Over the last decade, I have made many attempts (some documented in this column) to improve my personal work systems and processes but struggled to sustain them under the burden of a growing workload.
So when the NHS Institute decided to develop a workload management module as part of its productive leader programme, I was keen to test it.
Workload management will be the final module. It will complement the other modules currently at the final stage of testing with NHS leadership teams and getting great results.
Over the last few weeks, my team has worked with an operations logistics expert to analyse our daily workload and identify and test opportunities for improvement.
Our first project was "the well organised environment". We used classic "lean" improvement techniques to improve the physical office environment, email systems and shared computer drives. In fact, we adopted the "5S" approach (sort, set, shine, standardise, sustain) directly from the productive ward programme.
My office was first. We removed everything not essential every day - nearly 30 bags and boxes of materials (sort). We assigned the remaining items to their ideal places and created visual reminders of their location (set). We developed standardised procedures to keep the office orderly and functioning (shine/standardise), and introduced a weekly audit (sustain).
Now I have an uncluttered, calm environment where the systems work automatically, as they were designed to do.
The aspect that has made the single biggest difference is email system redesign. Previously, three people read and dealt with emails in my inbox (me, my PA and my business manager). There was much wasteful duplication. At the end of every day, around 80 per cent of those emails were still in my inbox. Less than half got actioned. Of those, only 40 per cent were actioned in less than 24 hours.
So we adopted the "see and treat" principle from emergency departments. This places the most senior decision maker at the front of the system so they can make better, quicker decisions that enable the rest of the process to flow effectively. Instead of delegating, I have reclaimed responsibility for my own inbox. But we have created support processes behind my triage decisions that work like clockwork.
My performance improvement graphs are spectacular. I clear my inbox each day. It has not saved me time, but I can respond reliably and quickly with a new level of control.
It is all working because we are following a systematic improvement process as a whole team. It is not just about me changing my work patterns and behaviours, but putting systems around me that make it impossible to return to my old ways. We are clear who does what and confident that every piece of work will be followed up. Most importantly, this programme has created a new openness and honesty in our relationships.
I thoroughly recommend the productive leader programme. I wish I had learned to do this 25 years ago.