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I was facilitating a kaizen for a team that had decided to tackle a very challenging improvement. The process was complicated. Multiple attempts had been made to improve. The problems in the process resulted in delays and downtime that cost millions across the enterprise. It was clearly a priority with a high return. The team was composed of talented, successful, knowledgeable individuals. The team implemented improvements and identified a list of carry over projects to complete near term. As we began to identify potential barriers to sustaining implemented improvements or completing carry over projects, “lack of time” came up repeatedly.

“It seems it is easier for you to get money than time,” I challenged.

Time is the only resource we have that we cannot get more of. Yet time is squandered at an unbelievable rate. Organizations manage money with obvious structure and measures of return on investment. When it comes to time, individuals are left to Darwinian survival mode. Hundreds of emails daily, multiple meetings with unclear return on time spent, and administrative tasks consume high percentages of time. Studies have shown that management spends 10-20% of work time on current priorities, coaching, and identifying improvement opportunities. The remaining time is spent on other stuff.

If you could double the amount of time management spends coaching and improving,
would your business results improve?

If you believe the answer to that question is “Yes” then it is time to take deliberate steps to increase the return and bandwidth of management resources on your team. First define how time is used currently.

Complete activity logs for two weeks. Track every activity in 15 minute increments for all working time (at home and at the office – reading email in bed counts). Categorize the time spent, sorted by current business priorities or KPI’s (safety, quality, delivery, productivity, cost reduction). At the end of two weeks analyze the actions believed to be priority focused as well as the waste. Set actions to standardize time spent on priority initiatives and routines while taking actions to reduce waste.

Analyze email. Sort email received. You know the culprits – cc: Reply All: bcc: To: (multiple addressees). Define the categories by the value the email provides in information flow. Is the information directly important to the person receiving it? How will the information be used: to deliver a business priority, to make a decision, to communicate policy, to provide status update on priority projects or a current abnormality/crisis, to provide relevant learning materials?  Sort emails received by the value received. Quantify the number of emails and waste experienced for “robo-mail” (mail that is automatically generated to all system users). You may not be able to personally stop the robo-mail, but you can quantify the impact and influence action.

Then sort what each person sends against the same criteria. Don’t forget IM’s and Tweets as well as email. Review all observations, sorting opportunities for improvement.

Observe meetings. For each meeting, define customer(s), supplier(s), and specific value expected. Observe the meeting. Compare attendees with the customer-supplier list. Are people attending the meeting that do not need to be there? Are people who need to be there absent? Log what occurs every minute if possible. If you must group time, do so in increments no larger than 5 minutes. Does the meeting start on time? Does it end on time? Do people come prepared? How much time is spent off of the meeting purpose? Rambling? Waiting? Do people leave with actionable relevant information? What are people doing during the meeting? Are they checking email and sending email during the meeting? Check how many emails are generated after a meeting closes.

Then what? 

Leaders increase the effectiveness of the team. They insure the team is aligned and has the resources  to transform the business. Increasing the return from management resources is fundamental.

 

PDCA (Plan – Do – Check – Act)

Plan. Understanding how time is used is the first step in achieving higher returns from management resources. Before jumping to action, define a target based on what you have learned.  The target will likely have three or four components – clearly articulated objectives and priorities; well defined roles and responsibilities; a plan for daily, weekly and monthly scheduling of essential management responsibilities; and operating principles and disciplines for meetings, decision making, and projects that require the time of the team.

Do. As you review the current state and compare it to the target, there are some things that will stand out as “Just Do It” actions. There will be some opportunities that require some simple testing of options. Get those done. Don’t wait.

Check. Be sure to define what outcome you expect when Just Do It actions or simple tests done. Check to be sure you are getting a payback that reduces wasted time.

Act. Standardize the improvements that give you the results. Practice makes permanent.

Next?

I plan to spend more time on this topic. Next I will explore Leader Standard Work and Lean Meetings.