Managing Work vs. Adding Resources
An Answer to "Why CEO's Fail"
By John L Eaton

The June 12, 1999, issue of Fortune, contained a cover story entitled, "Why CEO’s Fail." The author points out that poor execution is the common thread in the failure of these executives. Do you wonder if you or your CEO might be added to that list someday? Is your company facing increasing pressure from its board of directors to improve the financial performance of the company, while at the same time management is asking for more resources to accomplish the workload?

Under these conditions, senior management seems to have three options, each with an accompanying dilemma:

·         If you cut available resources, you decrease output.

·         If you increase resources, you increase costs.

·         If you maintain the status quo, you haven't addressed the issue.

So, what do you do? How do you improve the productivity of the existing workforce while keeping costs down?

The answer requires a paradigm shift in thinking about the operations of your business. This new paradigm presents fourth option: Limit the amount of work funneled into each process to match the capacity of that process. Even the most efficient process, one that has been optimized for maximum output, will revert to chaos if the flow of work into that process is not controlled. In its annual report of the most commonly used management tools, Bain & Company states that process improvement has been consistently one the most effective tools in improving the financial performance of a company. However, every process has a capacity limit—an issue often over looked during process improvement initiatives.

Doesn’t all work have to be done? The answer is, no! Tor Dahl, chairman of the World Confederation of Productivity Science, indicates that 92 percent of all work is in some form or fashion wasted time. The average American business wastes or misdirects work time in the following ways:

·         Waiting for approvals, materials, or support—23 percent.

·         Doing things that shouldn’t be done—20 percent.

·         Doing things wrong—18 percent.

·         Failure to do the right things—16 percent.

·         Doing things that should be done by someone else—15 percent.

Assume that Mr. Dahl is half right: that means there is at least a 46 percent opportunity for improvement in productivity by eliminating non-value-added activities. Assume that through various initiatives of process improvement you could realize half of the 46 percent. A 23 percent improvement in productivity is significant in any business if such an improvement could be accomplished in one year.

The TCM Solution

Through a process called Task Control Management (TCM), there can be a realizable improvement in productivity of 25 percent to 30 percent in addition to whatever gains may be achieved by redesigning the process. TCM is based on the notion that there is an improvement in productivity when the flow of work into a process is balanced with the capacity of the process—even without redesigning the process. Therefore, the paradigm shift is this: Assume that the flow of work into a process can be managed, that not all work is value added (because it isn’t), and do not assume that all work needs to be accomplished (because it doesn’t).

Every client I have ever worked with has had too many strategic initiatives, tactical initiatives, special projects, and/or CEO generated staffing tasks actively being pursued concurrently. Everyone works on the hottest project of the moment switching to the next hottest project when an executive would redirect the focus.

How do you know you have the problem of too much work or lack of workflow control? Watch for the following symptoms:

·         Excessive amounts of rework.

·         Problem resolution takes too long.

·         Lots of fire fighting and expediting.

·         Missed deadlines on staff work.

·         Processes are unpredictable; you never know how long it will take to get something out.

·         Priorities keep changing.

·         Major projects in design/development consistently miss planned time-to-market objectives.

·         Major IT projects rarely are accomplished on time.

These symptoms apply to every process, whether it is the strategic-planning process, the accounts-receivable process, the product or service design-development process, or management processes. These symptoms also apply to all levels of the company’s hierarchical structure—the individual, the department, the functional organization, and the company as a unit.

Through TCM, tasks are prioritized, filtered for value, and then assigned, based upon the skills and capacity of the resources within the process. Low value and non-value items are eliminated. High value items are worked on immediately, while lesser value items remain in abeyance.

Have you ever tried to improve your own productivity by practicing the rule of "Handle every piece of mail in your in-box only once?" Well, the same concept applies to all work. Give the department, the function, or the individual a limited number of tasks to complete and don’t assign a new task until the resources are available to complete the new task from beginning to end. Filter out the non-value added tasks just as you do with your mail. Not all work is essential to the success of the business.

By using workflow control, significant operational and competitive improvement can be accomplished without adding capital or human resources. Workflow control must be the first step of any process-improvement initiative. The second step is process redesign. If you manage the work, the people will manage themselves. If you don’t manage and control the flow of work, you will have chaos, regardless of how well you redesign the process.

Workflow management is not a simple process. Uncomplicated tasks and projects can be managed on an 8.5" X 11" tablet. But in some cases, long and/or complex projects must be managed using structured, work-breakdown project plans. Task Control Management can focus an entire company. It takes a great deal of discipline, but the rewards can be tremendous. TCM can convert companies from an activity-based orientation to a results-based orientation. It creates an atmosphere of drive, focus, improved morale, better financial performance, and heightened competitiveness. But above all, TCM gets tactical plans implemented, generates results, and, in turn, helps CEOs—and their companies—succeed.

John L Eaton is President of PRT Global, LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in making companies more competitive through the use of speed. PRT Global helps companies in being adaptable to change, highly responsive to their clients and extremely fast at all they do.  For information about PRT's services, contact Gaines Baty by telephone (972) 386-7900 x224, or email



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