Hidden Capacity Buried in Just-in-case Work

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The cashier at a community centre closes her till at the end of each day with a printout of the total amount of money collected from patrons. She includes the summary with the money to be deposited at the bank. She archives the electronic copy of the summary and prints a hard copy for the accountant. The accountant promptly files it away. The filing is done for the purpose of audit trail. At the end of the year, the folder of physical copies is sent to storage in a remote location.

Why bother with the hard copies? Though this just-in-case practice consumes little time, it adds costs, including printing and storage. The hard copies are not needed for the information can be located electronically quickly when needed. On the contrary, the community centre incurs costs to retrieve the hard copies.

There are ample examples of just-in-case work. Tasks such as duplicate reviews, multiple tracking using different approaches and approvals for additional checks and balances. At the surface, just-in-case work looks sound because it presents an impression of thoroughness, minimal room for errors, or peace of mind. In reality, resources are usurped for unnecessary work.

Businesses cannot afford to waste resources on just-in-case work, especially redundant work. The resources consumed are hidden capacity that could be freed up quickly to address higher priority work.

To identify just-in-case work, there are five questions you can ask:

  1. What is the purpose of the work?
  2. Who is the recipient of the output?
  3. How does the recipient benefit from the work?
  4. Is there similar work performed to serve the same purpose?
  5. What are the negative impacts if the work is not done?

Once you identify the just-in-case work, estimate the effort consumed and the potential impacts of eliminating it. The data provide information for assessment and decision-making. Have a conversation with those involved and establish a clear understanding of the proposed change. In most cases, the alternative approach that might be in place already makes it an easy transition. When more complex changes to the status quo are necessary, be sure to educate people to get buy-in. The thought of losing work presents uncertainty. Individuals might react differently.

If you look around, it might be quite easy to unlock the hidden capacity buried in just-in-case, entrenched work. Find an objective, impartial individual to do the scouting. You might be surprised how much resources you could free up and reallocate to work that is more essential for serving the business and its customers.

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