iSixSigma

A Lean Approach to Staffing Brings Optimal Performance

Organizations are often challenged with managing seemingly unmanageable work volumes with available staff. At times, staff may feel overwhelmed with high work volumes, or underutilized during periods of low work volumes. When a management team finds itself confronting these issues, team members may ask the following questions:

  • How can staff respond to internal and external customer inquiries more quickly?
  • When the department has more work to process than in the past, but there is no budget to add staff, how can it do more with the same staff?
  • When the department has less work to process than in the past, how can staffing levels be matched to lower work volumes?

The methodology described below may help answer these questions. Through a balanced application of Lean principles and capacity modeling, staffing optimization can become a reality.

What Is Lean Assessment?

A Lean assessment is a structured process used to improve process cycle time through the identification, reduction and elimination of process waste and non-value-added activities. It can be used to:

  • Establish a relational context between the current process and baseline performance
  • Identify what works well
  • Identify quick hits, as well as longer-term options for process improvement

What Is Capacity Modeling?

capacity is a structured process used to calculate estimated staffing levels and gaps relative to actual employee headcounts. It can be used to:

  • Provide insight into whether a department is overstaffed, understaffed or adequately staffed
  • Create a basis for future staffing re-assessments when environmental conditions change (i.e., work volumes increase or decrease substantially)

What Is Staffing Optimization?

Staffing optimization involves balancing work volume (demand) with staffing (supply) based on application of Lean principles, including the 7 wastes and 5S, best practices and benchmarking. It is most needed when a business experiences:

  • Customer complaints of slow service or response time
  • Increasing work volumes, but no budget for additional staff
  • Decreasing work volumes, and a need to reduce staff
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Optimization Roadmap

Staffing optimization can be deployed using this roadmap; each phase of the roadmap has specific objectives:

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Define steps:

  • Meet with sponsor and process owner
  • Create project charter
  • Conduct team kickoff meeting

Lean assessment steps:

  • Identify key business processes and staff responsibilities
  • Identify staff for interviews about current processes
  • Observe the process in action
  • Document observations, best practices, pain points and recommendations
  • Communicate and validate Lean assessment recommendations with the process manager, process owner and sponsor

Capacity modeling steps:

  • Collect time-study data on work volumes, shrinkage or unavailability
  • Construct capacity model for individual processes
  • Construct capacity model for aggregate of all processes
  • Perform staffing gap analysis

Staffing optimization steps:

  • Summarize staffing gaps
  • Recommend gap closing options and expected impacts based on Lean assessment
  • Recommend short-term, medium-turn and long-term action plans
  • Communicate and validate final recommendations with the process manager, process owner and sponsor

Taking Action

A clear segregation of duties is essential for successful completion of the desired outcomes of a Lean assessment and capacity model. The following tables summarize tasks, accountabilities and outcomes for a Lean assessment (Table 1) and capacity modeling (Table 2).

Table 1: Action Plan for Lean Assessment
Lean Assessment TasksResponsible PartyDesired Outcome
Identify key business processes

  • Process manager and/or supervisor to complete
  • Review summary for completeness
Process managerKey business process summary
Identify staff responsibilities

  • Review organization chart
  • Document staff locations
  • Document key business processes performed by each staff member
Process managerStaff responsibilities matrix
Identify staff for one-on-one interviews

  • Ensure coverage for key business processes
  • High/low performers
  • Shift coverage
Process managerStaff responsibilities matrix
Inform staff of the project, its purpose and that they will be contacted for interviewsProcess manager or supervisorMemo or other communication media
Schedule half- or full-day interviews

  • Document schedule
  • Send meeting invitation to interviewees
  • FYI (CC) supervisor and process manager
Project leaderInterview schedule table
Conduct interviews at staff location(s)

  • Document observations and initial recommendations for improvement based on 7 wastes, 5S, best practices and benchmarking
  • Document and validate process steps
Project leaderWalkthrough observations report, capacity model template
Review and validate observations with supervisor, process manager, process owner and sponsorProject leaderLean assessment presentation
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Table 2: Action Plan for Capacity Modeling
Capacity Modeling TasksResponsible PartyDesired Outcome
Modify time-study data-collection table as requiredProject leaderTime-study data-collection table
Inform staff of purpose for time studies and schedule half- or full-day sessions with the same individuals interviewed during the Lean assessmentProject leaderInterview schedule
Obtain cycle times by task. Obtain 30 samples for each task, if possibleProject leaderTime-study data-collection table
Use statistical tools to determine whether the cycle time data is normal. If normal, use the mean for cycle time, otherwise use the medianProject leaderStatistical software output
Enter the appropriate cycle times into the capacity model template. Create a separate model for each processProject leaderCapacity model template(s)

One important additional step is to normalize the time study by accounting for various elements, including:

  • Prior-year and year-to-date attendance records
  • All allocated vacation, personal and sick days, as well as Family and Medical Leave Act days
  • Attendance at meetings, town halls, training and so on.

For example, in call center environments, on average, approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of a representative’s time is “unavailable” for responding to inquiries.

Reaching Optimization

As the tasks involved in Lean assessment and capacity modeling are completed, the use of internal and external benchmarks becomes crucial to the credibility of the project and the final recommendations. Internally, it is advisable to compare staff and site performance levels, identify what works well around accuracy and cycle time metrics, understand why it works well and determine opportunities for replicability. Externally, there are multiple sources of information to access, such as industry associations and client-relationship managers.

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Final recommendations to the sponsor and process owner should cover the following three elements:

  1. Summary of staffing gaps or surpluses
  2. Recommended options and expected impact
  3. Proposed timeline

Having applied this methodology to more than a dozen business units across the enterprise, this process has been found to be highly effective in yielding quick hits as well as medium- and long-term opportunities.

Comments 4

  1. CJ

    The process oulined is similar to a strategic gap analysis with a focus on through-put and resources. It would be a good starting point for an organization in the begining stages of LEAN deployment because it appears it would result in process improvement throughout the organization. Additionally, staffing reductions without a LEAN assessment puts employees left-behind in a tight spot and the company at risk of increased turnover. Requiring LEAN assessments throughout the organization would be value added.

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  2. Ian Jones

    I found this article very helpful and will apply it to a project I’m working on which is an HR service centre that needs to cut costs and improve quality simultaneously.

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  3. Guillermo A. Rivera

    This process and methodology is very useful, particularly to multilateral organizations that face financial ptoblem because of the lack of the necessary budget.

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  4. Chris Seider

    I’m curious how metrics changed over time and which metrics were tracked.
    Nicely written article.

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