Do you know what your staff really do during paid hours? Do you know how much capacity your back office truly has?
All organisations want to be as efficient as they can be, and to do more for customers with less resource and lower costs.
But if you don’t know what your staff are doing day-to-day, and whether there are ways they could be freed up to do more, then this will be a challenge.
Failure to deliver a fast, high quality service to your customers can usually be traced back to a process problem, as opposed to a people problem.
So how do you go about ensuring that your processes are designed in a way that improves efficiencies and maximises your internal capacity?
Observe processes in action
The only way to truly understand what staff are doing day-to-day is to observe them in action. In Lean Management, we call this going to “Gemba”’, a Japanese term for where the work is performed.
We can’t solely rely on spreadsheets or what a manager thinks happens to understand the work our staff undertake on a daily basis. Go take a look, armed with a camera to take photos and videos. What can you see that takes longer than it should? Are there obvious tweaks you can make to make it easier for staff to perform their jobs more efficiently? Are there opportunities to stop wasteful tasks? Are there tasks that could be replaced by automation?
While you’re at it, be sure to speak to staff too - as the ones performing the tasks, day-in-day-out, you can bet they’ll have lots of ideas for process improvements that would free them up to do more in the same amount of time.
Organise the workspace
Take a look around the workspace. Are people searching in systems for information or documents? Are they hunting for items they need on a regular basis? Do they have to move to another room or department unnecessarily to complete a simply task? All this is wasted time that could be spent on activities that add value to your customers.
Simply organising the workspace in a way that reduces the time people spend looking for things needed to do their job and minimises downtime, can eliminate this wasted time.
This is the concept of 5s workplace organisation, a systematic approach to creating a well-organised environment designed for optimum productivity. The first step is to ‘Sort’ - remove items from the workspace, computer or systems that aren’t needed. The second step is to ‘Set in Order’; labelling remaining items and placing them in locations easily accessible. This is followed by ‘Shine’ (clean equipment and computer desktops regularly), ‘Standardise’ (implement standard processes) and ‘Sustain’ (maintain standards and continue to improve).
Standardise your processes
Are your staff aware of the most efficient ways of doing things? Or does a lack of guidance means things are taking longer than they should?
Having clear documentation and guidance on the methods and processing times for a given job is essential for ensuring you can ensure high productivity levels and meet customer demand.
In Lean, we call this ‘Standardised work’. And it’s simple. Provide documentation or other forms of media e.g. video, images, graphics on best practice and ensure everyone in the team follows it. If tasks are being carried out in the most efficient way possible, you’ll create more capacity so you can deliver more for customers.
Monitor progress daily
No matter how organised your back office is, problems occur daily. You need a systematic way of identifying problems, and solving them before any impact is felt by the customer.
A simple solution is to introduce daily meetings. Meetings where all workers get together with managers at the start of the day to share what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and whether they have any obstacles that prevent them doing their job. By raising issues in a structured forum daily, they can be eliminated before they become a problem and communication within and across teams improves.
Examples of these types of approaches are Short Interval Management (SIM) and the Scrum methodology.
Increasing the capacity of your back office operations doesn’t have to mean hiring more staff. There are simple ways you can maximise the capacity of your existing staff, that involve analysing your current state of processes, and identifying opportunities to become more efficient.