Five People One Hat

I recently visited with a Director of Marketing at a charitable startup, and he shared that his title sounds impressive, but his roles can vary from web developer, customer service representative, contract manager, warehouse fulfillment person, to janitor, depending on the day and need.  Essentially, one person is fulfilling many different roles, and any issues across multiple functions are most likely going to be handled by the exact same person.  In this scenario there is no cross-talk, no second-guessing, no conflicting information.

By contrast, in larger organizations, one hat can be worn by many people.  Five different data-entry associates will tell you five different ways to process paperwork.  When someone downstream needs to act on the information that was entered and has a question, who does she turn to for help?  The person who produced the discrepancy may not necessarily be the person doing the troubleshooting.  Time is wasted in tracking down the person who made the error, understanding what went wrong, fixing the error, notifying the person downstream that the issue has been rectified, so work can resume.

In both scenarios – effort and work is suboptimal from an efficiency perspective:

  1. One person doing multiple things cannot be the expert at everything.  There are “switching costs” when a person has to put down one thing in order to work on something entirely different.
  2. Multiple people doing the same thing, but with slight variations, can lead to confusion when someone downstream receives something unexpected.

Resolving situation 1 may be a matter of time management and prioritization.  Resolving situation 2 can be much more involved because more people are involved.  Consider the following questions when when evaluating a process:

  • How did the error get introduced in the first place?  Systemic error or human error.
  • How does the output from this function impact downstream functions?
  • What are best practices to completing the task so everyone can benefit from a common approach?

Standardizing a process so it can be repeated and measured is one way to reduce the variance that occurs naturally when more than one person is tasked to perform the same function.  The benefits of standardization are a reduced variety of errors, which speeds up resolution and less confusion downstream.  Being able to measure a process also brings more visibility in managing a process – which leads to greater efficiencies and reduced costs.

To tie everything back to the Director of Marketing – variation in completing tasks is not as much of an issue since one person is generally doing everything from beginning to end.  The practice of one person doing everything may be a necessity, however, it is not sustainable, and when new people come on board they will sure ask: “What is the best way to complete this task?”



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