What do all your workflows and business processes have in common? Break it down. They include roles and actors (your staff, suppliers and customers), activities, measures, inputs, outputs, deliverables and rely upon systems, tools, and information. In the process of mapping and analyzing your workflow, you discover variables like time, cost and quality. Have you ever wondered if the roles throughout your workflow could or should be played by others? What if they were?
Your ability to quantify who is doing what might just reveal some interesting and compelling facts. Is it possible that, in this era of knowledge work, your greatest asset (knowledge workers) are performing tasks that impede their capacity to apply their knowledge?
Inquiring Minds Want To Know
You can either map and analyze what your knowledge workers do all day in order to answer this question or you can ask them. Asking them is a shorter route to an approximate (and reliable) answer.
What percentage of your time do you devote to the following:
- Developing and monitoring strategy
- Research and Development
- Networking with key liaisons
- Collaborating with others
- Critical thinking
- Creating documents
- Reviewing email
- Analyzing data
- Logistics (scheduling, planning trips, configuring desktops)
- Interviewing recruits
- Market analysis
- Customer face-time
- Attending meetings
- Managing or supervising staff
- Walking around
- Mentoring others
- Being mentored
Having gathered % estimates of their time in a given week or month, go back to your workflow and see if and how those numbers align. If, for example, a manager tells you she spends 25% of her time managing employees and answering their questions and your workflows are full of decision-points, you’re on to something. Eliminate the decision points (or reduce them) and you free up her valuable time as a knowledge worker. If your knowledge worker invests (think in terms of investment since time is money in your organization) 20% of her time in project management and you think that function could be better used elsewhere, you may have stumbled upon a cue that it’s time for your organization to consider outsourcing.
Your people, your work, and your workflow can tell you a lot about what is going on and what adds value. If project management (taken from the example above) is important yet under-estimates the value a particular member of your team can bring to the bottom line, you should consider an outsource. What you pay for a particular function is an important consideration in deciding both how to modify your workflow and what can be off-loaded to someone outside your organization.
There is a great article in this month’s Fast Company magazine (written by Arianne Cohen) that provides an example of how this works at Phizer. I highly recommend it. Our ability to off-load what can be done by others will liberate our knowledge workers to do more of what’s most important. Right now, our economy is in dire need of applying ourselves in mission-critical activities and letting go of support activities that someone else can provide at a fraction of the cost. Having more suppliers is ok. Just make sure you manage that process well too!