Workload balance refers to all steps in a process having roughly the same workload so that the flow of work through these process steps is balanced. Let’s take a simple example of a three-step loan approval process. The first step is done by a Jack who enters all the customer information from a paper document into the computer. He takes on an average 10 minutes to do this activity for each customer. He has to enter information such as name, address, phone numbers, social security number, credit details etc. The second step in the process is done by Jill. She has to check the credit rating for each customer using an online portal and enter the credit score for this customer in the customer record. She takes roughly 4 minutes to do this activity for each customer. The final step is done by Ron who makes a decision whether to approve or reject the loan application based on the customer details and then sends a notification to the customer. He takes roughly 6 minutes to do this activity. Let’s also assume that each person does this activity immediately and there is no buffer or work-in-process between each step. If a customer calls in with the details, then roughly after 20 minutes he or she can get a notification whether their loan is approved or rejected. The total cycle time (20 min) is the sum of the cycle times for each step in the process (10 + 4 + 6) when there is no work-in-process or buffer between each step in the process.
The jobs processed by each step in the process are shown by the figure below.
We would say that this process is not balanced. The reason is that each step in the process takes different amounts of time. The first step takes 10 minutes and while this person is working, the second person has to wait for his activity – so we do not have full utilization of the second resource. Once the first step is done, then the second person can start working on his activity. Let’s assume a TAKT time of 10 minutes – which means that on an average new customers are calling in every 10 minutes with a loan approval request. In this scenario, the first person is always busy since his activity takes 10 minutes. As soon as he finishes one job, a new customer calls and he has to repeat his activity again – no rest or break! The second person does his job in only 4 minutes so he is basically waiting for 6 minutes for the next job and then he works for 4 minutes on each job. A much better scenario compared to the first person. We are not fully utilizing this resource – his utilization at best is 40%. In addition, the first person may feel that they are being overworked while other people in the organization are having it “easy”.
A sample Cycle Time – TAKT Time chart is shown below.
The red line corresponds to a TAKT time of 10 min. From this chart it can be seen that the cycle time for Jack is equal to the TAKT time at 10 min, while the cycle times for Jill and Ron are less than 10 min. Thus both Jill and Ron have waiting time while Jack is fully busy with his activities. Jack’s process is called the bottleneck process since his cycle time is the largest and this process controls the overall throughput of the system. So, in an hour we can expect that this process will process at most 6 applications (60 min / 10 min per application). The throughput of this entire process can only be improved if the cycle time of the bottleneck process is reduced.
If all steps of the process have value added activities, then the only way to improve throughput is to re-arrange the workload between the three steps so that we can reduce the overall time. If we redistribute the activities so that we can take some of the actions being performed by Jack and distribute them to Jill and Ron then the workload for each step in the process is similar – we call such a process balanced. The throughput of the entire process can now increase to 9 applications (60 min / 6.67 min per application). In order to do workload balancing, one option is to redistribute the workload to other steps in the process. Other techniques that can be used to reduce the cycle time are to use SMED activities to reduce the cycle time of the bottleneck process, use Kaizen to reduce the cycle times, and finally use of visual aids and Standard Operating Processes (SOP) to minimize variation.
The benefits of workload balance are:
All steps in the process have similar cycle times – so employee motivation is high
Throughput of the process is maximized
There are no points in the process where we need to accumulate inventory
Rework is reduced since we have less mistakes due to lack of overload of bottleneck process
In order to implement workload balancing, we need to ensure that the following items are considered:
Each step in the process should be relatively free from quality problems
Each step should have equipment that does not breakdown often
Operators should be trained so that they don’t make too many mistakes
Operators should be cross-trained to cover absenteeism or any other absences
Incoming work into the process should also be relatively stable with minimal rush orders
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