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Backups (Employee)

Employee backups are the people who fill in when the regular operator is absent.

Having backups implies something. It means that the team has regularly assigned positions and does little or no job rotation.

In great Lean companies, standard work is in full force and people rotate in and out of positions regularly. This reduces the need for backups because there are already many people crosstrained for each work area.

Backups have two big drawbacks. The first is that backups are generally not as well-trained as the original operator. The second is that they have to come from somewhere else in the company. Unless that person works solely as a floater, she will also need a backup for her regular position.

That’s not to say backups are unnecessary. They are critical in work environments that are not effectively rotating jobs. On the shop floor (without job rotation), work grinds to a halt if backups are not effective.

In the office, the situation is different. Work ‘keeps’ better than it does on an assembly line. And since backups for administrative processes typically have their own work to do as well it results in two problems:

  1. The person going on vacation or coming back after a sick day commonly returns to an extensive stack of work.
  2. The backup gets behind in his work too.

This can cause a significant blow to job satisfaction and productivity and increases the risk of errors and quality problems as well.

In the Lean office, identifying the work as the team’s work, rather than an individual’s pile of tasks, goes a long way toward limiting the need for backups.

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