Category: Business Operations
So your workplace has been asked to identify savings through efficiency gains. I believe that if I were to ask ten different people for their interpretation, I would probably get ten different responses. So let’s start back at the beginning with a general definition.
What is efficiency?: Efficiency describes the extent to which time or effort is well used for the intended task or purpose. Source: Wikipedia
So if we accept this description, it’s safe to assume that in order to improve efficiency, one must make even better use of their time or effort for the intended task or purpose.
But does the public sector in general terms measure time and effort (i.e. work hours)? And if they do, do they measure it against intended tasks? Not that I’ve seen.
So let’s look at a private sector approach. When faced with improving efficiencies, organizations primarily focus on waste. In order to make better use of time, they eliminate the recurring problems that cause ‘lost’ time. Once removed, more time can be well spent on the intended task or purpose.
Conservatively speaking, it is estimated that approximately 20% of all work time is ‘lost’ for a variety of reasons. Imagine the amount of time you (and your team) spend waiting for call backs, looking for information, waiting for approvals, seeking clarification, clarifying expectations, and reworking deliverables. We all know that not every hour is created equal.
But again, does the public sector in general terms measure their time ‘lost’ due to issues or problems? And if they do, do they measure it against intended tasks? Again, I think not.
I recognize that these answers may not be very exciting, or sophisticated in their approach. But what is wrong with that? I get the feeling that people are looking for complex solutions to basic challenges.
If the public sector wants to gain efficiencies, here’s what I feel they need to do:
1. Subscribe to the premise that what isn’t measured, isn’t managed
- Start measuring efficiency – this means integrating ‘time and effort’ (work hours) into their dashboards and reporting systems
- Start documenting issues/problems – this means integrating problem logs or sheets into their daily work
- Embrace data and documentation by holding open and transparent discussions about results at all relevant meetings and bilats
2. Leverage the untapped power of setting tangible targets and measureable plans
- Integrate targets and plans into the daily world of work and have those expectations clearly indicated on dashboards and reporting systems – this means that all departments need to know with absolute uncertainty when a performance falls within expectations, or short of expectations (good day/bad day principle)
3. Put accountability back in the workplace and into the hands of the Manager
- Did you know that some estimates state that Managers control as much as 90% of an organization’s assets!
- Redefine the role of the Manager as responsible for their processes and people – this means giving them the authority to make decisions and hold them responsible for results
4. Walk the talk about client service
- Review the work of the department and reduce the amount of work that is not directly impacting the client – this means reprioritizing work around strategic outcomes instead of administrative tasks
In short, we need to get our hands on better data, set more targets, better engage our Managers, and refocus our efforts on the client.
So in an increasingly complex world, why not remember those lessons from the past. It might do us all well to dust off those basic management principles forged over time yet somehow forgotten in this exciting age of technological advancements.
Part Five: the Intranet Dream Team
In the final instalment of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner shows how the dream team can be realized, even in times of austerity.
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s list of best Intranets of 2012 suggests that proper resourcing for an organization’s internal web site needs to approach a ratio of one resource for every 1,000 employees. That figure takes into account some allowances for temporary outside help for particular functions, but on the whole, the ratio seems right.
But can smaller government departments today manage Intranets with one, two, or three individuals? The answer is a qualified yes, depending whether:
- The individual/team member has the requisite communications, marketing, analytics and business skills to multi-task effectively;
- The web content lifecycle has been defined and informs what happens to web content from inception to removal;
- Governance is in place to make strategic decisions;
- Tactical decisions are made within the Intranet team;
- The design, structure, functionality and performance measurement components of site management are managed centrally; and
- Content contributors are relied upon as local editors providing story ideas and web content, not as web experts.
How could these activities be realized when budgets are tight, and likely to get tighter? Consider the future state of a departmental Intranet if nothing changes:
- Employees waste 90 cents per minute looking for content on a poorly structure site;
- New content costing upwards of $800-1000 per page (after writing, approvals and publishing) keeps getting adding to the site with no strategy or lifecycle guidance governing its existence; and
- There is a risk of limited understanding among employees of the department’s top priorities since they are not effectively messaged using the channels that employees want and need.
Given these direct and indirect costs to the organization, maintaining a status quo for the Intranet will cost more, and the performance records should bear that out. A well-conceived resourcing solution plus efforts to shore up governance and strategy offers senior management a more cost-efficient and sustainable approach to managing the Intranet channel.
