Continuity of operations is a huge subject in itself, but I am primarily interested in the continuity of operations when knowledge holders are leaving an organisation or want to leave an organisation. There is an old saying, ‘you always give a good handover, but always receive a bad handover’. What this is saying is that we all think that when handing something over to other people we give them a good briefing, provide all the information they need and tell them where they can find more. But when we take something over we are too busy understanding the basics to ask the right questions, gain clarification or remember the detail. You can hand over a process but it’s very hard to hand over knowledge and experience. This means that there will always be a capability gap between an individual leaving an operation and the new incumbent, unless there is a very long handover period. If there are critical parts to the role being handed over, or if there is frequent transfer of the role then it is important that this gap is kept to a minimum. Having lone individuals with critical knowledge and capability (single point dependencies) presents a big risk to an organisation.
One way to do this is to have a set of up to date clear standard operating procedures, clearly recorded data stored in an easy to use system, and with a comprehensive list of future actions. But let’s face it, how many of us could say we have this? Most of us have our data and actions spread across a range of personal technology like phones and laptops, often without the ability to automatically synchronise, with lots only written down in files or note books, a draw full of business cards and knowledge we have built up in our heads. Try handing that over!
There are of course many reasons why roles change;
– People leave
– They get promoted
– They get ill or worse
– They retire
There are many people who own companies, want to retire, but can’t. They know they can’t effectively handover their business without risking the falling apart of everything they have built up, because they have too much knowledge and capability locked into themselves. Equally, when people move on from positions and you take over, if you are lucky you get a good handover with as much detail as possible and the individual is around afterwards to answer questions. But often the opposite is true, you arrive 2 weeks after the last person left, gain a spread sheet which is unintelligible with frequent formulae errors and a few hard wired ‘adjustments’, no access to their email account and little chance of contacting them.
How can we ensure a smooth transition? How can people taking over ‘hit the ground running’? These are difficult questions, but technology if used correctly can help provide the answer. Data retention and timely retrieval is what technology does best. Operations Management data breaks down in to a number of simple components you will recognise, and these components can be linked via technology so that an individual can gain a timely and simplified view of the on-going operations without getting swamped by the mass of information. This will allow a new operations manager to be as effective as possible, supported by technology, as they build up their knowledge and experience.
The technology needs to be as intuitive as possible, so there is little time spent in getting to grips with it, and unlike spread sheets, the information should be obvious and in easy sight. This does pose cultural issues, especially with individuals who want to be indispensable, having to share capability with others.
So, do you want to de risk your operations from having single individual dependencies and to ensure the continuity of operations? Then there needs to be a concerted and disciplined effort to transfer the individual’s knowledge, experience and information into as simple a piece of technology as possible so that there will be a comprehensive information source that has been built up over time. If the single point dependency is you – then start this now.