“If we don’t get this right then we face the prospect of further surges or lockdowns. We know for certain that speedy, effective Testing and Contact Tracing will be key to management of COVID-19 until such time as a vaccine is available.
Using a predominantly manual process, the HSE has done a good job to date. But for the future, how can we rapidly scale up so that we are where we need to be? Namely, within the so-called “3 Day Window” (1 day of testing and 2 days of contact tracing).
It’s a massive undertaking and one where labour-intensive manual processing now needs to blend with Technology and Automation for maximum effectiveness. This is the Plan B that complements the soon to be launched Contact Tracing App that requires a significant uptake by the population to be effective ” That’s according to Ray Bowe, CEO, Xcentuate Management Solutions (www.xcentuate.ie) Ireland’s leading digital operations management and planning expert. With more than 30 years industry experience, the business specialises in Operations Systems – better known as the Customer Support function in medium to large firms, especially in the financial services sector.
Failure to carry out contact tracing quickly after an individual tests positive will result in more people being exposed than would otherwise be the case. Effective management of the resources to carry out this activity is essential to ensure its success. But how do we achieve that?
4 Key Elements
There are 4 key elements that need to be present for the required Contact Tracing operation to be managed effectively. Bringing these together can be very powerful and are the basis for an agile efficient operation that can deal quickly with setbacks or issues and consistently deliver the results needed. It is critical for the effective management of contact tracing and the avoidance of delays but also the support and engagement of staff, often volunteers, carrying out this valuable activity. They are:
- Accurate and timely data
- Resource sharing between different pools of resources
- Scenario planning
Accurate and timely data is the foundation on which effective operations management is based. It enables managers to make decisions based on fact. To manage an operation as extensive as contact tracing, split across multiple sites, the management needs detailed data on progress of each team against their plan for the day/week. This data must be available in as close to real-time as possible. This enables managers to deal with problems as soon as they arise. This can be as simple as identifying that progress in one team is slower than expected, but it is important to act quickly to prevent the issue growing.
Critical to successful teams is how they support each other. As surely as some teams will fall behind, others will be ahead of schedule. In my experience this activity really builds a positive team culture. A team falling behind as someone has called in sick will know that where possible they will get support from another team. Equally teams are eager to support and share the load knowing that they will be in receipt of support when needed. Going back to the previous point, this works most effectively when there is real-time data on resources and progress enabling managers to take swift action.
A key part of operations management is planning for different scenarios. What would I do if 20% of my workforce became sick or incoming volumes of work go up by 50% or both happen simultaneously? Pre-planning with accurate data allows the management of an operation to assess how they would cope and build contingency plans. What work would be prioritised? Are there resources that can be diverted quickly if necessary? Do these people need to be trained? How can we maintain the required skills, do they have system access etc? Also, scenario planning means management can assess the right level of resource to keep on the day to day activity with enough contingency to react to most scenarios, but without wasting resources.
Looking at Contact Tracing, we don’t know what levels of new cases will emerge, so running different scenarios and putting appropriate plans in place is critical. If volumes of cases increase by 20% what additional people will be required and where will they come from. If the mobile app proves effective and the volume of contact tracing reduces by 50%, what people can be released back to other activities? Accurate planning should allow for physical set up (for example room, phone, laptop) as well as the softer side – training and coaching.
A lot of operations can fail not because they are lacking any of the above, but they fail to communicate and engage with staff. Weekly planning briefing lets the staff know what you expect next week, what the team goals are, what they will need to do and what a good week looks like. Quick daily check-ins will update them on progress against plan and provides opportunities to ask for support (e.g. I will need some volunteers to support the Dublin team this afternoon). It also provides staff with opportunities to feedback how work is progressing which can provide valuable insights to management.
Central to effective management is the acknowledgement that people are not machines. Different people have different capabilities, expertise, and experience. For some, this activity will be more natural than others. Effective management is not about flogging people to work harder but:
- Understanding the rate at which a team can work
- Understanding the variation in work rates by individual case (some conversations will take longer than others)
- Understanding individual differences and having conversations with people to understand what is working and what is not working for them
- Taking feedback from the team and working to improve process or environment