View the rest of this series:
Part Four: Get Serious about Intranet Search
In the fourth of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner asks if search is so important, why are there no resources allocated to it?
Ask a government communications executive what they see as the problem with their Intranet site and invariably the answer is “our search engine doesn’t work.” Colourful variants on that response aside, it’s clear that management understands that search is an important function that users need to find content easily.
Then we ask the web teams and their IT colleagues how many resources they have devoted to search. Answer? None.
That disconnect between acknowledgement of the single most important function on a website and the reality of no resourcing to support it defies logic. So why does this happen?
First of all, search is partly technical. It involves an IT tool. IT largely sees their role with respect to search as infrastructure provider, with little to no maintenance required. Meantime, Communications is not comfortable with new technology that is outside their area of expertise.
Second, search requires understanding of how information should be classified so it can be retrieved. This would be the rightful domain of IM, but sadly not too many departments see it that way. The result is that the metadata is poor or nonexistent and therefore the search results have little meaning.
Third and lastly, search needs constant testing to make sure it is performing as expected. I have yet to see a usability or public opinion research plan that incorporates testing for Intranet search.
So management sees the problem, but no one appears to have the solution? Not quite. Some departments have taken up the cause with vengeance, and rather than wait for the solution to be bestowed upon them, have gone out and procured a decent tool (Google Search Appliance for example), configured it to meet their needs, tested it and then monitored it for performance. Voila: search now works with some degree of predictability. For one department that meant a quasi-full-time resource embedded on the web team, who brought the requisite skills to make it happen. It also meant the full support of management.
Search on an Intranet site can be improved, as long as it’s accepted that resources are required to manage it.
In the fifth and final part of this series, we nominate the contenders for the Intranet dream team.
Part Three: Build Intranets for Tasks, Not Branches
In the third of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner shows how putting tasks ahead of employee newsletters is smart Intranet management.
For departmental Intranets, there’s a pervasive site structure model that says each branch should get an equal portion of the real estate in the site navigation, regardless of how many or how few tasks are performed online in that section of the site. This model says that equal standing is the best structure for representing the entire organization.
There’s another common model that says that the more corporate messaging you place on the home page, the more likely that employees will be knowledgeable about departmental priorities and strategic plans.
Industry research and government’s own usability data indicates that neither of these models improve task completion, and instead end up costing the organization in lost productivity. Having employees search for content to complete a task costs government organizations an average rate of 90 cents per minute, making obstacles like two-year-old newsletter articles, untagged PowerPoint presentations and multiple copies of the same HR policies some very expensive roadblocks to completing basic tasks.
What are those basic tasks? For a start, anything that answers the basic questions about pay and vacation would meet the requirements of every employee. Beyond that, well-architected Intranets address such varied tasks as:
- How do I book a boardroom?
- What are the requirements for booking my first business trip?
- Find financial codes
- Understand the process for hiring
- Find information about health plans for dependents
A task inventory helps establish known tasks against existing web content assets. Within this spreadsheet (or database or CMS), site managers can weight tasks according to web path analysis from analytics data, user surveys, and card sorting to determine which tasks should dominate the site architecture.
Collaborative tools also fit within this framework but their inclusion must suit the culture of the organization. The gamut of tasks involving collaborative tools includes:
- Sharing best practices or project updates among practitioners on a wiki
- Using personal employee profiles to publish skills sets, past projects and contact information
- Document sharing platforms for special projects
- Texting tools to cut down on email
At some point it will be obvious to the web team that some branches within the department have relatively less Intranet content than others that correlates to what employees want to do online. Publishing short branch descriptions that link to key documents on a document management system can address these lower-demand areas. (If no such system exists, one possible solution is to provide an email address for document requests for that branch.) Not placing this lower-demand content online frees up the site for content that fulfills employee task requirements.
In Part Four of this series, we break down the benefits of having an Intranet search engine that actually works.
Part Two: Intranets Are All about Vacation and Money
In the second of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner highlights two of the top things employees care most about when it comes to Intranets.
The essence of the employer/employee relationship is this: employees are paid for work performed and they get days off from work with pay. Understanding how pay and vacation is given in an organization is often described on departmental Intranets via policies, agreements, guidelines and forms that support how and when employees collect salary or overtime, and when they can take time off.
