• canibarro


Most of us struggle with the issue of staff capacity. It’s a significant issue to be sure, but for many of us the root cause is very different than we think it is.

Think about a difficult processes or issues you struggle with. Have you ever experienced any of these thoughts?

  • We need more time to get it done

  • We need more people/staff

  • We need more space

  • It won’t work. . . We’ve already tried that

  • “It” (the outcome, the process) is out of our control

Most of us have had these thoughts at one time or another. And sometimes they are true (capacity IS finite). That being said, my experience informs me that we’re too quick to jump to these solutions. Tied up capacity is often seen as a resource issue. . . Need more people, more money, more time, more space, more beds or slots. When you look at capacity from a resource lens, that’s ALL you’ll see.

But when you look at your capacity as a process issue, you find that the root issue isn’t time or money. A focus on process is important because this is where most teams and leaders get stuck. There is often more capacity than may appear. The problem lies in the way you think about capacity and how it works.

Most of us operate from a set of myths (I call them mythunderstandings) that distort our ability to think creatively about our resources.

MYTHUNDERSTANDING #1- WE DON'T MAKE PRODUCTS (we focus on what we do instead of what we create)

Lean thinking was born in the manufacturing world, where they make products all day long (cars, planes, computers, etc). But how many of you create products all day long? Think about it. How many of you create decisions, plans, schedules, goals, assessments, reports, and so on?

Most of us focus on what we do, but are disconnected from what we create; what result we strive to achieve. This is important because when we focus on what we do versus what we create, it makes our performance invisible.

I usually ask managers what they do all day long and they tell me they solve problems and sit in meetings. If I’m freeing up capacity for a manager, our first step is to identify what they CREATE. They may be creating decisions, plans of action, or alignment for a proposed change.

When we only see what we do, it stops us from asking WHY we do it that way AND it prevents us from addressing THE LEVEL at which we want to perform. I’ve worked with MANY managers to redesign their daily management structure aimed at freeing up their time by rethinking how they create decisions or plans of action. We freed up 10 hours per week with one manager. This couldn’t happen without clarity on what they create.

Your Challenge: Identify what products you create.


How productive would you say you are each day? Do you ever spend any time in your day waiting, searching (for people, answers, information), correcting work, following up with others due to ambiguous or missing information, doing work that is duplicative (enter information into multiple formats or databases), making multiple trips, sending or reading multiple emails that are redundant, etc?

Consider that these experiences are NOT actually work. I mean, you are AT work. You are “working”, but you may not be actively engaged in the act of what we call “work.” Work is a creative and transformative act. If you're doing any of the activities listed above, you may actually be engaged in Waste. Waste is any activity that consumes your resource (time, staff, budget, supplies, equipment, patience/energy, focus, creativity) but adds NO value to what you create for others.

Waste is a symptom of bad process. When we say we don’t have time to improve, we are actually making time for waste by allowing it to continue. Waste not only sucks our capacity, but it impacts our lives. It robs us of our patience, our creativity, our focus, our excitement, and our engagement.

We end up spending more time making it work instead of making a difference.

Waste comes cleverly disguised as work. Up to 90% of processes are made up of waste.

This is important because if you can train your eye to see waste, you can begin to see where your capacity is tied up. You can even quantify it! Your limited resources are drained by waste. We believe being able to see waste is the key to unlocking your capacity and creativity.

Your Challenge: Identify the wastes that exist in your processes.

MYTHUNDERSTANDING #3- WE HAVE TOO MUCH WORK TO DO (too much on our plate) to focus on improvement

Anytime you create something for someone, there is a process. I want you to see what you create (product). I want you to see what gets in the way of your ability to create it (waste). Finally, I want you to see the ACTIVITY that makes the difference.

Let me introduce the Pareto Principle (known as the 80/20 rule). The principle states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. Very few of our actions create the largest portion of our results. Think about that. Of ALL you did today. . . of ALL you talked about in your meetings, if you examine it close enough, you’ll find that very few actions actually led to the outcome you created. The rest was waste (extra analysis, extra processing, clarification, etc.).

Here is what you need to know: Every step in a process is either waste or it add value; PERIOD.

Are you clear which activity or steps in your process add value? If you’re not clear on what you create, you will never be clear about what activity is essential to create it, which will leave you open to more waste in your process. If you’re not clear that the goal of your 30 minute meeting is arrive at a decision AND what critical thinking/conversation is needed, one of two things will happen. You will either take the full 30 minutes to arrive at the decision or you will need more time. But here is what most of us fail to consider: you may not need the full 30 minutes or even the meeting at all.

When you look at your capacity as a process issue, you find that the root issue isn’t a lack of resource, but unclear or poor process. Either there is no process, it’s not being managed, or you have the wrong process. Being clear on the impact you create will clarify a vital piece of performance: The Value Added activity.

Your Challenge: Get clear on what is value-added in your process.

Lean thinking connects us to our purpose. The goal is that we fulfill on our purpose daily. Waste obstructs us from fulfilling on our purpose by robbing our capacity. My goal for you is you spend less time making it work and more time making a difference.

Lean practices encourage making your work visible, making it move, making it measurable to tap into creativity to free up resources. What are you seeing as possible?