As a consultant for companies going through periods of transition or high growth I have found that maximizing return on employee’s efforts – while minimizing waste is one of the fundamental challenges facing the organization. Can you promote work-life balance in such an organization? Is a 40-hour work week feasible? How do you manage the unmanageable workload? Companies going through these sorts of evolutionary changes are atypically unbalanced, frequently with more work than resources.
The Lean Management Approach
The three M’s, also referred to as the Lean Triad are three Japanese terms that are studied in the Lean Six Sigma approach. These three types of waste include: Muda, Mura and Muri.
- Muda (Waste) are activities that are unproductive, wasteful and do not add value to the department or organization. Frequently you find that employees are working on tasks that are unneeded or impractical. This ‘busy work’ tends to grow organically over time. Organizational processes tend to also expand as the business environment changes, without the necessary follow-up to isolate which processes are no longer needed and could be consolidated or simplified. As a consultant, prior to beginning any task I ask myself is this billable work? There are certain administrative tasks that must be completed and are a cost of doing business. However, I always pause to review as any work that is not billable as it is always Muda.
- Mura (Variation) is any variation that can lead to an unbalanced situation. In a fast-growing organization, it can seem next to impossible to mitigate employees having an unbalanced workload entirely. A company faces a sales lifecycle that might tie in to greater industry cycles – contracts may frequently group together when many purchases are typically executed, e.g. near the end of the month, or at the beginning of the calendar year, potentially the end of the fiscal year, et al. It does not stop there, the imbalance all flows downstream. After the Sales division has completed the sales cycle the project lifecycle can begin. If the contracts all sign in a grouping, this puts a heavy strain on the Operations team. They are at risk of having all the work to complete at the end of the month, then nothing to do at the beginning of the next month.
- Muri (Overburden) is the act of putting unreasonable stress or demands on equipment, employees and the supply chain (materials). Mura frequently leads to both Muri and Muda. By having all the scheduled work to complete at the end of the month an organization will be over-utilizing employees at the end of the month (Muri), then not enough work to keep them productive in the beginning of the month, which will lead to the employee completing work to stay busy, regardless of the value to the organization (Muda). Quality goes down from being overworked. Countless studies back this thought process up.
How to win
Every organization is unique, facing a diverse set of challenges. And there are pressures from multiple fronts both internally and externally, in example: regulations, new technology, cultural shifts in the organization from generational shifts (Baby Boomer/ Millennials) and a frequently dynamic workforce. There is no one prescriptive approach. Thinking non-linearly is key. If an organization needs to balance an unbalanced workload there are multiple ways to do it and each organization will make the best strategic decision that fits within the culture. I have found that there needs to be give and take. It is not sustainable for employees to work well more than 100% utilization for sustained periods. Figure out ways to create a balance. Comp days, providing employees with vacation benefits for those slow periods can help smooth out the rough edges of a particularly busy month or quarter. Let me know your thoughts in the comments for how you have solved these issues in your organization.