So what does multi-skilling have to do with achieving targets?
One of the things that are really important about generating good flow in a process, regardless of whether products or services are produced is the multi-skilling of your people. Without multi-skilling, bottlenecks (or places where work piles up), are created in the business.
The classic example is to think of your business process in terms of a baton relay race. Let’s just say that you have multiple people involved in your process. Treat the handover of certain information or items in your process as a baton change between two people running in a race. Now picture yourself as the person holding the baton. You’re working in a typical business process, but as you move to pass the baton over to the next person, that person’s not there. So what happens to that baton in your typical business process? Well you probably put it down and you go and grab the next baton that’s come to your area and you continue working. But after a very short amount of time you end up with a pile of batons to pass to the next person- the next part of the process -and you end up with a pile of work that no one’s actually done.
The problem is that that only works for you in your part of the process. What about the next stage? You might think- ” That’s not my problem. It’s someone else’s problem in their area. It’s their deal, their problem to deal with.” The issue with that perspective is that it doesn’t take into account the need to drive customer value, it doesn’t get us closer to the end product or service that the customer really wants. We need to eliminate that bottleneck, and in situations like this, the best way to do that is to multi-skill.
So if I’m the person waiting to hand over the baton, and there’s no one there to hand it over to, I need to have the skills to continue completing the tasks that are active on that product or service to get it to the next stage. Initially, this feels counterintuitive, because you’ll recognise the work in your own process is building up. The issue here is though, if you don’t continue the process to completion, you’re not making for a happier customer. Over time, this kind of multi-skilling actually increases flow through processes, reduces the lead time to the customer and drives better customer value. Initially, it feels strange. It feels unusual- it doesn’t feel like it’s working very well. However, it’s guaranteed to force us to create certain efficiencies.
At the end of the day, multi-skilling is really a backup to plan for most processes. If someone is away sick or is dealing with another problem, someone who’s multi-skilled can carry on working on a product or service on their behalf until it is ready to pass on to the next process downstream. Multiskilled people are an asset to your business.
Now let’s put this into play with the idea of making and breaking standards; conducting Kaizen, or continuous improvement. When we have multi-skilling in place, it becomes apparent that when we improve our standards to the point where we don’t need as many people in the process- someone can now work on continuous improvement all the time. Multi-skilling has actually helped you to take that key person out and get them focused on continuous improvement.
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