Lean Office Waste #3: Handoffs (Part 2)

by Darian 19. May 2010 07:21

Type: Workflow Waste

In the last episode, our heroes were struggling with the office waste of handoffs – the relinquishment of responsibility over tasks, information, data, documents, forms, material goods, etc.  from one party and the delegation of that responsibility to another party.

Once we recognize that handoffs are ultimately waste, it’s time to start doing something about it.  The first thing to do is to find where it is occurring.  Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do using a swimlane diagram.  Even a rough flow of your process organized by departments (swimlanes) would highlight this waste wherever the process flow crosses the swimlanes.

Simply look for any place where the responsibility of the process and documents, data and other information within it change hands between individuals, teams, departments and even companies 

Once you have this, some simple metrics will show you which handoffs are the most important targets.  These could include:

  • How long each item takes to be handed off
  • The queue size when handed off
  • How much rework takes place and
  • How much time it takes between completion of work on the document from Alice’s side and resumption of work on Bob’s side.

Once identified, use the following tactics to combat this waste:

  • Get rid of the handoff: Get Rid of the handoff: It sounds so oversimplified but more often than not, we find that the handoff may be a result of “the way we’ve always done it” and not a necessity. Other times we can look at a group of back-and-fort handoffs and rearrange the process to optimize these. Whatever the reason, make sure the handoff is even necessary in the first place at that time in that process
  • Optimize your batch size: This doesn’t necessarily mean handing off each item as it comes along but perhaps handing off once a week or waiting until there are a certain count is too little.  Find the best fit, which usually means some discussion and experimentation.
  • Build integrity in: Find a way to “trust” what comes without auditing the contents for quality.  This may mean continuing the audit for a short while and keeping track of how many are defective and which pieces cause the most angst. The majority of defects will usually be due to a handful of causes.  Fix each one in-turn and fade out the audits after a while
  • Push authority down to the lowest RESPONSIBLE level:  Instead of 5 levels of approvals, trusting the line manager to do his/her job and execute the approval would lead to immense efficiencies
  • Form cellular groups: Ok, this is a bit advanced and I don’t expect you all to jump on this, but it is one of the most powerful things you can ever do within the office.  Cellular groups are comprised of all the individuals who are needed to send an item through a process sitting together as a team in the same room.  Handoffs and discussions occur between people sitting next to each-other instead of in the next building. The best part is that you don’t need to reorganize or change your reporting structure to execute this tactic.

Out of the 30+ different kinds of wastes we have identified, this one is one of the worst offenders. It is a breeding ground for other wastes, causing inefficiencies, loss of productivity and worst of all, wasted time for your customers – internal and external.  Find it and snuff it out. 


Tags: , , ,
Categories: Continuous Improvement | Lean Office | Office Waste | Workflow Waste

Lean Office Waste #3: Handoffs (Part 1)

by Darian 18. May 2010 08:26

Type: Workflow Waste

Birds do it. Bees do it. You do it almost everyday, especially in the office! I’m referring, of course, to handoffs – the act of turning over tasks, information, data, documents, forms, material goods, etc. to a colleague, group, department, etc. Unfortunately, for something that is such an embedded part of our process, the simple fact is that handoffs are a source of immense waste.

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” you say, “We need to hand our work-product off to the next downstream consumer!” True, but consider the definition of a handoff to see how they are a source of waste. Handoffs are the relinquishment of responsibility over an item or task from one party and the delegation of that responsibility to another party. Handoffs occur on different levels, including handing off within your own team, to another team, another department or another company (i.e., supplier, vendor, partner, customer, etc.). Unfortunately, with each handoff, we get other forms of waste creeping in, including, audits, batching & queuing, and worst of all, waiting. The more removed the party being handed off to is (both organizationally and physically), the worse the associated wastes become.

To illustrate this point, consider Alice and Bob who sit in neighboring cubes (yes, I know you know I hate cubes but that’s a whole different discussion). If Alice needed to hand Bob a document, she would merely do just that: hand it to him. He, in-turn, may have a brief discussion about it with her. If something requires Alice’s attention when Bob is working on it, Bob would just pop his head over his cube and ask Alice to look at it.

Now consider the situation if Bob worked for another organization. Because of the separation, she will most likely email the document to him, where it will sit until he can get to it. (Don’t discount how much the cliché “out of sight, out of mind” is a real contributor to waste.) He will then have to go through the document to make sure everything is in order (a wasteful audit) before he will assume responsibility. This may involve one or several meetings (when schedules align) and back-and-forths until Bob is satisfied. If Bob has to hand off to Charlie, who is a customer, this process will repeat, and so will the waiting and reviews.

Lets compound this by saying that Alice deals with numerous documents every week that need to be processed and handed off to Bob. Is it more likely she will hand them off when each is completed or when several are gathered? The answer depends on how closely they work together and know each-other. The larger the organizational and/or physical gap, the more Alice tends to batch-process. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that batching leads to a lot of wasted time within a process for that document to just ‘sit’ waiting to be acted upon. Worse, Bob now inherits a stack of items to audit before he will accept them – more time to process before the real work can continue.

The person who really feels this is the end customer. While Alice and Bob are worried about their parts within the whole, the customer experiences the entire time, from start to end. This includes all the batching, waiting and reviews.

One more dimension to consider here are vertical handoffs. Consider Alice’s boss Donna. Many processes dictate that before Alice can hand off externally to Bob, she must get approval. This means she does the handoff song and dance with Donna, who may do it with Emily, her boss, and so on. I am sorry to say that I have worked with more than a few companies that had processes where one or more checkpoints required 4-5 levels of approvals. 80% of the waiting in these check points were due to the third level and above just getting to review it and sign off but the average time spent reviewing the materials to be approved was mere seconds. When asked why, the answer given was usually “We had multiple levels already review it. If they signed off, I have no reason to look at it.” If that’s the case, why have more than one or two levels of approval in the first place? (This is yet another blog)

Now imagine that parties within the process aren’t handing documents off but real people – you and me. We have all experienced this form of waste being the party acted upon. Consider the following processes:

  • Help desks (especially with credit cards): Giving information to the automated attendant and then being transferred multiple times, each time being asked the SAME information (audit)
  • Restaurants: different person taking order, delivering drinks, and delivering food (each time they are verifying they have the right customer while you wait and your food gets colder)
  • Airports: Dragging bags from check-in over to a different drop-off point at airports

I would wager that you have experienced this waste in many more forms as a customer. Tell us about them. We’d love to hear from you.

Stay tuned – same Bat-topic, same Bat-channel. In our next post, we’ll discuss how to find this waste and some ideas to overcome them.

Tags: , ,
Categories: Lean | Lean Office | Office Waste




© VRDS, Inc. All rights reserved.

Powered by BlogEngine.NET