Managing vertical functions in a horizontal process

opportunity-19Due to the functional nature of most organizations, workload can become quite easily unbalanced when you look at it from the perspective of a horizontal process. In any organization, work flows through a process and certain activities are required to keep the product or information flowing. The activities that people are required to do, and the associated time that it takes, can change fairly significantly. The complication here is that work also flows from one specific function to another, throughout the process. Each function along the process can have varying productivity levels. Which of course is an opportunity if you can figure out how to capture the excess capacity, at the time it’s available.

In an ideal environment you’d probably want to manage by process, rather than by function, and simply shift your resources around when you need to. That often doesn’t happen, so organizations live with excess resource capacity for certain periods of time buried within the process. The reasons why it’s hard to shift resources around are fairly practical. Here are a few of them:

  • It’s much easier to organize by function rather than by process.
  • There often isn’t a timely understanding of the functional workload levels making it hard for managers to know when capacity is available.
  • Communication channels between functional departments is not always effective.
  • Managers tend to not want to lend their people out in slower work volume periods anticipating that the volumes will soon increase, and then their people won’t be available.
  • Shifting resources between functions requires increased skills flexibility.
  • In union-environments, labor rules may not allow it.

There is no simple remedy for improving workload balance, but there are a few things that are helpful to keep in mind: Keep a process perspective when you’re looking at workflow, measure resource demand and available capacity throughout the process, focus on the information transfer points, and understand skill mix and policy constraints. That part is mostly academic, the arguably harder part is getting people to actually lend their resources.