Work We Can Avoid Doing

Work We Can Avoid Doing

We can think of our work as falling into two broad types – the work that is of value to the people who use our services and everything else.

How do we know if what we do is of value to the people who use the service? Well, if it meets their needs and they (or someone) would be willing to pay for it then it is ‘value’ work.

So if the value work is the stuff that is worthwhile, what is all the other work we do? Is it all just a waste of time? Well, yes, in a way…..but it’s not quite that simple!

The activity that does not contribute anything to the delivery of ‘value’ very simply just needs to be eradicated. If something does not contribute towards anything that someone values then we shouldn’t be doing it – it is ‘non value adding’. Of course, we need to conduct a proper analysis and make sure that stopping is safe and doesn’t have any unintended consequences, but these tend to be the easier decisions to make.

Another set of activities that requires our improvement attention are the things that we do that support the value work, but in themselves aren’t specifically value adding. We call this ‘necessary non value adding’. From an improvement perspective we should be looking at ways to reduce this type of work, doing it in more efficient and effective ways so that it takes up as little time, effort or resources as possible.

However, there is another type of wasteful work for us to get a handle on and this can be more difficult to grasp than the other types. This work can look and feel an awful lot like value work, but is in fact one of the biggest sources of waste we can experience.

We call this work ‘failure demand’ and it arises because of our ‘failure’ to do something right, or at the right time or to the right quality or as a result of other errors or omissions; you can probably think of examples of this even as you read this blog!

A very simple example of failure demand is when a service user contacts us to find out when their next appointment will be. Seems reasonable doesn’t it? Perhaps it even feels like it might be of value to that person? However, we should have systems and processes in place that ensure that this information is given to the person so that they don’t have to contact us to ask. Ultimately it is a waste of their time and of ours and may be a very unrewarding experience if they struggle to get their question answered swiftly or at the first time of trying to contact us.

Re-designing the way we work to eliminate this failure demand is another area where our improvement activities should focus. Doing so will give us back time and resources to dedicate to the value adding work and will reduce frustrations experienced by the people who use our services and ourselves. As this type of activity is generated by how we currently deliver the work, it is entirely within our control to control. 

“…failure demand, being created by the organisation, is entirely under the organisations control. Turning off the causes of failure demand is one of the most powerful economic levers available to managers; it has an immediate impact on capacity.”

John Seddon, Systems Thinking in the Public Sector

Our Quality Improvement approaches, the relevant tools and techniques and our creative thinking will help us to identify and tackle all of these bits of avoidable work and give us the capacity to increase the time we have to do the work we are passionate about – delivering high quality, effective support and treatment to the people who use our services.

If you have any comments or would like to know more about the various types of avoidable work, please e-mail me

Eddie Short
Continuous Improvement Lead