A team with four decent sprinters can out-race a team with four better sprinters by beating the faster team in the exchange zones. The key to this event is how much time the baton spends in those exchange zones. – Mike Rosenbaum, Bleacher Report sports writer
The failure of work transitions is like the invisible killer disease pervading the organization.
It spreads through email, status meetings, phone calls. Everyone is good at getting their own tasks done, then they hand the project off like a baton in a relay race, and it’s “no longer their problem,” so the project lays there, waiting for the next person to pick it up.
The issue with this is that until someone else picks it up, it’s no one’s problem, and it can end up sitting, unfinished, for long periods of time. People like to think that once they hand it off, someone else will immediately pick it up, but this is not always the case.
A good example of the problems inherent in the relay of work is the approvals process, a critical component of a smooth and efficient business. Approval processes can be long and drawn out, and management may forget to respond to employees’ email requests. Once an employee sends out the request, they may move on to the next task until they get a reply. If that reply never comes, the task doesn’t get completed.
Emails can be missed, information might be missing, or people might simply forget about their task and let the baton drop. For example, you might know that a purchase order needs to be reviewed by three different colleagues, but you simply forgot to put the third name in the “to” line of the email that you are manually sending out. Small, manual mistakes like that impact how fast your processes get completed and, in the worst case, they can lead to conflicts and bigger problems down the line.
Teamwork fails most often in the moments between us.
– Ian James, The Process Consultant
When the baton is finally picked up, it is often missing some key ingredients for that person to be successful during the next stage of the process. For instance, they may see that an unusual decision has been made. Instead of being updated with the reasoning for it, they may spend their time trying to find answers and get approvals before moving on.
Virtualization makes the problem worse
The virtualization of the workforce – where employees can work from anywhere – and the virtualization of work – where work may be done by anyone, inside or outside the organization – significantly increases the everyday problems all organizations experience: things falling through the cracks, lag time between tasks, and the lack of visibility over who is doing what when. It’s hard enough transitioning work successfully to the person down the hall, but when that person works for another company, is somewhere else in the world, and speaks a different language, successful transitions are infinitely more complex.
All of these problems come down to work transition – the silent killer of productivity of every organization. In business, the point of transition is hard to see, so it doesn’t get nearly enough attention. But with virtualization of work and the workforce, effectively managing the transition of work becomes a critical success factor.
Typical work transition questions include:
- How do I know when you are done with your task so I can start mine?
- How do I know that you completed everything you were supposed to do before I get it so I don’t have to go back and forth to get what I need?
- How can I make the best decisions and take the right actions if I don’t have all the context I need?
- How do I know you are working on something, or if something is running late, without having to call or email?
7 ways to improve work transitions
So how can you improve work transitions in your organization?
- Provide end-to-end visibility over who is doing what, in real-time, reducing the need for status meetings, and increasing the ability to preempt possible problems.
- Provide a common medium through which everyone involved can communicate, including external participants.
- Provide the ability to easily collaborate at transition points, where context – the conversations and decisions made along the way – is readily available.
- Provide a clear understanding of what is required to be done before the work transition can take place. Because of the short shelf life of knowledge and the transient nature of workers, facilitate the provision fresh packages of knowledge to workers when they need to get something done.
- Provide the ability to set monitoring thresholds so that notification, reminders and escalations can be automated to reduce lag time between transitions, and to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
- Provide the ability to automate rules to reduce the possibility of error when the transitions take place.
- Provide the ability for work to follow the worker. Workers needs to be told when they need to do something, and this notification needs to come with everything they need to do complete the work – without having to go somewhere else to do it.