Blog

COVID-19 Remote Working: The Importance of Aligning the Scope

In the final instalment of our ‘Remote Working’ blog series we will be highlighting how the importance of aligning the scope of projects and work can result in shorter lead-times, better quality, and ultimately more output. Our previous blog posts in this series looked at how good visual management can increase output and investment from staff (click here to read), and how controlling the Work in Process can ensure you meet your deadlines and due-dates (click here to read).

COVID-19 forced businesses all over the world to set up their employees to work from home. In the UK we are emerging from our third government lockdown, but many businesses will continue to have people work from home, maybe to save money on offices or to allow employees to save time and money on a commute. Whilst working from home has benefits, you need to ensure your business can operate as successfully as before while your people are working remotely. The problem is, whilst your team is not all together in the office, there can be misalignments on what to do and how to do it, to the point where the end product is not good enough. Misalignments occur often, even without the added challenge of remote working, and they can be very difficult to manage. If you are finding that there is lots of work to be done, but your capacity is reduced (through furlough or lay-offs) or feels reduced (remote working) – get in touch for a conversation on how to best manage capacity to achieve the highest output. This article will help you ensure the work that comes back to you is of the highest possible standard. It isn’t that your team members are doing a bad job, they’re very competent people – otherwise you wouldn’t have hired them! It is more likely that they are not experiencing the right conditions to be able to do it right first time.

So, when you are presented with a work product you are not happy with; you are thus faced with a dilemma. Either you ask your people to do it again, increasing the rework (and cost). Often then, the lead-time increases and you have to push back the due-dates or deadlines. Or, if those consequences seem out of the question, you will have to accept and work with compromised content – knowing that the final product isn’t good enough. This option is often even worse (than the delays) because you know the changes you need to make but you don’t have the time or money required to make them. So, the dilemma facing management seems to be either to do it again, or live with it…

This would happen even when we were working face-to-face, but it’s even worse now that we all feel somewhat disconnected. There is more room for misinterpretations and misalignments. But why do we have misalignments in the first place? People are mis-synchronised on what is expected and what is to be delivered – mis-synchronised on what ‘good’ looks like.

Whether face-to-face or remote, misalignments occur because people need to make assumptions and interpretations about how best to do something – there are many ways to achieve the same goal. We rely on competent individuals to make good judgements. That’s fine when the output is clear, or there is a large tolerance for what acceptable looks like, but often this isn’t the case. Management often have expectations they want met, first time. So, why are competent, hardworking staff making assumptions that are not aligned with the Directors/Managers’ vision. It must be that the communication of the original ‘intent’ is not clear between the people assigning the work and all the people completing the work. One person might be clear on their bit, another might be clear on theirs but neither have any idea how their tasks fit together to contribute to the final result.

The reason communication isn’t clear comes down to two things. People are good at explaining what is important but not so good at explaining why. So, when people need to make interpretations about how to complete their task, they make the wrong one because they are not aware of what’s important and why. The second reason communication can be inefficient is when one person is clear on what’s important and why, but it isn’t communicated to all the people who will need to make a judgement on it. So, anything you can do to improve the explanation of what’s important and why, to every person involved will mean there are fewer wrong interpretations, and therefore fewer mistakes and less rework required.

Imagine the designing of a care of a car. When the process begins with the designer, it starts as more of a concept than a detailed technical drawing. Then, the vision is turned into the materials and processes. Decisions need to be made on aerodynamics and design versus power for example, or cost versus quality? These are all decisions that need to be made at a system, sub-system and component level and, if a manager doesn’t inform you, you may make an erroneous decision if you don’t understand what is and what is not important – and why.

The danger is that once you are aware that the problem lies in communication, managers often fall into the trap of trying to solve it by making the specification as detailed as possible, but this creates its own problems. To ensure people understand the vision, managers create tighter, longer and more detailed specifications – sometimes hundreds of pages which nobody will read! They might read the first few pages and once they think they have enough, they will get on with the job. When people set out to create the specification or presentation, they tend to spend a lot of time describing what to do and how; but there’s more to it than that.

So, we need to find a way of saying why things are/are not important in a concise way. We ask our clients to use these four questions:

1.) Why? Why do you want this task completed in the first place? Set the context:

a. What is the problem with today’s situation?

b. What will completing this task give us in the future? What will it allow us to achieve? What is it you are aiming for?

Example:

a. The current contract is ending, and our invoicing will stop then.

b. Signing a follow-on contract with no gaps will protect our invoicing going forward.

2.) What? What does ‘done’ look like? What must be achieved for this to be considered a success?

Example:

Inside Sales have successfully booked a final Sales meeting between the client decision maker and our field salesperson. They can now meet and sign a follow-on contract.

Sometimes the first two questions are sufficient. As a manager, you can always give your team these two and tell them ‘I don’t mind how you do it as long as the result is achieved’. But often, managers offer suggestions on how to achieve it leading to question three:

3.) How? How to achieve this? This is what people tend to be good at describing – the actions that need to be taken. What to start doing / stop doing / keep doing.

Example:

The inside Salesperson should phone the Managing Director 20 times to book the meeting.

4.) If you address the ‘how’ the fourth question should cover the ‘because’. What is the assumption behind why these actions are being recommended? If you give someone a ‘how’ you should give them a ‘why’.

Example:

(The Salesperson should phone 20 times to book the meeting because) the MD is often in and out of meetings but will be able to pick up calls in between; you should get him eventually.

People tend to be very good at the middle two; they can often say what they want and how they want it done. However, it is the first and fourth questions that give the team the context to make accurate assumptions and interpretations themselves. How often have you heard the explanation that “I call him once a day and couldn’t get through”?

If you look back at your most recent instructions to your team members, is it clear why you’re asking them to do this task? It’s the ‘why’ that gives them all the information they need to allow them to make the correct judgement, or to let them know that they need to contact you before making an important decision. You will notice the number of misinterpretations dramatically reduce, and the amount of rework will decrease alongside it. You don’t need to brief your team this way for everything, just those important jobs you cannot afford to redo or accept poorer quality on, or maybe on those things which you haven’t been happy with in the past – odds are one of those four questions wasn’t covered in the brief!

Regardless of whether your team is working from home or face-to-face, align the scope and reduce misinterpretations to achieve less rework, shorter lead-times and more output and capacity. Any questions? Send us an email to [email protected].

By Phil Snelgrove, Lauren Wiles