Unfortunately, surveys of users and heuristic (usability) reviews of Intranets reveal that many of these sites don’t provide the means to do any tasks related to pay or benefits easily or efficiently. The most common issues with Intranets include:
- Sites that use practitioner jargon, not plain language – Employees describe compensation as pay and leave as vacation. Yet a majority of sites yield to human resources terms because those groups author the content and determine navigation labels.
- Corporate content is outdated and/or duplicated – The new vacation request form has been posted but the old one is still available. Sound familiar?
- Few if any of these key tasks are available via the home page – Employees might find pay and vacation content two, three or four clicks in from the home page, which is frequently the default page when the browser opens. Rather than get right to their chosen task, they have to fight the information architecture. This loss of productivity can cost the organization 90 cents a minute per employee.
- FAQs are not – The use of the frequently asked question has devolved into a convenient format for web content but it rarely reflects what users actually want to know. By not having informative FAQs, HR advisors end up responding to the same questions over and over.
- Bad forms – Form design is a special practice that takes into account logic models, taxonomy, visual design and functional requirements. The result of bad form design is bad data, delayed processing and a good amount of frustration for all.
Fixing the Vacation and Pay Design Problem
Identifying the key tasks related to vacation and pay and positioning those tasks within easy reach of users will go a long way toward improving Intranet usability. Task analysis, card sorting, and paper prototyping are helpful activities that can uncover most of the common issues with navigation and site structure with respect to these tasks.
However, fixing vacation and pay tasks online is not just an information architecture problem. Supporting these tasks also means analyzing how the task gets completed beyond the Intranet site. If for example a request form gets automatically sent to an email account that is monitored by one employee, what happens when that employee is away? Or, if a vacation form submitted online requires another employee to rekey that information into a legacy system, what processes are in place to prevent errors? Could there be some automation to prevent rekeying in the first place? Web teams are not typically tasked with these considerations, but given the impacts on user satisfaction and productivity, this situation calls for collaborative business process solutions to identify weaknesses, determine roles and responsibilities, design potential solutions and test them before releasing them to employees.
In Part Three of this series, Denise Eisner shows how putting tasks ahead of employee newsletters is smart Intranet management.
Part One: the Intranet is an Expensive Help Desk
In the first of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner explains why not fixing a broken departmental Intranet wastes millions of dollars each year to lost productivity.
Several times each day, an employee goes looking for information that by all accounts should be found on a departmental Intranet. Sidestepping the dubious search engine, the hunt-and-click quest begins, pitting employee against byzantine information architectures, rogue sites, duplicated content and countless out-of-date newsletters. Ten minutes into the task and no resolution in sight, the frustrated employee consults an office mate, who now joins the task for another five minutes. In the end, they both give up, and the unfortunate employee is now left staring at the phone and plotting the next move.
The sad reality is that the answer was likely somewhere on the site but irretrievable due to confusing navigation, absent site governance, poor writing, lack of search engine optimization (or a decent search engine), etc.
This scenario is common among government employees, stemming from a series of poor decisions and inaction about the department’s Intranet. This inaction bears real consequences, not the least of which is that the employee didn’t get to do something other than the Intranet task for a portion of those 15 minutes.
To look at this dilemma in more stark terms, assume an average loaded rate for a government employee at $94,000.00 (C.D. Howe report, page 5). Allowing for work days equal to 46.6 weeks (including three weeks for vacation and 12 stat holidays), multiply 46.6 by days (233), hours (1,747.5) and minutes (104,850), and you arrive at a per-minute employee cost of $0.90. Multiply that cost by 20 (employee #1’s 15 minutes and employee #2’s 5 minutes to help) and you have spent $18.00 to not find information that should be readily available on the Intranet.
Extrapolating this one example to a department makes the Intranet beast even more deadly. If just half of the employees in a 4,000 FTE department only had one information retrieval task a day that did not succeed (and that’s being generous), then the total cost for one day’s worth of fruitless searches is $36,000.00. The yearly tab? Your management should be astounded to learn that lost annual productivity for a department of that size at these rates to find basic information online hovers around 8.4 million dollars.
After this reality sinks in, can you afford not to fix your Intranet?
In Part Two of this series, the Intranet is distilled into the two things that employees care most about and should be fixed first.
