In a crisis, productivity is the best policy
Not all motion is value-adding work

So you have downsized to cope with the recession. And you now think you have a lean and mean organization, with everybody productively working. Nothing could be farther from the truth unless you really know the meaning of productivity. Who is productive? Most confuse working hard with high productivity. In fact, to untrained eyes, any semblance of movement is misconstrued as value adding work. Our idea or “working hard” is actually “moving hard”, which has an acronym AIDS (As If Doing Something). All work is motion, but not all motion is work. So now what is “work,” if that’s what productivity is all about? The name of the profession determines its true function or work. For instance, salesmen must be “selling”, machine operators must be “operating” the machine, nurses should be “nursing,” surgeons must be doing “surgery,” bank tellers should be “tellering,” and managers should be “managing”.
If they do something other than their true function, then we say they are doing unproductive work. Back to our examples, this time when our worker is not really “working.” We shall load them with the usual administrative and logistical tasks and some inefficiencies that distract them from real work, thereby pulling down their productivity. A salesman is not selling when he is in the office, writing reports, attending meetings, or simply finding a place to park. Like the salesman, the bill collector is someone you don’t want to see in the office. He should be in the field collecting bills. A machine operator is not operating if he has to walk to search fro and get his tools, to follow up material requests and to call maintenance to have his equipment fixed.

Wasted time
Like the machine operator, the aircraft mechanic must be inside the aircraft holding a tool to be considered working. The moment he leaves the aircraft to get tools, materials, or data from the computer, he abandons work. One survey revealed that mechanics spend only 47 percent of the time working on the aircraft. The rest of the time is spent or wasted getting tools and waiting for parts. A nurse is not nursing if she is not beside the patient’s bed, answering patient’s call, or assisting a doctor. She is not nursing if she is filling out forms in the nurse station, walking great distances to get to pharmacy or the laboratory, grappling with an unreliable hospital IT system, or simply waiting in front of slow elevators. A major Asian hospital found out in a survey that 40 percent of patients’ calls where requests to nurses to bring housekeeping items such as pillows and linen. To free up the nurses time and make them more productive, the hospital added these frequently requested items when preparing a room for admission.

Continuous improvement
A surgeon is not working if he is outside the operating room waiting for the patient to be prepped. A doctor is not working if he is not attending to a patient, not using his equipment or not writing a prescription or order. He is not working if he is walking to look for the nurse or medical records. A manager is not managing if he is not planning, leading, organizing and controlling (PLOC). If he is busy firefighting or attending endless meetings, he stops “managing.” Most Japanese companies have stricter definition of “managing”: A manager should be in “gemba” or shop floor. If he is in any other place like in cozy office, then he is not managing. An even stricter definition is if he is not doing kaizen or continuous improvement, but simply solving day-to-day problems or doing PLOC to maintain status quo, then he is not working as a manager. The ideal manager should spend at least 30 percent of his time doing kaizen.

It is usually not the intention of any employee to perform unproductive work. If he does, it is often due to management, bad process design, or some re-tape regulation. Somebody working hard would honestly think he is working productively 100 percent of the time for the sake of the company, even though the reality is he may be producing mostly wastes.

To appreciate this principle, let us classify activities using value stream analysis into three: Value Added (VA) which we call “work”, nonvalue added (NVA) which we call “waste” due to inefficiencies and business non-value added (BNVA), which technically refers to “necessary waste”.

BNVAs are those that need to be done to comply with standards, regulation, laws, etc. NVA occurs if a machine operator has to walk and search for missing or misplaced tools. NVAs are reduced or eliminated by better housekeeping, process redesign, and sometimes by training. But if he has to write down manually or electronically the details of the batch he just produced for the purpose of tracking and traceability requirements, he is performing a BNVA task.

Constant measurement
In both cases, note that he is not “working.” i.e., not operating his machine. BNVAs cannot be eliminated; the most we can do is reduce their cycle time through simplification. BNVAs are part of the cost of doing business, which customers do not see. Therefore to enhance work content (VA) and productivity, we must eliminate NVAs and reduce processing times of BNVAs. As a guide, consider Vas as those activities that customers are willing to pay for and become part of product costs. Communicate to all their amount of value-adding work so they can start continuous improvement programs or projects. We cannot expect productive work to be 100 percent of total time, but from whatever baseline you start with, however low, make sure to increase it continuously. Then you are assured that your company’s productivity and chances of coping with the recession will constantly rise.


manoy said... @ April 23, 2009 at 9:14 AM

thanks for the visit

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