The true value of a task
1:55 PM MDT | May 6, 2013 | By JAY TOWNSEND, SENIOR V.P. OF BUSINESS STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT AT CELANESE
I once led a restructuring project in one of Hoechst Celanese’s largest manufacturing facilities. The project team included multiple people in the facility with an ultimate objective to reduce costs. We initially focused on employee over time cost.
We started our assessment by process mapping the actual work flow of all administrative processes in the plant. As we mapped each process, it was apparent by sitting in the room, everyone knew what work they completed, but no one had any visibility of the entire process or why the process was being performed. We realized we needed to evaluate whether each process was a legal requirement or if it added value.
Each week, one individual left the accounting area for approximately one hour and met another employee who had spent an hour collecting quarters from the restroom. The employee who gathered the quarters put them in a bag and handed the bag to yet another who wrapped the coins. This person passed the coins along to one of our security guards who drove about six miles to the bank to exchange the wrapped quarters for paper money. When the security guard returned, he handed the bills to the person who handled petty cash.
This multiple-person quarter collection process took more than 200 hours—approximately 30 days—each year. The total annual value of the quarters was about $500. If each person had paused and asked three simple questions that apply to most any project or process before completing their quarter task, they may have thought of an alternative solution.
First, why are we doing this? This question may have helped them realize the tasks were just habit. Perhaps they felt since money was involved, it was important. They certainly would have realized not one of them knew what the other was doing with this particular quarter task.
Second, what happens if we stop? In this case, probably nothing would have happened. The total dollar amount wasn’t significant enough.
Third, can the process be automated, done less frequently or eliminated entirely? Our solution was to allow the external janitorial service to keep the quarters and credit our monthly invoice for the total collected. As a result, the five team members “outsourced” the responsibility and gave up $500 in quarters but saved 200 hours of time that resulted in lower overtime and cost. Each person and the team added more value with the 30 days per year reduced non-value effort.
As you can see with this example, to effectively and efficiently manage a process, one needs end-to-end visibility to get a true picture of how one action impacts another. Too many times we compartmentalize ourselves into our role. We do our own little piece and toss it over the wall to the next person without seeing the full process or understanding the objective. While this example was just about lost quarters, imagine large efforts like building a new plant or developing and launching a new product.