Monday, January 21, 2013

A primer on DODAT

Tim Taylor doing a DODAT Presentation at a MENSA meeting in Naples, FL

A primer on DODAT

DODAT stands for Distributive On Demand Administrative Tasking.

Distributive means that multiple people can handle a batch of tasks suitable to their skill level.

On Demand means the workers pull the tasks from the workload in a priority level set by management.

Administrative tasking means all levels of administration from clerical to conceivably mid and even upper management could pull tasks from the server in a prioritized manner.

Delving into the first word Distributive provides a reason for being. In most companies, tasks are not distributive even though in some companies they may think so.

Webster’s defines Distributive as:
dis·trib·u·tive [dih-strib-yuh-tiv]
1. Serving to distribute, assign, allot, or divide; characterized by or pertaining to distribution.
2. Grammar . referring to the members of a group individually, as the adjectives each  and every.
(other uses omitted)

Distributive in an administrative environment as applied by DODAT means many take tasks from a pool of tasks. In most organizations a task is somehow delivered to a single person somewhat irrespective of workload and interest level. In its worst application the standard task delivery system allows workers to pick and choose their work, order work by their level of interest and ignore work they do not want to do.

Under DODAT, a worker takes a task from the server in a priority level set by management. They cannot take more tasks than they can handle in short bursts. They also cannot pick and choose what task to take and who requested the task. Task accountability is absolute as the task itself, the person acting upon the task an the ultimate conclusion of the task is recorded and can be monitored for timeliness and accuracy.

Further to the reporting system, end requestor and transaction reference number can track tasks, which arrive through the system. This allows for drill down data to be analyzed by the originator and other parties to the transaction. By creating baseline transaction averages, users who originate more tasks per transaction quickly become apparent and remedial action can be assessed for end users over the statistical norm. In most organizations these quantifications are generally subjective, under DODAT they are empirically validated.

Websters does not have a definition for “On Demand” below is the definition of Demand:
de·mand [dih-mand, -mahnd]
verb (used with object)
1. To ask for with proper authority; claim as a right: He demanded payment of the debt.
2. To ask for peremptorily or urgently: He demanded sanctuary. She demanded that we let her in.
3. To call for or require as just, proper, or necessary: This task demands patience. justice demands objectivity.
(other definitions omitted)

On Demand in an administrative environment means the worker requests a task on his or her own volition. The concept is the same as Lean manufacturing employed in the Toyota Operating System and Kanban

The effects of utilizing an On Demand workforce philosophy are very similar to what has made Amazon and Netflix into paradigm shifting distribution platforms. This concept is further explained in a white paper entitled Network FOB Blueprint for Success:

When a worker voluntarily takes a task it is because they are ready to work. People who typically occupy lower and middle administrative positions do not prioritize work properly as a rule. These personalities have an ultimate objective of operating from a fairness position generally interpreted by them as “first in, first out”. By intercepting the task prior to presentation to the worker management can set the priority of the task.

When an SJ primary personality [Phlegmatic under Myers-Briggs or Guardian under Keirsey] which represents about 45% of all workers has more tasks in their visible queue and they get overwhelmed they will actually slow down precisely at the moment they should be speeding up. Their primary actuators is “no trouble” which sets their internal prioritization logic to first in first out and may conflict with management goals of the most important (also read effective) utilization of their time. In fact their time is spent in conflict with their internal values. Maslow on Management

What makes Distributive workforce deployment so powerful is that workers are not required to prioritize, tasks are presented in a preordained order by management. Workers do not pick and choose more pleasing tasks and task originators; instead workers pull the next available task never seeing all available work.

Distributive also optimizes workflow in that personnel from other parts of the company can back fill in peak periods. Our internal reports show a peak of end user originated tasks (containing our first and second level priorities) peak between 9AM and 1PM occasionally overriding the capabilities of our main support group. In those times if tasks sit too long other personnel resources are brought to bear from their other work to clear the overage.

The distributing mechanism actually times and alarms time sensitive tasks and only distributes work beyond the main queue upon business rules set by management. This alternate distribution serves another purpose as well as it illustrates labor force shortages not only at that instance but also in a macro sense through analyzing longer time periods and time of day and day of week staffing needs. It also keeps management in touch with the daily work by giving them a sense of “what goes on out there”. This information is used frequently in management meetings to apply new procedures of spot troublesome constituents.

DODAT has the capability of having as many priority levels as needed. In its current application we have identified four primary priority levels:

  1. Work which needs an immediate response
  2. Work which needs to be done before non-time-sensitive work
  3. Non-time-sensitive (in any immediate sense) work
  4. Optional time-permitting work

You could add other variations or use a scoring system, the premise is the same; management sets the priorities. In a properly incented compensation system, the optional time permitting work will get done, if there is no incentive to clear all other tasks and open up this work for compensation, that work will never get done unless management intervenes creating a management time drain or worse, having to make an additional hire to be assigned this work, which is the usual management response and highly unproductive.

Administrative Tasking simply defines the scope of what tasks are being put through the system. It does not address the informational output which, as discussed above provides previously uninterruptable throughput analysis and origination.

The concept is so simple that it confounded two doctorate level patent attorneys and support staff until a simple meeting interruption defined the problem, the results and the consequences of past management practices. Similarly the collapse of Borders Books, Blockbuster, the recent troubles at Best Buy and the corner hardware store illustrate the fallacy of stored commodities in a distribution system.

The time value of “Built for Easter Sunday” or peak workload belies the fact of under utilization of a workforce or facility. Labor is an expiring commodity of the highest magnitude, movies, stocked at Blockbuster expired not only on the shelf but also in the very end-user environment, the home. When technology became available to distribute commodities such as books, movies and other goods though a more effective even if more expensive at the time Internet bandwidth, the earth moved. It should have been apparent the actual last mile segment of the distribution of a book, the purchase was actually more expensive to the consumer in time and travel than point and clicking on the Internet. Suddenly up is down and down is up.

What DODAT really does, at the end of the day, is to make an expiring commodity, human time, more efficient, visible and accountable. It does so for the most part in silence and satisfaction of both the end user and the originator of a task. Once tasks can be quantified, tasks that could be fully automated or shifted to less expensive methodologies manifest themselves into dollars and cents multiplied by frequency.

The biggest challenge in implementing this system lies in user buy-in, transport mechanism of tasks to the server and skill group distribution. DODAT thrives in a high paced environment heavy with administrative functions. It performs best in a properly incented workforce with more focus on individual compensation than team compensation. It has been successfully employed in both a W2 environment and an independent contractor environment. By far the independent contractor environment out performed the salaried or hourly wage W2 environment due to its completely variable pay for play aspect. Regulatory interference regarding the use of sub-contractor labor demands most administrative work to be operated in a properly constructed W2 compensation platform retaining pay for play compensation.