Guest Post: When It Comes To Information Always Take Shortcuts But Never Cut Corners

Mar 5, 2013 9:45 AM ET

Never confuse short-cuts (which maximize efficiency) with cutting corners (which is laziness that jeopardizes information integrity and increases risk).

When working with information systems, and just about everything else, there is a natural human desire to get more done with less effort. Some call this working smarter not harder. Others call it maximizing efficiency. I call it going to work every day in the real world.

Sure, some people are perfectionists who focus on every detail with laser-like intensity. There are also those workers who are more focused on sports and leisure (my polite way of saying they have a less-intense work-ethic). Still, both of these species of professionals are in the minority. Most nuclear professionals are decent, hardworking people who want to do a good job but would just as soon do things the easy way rather than the hard way. I count myself among this more mundane and less colorful breed.

Since the lever and fulcrum were found to be useful gadgets, workers have looked for ways to make every task easier. And why not? Seems silly to waste a perfectly good fulcrum. Fast-forward to today and we have software solutions that accomplish more in the blink of an eye than 10,000 librarians could have done in ancient Rome. We have applications that enter, store, and retrieve our nuclear knowledge so easily that they literally save millions.

However, these systems cannot be taken for granted. In order to keep them running safely, efficiently, and economically we must be sure that everybody knows the difference between shortcuts and cutting corners.

Short cuts are great! They get us exactly where we intended to go in less time and with less effort than we would have used going the long way. And don’t think you’re cute if you are about to tell me about the time your uncle Bob got the family station-wagon stuck in the river with one of his famous shortcuts. If the route gets you lost, stranded, or back to where you started it is either A – not a shortcut or B – the person at the wheel doesn’t know how to read a map and/or follow instructions. Neither of the events above can be defined as shortcuts. Shortcuts are examples of efficient engineering.

Cutting corners, on the other hand, is the product of a lazy person who has no regard for data integrity or the consequences of their actions. Cutting corners is the act of calling a task complete despite the fact that critical work was not performed. Cutting corners is what got that beautiful, wood-paneled station-wagon stuck in the mud. The person who wrote the instructions forgot about the river, didn’t consider the fact that it hadn’t rained in eight months, or didn’t know how to read a compass. That person could have created a shortcut, but opted to be lazy and cut corners instead.

When we work with nuclear knowledge, we have opportunities to create shortcuts for others every day. We can make it possible for those who come after us to get where they need to get more quickly and easily than we did (or at least just as fast). By documenting something in the context of a working process, and flagging items for future observation, we make shortcuts. Because someone took a few seconds to link a knowledge item to its related component, an engineer may be able to update a drawing in minutes instead of hours. Now that’s a shortcut.

Modern information management systems make it easy for professionals to create shortcuts. Simple interfaces and easy-to-use tools take the burden off of the user and keep track of changes to boot. Yes Virginia, we can make shortcuts into even shorter-cuts today! The really nice bit is that these shortcuts can be documents, calendars, studies, email exchanges, drawings, and anything else that can be represented in little ones and zeros. Finally, our use of shortcuts actually supports efforts to organize, categorize, prioritize, and assign significance to our critical information items. Shortcuts can actually make it easier to prioritize our nuclear information elements and make our information more relevant.

So if we want to maximize our efficiency we should all get into the habit of contributing, doing our fair share of the work, and helping to blaze the trails that will create shortcuts for those who will come after us. Adding knowledge items, inserting dates, attaching notes, and making corrections and observations is so quick and easy with modern software tools that a few key strokes will yield tremendous time and effort savings for those who come later. Professionals working at older facilities will be jealous of the number shortcuts available to future engineers. If these systems were available 40 years ago virtually every part of every system of every facility could have its own shortcut today. Sounds like a pretty good objective for tomorrow, so we better get started today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find the map to that secret fishing spot.  

This post originally appeared on PennEnergy. Distributed with permission of the author. 
Click here to read more from PennEnergy