Recently, our eldest son, who is just 7, was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Typically, teenagers get this infection, which is commonly known as “the kissing disease.” Just how he got it, we don’t know, but he’s going to be fine so – thanks, but no need to worry.
The infection caused his spleen to be enlarged, which means that his skiing lessons, swim classes, gym class at school and recess time are all put on hold for the next 6 weeks. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a 1st grader. While his teachers and school administrators are all working hard to accommodate him, they are having a bit of a difficult time of it, as there aren’t any extra staff members around every day to make sure he has someone to work with.
That mindset, however, got me to thinking about a classic problem faced in many organizations, large and small. It points to a problem in the way we view staff capacity. Namely, the instinctive reaction whenever current resources are strained to simply go out and get more resources, or to complain that we can’t meet the need because we’re not allowed to go out and get more resources.
But……when does anyone start to examine how we do things, to look for inefficiency? If we eliminated that inefficiency, how many hours of unnecessary processing, running around to find things or people, sitting in pointless meetings, etc. etc. could be done away with?
Inefficiency takes on many subtle forms. Lean has 7 traditional wastes, and some would argue there are 8 or 9 other wastes to add, but the key to all of them is that they don’t necessarily jump out and bite you. You have to be looking for them in order to uncover the really entrenched ones.
If you’re not looking for those wastes, when resources appear to be stretched to the limit, your reaction will never be, “We need to identify some unnecessary effort in order to make more efficient use of our existing resources.” Instead, it’s always, “We simply need to get more capacity.” This, of course, leads to more overtime, more people (who will get laid off when the peak is over) and, in general, the very mura and muri that are at the heart of performance problems everywhere.
We know that all environments will, eventually, encounter resource limitations. Managing for the unforseen, however, requires more than just building extra resources into the plan – it requires knowing how to slim things down when required, too.