Are your employees busy and feeling stressed, struggling to keep up with their workload? Are they telling you that they need to work overtime or you need to hire more people to get through all the work?
Sound familiar? It's common in businesses of all sizes for employees to be feeling the pressure of high workloads and slow client service experiences.
The good news is that analysis of these busy employees shows many employees spend only about 50% of their time doing productive work (i.e. your employee utilisation is 50%), with the remainder of their time being spent managing their workload, which includes
• Constantly reprioritising and working out which task to do next
• Figuring out the status of a task that they started a while ago but did not get to finish
• Passing tasks between different employees who each complete a small part of the process
• Chopping and changing between incomplete tasks
• Worrying about the process steps they might have missed on incomplete tasks
• Creating emails, setting diary reminders and other reminder methods to make sure they don’t forget key process steps on incomplete tasks
• Telling others how much work they have
• Doing more work than is required on a task.
Some employees will show you that they have three or more pages of “things to do” however these long lists will often not reflect the task status and there is not normally an estimate of effort required to complete each task. As a result, you won't know the number of hours of work in the queue.
By not knowing the number of hours of work in the queue, you won't know if three pages of tasks is a lot of work or not really that much and you won't know how many days it should take to complete the work.
You’ll find that task prioritisation is completed on an ad hoc basis with priorities often changing every few hours. Tasks will be started and then put down in preference for another more urgent task.
It’s been estimated that every time an employee puts down an incomplete task to do something else, when they pick it up again it will take up to 20 minutes to work out what the status of the task is.
The diminishing return of improvements
Process improvements generally do not tend to realise their potential. The reason for this is that process improvements generally only apply to the half of the day that employees are performing value added work.
If we assume an employee utilisation of 50% and you implement a process improvement that saves 10% of the process time (10% of 50%), it will only equate to a 5% improvement in efficiency. However, a 5% reduction in time employees are not working on the process will increase productivity by 10% (50% of the day on value added tasks becomes 55% of the day a 10% improvement).
Traditionally business improvement initiatives focus on documenting business processes, involving employees to review the processes and then improving the process. Instead of focusing on improving efficiency of the value added tasks it is often significantly more beneficial to focus on reducing the non value added part of your employee’s day.
Improving your work management will improve client service experience
Your employee’s perception of the amount of work in progress (or in the queue) is not normally that accurate and is the result of not having a work management system in place.
The implementation of a work-in-progress tracking and reporting system will allow you and your team to create a weekly work plan that focuses your employees on the things that you most need worked on, and will allow you to prioritise 35 hours of actual work.
A simple to develop and implement work management system will see you improve your effective employee utilisation from 50% to 75-85% and sometimes even more. As a result, you’ll see your employees increasing their productivity by 25-30% and you will halve the time taken to service your clients’ needs.
When you prioritise the same volume of work for each employee you’ll quickly find out that some employees are doing more than is required on some tasks and if you reduce the variation in work completed, you’ll save a significant amount of time.
The “keep it simple” challenge
The key challenge that most people find is to keep the work planning and reporting system simple. Some tips from experience include:
• Try to have only a few task categories (7-10 at most), as this will make it a lot easier to work out which category a task fits into
• Where possible, align your software’s task names with your task categories so that you can run a report that will tell you how many of each task category you have in the queue
• When calculating the amount of hours of work in the queue, use the average time for each task type and multiply by the number of tasks in the queue
• Use your best guess to determine the average time for each task and refine it over time rather than trying to get the average correct upfront
• Ask your employees to help develop the system.
Expect your staff to have some initial resistance to the change and help guide them through the process so that they feel comfortable with the new system.
Quite often businesses struggle to meet client service experience expectations due to a perception of overall busyness, where the busyness is the result of large amounts of employee time being lost using ineffective work planning systems. As a result, the largest improvement a business can make is to streamline the work planning and reporting processes to eliminate time wasted completing non value-adding tasks such as ongoing replanning and chopping and changing between tasks.
By adopting a work planning system, many businesses can improve their productivity by 25-30% and gain significant improvements in the client experience.