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.