The Work We ALL Do
The Nature of Work

Of all the learning and training I have had on lean and quality through my career, one of the most important pieces has been about the nature of the work that we ALL do. 

Our title gives a clue to our position in the organization and the breadth and scope of our responsibilities, but really doesn't speak to the work we do.   Our job descriptions may speak to functional areas we deal with and specific activities we may perform, but again, they don't speak to the work we actually do.  To really understand the work we do, requires that we look at the work actually being done at specific moments in time and then build a picture of the work we really do.

A watershed training event was delivered by the Conway Management Company as part of their Right Way to Manage Program.  In the Conway model, there are four major categories of work:

Value-Added Work: What external customers pay us to do or would pay us to do if they knew we were doing it.

Necessary Work: The work we do to keep the organization running, but has no value to the external customer - they don't care.

Not Working: 
Approved - breaks, holidays and vacations. 
Not approved - coming in late, taking extended lunches or filling out your March Madness bracket.

Unnecessary Work: 
Rework - work we do because something was not done correctly or completely the first time.  
Other non-value added work such as preparing reports no one wants, uses or needs or tasks that have outlived their usefulness.

Studies show that unnecessary work and not working can exceed 50% of the total time spent in organizations.

Rework is pervasive.  Rework is all the things we do because something was not done completely or correctly in the first place. We tend to think of rework as applying only to products, but it applies to management activities, administrative tasks and general business processes as well.  I find that I spend significant amounts of my time doing rework because processes are not defined or are not followed.  A key quality/lean practice is to drill down to the root cause and fix the problem, not the symptom and as rework occurs, it is important to put the improvement process in play to fix the process.

As you go through your daily routines or look at the operations in your organization, sensitize yourself to the various classifications of work and mentally ask yourself, how would I classify this.  Activities that fit the definition of rework should set off an alarm bell in your head.  

By looking at rework and other unnecessary work, you can focus your attention on continuous improvement activities and root cause analysis to eliminate the cause of the issue that is generating rework rather than building processes and systems to accommodate rework.  Shifting the time and effort spent on rework to value added work is a major opportunity for improvement initiatives and can produce spectacular results.


If you have questions or would like to discuss how these or other supply chain concepts and ideas can be applied within your organization, you may contact me at David.Armstrong@inventorycurve.com.

  ®  Inventory Curve, LLC, Westminster, Colorado USA
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