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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 88 – Job Process Analysis

In this issue we will look at:
•    Job Process Analysis
•    Production Line Thinking
•    Black Holes

Job Process Analysis

When was the last time you analysed your job, or more specifically the tasks that make up your job? If I were to hazard a guess I would say maybe once when you had to write some kind of procedure manual. So a question to start this edition of Information Overload for Registrants and other interested readers is – when was the last time you used your own procedure manual to see if what is written down is actually how you do your job?

So why don’t we? Well in a typical situation –

The procedure manual is written, sometimes they are written as overarching procedures that give a broad outline and sometimes you get work instructions – sometimes you get both and sometimes they are reviewed on a semi-regular basis to ensure what is written is still actually the process.

More often than not though:

1.    The manual may be out of date and the way you now do your job is not reflected because of changes to systems (software/hardware), structure of the organisation or personnel.
2.    You may have found a better / faster way of doing something and you didn’t update the manual either because:
a.    you didn’t know it existed,
b.    you didn’t feel you had the authority to;
c.    you don’t have the time;
d.    you don’t consider it anyone else’s business but your own about how you complete your day-to-day tasks – so long as they get done (this also ties in with the next point).
3.    You don’t like the way the manual says you should do something so you have devised your own way of working. This usually happens when for instance a new system has been rolled out and you weren’t in on the consulting phase, weren’t asked what you wanted the new system to be able to do, find it too cumbersome so you have devised a work around or you may just think that your way is better.

You may not be in a position to do this, but it is interesting if you can. Understanding how and why jobs are completed (through job process analysis) can and does high-light holes in the way an organisation conducts its business which of course translates into how much money is made (gross profit) and how much net profit is made (the important bit) – take off the time it takes personnel to do their job, how much they are paid and other overheads and all of a sudden what you thought was a profitable enterprise all of a sudden isn’t.

Production line thinking:
Imagine if you will a factory production line. What happens if one of the personnel is not doing his / her job properly, calls in sick, disappears throughout the day without telling anyone – the production line is likely to suffer as a result isn’t it? Things start to back up, things are not completed, and they fall off the end because the person responsible for packing isn’t there and so on. In the case of absenteeism the place would have been filled with someone else – whether that person would be able to work at the same pace depends on the complexity of the job, the training offered and support of the co-workers as the replacement worked through the process. But in the rest of these scenarios, the slacking off / disappearance of a member of the team is at the least likely to cause resentment because they are not doing their job and certainly not pulling their weight, and at the worst – will stop the production line because they are not there to do their bit of the process.

Whilst most of us won’t work in a factory setting, there are some similarities with regards to most office / library based positions. In a nutshell:

Job process analysis looks at:
•    How you do things
•    How your colleagues do things
•    How your “bit” fits with the other “bits” to make up
•    How the business does things

So going back to the first set of questions – how do you do things?

•    Do you follow the manual?
•    Do you have your own way of working?

Would either of these options be the best way of doing things?

Breaking it down:

•    Where are you on the “production line?”
•    Who precedes you?
•    Who follows you?

You may say you are not anywhere on the “production line”, your job is independent of everyone else, that may be so, in which case your job process analysis will be easier to conduct, but bear with me for just a moment.

We first need to look at the entire list of duties which make up your position. If you don’t have a job description to hand, now would be a good idea to write down all the individual duties you are currently employed to perform.

Each one of these duties will have multiple tasks associated with them.

Write these down as well.

Again the question – what part do you play in each of these individual tasks? Who else plays a part in completing this task? How many people have the same job title as you?

I worked in an academic library with over 70 FTE staff employed on a permanent basis. Of these, 10 made up the shelving team (and the rest of us pitched in when things got busy). Each person had their own area assigned and each person had a different way of handling the job. Some would sort the entire trolley, others would sort shelf by shelf, yet others would sort each side separately. There was no right or wrong way to sort the books, but it made the job easier when it came to putting the books back onto the right shelf. If each person had to write down their own work instructions they would differ from their fellow shelvers work instructions, granted not that dramatically – but they would differ.

But what has that job got to do with the way you do your work?

Most people thought they were being efficient, in reality not everyone was and everyone could have benefited from some kind of training – yes even when it comes to shelving books. There were 3 floors and over 12 million items, small compared to some institutions I know but can you imagine starting on day one being given a trolley of books and told to “go stick these back on the shelves”. If you didn’t know the first thing about how a library worked you would go to the nearest shelf, unload your books and be back in about 5 minutes. You did everything that was asked of you, but because you weren’t taught at least the basics of how to shelve books, how the classification system worked and how the books needed to be in the correct order within a broad numbering system then you would not be able to do your job properly and that would impact on everyone else.

•    Your fellow shelvers would have to spend time re-shelving the books you put on the shelf.
•    Students would not be able to find them
•    Requests would be made for items to be found and other members of staff would be dispatched to see if they could find the “missing” items.
•    Requests may be needed to obtain another copy from another borrower (if more than one in the collection); another library if no other copy was available or another copy may be bought if the book was deemed important enough to spend the money on again.
And all because a “shelver” didn’t follow the rules or wasn’t told what the rules for shelving were.

Black Holes:
But what of a situation where you did your job efficiently, effectively and you handed your “bit” over to another person in the department so they could do theirs – and …..

We see this all the time, people ask to attend training, the course material is checked for relevance by a supervisor and permission is given. You fill in the forms and hand the sheet over, a few days before the course you contact the training organisation asking when you were likely to receive a confirmation letter as you haven’t heard anything yet, only to be told you weren’t actually booked on – the paperwork hadn’t been received.

Or you fill in an order for an item (requisition) send it through to purchasing and it disappears

Now, neither of these acts may be deliberate, after all the people you are handing over your “bit” to, may have too much work, may not be there on the day your request gets to their desk or a million other reasons. But the process fails.

Which is why conducting a job process analysis review cannot be done in isolation. So why am I telling you this?
•    Well you may be in a position to do something about it, or
•    You may be in a position to suggest the organisation does something about it.

When it comes to operational efficiency undertaking a Job Process Analysis can be a real eye opener.

With many thoughts
Lorraine