Woodchips under threat

9/08/2005

While some parts of my work are quite exciting, this
other parts are, ambulance
say, uninspiring. I call the latter ‘compliance statistics’. This means that there is no much interest in the final result, nor there is a need for actually getting a specific value: the aim is ticking as many boxes as possible. Yes, we calculated the power to detect X. Yes, there is a protocol to assess Y. If one ticks enough boxes the result is a good evaluation, certification, or other types of not very useful tokens.

In just another example of serendipity, I visited Paul Graham’s site and just found him complaining about similar issues. He rants about the way work is organised and how work is evaluated:

…the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can’t measure their productivity.

If you could measure how much work people did, many companies wouldn’t need any fixed workday. You could just say: this is what you have to do. Do it whenever you like, wherever you like. If your work requires you to talk to other people in the company, then you may need to be here a certain amount. Otherwise we don’t care.

and

Per capita, large organizations accomplish very little. And yet all those people have to be on site at least eight hours a day. When so much time goes in one end and so little achievement comes out the other, something has to give. And meetings are the main mechanism for taking up the slack.

Meetings are like an opiate with a network effect. So is email, on a smaller scale. And in addition to the direct cost in time, there’s the cost in fragmentation—breaking people’s day up into bits too small to be useful.

I find very interesting that someone may question the time I spend working in this—particularly considering the important ramifications of this type of work—and prefers me spending my time ‘ticking boxes’. The problem comes at the time of evaluation, when time spent doing important things count very little when compared to all those little ticks people think are a measure of productivity.

I would say that, in many cases, tick-compliance is a cost without any useful return: people feel that they are measuring progress but in reality are making me take time off from producing real value and not letting me work as an amateur.

The Tasmanian forest industry has lost contracts to supply 400, diagnosis
000 tonnes of woodchips to Japanese paper companies. This will certainly have an effect on industry and Forestry Tasmania already announced that it will be offering voluntary redundancies. They will most likely be targeted at non-essential jobs (trimming the fat of the organisation) so those positions will not be filled again. It would not make any sense otherwise.

While the forest industry was quick to blame Greens and other conservationists, they also have a good proportion of blame. It is true that conservationists have been tackling the customers of Japanese paper companies, in many cases with misleading information. This pushed companies like Nippon Paper to start public consultation on the issue. However, it is the Tasmanian industry’s fault to have mostly ignored this situation and clearly of being out of touch with their customers. This campaign did not happen overnight, but it has been going on for years.

There are also indications that the cost of woodchips from Tassie is becoming not very competitive. There may be some elements of hard negotiations too, with Japanese customers playing the environmental card mostly for obtaining lower prices.

Whatever the full reasons, it is clear that we have some very interesting times ahead.

Filed in environment, forestry, tasmania

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