Can you really apply the efficiencies of factory operations to knowledge work?

Some business processes have been done the same way, for so long, that everyone assumes that they’re, naturally, being done the best way. The most efficient, and productive way.

You can already guess where this is going. Because the opposite is true.

In this article, we’re going to address, and dismantle, three pervasive preconceived notions about office work, also known as knowledge work. This isn’t an academic exercise; it’s a way for you to learn how to gain newfound efficiencies and productivity, in your business, using the age-old idea of standardization, combined with new “deep digitization” strategies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and advanced analytics or business intelligence (BI).

To illustrate our points, we’ve even created an entertaining and informative five-minute video about it, which you can view below.

How to standardize knowledge work: Misplaced assumptions

Knowledge work is defined as the efforts that “white collar” office workers perform daily, as they sit at computers, work on the phone, or sit in meetings, whether in-person or virtual. Everyone assumes that knowledge work, by definition, is unique. It requires unique skill sets to continually solve entirely new problems, right?

Allow us to digress a minute. You’ll see why.

The construction of buildings provides a good analogy here. People have been laying bricks, for example, since the days of the Egyptian pyramids. So, along the way, they naturally figured out the best way to do it, right?

Fast-forward a few thousand years, to the early 1900s. This is when researchers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth challenged that notion. They did a deep dive, documenting and filming bricklayers at work.

What they discovered was that the bricklayers weren’t wasting bricks or mortar. But they were wasting effort. Thanks to seemingly tiny modifications of the technique pioneered by the Gilbreths, bricklayers were able to go from laying 300 bricks a day to 300 bricks an hour.

Office work challenges for standardization

Today, knowledge workers make up the majority of the job force. And just like the bricklayers, they’ve been working the same way for centuries. Even the addition of computers, back in the 1970s, didn’t make them any more efficient; this is known as the “Productivity Paradox.”

Still, opportunities are hiding in plain sight. As it turns out, knowledge workers spend 35 percent of their day on what we at The Lab call “virtuous waste”: correcting errors, duplicating work, or over-serving customers. They believe that it’s unavoidable. But it isn’t.

This is the first of the three assumptions we’d like to dismantle. While your business certainly is unique, tons of its components— organizational structure, business processes, work activities—are common to those in other business. And so are the improvements. All of these components are ripe for standardization.

It’s just like buildings. Each building in a city skyline is unique. But its components—doors, windows, heating systems—are similar. When you use this analogy, you can begin to wrap your head around the way The Lab is able to increase efficiencies and unlock “hidden” workforce capacity.

Any office worker today will tell you that their work is unique. But that’s what factory workers believed, too, back when their skills were handed down via tribal knowledge… before their activities were scrutinized and standardized to enable mass production.

Knowledge work is surprisingly similar. In fact, two-thirds of knowledge-work activities are similar and repetitive—ideal for standardization.

Which leads to the biggest misconception of them all:

When a manufacturer looks to automate an activity, they know that they first need to standardize it. Knowledge workers, per Belief Number 2, think that their efforts can’t be standardized.

But they can. And that’s how you overcome the Productivity Paradox, and pave the way for the deep digitization, and automation, of knowledge work. Another eye-opening statistic: fully 75 percent of knowledge-work improvements require no new core technology whatsoever. They simply require what we at The Lab call “nano-scale standardization”: down to the two-minute-level of activity.

As noted above, this is the way it becomes possible to find literally scores of use-cases for automation, and thus “park a bot” upon repetitive chores which your workers don’t enjoy doing. Not only do robotic process automation (RPA) bots work faster than humans, but they don’t make typos, or take breaks, or slow down. And contrary to popular belief, human workers love to offload tedious chores to bots, so that they can focus on higher-value, more fulfilling, activities. That helps you boost retention of valuable talent.

Similarly, once a foundation of Knowledge Work Standardization® has been created, it’s then possible for The Lab to implement business intelligence (BI) analytics, which are able to crunch mountains of formerly-disconnected data in real time, presenting it all visually in a simple “dashboard” that makes executive-level decision-making fast, intuitive, and precise.

Book Your Demo

The best way to appreciate all of the opportunities and benefits that await your business is to schedule your free, no-obligation 30-minute screen-sharing demo with The Lab. You’ll see real process maps, BI dashboards, and RPA bots in action. You’ll learn how we do all this from our U.S. offices in Houston, with nothing outsourced or offshored, and get all your questions answered by our friendly experts.

Simply call (201) 526-1200 or email to book your demo today!


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