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Workload, not too low or too high but just right

Workload is a term that we use a lot, usually because it is too high or too low. It doesn't have to be that way you know. Balance workloads, otherwise you will spend more than you should, or not have the resources to meet sales opportunity, or both.

Workload management is useful in any business, because it can apply to executives and assemblers, clerks and truck drivers, salespeople and nurses, teachers and pupils, individuals and crews. The same concept with a different terminology applies to capacity and utilization of equipment and facilities, roads and airports. (Computers too but that's out of my scope, sorry.)

Theoretically and practically, workloads should be high enough that the business gets its money's worth, and low enough that bodies and minds are not stressed, low enough that equipment and facilities can be maintained. Workloads should be even enough that people and unions don't complain of overload or imbalance, at least not with cause. A high workload at a constraining operation will restrict output with all sorts of negative results. And rare is the business with no variation, with level demands and no fluctuation.

So jump in and measure workload, right? Wrong. Get the waste out first. Workload is not busy-ness, which implies activity that may or may not be useful. Pull out the waste motion before calculating workload. Remember that successful companies address waste all the way through the company and not just in production labor; in materials, supplies, facilities, the organization chart, pay practices, overhead.

A. Waste

What is waste? A recent Business Week" article presents this test, in
1) Will a customer pay for this activity?
2) Will my service fail without this activity?
3) Will I go to jail if I eliminate this activity?
Answer "no" to all three, and the activity can essentially be defined as waste.

Sounds good to me.

If you don't plan to get the waste out first, don't bother to read on, because the next thing you waste will be your time.

B. Measure and quantify, then potential corrections will be more obvious.

To quantify workload, someone will have to pull out a watch, and objectively observe, record, and summarize the activity of people, processes, equipment. Then relate the activity to your units of output, consider schedule and cycle times, resolve constraints, balance the loads between people and crews, suggest improvements in staffing, activity assignment, timing, working hours, sequence, changeover or setup, cross t raining.

Jackson Productivity is good at both getting the waste out and quantifying. I can assure you that, as with most improvement, experience helps especially in complex circumstances.

Corrections which will reduce and balance workload are possible in most situations, even in the management of constraints. Ask why operations are done in the first place, to remove waste. Then for necessary activity, ask who does an activity, where, when, how. From these quantified answers, usually several promising improvements will appear.

Move around the elements of activity, from the most heavily loaded to the least loaded. Add work hours, bring in some of the crew earlier and work some later. Relieve the constraint operations during break and lunch.

My experience tells me that people perform pretty well when there is work to do, so be sure that there is always high quality material to work on with proper documentation, tools are maintained and function without breakdown, the need for changeovers / setups is minimized and when absolutely necessary, change or setup is quick.

For your high-talent people, pull out the activities that can be performed by those with less training so the skilled positions produce more. This won't lower the work hours, just free up the talent to practice their skills. Your role model is the operating room; the doctors don't have to clean up after themselves do they?

A special case of clean up / set up is to assure that work performed by a few people whose pay may be at the low end of the scale does not interfere with output of many who are better paid.

Train and cross train, so that absence or vacation of an old hand does not slow down operations.

Balance workload across the day. In a recent assignment I observed a crew member who had been given work to do that, across the shift, was not excessive but it was so front-loaded that after six hours the skilled operator had not left the workplace, nor had I. Balance is better.

C. Two sophisticated examples of output and workload calculation
1. Some people should have a zero workload. WHAT! you exclaim. Consider the fireman, and policeman, and emergency room physician. Agreed that we want them to be inactive? The same thing can occur in your organization, as you will want the repair mechanics, and IT troubleshooters and those trained in hazard response to spend their time preventing mishap.

To operate without emergency, invest in preventive maintenance and in training.

2. Is crew size set for minimum headcount or for maximum output? What do you want loaded, the operator or the constraint? This is a very important question, so be sure to answer it thoughtfully especially for equipment which is a constraint or bottleneck. As an example, consider an automatic parts machine. It indexes, forms parts, and ejects them without operator control except for stock feeding and to clear jams. A common practice is to have one operator for perhaps 3 or 4 machines, to keep the operator workload up.

However, if more than one of the machines jams up at once, the operator is busy with one and can't un-jam the others so they sit idle. I have seen a situation where an entire product line was slowed because, incorrectly, one man was assigned to four machines. Theoretically, the machines were not the constraint but actually, with a normal percentage of jams, they starved the entire product line, kept output down, and many operators were idled. Of course, the real answer may be to reduce the number of jams but sometimes that doesn't happen.

D. The keys to workloads
Get the waste out, measure and quantify, improve. You will find the results are worth the effort, both in a slow economy and as the economy strengthens. Whether a matter of survival or keeping up with demand, workloads are pretty important. Good luck, and call if you need help.

Thanks for the time, I hope the article was useful. JPR welcomes the opportunity to discuss your particular application.

Jack Greene, Jackson Productivity Research Inc.

What Next?

You have searched the web to understand how the principals of workload management can benefit your organization, but maybe don't know quite how to proceed. I'll be glad to share what I know about the subject, and will welcome your call or email. Tell me as much as you'd like, confidentially, about your organization's situation and objectives, timetable and budget, and I'll describe some practical actions to accomplish your scope. You will have a better understanding of the options.


There's no cost or obligation to contact Jack Greene at 843-422-1298