear on our objective or‘desired outcome’.  And that is where our first problem arises, for an objective never has just one desired outcome.

Consider the following example:

A particularly tricky stretch of road in the Adelaide hills was causing serious safety concerns.  The government decided to tackle it.  But what was the objective?  Reducing the number of accidents was obviously a front-runner because it had been what initiated the action, but it wasn’t the only concern.  Traffic speed was also important because a growing number of city workers had been moving to attractive locations in the hills so that anything that slowed down traffic could result in major morning and evening traffic congestion.  It tended to be the richer and more influential who could afford a hills location and decision makers were quick to realise that inconveniencing them could  provoke an undesirable reaction.

The hills were a major catchment area, which presented environmental considerations.  They were also a key tourist destination as well as a main entry point for interstate visitors from the east, which meant that aesthetics, or the general look of the solution, was of concern.  Of social consideration was the number of businesses along the route that could become nonviable if the solution required extensive deviations or lengthy road closures.  Finally, there was cost.

This is true of any objective.  It is a composite of features – things we wish to have (in this case safety, traffic speed) and things we wish to avoid (detrimental effects on the environment, on aesthetics, and on the livelihood of businesses along the route)  And all must be accomplished within an available budget.

All members of the government’s decision making group agreed that it was important to reduce accidents, but they had different priorities when it came to the other features.

If you have ever proposed what you considered to be the ‘optimal’ solution only to have it turned down by the board or council, this may well have been the cause – your bundle of features and the importance you gave to each was different from theirs.

How do we deal with this problem?


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