Doing more with less?

diagram of work team

Everyone is saying it, and many claim to do it -- with less. “Doing more-with-less” is one of the hottest buzzwords in business today. It makes the promise that anyone would seek, particularly in the current fiscal environment and with the inevitable tumble downwards into sequester cuts and their consequences. However, it is uncertain how this oxymoron actually delivers in reality. Looking more closely at three implementation scenarios in the government healthcare space helps shed a bit more light.

Innovation: For some, more-with-less describes a process for overcoming challenges by crafting game-changing solutions from existing resources that when combined in new ways are greater than the sum of their parts (like the Apollo 13 crew repurposing equipment to build a filter for CO2). A more contemporary example of this is the predictive data analysis used by health agencies to detect improper benefit payments before they actually happen. Approaches like this are clearly needed, as abuse of healthcare services in the United States is estimated at up to $175 billion annually. Although true innovation can bring more-with-less, it is extremely rare, and should not be relied on to counteract flawed processes that should not be in place to begin with.

Less Is More: Another way to achieve more with less is with “less-is-more.” This is achieved when all excess and waste is removed. Approaches like Lean Six Sigma (LSS) improve processes, enabling organizations to deliver more value efficiently and with fewer resources. For example, medical facilities can optimize intake procedures with LSS to safely increase patient throughput and access to quality care. However, a risk is that an overzealous and indiscriminate use of this approach can impact quality, which in the case of providing care to wounded warriors can have unconscionable consequences. Mitigating this risk is important to ensuring that the application of lean management strategies is not overpowering; going lean can easily be overdone.

Human Resourcing: Seen through the Human Resources lens, more-with-less focuses on employing personnel in small teams with integrated and complementary skill sets. For example, the Military Health System employs clinical consultants -- clinical professionals with management consulting expertise. Instead of costly clinical subject matter experts, clinical consultants leverage an integrated skill set to act both as subject matter expert and consultant. Staffing solutions that leverage cross-functional expertise are starting to gain support within government. The Defense Department CIO’s 10 Point Plan for IT Modernization calls for increased use of agile development concepts such as iterative project cycles with tight deadlines and small, integrated teams.

The most constructive use of “more-with-less” is perhaps a less literal approach, and instead taking it as a guidance or philosophy for all stakeholders. This includes using what we have (especially our people) more effectively, managing well, continuously improving, and cultivating a shared mission to provide the best value and the most durable solutions. It is the only approach that can meet and resolve agency challenges in an authentic, timely and durable way.

About the Author

Dr. Ritcheson (@ASRitcheson) is a senior program manager and clinical consultant at DRC ( He has an extensive background in clinical, communications, military, and government settings and provides subject matter and consulting expertise to support government agencies in meeting and overcoming their various challenges, and leaves processes performing better.

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Reader comments

Tue, Apr 23, 2013

Do more with less is one of those annoying catchphrases that only an MBA can believe in. Management uses phrases like this because they think it makes them sound like they know what they are doing, but the subordinates have little problem seeing these inane mantras for what they are. Personally I find these MBA phrases to be somewhat insulting, as they imply that the person using them seems to think I'm dumb enough to be swayed by them. The worst one of course is when the PHBs use the term 'rightsizing' in place of downsizing. Far too often the really should use the term 'capsizing', at it more accurately describes what is going to happen to the organization.

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 Frank Honolulu

the problem with the mantra "do more with less" is the missing leg of the productivity triumvirant: sustainability. We could do more work for short periods of time with less people but you end up burning out the people, you can hold events with less money and still have a first class event by making up perks with service but can the service be sustained over a long period of time? The Apollo 13 example only reinforces my point. Sure we can build a CO2 scrubber out of spare parts and duct tape, it's cheap and it works to get the men home. BUT would it be a sustainable solution for the entire trip? What astronaut would want to launch with knowledge that their lives are being sustained with a system like that??? Only if our leaders are willing to state what the sustainability perameter is will the mantra of doing more with less have any validity for workers, only then will they really know if the mantra is even achievable.

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 GSA Emp 100

I'm not sure I agree with the author's statement that " “Doing more-with-less” is one of the hottest buzzwords in business today. " At least not in Government, I came to GSA in the mid-eighties when it was undergoing a drastic consolidation and reduction effort. Again, in the nineties when President Clinton's Government reduction efforts reduced GSA's workforce by over 30 percent. I've been through 4-5 instances of buyouts or early retirement offers. All of these mandated innovations to 'do more with less". The constant review, reduction and process improvement of a workforce should be an ongoing process for any agency or business. The only time I see the phrase "doing more with less" referred to as a current concept is in the media.

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