Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Making Time for {insert here}

There is an interesting discussion thread going around in the Lean community that originated with Michael Ballé’s “The Lean Edge” blogsite.   Here is the “conversation starter”
The Lean Edge: How do you make time for improvements?
As CEO of my company I have a grasp of lean and have experienced it in my career, but now that I'm CEO, I find it difficult to ask my people to make time for improvement work. They’re already completely busy doing their regular work. Moreover, this company is in the outdoor sports industry, and many people join these companies because they want time to climb, backpack, canoe, etc., and I'm reluctant to ask them to work more hours and sacrifice time for these activities. Any advice?
I would suggest you read the responses here.  My response deals directly with the behaviors of the CEO.  My first question asked of the CEO would be, “How are you creating time in your day for improving your work?” and the second question would be, “What resources are you providing your charges to allow the improvements you desire?”
Roger Hoerl and Ron Snee in their text, Statistical Thinking: Improving Business Performance, state that we used to have just one job—work.  However, to keep up with the speed of the current world we need to have two jobs; do the work and improve the work.  Hoerl & Snee use baseball spring training as the analogy to why this model works.  Baseball players cannot be at their best during the regular season if they are not doing the things necessary to improve their skills both in spring training and in regular season practice.  So the follow-on question to this CEO is, “What kind of ‘spring training’ are you offering your players to practice and improve their skills?”
Karen Martin’s response was interesting in that:
 “In the end – it’s a matter of priorities. As Deming said (I’m paraphrasing), funny how we don’t have time to make improvements, but we have plenty of time to perform work inefficiently and keep resolving the same problems over and over. Ultimately, I believe it’s a matter of choice, will, and belief in a better tomorrow.”
When I served as a Quality Manager in the packaging industry I lived this every day.  There is the business push to “break into the schedule” to push a hot job at the expense of quality.  I often found that the organization thought it was OK to do a job over at a later time rather than delay a bit and do the job right and once. That is not an improvement behavior; it is a bad behavior often disguised as “satisfying the customer.” 

It also manifests in leadership maturity.  A common behavior for a leader moving into a new position is to fall back on the behaviors that made them successful in the past.  Yet, as leaders rise in responsibility, they have to change their perspective and behaviors which require different skills.  How does a new leader acquire these skills?  Usually in the middle of a firefight where they learn that the current toolkit is not effective in handing the problem they are facing.  More reason to concentrate on improving their own skills to handle the problems they have yet to face.

As a leader, the most precious resource is time. As a leader rises in rank often time is a very scarce resource.  Often senior leaders complain that their time is not their own when in reality they do not balance the “doing work/improving work” effectively.  In closing, senior leaders need to reflect.  How are they spending their time?  Are they just “doing work” and sacrificing the improving part? If so, I would argue they are in “do-loop” with no way out.  Until the leader decides to “make time” personally for improvement, an organization will never significantly improve.