Companies may be making a mistake when they launch projects and expect employees to follow the old cliché of “giving 100%.” Robert Handler, a Gartner analyst, found companies get the biggest payoff when they plan projects based on the notion employees will be able to devote only 70% to 80% of their time to the work. When “worker utilization” rises above 80%, a company loses money and time.
How can a company lose by making maximum use of its employees, which are the greatest asset of most organizations?
The problem stems from the nature of collaboration. As employees and teams have too many projects and tasks on their to-do lists, they can create bottlenecks and delays which in turn keep other employees from being able to do their work. The more that employees are expected to do – at a certain point – the less that actually gets done.
A jammed freeway
If a freeway is 80% utilized, cars move along quickly; if the freeway is filled to 100% capacity, it can become a parking lot. If you continue to open applications on your computer, the utilization of the device may reach 100% which means the performance will slow so much it barely functions. According to the Gartner research, the same less-is-more approach applies to people.
“When the team reaches 100% utilization, the individual processors (the brains of the people!) begin to slow as the ability to process information diminishes and anxiety increases,” says entrepreneur Dave Rooney. “This has the effect of slowing the team’s ability to communicate and operate effectively. When one or multiple people reach the point of shutting down, the network collapses.”
5 steps to productivity
Eileen O’Loughlin, a senior project management analyst for Capterra, a software provider, lays out a five step strategy to ensure workers operate at 80% utilization and achieve the highest amount of productivity:
- “Start tracking time and estimating level of effort.” This allows you to accurately benchmark how long tasks take.
- “Identify bottleneck resources.” This might be a data analyst who many different teams are counting on to assist with their individual projects.
- “Calculate availability for project work and 80% utilization.” Determine how many hours employees can reasonably dedicate to a project.
- “Institute thresholds for bottleneck resources and project teams.” Pinpoint when specific employees will reach the 80% point and their work will start to suffer.
- “Plan at 80% and manage at 80% to get 100% of (planned) work done.” Be realistic.
O’Loughlin points out that, “80% utilization does not mean that project teams should give 80% effort and then head out early at 3 p.m.” Achieving 80% worker utilization is about leaving slack in plans to accommodate miscalculations and not booking 100% of an employee’s time. With the 20% of time that employees have left over, you might give them free rein to work on side projects, a strategy that Google has employed to great success. By asking employees to do less, they may be happier, less stressed, and get more done.