By Kathy Roy and Kellen Greenberg
Regardless of a public sector organization’s intent to cost-reduce, realize efficiency gains, or improve effectiveness, Managers are being asked to find ways to do more with less. So the time is right to get back to basics and discuss some key steps that all Managers can take to identify cost savings opportunities.
There are many different approaches that an organization can take to reduce spending year-over-year. Some approaches involve new technological improvements, while others include innovative ways to streamline and consolidate processes. However, in times of fiscal constraint, many organizations are looking for zero cost solutions. And even more in demand are zero cost solutions with quick implementations.
Many of our Clients are applying some ‘go-to’ solutions to achieve quick results. One is to simply ratchet down discretionary spending like travel and hospitality. Another is to find specific functions or lines of business that can simply be stopped. No wonder these are the ‘go-to’ solutions – they have quick returns and results that are tangible. But we’re writing this blog with the idea of adding yet another ‘go-to’ approach to the repertoire, and its’ application lies within the authority of each and every Manager. It is the Manager’s ability to truly leverage their staff’s involvement and their available data and information to identify opportunities for cost savings.
The role of management and their associated work environments has certainly changed over the years. The increasing role of technology and the movement towards functional org structures (and matrix structures) have certainly contributed to that change. As a result, Managers today are less responsible for making decisions that directly affect their people. So when it comes time to identify areas for savings, the process seems to have become more complicated and complex.
But let’s not mistake complications with barriers. Many Managers are exploring new ways to involve their staff and leverage data and information to identify cost savings opportunities. They believe that a more engaged and involved workforce will collaborate to uncover the ‘right’ areas for cost savings. And they further believe that those ‘right’ areas for cost savings can then be validated and tested with data and information. By working with their team, and in spite of the many ‘obstacles’ and ‘unknowns’, they can deliver innovative solutions to do more with less. This should also be the goal for Managers that have become overwhelmingly fixed in their resource allocations.
So what exactly do we mean by leveraging staff involvement and available data and information?
Leveraging staff involvement
Staff are experts in the daily flow of work. They know what works well/what doesn’t, which work arrives on-time/which doesn’t, and where the delays/expediencies exist. Yet in many cases, they are either not asked or are not offering up this wealth of knowledge for consideration. Engaging the staff in the process is not just an expedient way of pinpointing the bottlenecks and backlogs, but also allows Managers to find hidden gems of opportunities. Further, this is something that both Managers and staff should be excited about, despite our knee-jerk negative reactions to reducing costs. Finding the ‘right’ types of efficiencies does more than just save money, it makes the work and the workplace more enjoyable and satisfying for everyone.
Leveraging available data and information
All work environments are full of activities and outputs. These activities and outputs are currently being overseen with varying degrees of formal documentation and discussion. Ideally, a Manager would have the right data and information to validate the potential opportunities identified for cost savings by their staff. Or, at the very least, they would be continually identifying ways to better document and define the work that is getting done. The forbidden fruit appears to be the data that speaks to resource allocations for many `non-measured` functional tasks. Despite the challenges in having data in this area, having detailed knowledge of `at work` days for all team members would go a long way to determining the total capacity of a team or division.
Managers that leverage both staff involvement and available data and information are in a much stronger position to not just find efficiencies by putting a hold on functions and spending, but by making precise decisions about the daily work of staff that optimize gains and minimize impacts.
But first, how does one go about leveraging staff involvement and available data and information?
- Involve key staff in the opportunity identification exercise – i.e. tell me where the frustrations lie
- Track both activities/outputs and frustrations – i.e. what got done this week and what got in our way
- Analyze financial information and understand its conversion to functional organizational structures – i.e. how many FTEs does it/should it take to deliver work/outputs
- Map current work processes to validate major opportunities/delays and their associated costs
- Identify major functional rubs and gaps in the flow of work and their associated costs
- Identify major areas of administrative burden and their associated costs
- Require more detailed reporting of `at work` days to understand the team`s total capacity for any given week – i.e. ensure they are ramping up for peaks and are all hands on-deck when required
- Review and understand the team`s available data and information, and share findings back with the team on a regular basis – i.e. here`s what the data tells us
Armed with increased staff involvement and available data and information, a Manager can then make the necessary decisions to deliver savings both within their own team and across their broader division. For example:
- They can understand not just the ‘peaks and valleys’ of workload, but also how resources affect service delivery and subsequently make decisions to adjust resource levels in the ‘right’ places, minimizing impacts to staff and service levels.
