zero budget simplicity

How AstraZeneca created 2 million hours a year from simplification


In 2016 AstraZeneca launched a ‘Million Hour Challenge’ – a programme to save the business 1 million hours a year which could be reinvested.

AstraZeneca recognised that internal complexity was blocking growth, and wanted people from across the organisation to remove low value, often unnecessary, time-consuming work and reuse this time for high value work which would create growth.

To give a sense of scale, 1 million hours is the same as 543 FTEs (40 hours per week, 46 weeks per year). Or, as I’m writing this with one eye on Tottenham v Real Madrid, 666,666 football matches.

A year on the real results are even more impressive. 700 simplification projects have resulted in more than 2 million hours a year being saved. To give some specific examples:

  • A sales team in China freed up 700,000 hours a year by reducing management reporting and administration work.
  • R&D scientists freed up 50,000 hours a year by outsourcing routine laboratory work to newly hired Lab Managers

More broadly, Leaders and Managers across the business found that time spent fire-fighting was freed up to allow more strategic thinking.

Below we’ve pulled out some of the best practice lessons we’d recommend for any simplification programme:


  • A dedicated simplicity Leader: AstraZeneca appointed a VP of Simplification who led the initiative.
  • Link to overall strategy: AstraZeneca linked simplification to its wider strategy of returning to growth. Complexity was framed as a growth blocker.
  • Focus on simplifying everyday work: The initiative was positioned to improve the employee experience by removing work that frustrated people, rather than simplifying corporate structures or the product portfolio.
  • Time as the KPI: AstraZeneca only measured simplification in hours. Time is simple, tangible and universal. It also translates well to reducing activity, which is the most useful lens for defining simplification.
  • Position simplification positively: This initiative is about creating time for meaningful work, not cutting heads or reducing costs.
  • A simple, stretch goal: A million hours gave clarity, focused effort, ensured momentum and enabled measurement.
  • Toolkit and Champions: Simplification requires new capability – people were given a toolkit to guide them. The toolkit was supplemented with a group of Champions.
  • Future-proofed: Some of the low value activity identified can be automated using AI, Machine Learning and Robotics

Takeaway: AstraZeneca’s programme is an inspiring example for all organisations, regardless of size, shape or sector. It includes some of what we advise our clients to do when removing unnecessary internal complexity.

How many hours could you create in your organisation by removing low value activity?

And more importantly, what could you achieve with all of that time?



Source article published:

Note: AstraZeneca is not a Stop. client