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Using Compartments to Stay Afloat

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The ship builders construct the hull into compartments.  Analogous to separate rooms within a house, the hull is composed of adjacent smaller sections.  This way, damage to a piece of the hull would flood only one or more compartments, maintaining the ship’s overall buoyancy. 

Compartmentalization permits risk management.  Viewing your organization down into its pieces can bring tremendous advantage. Structuring workflow or systems such that if disaster happens, only pieces are lost instead of the whole may sound tedious, but after one disaster the value will be evident. 

In one pharmacy I am part of, we cannot finalize a weekly financial report to head office until the full week closes on Sunday. Once Sunday comes around, it is a rush to email the final spreadsheet out since it is required by the Finance department on Monday to complete their portion.  Putting the report together means that some pieces of the report are available on Fridays and others on Thursdays.  Therefore, we break the task down into compartments. 

On Thursday, one person clears the spreadsheet from the previous week and enters the Thursday’s data.  The Friday person then enters the Friday data on Friday and goes as far down the spreadsheet until they no longer have the data they need.  Then on Sunday, when the fiscal week closes, the Sunday person finishes the math, updates the report and submits.  It manages the risk of being very busy with prescriptions on Sunday and not completing the task on time, further heightening the stress-level on Monday, which is historically the busiest day in the pharmacy industry. We exploit this same mentality to a number of other different systems in order to get the work done more predictably.

Covid has taught us first hand, that essential items do not follow “all or none” answers.  The answer to survival was not ‘close all businesses’.  It was close some, modify others and keep others partially open with safety measures like social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing touchpoints, protective barriers and facial coverings.  The way we serviced our communities changed, but we maintained the circle of care by breaking down the overall philosophy into its smaller parts, evaluating the risks and benefits of those smaller pieces individually.

Breaking tasks down into compartments takes cooperation, teamwork and an understanding of the overall mission.  It means putting ego aside, since the credit for doing something well is diversified along with the risk. It takes discipline in doing the repetitive small actions routinely without fail so that the sum of those duties set up the downstream win.

Think ahead; what can you do today to stay afloat tomorrow?
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