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Case on Work System Design

Case on Work System Design (see case details below):

1. Discuss the ways in which Dr. Bay can use the data he collected.
2. Recommend ways the administrative assistant's jobs can be changed to make better use of their time and be more supportive to the facility.
3. Assess the benefits and consequences of each recommendation by discussing who is affected and how.
4. Recommend ways the faculty can change work habits to reduce the burden on the administrative assistants.


Dr. Woodrow Bay, chairperson of the Decision Sciences Department in the College of Business Administration, sat at his desk pondering his latest predicament. For the last 45 minutes at the faculty meeting, faculty members complained about poor administrative support. Numerous examples of unavailable administrative assistants were given. As the professors left, one muttered, "There are universities that provide plenty of administrative support; maybe it is time to update our resumes."

Dr. Bay knew this to be true and that these professors could easily leave for another university given the current job market. He needed to determine whether their perceptions regarding inadequate administrative support were justified.
The Decision Sciences Department houses four functional areas: operations management, quantitative methods, statistics, and information systems. The faculty have national or international reputations based on their excellent scholarship. Higher student enrollments have resulted in the department increasing its faculty from 12 to 20 full-time professors during the past three years. Unfortunately, there was no increase in the administrative support for the department.

As professors were added, the strain on the administrative staff increased. There were more classes, so more course materials needed to be prepared (syllabi, handouts, and exams). In addition, since the faculty were expected to publish research, the administrative assistants spent more time working on manuscripts. New professors required significantly more interaction with the support staff to explain what was wanted and when. Administrative assistants often ran errands for faculty members (placing items on reserve at the library, dealing with the book store, making photocopies, distributing mail, doing correspondence, providing supplies, making travel arrangements, arranging meetings, and placing meal orders). The administrative assistants seemed unable to complete all of their work in a normal eight-hour day.

The faculty, on the other hand, believed the primary work activity of the administrative assistants was keyboard entry: keying in manuscripts, course outlines, correspondence, and grant proposals. When faculty did not see the administrative assistants keying in information, the impression was that the staff was not doing its job. It seemed that too much time was wasted talking with faculty, students, or each other, and work was not being done. Dr. Bay did not believe this was the case. He needed to gather information about how the administrative assistants spent their time and compare that with data from the faculty concerning the administrative assistants. Both the faculty and the administrative assistants believed that the solution was hiring an additional administrative assistant. For Dr. Bay this was next to impossible, given the proposed budget cuts at the university, so he decided to collect data to gain insight into the problem.

For two weeks data were collected. From the faculty, Dr. Bay received estimates as to what percentage of the administrative assistants' time the faculty perceived was spent on different activities. He also did a work sample of the administrative assistants. The results are shown here.

Estimates of Administrative Assistants' Use of Time
Activity Faculty Estimate (%) Work Sample (%)
Working on computer 20 40
Talking on phone 25 7
Away from office 20 10
Talking with faculty 2 8
Talking with others 15 10
Filing 3 5
Photocopying 5 15
Other 10 5

Solution Summary

This solution will discuss the ways that Dr. Bay, chairperson of Decision Sciences Department in the College of Business Administration, can utilize data he collected to improve the work flow of the administrative assistants who are supporting the faculty. The solution provides first provides a complete overview of the context that Dr. Bay is operating in and then provides a sample essay analyzing and answering questions on said background.