Short Staffed? Work load growing? (Line Balance, Level Schedule, Time Management)

work loadI think everyone has been at the point of breaking. Work continues to be added , nothing seems to ever be taken away, and we are praying for that extra day in the work week. It does not have to be that way though. In fact your initial reaction may be right, but we should really quantify.

As with any problem that we start with, we need to determine the gap. I am guessing that the current state is that the work load supersedes what the area is currently capable of doing. The desired condition would be to have adequate staffing allowing the work to be completed, and on time. So our gap essentially comes down to workload, or required man hours per person. If your operation has standardized word and standard task times, now would be a good time to get those out. Hopefully, by going over a few tips (below) we can find an optimal solution.

Work Load Definition – Prior to conducting the meeting (referenced below), we need to create a log. I use Excel for majority of my work. The sheet should have the employees name, other department information, and the ability to write down the tasks the employees perform or take part in on a daily basis, for the total of a week. You can create whatever you would like, but we basically need to know each task (defined as anything that takes up time). I have a rough form you can download here:  TimeLog.

To see what tasks we are dealing with we must know what each employee fills his or her day with. Of course, we want to believe that everyone is fully utilized but without the data to support – we cannot really make assumptions with what could define the case and feasibility. Assemble the employees as a group and discuss the problem. State the facts, and remove the temptation for politically correct jargon. We want the employees to know that we are trying to make an educated decision about the work loads, as well as labor, which requires some analysis of each person’s time. Hiring more labor makes the operating costs go up, and could potentially impact our COG’s or increase the cost to the customer. Remember, lean is the relentless pursuit of waste removal, by determining the waste to be anything that the customer is not willing to pay for. Go over the form, and the expectations of the form. Remember, people need to know the WHY of the WHAT. They want to know what the form is, and why they are completing. Not to mention, that if you do not fill out the context – the standard they follow will vary thus, creating lots of variation in data.

Analyze the Data: Now that the employees have take the week to compile information, we need to analyze the data. We want to look for anything that stands out. I typically look for:

  • Tasks that are shared between users – Shared tasks could potentially be shifted to a single employee vs. many – based on available time of the resources.
  • Tasks that are duplicated – Look for items that many people are doing. Perhaps employee A. sends a report to a department, and employee B. sends very similar, or the same, data to department B.
  • Tasks that require lots of manual work i.e. spreadsheet updates, manually – I tend to consider anything that requires copying data from a paper copy to electronic. Things that require lots of formatting.
  • Tasks that require large amounts of time to complete – Similar to above, but it could be large data dumps from files which takes time while waiting on the system to generate.
  • Tasks that are wants, not needs – Emails, forms, or reports that have been asked for over time because the end user (usually another manager) wanted the data prepared but could access the data via the same system.
  • Anything else that stands out to you. If you notice that employees spend a lot of time reading email, and you yourself have to dig through your mailbox to find the “good ones” it may be time to audit emails and send out email etiquette. AKA – Quit SPAMMING me.

Now that you have analyzed the list, it is time to start moving things around if able. What can you do to move tasks that make more sense with another employee, with another department, or discontinue. Also consider the ability for automation. Spreadsheets can be linked together so that data is automatically fed from one sheet to another via datasource linking or by direct formulas pointing to cells in a sheet of Excel. Can a macro be written to complete the formatting, and sheet creation? Take a look at the tasks that take hours to run reports – what are the ee’s doing during that time? Is there a way for them to start working on something else while waiting?

You may also consider holding training seminars on systems that allow each user to get his or her own data vs. outsourcing (via your department).  How are the employees work schedules loaded – meaning do they put overtime in M-TH but leave early on Fridays? Would moving ideas around based on priority change the available time? If nothing else you could get a few dollars savings from overtime reduction. Examining the actual work schedules – do the employees come in at 8AM but reports they need are not available until 10AM on that day – and if so what are they able to do during those 2 hours? Bottom line is – question everything. You are going to move things where they fit best and discontinue what you can.

Even though you are trying to make your department run smoother with the least amount of FTE’s (labor) as possible we still must do what is right for the business. When examining the tasks the odds are that you will find reports that were handed out at one time when things were different. It may be time to re-home the process back to the originating operation. There is nothing wrong with that, and by going through this activity you will have the data to support this. During the analysis you may have “ah-ha’s” where employee A takes 30 mins for XYZ tasks while employee B takes 45 mins. It is possible that you may have a new best practice. You will want to look at both parties steps and completed task – determine the best course of action and standardize the process with OIF’s.

One thing that I do not recommend is just stopping an activity unless you are certain that it is not value added. Who did the report go to, and what activities were created from that? Make sure the customer has what they need or is educated on how to get the information going forward. There is an old thought that suggests just stopping an activity and see if anyone notices. Although, it can work, I have found more issues doing this than the reward is worth.

So, I did not give you a solution. I can’t. Each business is different, and it depends on the exact work loads as to what can be done. I have found, through research and personal experience, people will fill up the time allowed with the work load available to them. This can be confirmed by 4 tasks taking 4 hours for one person M-TH and on FR, it only takes 2 hours and the employee(s) manage to get out early. You can pick the task – but I am pretty sure that each of us could give an example of this. As always, feel free to ask questions.

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