05/30/2014 09:36 am ET Updated Jul 30, 2014

Eliminating Non-Value Added Work -- Or, 'Cleaning the Corporate Attic'

For most of us, perhaps, a quick look in the garage or the attic reveals a number of things that are probably no longer useful but that we just haven't taken the time to get rid of. When we do get around to "cleaning house," though, we invariably experience a "lift," a feeling that we're somehow "lighter," "cleaner," more efficient -- if only because we've got more uncluttered space to work in.

We'd argue it's the same for any business organization. Work practices, tools, policies and even processes that you developed to serve a specific purpose at a given point in time can become less relevant and effective as your business environment changes. Given enough change, they can actually stop adding value at all, while continuing to drain resources as people continue to "go through the motions" because "we've just always done it."

Deciding on What to "Stop Doing"

Yet, although we readily accept the need to "start doing new things" to stay viable in a rapidly-changing business climate, we're far less likely to take the time to ask "what should we stop doing to rid ourselves of non-value adding corporate 'clutter'?"

If you're skeptical, consider the "XYZ" report, an indispensable data-reporting tool when you introduced it some years ago, but which no one reads anymore, even though your staff continues dutifully and laboriously to churn it out every quarter. In our consulting experience, almost everyone's got a story like this one.

If we've succeeded in convincing you of the value of "cleaning the corporate attic," here's an approach we've used successfully with our clients that you can use to help you "lighten up."

RAMMPP: Getting the Work Out

RAMMPP, developed at GE during the Jack Welch era, is simple and effective. The acronym focuses attention on those mechanisms that are most prone to becoming non-value adding over time: "Reports, Approvals, Meetings, Measures, Policies and Procedures."

Here's how the process works:

  1. Start by polling your company or group or department or division to identify possible non-value adding (NVA) items in the RAMMPP categories.
  2. Once you've collected them, gather a representative team of stakeholders to vet these NVA "candidates." We like to have teams classify the NVAs along a spectrum of "control." For instance: "Team, Division, Corporate, Customer, Regulator." Or, on a smaller scale, "Self, Department, Group, Company, External."
  3. Begin with the NVAs you have the most control over. No use, for example, trying to eliminate or simplify something that is rigidly mandated by government regulation.
  4. Determine whether the NVAs under your control can/should be completely eliminated or, at least, simplified and streamlined in more efficient ways in view of today's - not yesterday's - environment.
  5. Create recommendations for eliminating or simplifying the NVAs you've targeted, and build a business case to support your recommendations.
  6. Present your recommendations to a group of the appropriate decision makers in your company whose approval of what you're recommending will be binding for all.
  7. Set up a well-publicized accountability structure or timetable to monitor the implementation of your approved recommendations.

Croissants, Anyone?

If you haven't "cleaned the attic" in a while, you could be amazed at what you find. We recently worked for a newly-appointed European division head for a major pharmaceuticals company who was astonished -- not to mention frustrated -- to find that he was actually expected to spend time reviewing and signing purchase requests for luncheon croissants. Needless to say, this was a proverbial "no-brainer," and this approval process was completely eliminated.

Another of our clients generously established a facility dry-cleaning program whose admirable goal was to save hard-working employees time by allowing them to submit and retrieve their dry-cleaning conveniently in their own facility lobby. In conducting the RAMMPP process, however, we learned that administering the program took valuable time from the facility receptionist and security personnel, while, for whatever reason, it was being used by only two per-cent of employees in the facility. Another easy call.

Clutter Adds Up

Clearly, neither of the examples above, by itself, represents significant time savings. However, when large numbers of NVAs are aggregated, we have seen clients free up a surprising amount of organizational "bandwidth." And this freed-up capacity, detached from what no longer has value and re-applied to important, even vital current priorities, can immediately give your business an added boost without the need for any additional resources.

In a recent project of ours, a RAMMPP team of about twenty people over two days, identified 74.3 person-weeks worth of non-value-added activity to be eliminated or simplified. Even more importantly, this team actually realized the estimated 74.3 weeks in only 120 days!

Doing More with What You've Already Got

It's probably understandable that when we think of "being better" and "doing more," our thoughts go first to needing and getting more resources, more capacity -- a bigger budget, more staff. But from our experience, there's almost always the opportunity, first, to better optimize existing resources by routinely ridding your company's "garage" or "attic" of what mattered yesterday, so you can re-focus those resources onto what matters today. Think of it as doing more with what you've already got -- to the great benefit of your company's bottom line!

Ray Gagnon is principal and Founder of Gagnon Associates, a management consulting firm with a long-standing practice in GE Work-Out, located in Metro-West Boston, Massachusetts, USA.