The Problem with Friction… (Operationally Speaking)

As I work with my son to build his Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car, I am reminded that the difference between winning and losing these races is based on how much the builder can minimize friction – i.e. between the track and the wheels and between the wheels and the axles. These are usually simple things that can make a big difference starting with basic alignment of the wheels and a little graphite on the axles.
Which brings me to the subject of this post: “Operational Friction
Much like physical friction, operational friction is “resistance or conflict” which consumes additional effort and energy and produces less-than-optimal results. Fortunately, operational friction can often be reduced or eliminated with changes in processes, procedures, technology, training, attitude or staffing.

Examples of operational friction in action:

A new project is delayed while the delivery group scrambles to respond internally and externally to find out what was promised by whom and what they should do about it.

A frustrated customer calls to find out the status of an order that should have already been delivered, and the customer service staff has to literally chase all over the place trying to find out what’s going on.

Staff are overloaded with calls – and customers are frustrated with the delays – when a new product is released and there are problems – from actual flaws to a lack of understanding of how to use or support it.

Operational friction is present at some level in every business. It can be very costly, with the negative impact becoming more significant as your business grows. As you might expect, Identifying and reducing or eliminating operational friction can significantly improve results through increased productivity, higher customer satisfaction, better employee morale and more time to focus on strategy versus tactics.
Here are a few ideas for reducing the operational friction described above (making assumptions about the type of business):

Establish structured involvement of delivery team leaders/project managers in the proposal development process.

Develop systems and procedures that notify the customer of internal delays before the customer calls.

Get support involved in product development and testing so that they can provide training and documentation that is useful to them.

Are you experiencing operational friction in your business? The place to start looking for opportunities to reduce or eliminate operational friction is anywhere that a transaction, transition or exchange of information takes place – i.e. Customer/Sales – Order/Fulfillment – Production/Accounting – Anyone/Technology – Management/Information – etc.
It’s amazing what a minor change in alignment and little graphite can do…


  1. Susan Janssen says:

    Dear Fred,
    This is very good advice and generally applicable–even to the teaching profession!
    I’m looking forward to your next post.

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