In this age of automation, we have a tendency to become so involved in the designing and programming of the ultimate system that we tend to forget the art of “work simplification.” This is a serious omission, as work simplification is the foundation of the systems concept.
What is “Work Simplification”?
Work simplification is the organized application of common sense to eliminate waste of any kind, such as time, energy, space and imagination through simpler or better ways of doing work. Whether they know it or not, business analysts are specialist in the use and application of work simplification techniques. The business analyst’s role involves ensuring the proper use and application of these techniques and working closely with the team to develop, test and install the improvements made.
“Elimination of waste” implies getting results, not merely talking about it. Results come from better methods only when they are enthusiastically employed by the people concerned. Work simplification never overlooks the importance of the acceptance of the new method by the people who will use it. The first and most important step in any work simplification process is getting these individuals involved into the act. Participation built on understanding stimulates interest, initiative, imagination and results in enthusiastic cooperation.
Work simplification recognizes that no one knows the details of a job better than the person doing the job. Therefore, if we can help those people keep an open mind, think objectively about the work and systematically apply some of the simple tools of analysis, they will do a better job and will be a better team member.
Approach to Work Simplification
The basic approach to achieving our objectives of doing a better job, with less effort and time at the lowest possible cost is to:
- Eliminate the unnecessary parts of a process
- Combine and rearrange the rest of the process
- Simplify the necessary part of the process
The sequence cannot be changed because it incorporates fundamentals of mental discipline we must follow in order to acquire and keep our objectivity. If we are to have an open mind in reviewing a job, the first question must be “Is it necessary?” If it isn’t, stop right there. Too often effort is made to combine, rearrange or simplify jobs that should not exist.
Obstacles to Work Simplification
If the objectives of work simplification are not new, and it is obvious that everyone should wish to find simpler and better ways of doing work, why don’t we get more action? The best improvements in the manner of office work performance may produce discouraging results because of employee attitudes and reactions. This has been summarized in four words: employee resistance to change.
There are four definite reasons why we resist change:
- Change disrupts work habits.
- Change disrupts complacency.
- Change implies criticism.
- Change affects security.
1. Work Habits
How do you feel when you try to change a habit? The same is true with work habits. Work habits are very difficult to change. It has been said that habit is a cable. Weave a cable piece every day until we cannot break it. Habits are a curse, in a sense, because they take control of us and, in effect, force us to resist change. We want to avoid the situation where an improved routine is put in place over someone’s “dead body.”
Complacency is the “leave me alone, don’t change it” attitude. It is easy to acquire. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that there is always is and will be change. Resistance to change is not new, it is pretty old. History is full of classic examples of people who assumed that certain things were good just as they were. A few examples involving names you will recognize are:
In the industrial field, one man stands out as a pioneer in breaking down resistance to change: Mr. Charles Kettering. Kettering had many troubles; one was painting automobiles. Back in 1922, General Motors and other automobile manufacturers had trouble delivering enough cars. The warehouses were full of unfinished cars because they couldn’t paint them fast enough. Kettering called in some paint experts. They sat down and began to tell him why it took 33 days to paint a Cadillac and 22 days to paint a Buick. He told them he didn’t want to know why it takes so long, but what could be done to improve it. They spent three days discussing it and then advised him that they were sorry but nothing could be done to improve or reduce painting time. “Because,” they said, “painting time is controlled by nature; everybody knows that nature governs the time of drying and you can’t possible hurry nature.” So they went away, figuring that they had convinced Kettering.
A few days later, Kettering was in New York and walking up Fifth Avenue. He saw a small pin tray in a store window. This tray was painted with a peculiar kind of lacquer. His curiosity aroused, Kettering found the name of the manufacturer and visited him at a small plant in Newark, New Jersey. He asked if he could purchase a gallon of the lacquer. The fellow said, “Why in the world do you want a gallon? I haven’t used that much since I first started to make it. This stuff is still in the experimental stage.” Mr. Kettering informed him that he would like to paint an automobile with it. The manufacturer said, “Mister, you can’t possibly do that. You see, this stuff dries too fast. You can’t do anything about it; you just can’t slow it down.” So you see, one expert said you can’t do anything about it because it takes nature just so long to dry paint and the other said you can’t do anything about it because it dries too fast. This was the beginning of the quick drying lacquers which are used today.
Fear of criticism is a rugged obstacle. When you change a method, you are, in effect, criticizing the person who installed it. It is natural for someone to ask, “Why should I accept so-and-so’s idea? He is just trying to make a fool out of me. The boss will think I am a fool because I didn’t think of the idea first.”
Again, participation helps. If we can get people to participate, to take part in solving their problems, the barrier of criticism automatically disappears. The same individuals who resented intrusion will offer unreserved cooperation when they are let in on the problem at the start, and hence, become members of the team.
The fourth and final obstacle if fear of job security. Let’s face it. Every time there is a proposed change in an office, the employees get momentary jitters. What will this change do to my job? Fear of the unknown contributes to the employee’s resistance to change.
A company’s, division’s, agency’s or office’s very existence depends largely upon the quality of the work performed by its employees. Every employee must continually look for a better way to improve that quality. When an organization’s functions fail to improve, it may be eliminated or forced out of existence by other units which have, as part of their objectives, the constant review and upgrading of their functions. No strike, war or disaster can so completely destroy a person’s job as that. It is not a matter of whether we wish to improve our operations but the security of every person in the organization who depends upon it.
Dealing With Resistance to Change
Resistance may take a number of forms — persistent reduction in output, increase in employee turnover, strikes, and of course, the expression of a lot of pseudo-logical reasons why the change will not work. Even the more petty forms of this resistance can be troublesome. Let’s face it, in order for an organization to progress to a successful position in the world, changes must continually occur.
