Jim GrohmanFirst of a two-part series on capacity management.

We’ve all learned a lot during these last years of trying economic times. We’ve adjusted expectations, changed tactics and cut costs on a number of fronts to absorb and sidestep the impact of less spending on things that aren’t critical to day-to-day operations. For many, adjusting organizational capacity has been a critical approach to dealing with such matters.

We know that downsizing personnel has it challenges. Everyone is trying to do more with less while trying to improve and increase results—never an easy task. And despite some evidence that there might be some light at the end of the downturn tunnel, with the fiscal cliff looming, and geopolitical and economic situations enflamed around the world (from the crisis in European Union markets to events in the Middle East) now is not the time to let up on lean operations.

That said, now is a good time to reexamine the potential upside of capacity reduction beyond the obvious money savings. There are some benefits of such activity that you’ll want to make sure you maintain even when it does come time to staff up again, including a tighter focus on the highest operational priorities, those activities that drive end value.

You have smart people in place with good judgment, so being forced to “keep it simple” results in a reduction of unnecessary work and bureaucracy, and gets people to focus in on the jobs they’re assigned to master and execute. Ensuring value and eliminating waste in all operations can be easier to accomplish when each team member has more to do than time to do it.

Trimming waste is (almost) always a good thing on its money-saving surface, but its role in requiring people to work smarter is perhaps even more critical. In a leaner workplace, there’s less opportunity to offload tasks and cover for wasted effort, and when assistance is required, team planning becomes paramount. Territorial issues are also lessened, as people are more focused on how they can get everything done—something extremely helpful to successful operations if there is clarity of roles and responsibilities.

Reduced capacity helps you to focus on process and methodology in a more proactive way. Given fewer resources, building in clarity so there is minimal need to negotiate who does what becomes necessary, as opposed to being reactive—i.e. ‘We can handle problems as they arise because we have the personnel to do so.” This means thinking beyond “kick off” when planning implementations—from software to new events—clarity of roles, tight process and focused team members will drive the right results even with less resources.

A big part of our business is implementing new processes or systems. Traditionally clients think about what it will take to get from the current state to having the new system in place without much thinking about what it will take to maintain the system once it is up and running. During these leaner times, however, we advise our clients to think about and plan for the costs and resources required to maintain systems and programs over time. Ensuring that this capacity planning is part of any change process can be the difference between success and failure for the organizational change, particularly with little to no slack in the system.

Even with the best planning, we never advise to bring excess capacity to zero, because no system is perfect. Balancing these dynamics is crucial to continued success and evolution of a healthy organization. Next month we’ll look at how, indeed, “less can be less,” and explore some of things you need be careful when leaning up.

“Jim’s Tools of the Trade” blog posts are featured monthly. Vice President, Operations Jim Grohman provides our project teams and managers, as well as our IT group and customer service specialists, leadership and guidance to ensure flawless delivery. A former Major with the United States Marine Corps, Jim is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is certified as a PMI Project Management Professional.

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