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  • Writer's pictureColin McArdle

Four common challenges businesses experience with people-driven processes and how to overcome them

In this article we discuss we four issues that businesses commonly experience around their people-driven processes and discuss ways they can be dealt with.

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Challenge 1 - Dealing with client demand

Challenge 2 - Team members raising concerns about workloads

Challenge 3 - Increasing fixed costs is a concern

Challenge 4 -You can see the opportunity to take on new clients and grow the business but can you really give existing staff more work, or do you need to hire more resource?

Challenge 1 - Dealing with client demand

Businesses tend to struggle to predict demand, describing it as patchy, with hugely busy periods followed by quieter periods. To further complicate matters, staff book holidays and could be off sick, all leading to issues such as work load, staff burnout, labour utilisation, skills availability and productivity.

We are typically asked, “How do you stabilise demand across the team, whilst still delivering great client service and being productive?”

Firstly, we have listed questions below to allow you to better understand the context of the variation in demand you are facing. They will help the selection of one or more of the proposed solutions we list further.

  • What type of work is being performed?

  • Does it require high or low skills to perform the work?

  • Are decisions made discretionary knowledge based, or simple rules based?

  • What type of training is required for employees - short and basic or long and complex?

  • What level of supervision is required?

  • Is it low due to high skills being needed to process the work, or is it high due to low skills being needed to produce the work?

The key point here relates to understanding the work and segmenting it to a granular level. This will give you more options to find solutions and respond to demand changes.

For work types with high demand variation, what skill is the main constraint? For example, across conveyancing processes, the task 'approve contract' requires high skill. The other tasks are mainly rules-based and can be performed by low-skill staff. Therefore, finding and training staff to perform the basic tasks is usually easy, but finding staff to perform high-skill tasks is usually more complex and time consuming.

Whilst we always analyse the issues by asking the above questions to develop bespoke solutions, rather than jumping to solutions, in this blog we will break that rule and simply set out some common strategies to assist your business.

Here are some of the common improvement actions to consider when responding to changes in demand.

Increase customer participation and self-service

Introducing self-service can be time consuming and costly, but consider the benefits. What proportion of the demand can be reduced by customers completing tasks themselves instead of contacting the company?

Consider an online knowledge base with a collection of:

  • FAQs

  • Articles

  • Videos

  • Diagrams

  • How-to guides

  • Password reset capabilities

  • Online ordering and payment

  • The ability to log a service request

  • Community forums for customers to share information and provide helpful tips

  • Bots to help customers fix problems or respond to status and software updates

Maximise efficiency and cross-train

The most overlooked solution probably relates to efficiency and cross-training, but it has the biggest long-term benefits.

For efficiency, analyse the process to establish the skills required to perform the work, and where every second of paid time is being used. Where there is paid time being used on non-value adding tasks, there will be opportunities to digitise and automate rules-based tasks.

For cross-training, consider tasks needed to maintain the response times. Identify other functions where capacity is not constrained, cross-train those people and bring them into the service when needed. This solution gives staff from other functions the chance to see, feel and understand what front line workers have to deal with every day. With more eyes on the process, more innovation takes place and overall organisation capability improves.

Don't be surprised to find your processes contain 90% non-value adding activity. If you could find only 10% to 20% capacity quickly, what difference would it make to managing demand and what financial benefits would be achieved?


Review your pricing in regards to demand during peak periods and non-peak periods. It’s the same principle as the cheaper ‘off-peak’ train tickets to stabilise passenger numbers. If this strategy wasn't used every peak train would be rammed and the network unable to cope.

Developing non-peak demand

Many companies wrestle with ideas to increase volume during periods of low demand, especially where there is a high-fixed, low-variable cost structure. Can you find ways to retain staff for busy periods by increasing demand at quieter times? Think of the impact of the incremental revenue on profitability. Can you provide another service to your customers or internal departments?

For example, think of all the offers we receive from hotels in order to encourage visits during the week or outside of the school holiday periods.

Can you use the quiet demand time to work on improvement projects or take the opportunity to train, coach and develop people?

Creating reservation systems

Using a reservation system can control demand, as customers can be encouraged to access the service at different times. Think of the pre-booked time slots you get when requesting technical help from your broadband provider, or delivery companies stating a delivery time slot for your goods to arrive.

Use temporary and part-time employees

For demand requiring low skills, hire temporary or casual workers to address peaks in demand. This is a common tactic for some companies during peak times such as Christmas and bank holidays.

Challenge 2 - Team members raising concerns about workloads

If your business is confident that workload concerns from employees are genuine, below are some strategies you could consider implementing.

Work allocation

Firstly, you need to identify where work is coming from. Is demand being created by a manager, or is it client driven? Does the manager have full visibility of what a typical day looks like, how long tasks take, and what skills are required to process the demand? It's important to get to the data, context and information using a Lean tool termed a DILO - a day in the life of - analysis.

The DILO is a simple method to record what every minute of paid time is used for. It highlights how people organise their day, and can be analysed to produce standard operating times for tasks. The analysis also assists in the future capacity management and allocation of work.

Skills and capability

Employees who are less skilled in their role may struggle to deal with volume and complexity. Consider the skills mix for a team - is this recorded anywhere? Are managers confident that work is being handled at the correct skill and capability level?

Producing a team skills matrix is an essential tool for work allocation. It helps inform what skills are required, where and when they are needed, and crucially, where training needs to take place to grow organisational capability.

If you have resource and recruitment issues, take a look at the skills of the people you employ first, then identify what skills you need and consider up-skilling to fill those gaps. Companies using this approach are successfully developing their good people, and at the same time reducing recruitment challenges and operating costs.

With an up-to-date skills matrix, managers have the ability to objectively identify genuine performance issues. For example, if it can be demonstrated that a person is trained and capable, but they are taking short cuts or resisting work, it’s time to start a capability management process!

Training and coaching

If this is a simple skills issue, train and fix it! But don’t fall into the trap of thinking one session of training will solve the problem. Training needs to be reinforced through on the job coaching, with timely observation and recording of how people actually work.

Correctly applied 1:1 coaching methods get under the skin of how people are really feeling, what obstacles are getting in their way, and what they can do to overcome them. However, not all managers feel comfortable in running coaching sessions, so companies need to make sure they are fully trained and capable, and critically they have time to do it.

When was the last time your manager sat down with you and coached you to improve your skills and performance levels?

If your company ran a 1:1 coaching improvement initiative, would it help increase staff retention and attract new talent? Would staff feel better supported and listened to?