Most organizations wish their employees could achieve a higher level of utilization. There are horror stories about teams that spend so much time in meetings that each person only gets 1-2 hours of “real work” done each day. On the other end of the spectrum, the best-run consulting agencies and law firms achieve utilization rates of 90% or more. A realistic balance between core work responsibilities and collaboration overhead often results in an effective utilization rate of 60-80%.
If your utilization rate is lower than you’d like, how can you raise it? One very effective way is to eliminate overhead for your employees. In this context, overhead includes non-productive meetings, time spent waiting for other people to finish a prerequisite, and process overhead. Eliminating non-productive meetings can be politically difficult, but it is worth doing if your organization has a lot.
Eliminate Process Overhead
Eliminating process overhead is simpler politically, but usually requires a lot of thought as well as effort to help your people adjust to the changes. Process overhead can take the form of data requirements that are hard to fill, documentation that is only needed for handoffs, approvals that require manual follow-up, and similar activities. You can often reduce this overhead by automating your processes using a Lean Business Process Management (BPM) system like HighGear. For example, if employees have to remind their manager multiple times to get approval for a work item, you could implement an approval process that assigns an approval request to the manager and reminds them automatically each day until they approve it. This reduces the overhead on each employee, and also makes the manager’s job easier because all their approval requests will be in one easy-to-find place.
Wait time can be the easiest thing to fix or the hardest, depending on your environment. Sometimes people have to wait because the person they are waiting for forgot to work on their task. Or the other person didn’t realize it was a high priority. Or they are overloaded themselves. Enterprise task management software like HighGear can help workers understand their task priorities better and keep track of them so they don’t forget. The system can also help managers see when employees are overloaded and help them re-balance their work. These types of assistance can be a big help in eliminating wait times and streamlining everyone’s work processes.
The Hidden Costs of Multi-tasking
One common method to increase utilization is often counterproductive. Multi-tasking appears to be a great way to fill each employee’s work schedule to the max. If they get stuck on one task, they can just switch to another for a few hours. But there is a hidden cost. When people have many tasks in progress and switch frequently between them, they usually lose five to fifteen minutes of productivity every time they switch. So someone who appears to be 95% utilized may actually be getting less work done than someone who is 70% utilized, but is focused on one task at a time.
Task-based Lean BPM solutions like HighGear can help solve many of these problems. They can automate approval processes, reduce time spent waiting and help workers reduce multitasking while still working effectively. Process automation is not a silver bullet, but it is a useful tool to help improve productivity, focus, and utilization.