The importance of ‘triage’ in variable effort work packages in quality control teams
“But our work isn’t predictable and changes every time!”
While in routine labs determining the work effort of a standard process step is relatively straight forward, for many other types of labs/teams there is a highly variable effort associated with apparently similar activities due to variance in the complexities.
Typically, these challenges are faced by groups such as, investigative labs, document control teams and project work based labs/teams, among others. Work in these teams typically have higher volatility in both volume and complexity coupled with challenges to meet service level agreements due to poorly defined timelines.
Fortunately, we can look to examples in other industries where these variable and unknown efforts in work packages occur routinely.
If you have been unfortunate enough to visit the emergency department of any hospital the first thing you will encounter is typically not your attending doctor but instead a triage nurse/doctor who first quickly assesses the severity of your issue (urgency) and what will be required to treat you (effort/complexity). Additionally, key facts will be noted about you to help the attending doctor get up to speed quickly with your personal circumstance and have flagged any potential complications early.
In a less dramatic sense the same methodology can be applied to variable effort work packages in quality environments.
The Triage Step
- Incoming work is quickly assessed for complexity and work effort. Typically, this leverages structured and standardized forms (increasingly electronic) where the work package is quickly broken down to a sum of its smaller parts (for project work this is typically milestone based).
- Key details are also recorded to enable the next person picking up the work to quickly get up to speed (e.g., key contacts, due dates, special considerations). Where possible, key concise details should be received from the customer in standardized form to expedite the triage.
- Visual management techniques such as color coding and pictographs are employed to clearly show status/effort categories.
- Triaged work packages are then added to a dynamic queue in priority order for assignment.
This ‘triage’ step is a key enabler for the implementation of levelled workloads, through both the effort sizing of work packets and establishment of priority based queues. While the structured rule based approach to ensuring all required and relevant information is available before the work starts helps ensure flow through the rest of the process. Combining these steps along with visual management, resource allocation and workload tracking helps ensure that we can efficiently manage team capacity and productively meet required service agreements.
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