Several recent posts have focused on the benefits of measuring time, and on the best approach for launching time management improvements.
But a related, often overlooked measure that can significantly accelerate or compromise an improvement effort is “pace.”
In fact, the most common cause of delay in achieving results is the pace.
Some teams schedule an hour a week to work on an improvement project, which might sound like a good approach. But, under the best of circumstances, two months will pass before the project gets one day’s attention. It is also more likely that it will take three or four months to complete one day’s effort on the project because meetings get cancelled, or start late, and then a portion of each meeting is spent going over the status or covering old ground for a member who missed a meeting.
In addition, when a project progresses this slowly, priorities may change or resources might be reassigned without ever completing the work and gaining the improvements. Sometimes these teams feel like they’ve got analysis paralysis, but in fact very little analysis has been completed. The real culprit is really pace paralysis. And while the pace of their project may be slower than they’d like, the overall pace of business continues to accelerate… thus making the life-cycle or “window” of innovation that much shorter.
Bear in mind that the longer the project length, the more project overhead and rework time is expended and the lower the benefit, because every week of delay means a week of benefit is lost.
One proven way to avoid these pitfalls is to employ the Kaizen approach. A Kaizen requires planning and data gathering up front and then all the necessary people are pulled off their jobs for one day or several days to completely solve the problem: designing, testing, stabilizing solutions usually in under a week. The Kaizen approach requires good planning on the part of the leaders and facilitator, but makes good use of the entire team’s time while accelerating the benefits of the improvement effort.
A previous post focused on five steps for improving our use of time. In that post it was suggested that using “time” as a measure to find and focus opportunities for improvement has three big advantages:
Time drives important business results
Time is universally applicable
It is very simple to do
Should you decide to launch a time management improvement plan in your organization, it will be important to prepare people by ensuring that the following points are thoroughly understood:
The waste in the system is not the fault of the people doing the work; it is there because of the way the process is designed or because of the way that the supplying processes are designed.
The people closest to the work can help you find and fix what is wrong with the way the processes are designed.
Recognizing non-value-adding work does not mean that you can simply make it go away. It only means it is a candidate for elimination or reduction. An effective solution may not yet be at hand. That’s OK. Recognizing the waste is the first step to searching for a better way.
Value-added work is not as plentiful as people might think – on average, only 20% of all work is truly value-added. Keep in mind, every process will contain “necessary” work that is not value-added. The goal is to optimize time spent on value-added work, reduce time spent on other work, and eliminate waste.
Someone who has never done this before might find it difficult to identify non-value-added work during their analysis because it is hard to recognize the waste in standard operating procedures. “If we have always had to do something, it usually seems that it surely must add value,” they will likely think. In addition, rework typically compensates for a problem that is so familiar that everyone takes it for granted. Recognize and improve as much as you can, then circle back and look again.
With practice and coaching (and amnesty) people can identify more opportunity.
Everyone must have amnesty. If people are afraid for their jobs, either because they might be blamed for the waste or be no longer needed if the work is streamlined, there is every disincentive to find and eliminate waste.
Successes in reducing cycle time or saving time overall should be measured and celebrated!
Our previous post shared several reasons as to why the measurement of time is an effective way to identify and eliminate waste.
This approach has consistently proven successful in our work, and some specific examples include:
A finance department used this method to reduce reporting cycle time by over 50% by identifying and eliminating the causes of rework.
An organization reduced setup times by measuring the time and addressing the causes of the non-value-adding delays.
A sales force measured their total time to value-adding time by identifying huge chunks of non-value adding time which they were able to convert to more sales calls.
A retirement community studied total housekeeping time relative to value adding time and reduced costs by over 30%.
A financial services company studied the total time versus value-adding time for processing time-sensitive transactions and succeeded in simultaneously eliminating both overtime and late
Once you’ve decided that managing time is an ideal way to reduce costs and increase customer (internal and external) satisfaction, you might try using the following five steps for effective measurement:
Identify the process to study and improve: where it starts and where it ends.
Confirm with the customer (internal or external) the key element of value the process yields. Sometimes this is obvious, but in some cases not so much. An accurate understanding of what the customer considers of real value is key to any improvement effort.
Determine how long the process actually takes today. This number— in minutes, hours, days, or weeks, whichever is best suited to the process — is the TOTAL component of the ratio we will calculate in step 5. Some questions often arise at this step:
Should we collect “person hours” or elapsed time? Measure elapsed time. If you study and improve elapsed time, you increase customer satisfaction and quality as well as costs. Person hours spent on the work almost always decline when an organization focuses on elapsed time.
How precise do we need to be? It is valuable to get good data about the total time elapsed from start to finish, if only through a modest sample. Of course, there will be
variation — and the variation can be quite substantial for some processes. Keep the raw data, and calculate the average TOTAL.
Determine which steps actually add value and how much time is spent on those. For a step to be considered to add value, it must:
Be directly related to what the customer values and would pay for (if they knew what we were doing)
Actually change something of value — the product, database, approval status, whatever, (inspecting something or moving something does not actually change the thing, so does not ‘add value’)
Do so for the first and only time. Fixing or reworking something does NOT add value, because it compensates for not being done completely or correctly the first time.
Often these steps must be done today, because they compensate for an imperfection somewhere in the process. Correcting those imperfections is what will yield the improvements.
What if we disagree about what is truly adding value? When categorizing work, aim to be as rigorous as possible about applying the criteria for value-added. If you mis-classify a non-value step as adding value, you will lose out on the opportunity to study and possibly eliminate all or part of it. But it is not a fatal mistake; you can always circle back. Once a group has eliminated a first round of waste, they are able to scrutinize what is left more rigorously and find a whole new round of opportunities that may well exceed the first round.
How precise must we be about the amount of time the specific steps take? Knowledgeable approximations of the individual components that consume time are usually sufficient to
produce really great improvements.
Study the differences between the total time and the value adding time to identify and eliminate the root causes. Then calculate again. To calculate the ratio: if total time today is 55 hours and value adding time is 2 ½ hours, then the ratio would be either:
Total-to-Value: 55 divided by 2.5 = 22, which means that the organization spends 22
hours for every 1 hour of value add, or
Value-To-Total: 2.5 divided by 55 = 4.5%, which means that 4.5% of total elapsed time
is actually spent adding value.
It doesn’t matter which you use, as long as you are consistent.
Our previous post focused on the value and importance of achieving “quick wins” when engaged in Continuous Improvement. Continuing with the theme of time, today’s post takes the concept of working on the right things to a different level, and focuses on studying and more effectively using the most universal and, arguably, most valuable component of work and work processes: time.
When we are faced with the challenge of evaluating and improving a business, we have many metrics to choose from. We can ‘follow the money’ — study the spending: where does it go, how does it compare to previous periods or to competitors; we may look at market share or wallet share; we might measure revenue per employee or benchmark against the competition; or we might measure customer satisfaction or the customer experience.
But one of the most powerful measurements for helping to make breakthrough improvements is also one of the simplest: following where the time goes.
By determining how much time it takes to complete a cycle of value (i.e., building a widget, closing the books, making a sale, completing a project, etc.) and how much of that is truly adding value, an organization captures information that provides a motivating vision and road map for making improvements.
Key areas to study are: delays, over-processing, rework, transportation, and inspection; and using time as a measure to find and focus opportunities for improvement has three big advantages:
time drives important business results
time is universally applicable
it is very simple to do — measuring time is something anyone can do!
Our next post will take a deeper-dive into the concept of measuring time, and will share some specific and proven methods for making improvements by studying the use of time.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement