Capacity management – The forgotten science of run.

There was a time when I seemed to be the youngest person in any meeting. Now, I’m the oldest. The transition happened in an instant; there was no middle ground. A bit like an electron that could be at point A or point B but never between A and B, I had quantum jumped from bright young thing to grumpy old ops head in the blink of an eye.

I guess that's life, but it did give me pause to reflect on what's fast approaching 30 years in service operations.

I've really only done seven things in those 30 years. Well more accurately, I've done lots of things that seem to fall into seven categories or operational strategies:

  • Making work disappear (re-engineering, Failure Demand Analysis etc. to eliminate work that doesn't need to happen or the root causes of work that doesn't need to be created)
  • Getting customers to help in doing the work (migration to digital, improving input quality)
  • Getting the computer to do the work (automation, Straight-through-processing, Robotic Process Automation)
  • Making work quicker to do (process re-engineering, lean, six-sigma)
  • Making the work cheaper to do (outsourcing and off-shoring)
  • Getting the right people in the right place at the right time to do the work (capacity or production management)
  • Making it a great place to work
  • You know all of those debates around who the "Greatest of all time is"? The greatest striker, golfer, President etc... They're fun to have, so in that spirit which of this list of seven operational strategies is the greatest? Or, if you were running an operation and had to pick just one of the seven which one would it be?

In considering proposed operational changes, I have a mental check-list. What will the change do to customer experience? What about efficiency? Will it increase or decrease Operational Risk? What will it do to my people?

Arguably, six of the seven strategies impact positively on all dimensions. Customers like being in control and entering transactions on a digital channel also reduces risk and improves efficiency. Making the work quicker helps improve client experiences, reduces the risk of things going wrong, improves efficiency and eliminates the frustration of doing pointless tasks.

But to me, there is one strategy that is not only vital in itself but also a foundation on which everything else is built. That's having the right people in the right place at the right time, or capacity management.

If you're not able to do this effectively then no matter how good your lean programme has been, how many robots you have, how high your STP rate is or how many FTE you have right shored you will not be operating efficiency, controlling risk, looking after your people or delivering the customer experience that you want. It wasn't the rooms that made Fawlty Towers so bad, it was the way that Basil ran it.

Through my career I've seen the damage that ineffective capacity management brings. Backlogs out of control, tired people, angry customers, stressed managers.

At an Operations Excellent conference in Vienna I spoke about capacity management. I followed a stream of speakers who had shared details of their own bank's (almost identical) RPA programmes.

There was a palpable sigh of relief from the audience when they realised I was talking about something different, but the reaction to capacity management surprised me. To some it was a nostalgic response (I remember that we used to do this) to others it was new.

In all of the transformation/digitisation/robotics strategies, have we really forgotten the most important thing of all - the art and science of running operations?

“Stuart has over 28 years of experience of leading change in service operations. His career has spanned project and programme management, strategy, consulting and leading operations divisions and functions. After 17 years with HSBC working in the UK and India, he moved to Abu Dhabi heading operations for ADCB.

Stuart joined ActiveOps in 2016 and leads its Customer Success function.”

Stuart Pugh, Chief Customer Officer, ActiveOps