The key to the problem is understanding the true nature of resistance. Actually, what people resist is usually not technical change but social change — the change in their human relationships that generally accompanies technical change.
Business analysts can take concrete steps to deal constructively with these attitudes. The steps including emphasizing new standards of performance for staff and encouraging them to think in different ways, as well as making use of the fact that signs of resistance can serve as a practical warning signal in directing and timing technological changes.
Top executives can also make their efforts more effective at meetings of staff and operating groups where change is being discussed. They can do this by shifting their attention from the facts of schedules, technical details, work assignments, and so forth, to what the discussion of these items indicates about developing resistances and receptiveness to change.
In summing up, I think that we will all agree that all four obstacles to implementing a work simplification initiative can be overcome by letting the people who are involved in any methods or procedures alteration participate in the planning. When we conquer these obstacles, we will have these same people learn to laugh at complacency and poke fun at the complacent fellows who are so close-minded. Since they themselves advocate the change, we are able to alter more of their habits with little or no confusion. Criticism vanishes when a person participates, and of course, he feels more secure because he had a part in the planning and naturally will not jeopardize his own status.
Now we will look at the steps involved in implementing work simplification and the analysts role in the process.
So, you have a requirements plan and you have elicited functional, non-functional and quality of service requirements. You have validated and verified these requirements and your stakeholders are satisfied. Now what?
The requirements part of a business analysis project answers the questions “What do we have?” and “What do we need?” The next step is to evaluate and answer the questions “Is it any good?” and “What improvements can be made to the process?”
The Basic Work Simplification Process
As you know, a systematic, organized approach to any job or problem will find the best way more times than the haphazard approach of trial and error. That’s why I advocate a seven-step technique of analysis based on the philosophy of work simplification.
Step 1: Select the Job or Process to be Studied
Work seems too time-consuming, involves too many steps, is too expensive, is unsafe, requires a lot of overtime, etc.
Step 2: Record from Direct Observation All Aspects of the Job Selected
Gather all the facts as they are, such as job classification and organizational relationships. There are various modeling techniques available to help with this step.
Step 3: Analyze the Recorded Facts
Be sure to look critically from a constructive point of view.
Step 4: Develop a Better Method
Focus on each detail. Can you:
- Change steps, people, sequence, physical area, etc.?
Step 5: Analyze the New Method
Give attention to one thing at a time and challenge it for constructive improvements.
- Why is the job being done? If you decide that the job is necessary, start questioning each detail.
- What is being done and why? Get facts, not opinions!
- Where is it being done? Why? Could it be done better elsewhere?
- When is it being done? Why at this time? Could it be done better some other time?
- Who is doing it? Why is that person doing it? Does it tie in with the rest of his or her work? Could someone else do it better?
- How is the work being done? Why is it being done this way?
- What method is being used? Is there a better way?
Step 6: Test the New Method
Look for additional improvements. Do not overlook anything no matter how trivial it may seem to you.
Step 7: Install the New Method
Everything we have done so far is fine — but if we don’t convert to action, what good is it? To install the new method:
- Document the new method. List what it will do (e.g., save money, save time, require less effort, be safer, etc.)
- Sell it to those concerned
- Do a trial run
- Give credit to contributors
Consultation with the people involved is important in job improvement. No one can resist a new idea when it is partly his or hers. Be sincere when you deal with people — read their reactions and feelings and recognize their importance.
An Objective Approach to Work Simplification
The largest stumbling block to simplifying work does not lie in the technical aspects. Rather, it is in the minds of people doing the work who feel they are already using the best possible method. The minute you say a job cannot be improved, you are through, no matter how much you know. Someone who knows nothing about it but thinks it can be improved is now a better person for the job than you.
Charles F. Kettering, whose accomplishments with General Motors Corporation are legend, struck at the heart of the problem when he stated, “…it seems to me that it is pretty much of a definite law that man is so constituted as to see what is wrong with a new thing, and not what is right.”
In order to be receptive to new ideas, such as changes to processes or systems, business analysts and all of those involved in the process must look at it objectively and keep an open mind.
But, how do we develop an objective approach to analyzing work? We must recognize and embrace the basic elements of every work simplification initiative.
- An Open Mind
A willingness to listen to new ideas and suggestions will go a long way toward overcoming some of the obstacles to work simplification as already discussed in this article. This does not, however, imply that we should blindly accept all suggestions. But, it does mean that we should try to see the merit in the idea as well as its flaws. And, if there is real merit, we should work out the rough spots.
- The Questioning Attitude
If we try to approach our work with the following questions, we will certainly have overcome the obstacle of complacency:
- How can this be done better?
- Is this step or function truly necessary?
- How can I simplify this procedure?
When we try to make a methods change, it’s important that we reassure all persons involved that it won’t have an adverse effect on their job security or stature. It’s also necessary to make sure that the people involved fully understand the proposed change so that they will be able to adjust to it.
Perhaps the best way to overcome fear of criticism is to have the person responsible for the present system and the person with the new suggestion work together as a team to develop and install the new method.
This is the keystone to work simplification. It is the major factor that distinguishes the work simplification way from other means of accomplishing methods change. If participation is truly practiced, and the people doing the work are the ones responsible for changes, then most of the obstacles we discussed can be overcome smoothly and successfully.
The Analyst’s Role
Today’s business analysts occupy a strategic position. As specialists in the use and application of work simplification techniques, they will more frequently work closely with managers. Their role now also involves instructing the manager in the use and application of work simplification techniques and obtaining the maximum involvement between the business analyst, the supervisor and the employees in developing, testing and installing the improvements.
Remember, participation is key to work simplification efforts — if you encourage participation, you will be successful.