Just how far into the future can we look before we’ve gone from the ridiculous to the sublime? For an answer I’d like to pose another question: How long does it take for something to go from concept to reality in your operation?
What prompted my thought in this regard was a visit that our company’s staff paid to Santa Barbara County’s Tajiquas Landfill this past week, where—along with a tour of the facility—we were briefed on the status of the major overhaul of the facility and Santa Barbara’s waste management program plan,
details of which we will provide once the final pieces are in place. My point, however, is that it has been more than a decade from when initial discussions began until today and there are still some hurdles of overcome. With a tip of the hat to Yogi Berra’s pronouncement on when something is truly finished, “the fat lady has yet to sing.”
With this as backdrop, you might suspect there’s no straight answer to how far you should be looking ahead. Rather it really depends on what you sense the future holds for your community, what changes you feel will have to be made, how great a departure a change represents from the way things are done at present, and what the cost is relative to the benefit.
If you’re talking about replacing existing carts with similar equipment and the issue for all intents and purposes is cost, then the factors affecting lead time come down to: (1) doing the analysis, (2) selling the decision makers, (3) getting the funding, and (4) implementing the change. Though by no means a trivial effort, this kind of project can be accomplished in a reasonably short period of time. But what if, in conjunction with replacing existing carts, your object is to initiate an automated collection system? What kind of lead time are you looking at then?
Starting from scratch, could you complete the transformation by 2020? Maybe you could propose its completion by then, but I wouldn’t bet the farm or your daytime job on doing much more. Why? The more variables you throw into the game and the more aspects of community life you touch, the longer things take.
You may think, for instance, that since a lot of other communities similar to yours have already adopted automated collection, you should be able to cookie-cutter their experience into yours. Think again. For every situation in which such plagiarism works there are a dozen in which local differences make it impossible.
Then there are the myriad details to be tied down, many of which involve compromise and trade-offs. But even when you think you’ve put all of the mechanical and operational issues into an irresistible package, you’ve got to sell the program…not once, but invariably time and again. And each time, these will involve revisions that range from “cosmetics” to major surgery. With each iteration, undoubtedly you will be reacting to new information and perhaps even different goals until what you end up with may bear little resemblance to what you started with.
So while 2025 or 2030 may appear to be a long way out there—admittedly too far for most of the activities that fill your day—once you accept that where substantive change is involved you’ve embarked not on a project but rather a process, making such lead times closer to the effective horizon than you might think.
I’d like to hear from anyone who has found a fast-track solution to getting a major change accomplished from start to finish anywhere near the expected time.