How a process spins out of control

September 14, 2014 at 11:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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As the manager of an IT Operations department I asked a team member named Jody to verify that all of the purchase requests submitted by our group are properly filled out.  If they were wrong he was to return them to the originator to correct.  The correct requests were passed to me for signature.  I would approve the request and pass them on to purchasing for action. This was about 20 requests per week and should require no more than 20 minutes per week.  This was all that I asked for him to do.

This process worked well until a coworker asked the status of a request that he had provided to Jody.  Jody was everyone’s friend so he began keeping a spreadsheet with the date of when a request left his desk.  He also made inquiries into the purchasing system to note when Purchasing issued an order for the material.  This made Jody the “go to” person in the department for anyone with an open materials order.  He liked that.

One day Purchasing said they never received a document.  It was not hiding on my desk so Jody began filing copies of every request in case we needed them.

Near the end of the fiscal year, my boss asked Jody for a (one-time) report on what was spent, by category (hardware, software, professional services, supplies, etc.) over the last 3 months.  Jody researched this and provided it.  The boss was appreciative so Jody then continued to provide this report every month.

Eventually Jody became tired of correcting everyone’s purchase requests so began to accept requests by e-mail and then filled out the forms himself.

One day Jody requested overtime hours to keep up with the purchasing workload.  He also needed another filing cabinet to maintain his stack of purchase requests, completed purchase orders and other records he collected.

And all I assigned him was a 20 minute per week task.

Eventually, Jody moved to another job.  He explained the process to Jane and left her his file cabinets.  All she will know is that this is how things were done in the past and will reluctant to change anything.

Later I was looking into how to rebalance the department workload and asked each person what they did and how long it took. The trouble was that everyone was busy and no one saw anything they could do without.

Yet, if you asked them why they did something, they said, because the last person did it. If asked what would happen if they stopped doing something, no one would take that responsibility. As a manager, I did not have the time to research every process to winnow out the low value actions so could not easily stop an ongoing process.

Multiple this by several processes per person, and by the number of people in a department and there is a lot of work being done for the company but how much of its output is useful? The people are not at fault.  The managers let it get this way.

As a manager, take the time to review the processes in your department and you will find many things that are not needed.  The challenge is that 4 hours per week freed from this person and six hours from that person makes it hard to free and entire person.  However, with some effort and training, these time fragments can be used to address the additional assignments that your boss drops on your desk.

  • Larry
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