- They can share the right data horizontally and vertically across the organization to ensure that savings measures from across the organization are aligned in the broader horizontal process of a department and don’t end up finding savings in one area while propagating greater inefficiency in another.
When Managers leverage people and information effectively, they will not only deliver savings, but their day-to-day operations will be more effective. They will be in a position to continually align expectations and resources against tasks, and as a result, there will be less organizational friction and frustration in the workplace; the benefits of which are simply too many to list.
Finding savings and efficiencies is never an easy task, but it can be made less painful. Success will require that Managers both embark upon and embrace the journey!
Hear more about during Kellen’s and Kathy’s presentation on Finding Savings: Back to Basics at GTEC 2011, October 18, 10 a.m., at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
Kellen Greenberg and Kathy Roy are members of Systemscope’s Strategic Business Consulting practice.
Using Agile Prototyping to Increase Client Satisfaction and Internal Efficiencies
By Stephen Karam
What if I told you that you could design, create, test, and document a winning business solution – all while fully engaging partners and senior executives – in 3-6 months, leading to significant client uptake and risk reduction? Before you call me crazy (or presumably worse), read on…
It’s intrigued me how so many Government of Canada (GC) investments labelled with the ever-sexy moniker of “transformation” never really realize their originally intended benefits, and usually cost a fortune: the type of fortune that attracts unwanted attention from the OAG and media. This does not make the boss happy.
Here is a typical example: Department “X” creates a business case for an IT-enabled business initiative that sings to senior management. They receive several million dollars in TBS funding. They build the business solution. Corporate and program areas in the department find it difficult to use said business solution and disengage. Department “X” then spends an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars maintaining an IT solution with eroding business value and little goodwill amongst its target users and stakeholders, both internal and external.
This scenario sheds light on a series of systemic flaws in the GC when it comes to creating successful business and service transformation outcomes. One of those flaws is that many departmental IT organizations under the CIO still apply the waterfall methodology to the development life cycle. They move serially from requirements gathering (if done at all), to analysis, to design, to build, to test, to implement. Throw in a procurement cycle or two in there and voila! A two- to three-year timeframe has lapsed before there’s any output at all! Executives have little tolerance for this approach, since there are no “announcables” until the end of the waterfall.
We need to remember that success in the GC transformation space is not only about a strong business case, executive leadership, capable resources, solid governance, and a bulletproof solution; it’s about how you play the game. As Coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the ONLY thing!”
So here’s a game plan that has worked over the past couple of years for two projects: Industry Canada’s BizPaL 2.0 and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgPal. Both are similar content discovery systems that allow users to find relevant information and services from across jurisdictional boundaries via the Internet. One is aimed at helping Canadian businesses discover permits and licences; the other is for Canadian farmers and agri-industries to access available programs and services. Both have employed the same agile prototyping approach with the client’s understanding that these projects are about solving the data/content/process challenge, and not the technology challenge.
The prototyping allowed for early engagement of partners (i.e. provinces, federal programs) to “kick the tires” on the requirements before one line of code was written or a single dollar was spent on technology. The method was pretty straightforward:
- Scope the prototype (who are the partners/contributors, scope of content, ideal timeframe to produce “release 1”, preliminary architecture);
- With partners, define client scenarios to be addressed by the prototype;
- Identify and gather partner content within scope, aggregate and categorize;
- Develop user interface, based on client scenarios;
- Iterate prototype behaviour with partners;
- Usability test the prototype;
- Document business and functional requirements, as a direct reflection of the prototype;
- Validate requirements with partners; and
- Engage implementation team.
While a simplification of the actual process, it’s easy to see the key steps that can be systematically employed to every implementation, whether it is a client-facing web service offering, or a critical internal business system. This approach significantly reduces risk of the final implementation since the stakeholders (partners and clients) have actually had a chance to use the solution in practice, rather than react to wireframes or written scenarios.
Hey, if you were building a house and you were given the chance to experience it before the foundation is even poured … wouldn’t you take it?
Hear more about agile development during Stephen’s presentation on Top-Down Implementation in a Bottoms-Up World at GTEC 2011, October 18, 1 p.m., at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
Stephen V. Karam can be found on LinkedIn, and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.