Unlock Time with Good Management Practices
by Jay Jacobus
In business, time is always a factor. The company that ships on time keeps its customers happy. The worker who gets ahead of schedule is a valuable asset. Some contracts have a time clause. The sooner the job is done and shipped, the more profit the company makes. On the other side of the coin, the customer who usually pays early will often get a nice fat discount and may even get preferential treatment for his punctual payments. It benefits every commercial organization to pay attention to time and to make the best use of it.
Time as a Resource
For the most part companies consider their employees, their facilities and their equipment as resources. Time can also be a resource but it is sometimes considered a limitation, a restriction or a constraint.
If a manager could find a way to magically create time, he would realize that extra time would translate into extra production, extra interest, extra customer contacts and extra profits.
As far as I know, there is no way to create time.
Nevertheless, there is a way to utilize time better, and utilizing time better is like getting a parcel of time for free. If you speed up your operation by 10%, you end up with 4 extra hours of production (assuming a 40-hour work week).
Most businessmen will tell you that they work the first 35 hours or so for the taxman, the mortgage company, the bank, the power company, the vendors, the overhead, the employees and the managers. This leaves only 5 hours for profit. Some companies actually do worse, and all companies have weeks where time is lost to unforeseen circumstances. The loss always comes at the expense of profit because everybody else must get paid.
What is the solution?
One of the solutions is consistency. A manager should work toward a goal of 0% variation. He should not accept any fluctuations in output. The company managers should strive for a constant (optimal) productivity. Any fluctuations subtract from the ideal productivity.
Consider a company that has the capacity to make 100 devices a day. If the company has no fluctuations in productivity, then they will make 500 devices in a week. If, however, they tolerate fluctuations of up to 10% a day, then an average week may yield only 475 devices. This is a reduction of 5% from the ideal production. But if that company can make a 10% profit at the ideal capacity, then the poor company has lost 50% of its profit. Fluctuations, even modest fluctuations, can severely strain a company’s ability to generate profits.
A wise manager who seeks to minimize variations can increase profits.
How does one go about minimizing variations?
The first step is to motivate the whole company’s staff to shoot for a target (ideal) production. The target should be reasonable but slightly optimistic. I predict that the employees will hit the target every day with absolute consistency.
This is true particularly in plants or offices that previously didn’t set daily goals. I find that without goals, employees will not try hard. They will not try hard because they don’t have a goal to shoot for. The simplest thing of setting a goal will increase productivity.
Now, suppose a reward is added to get another 5% productivity. What do you suppose will happen? The company will get higher production, and they will also learn that their employees will help each other out when one of the other employees is overloaded. The extra 5% production will generate more profit. The cost of the 5% increase is the cost of the bonus and the cost of material and the cost of wearing out the resources faster. All the other costs have been covered in the first 95% of production. In many cases the 5% increase in production will add 2, 3 or even 4 points to profit.
In essence, this is management by objective. But instead of a yearly objective, the objective is for a day. Employees can relate to a daily objective while a yearly objective may seem too distant to matter.
While the above example is most applicable for manufacturing operations where the number of products is tangible, it can also work for service operations like engineering, programming, accounting, inspections, purchasing, consulting and the like. The difference in a service operation is that the daily goal will often be stated as a list of tasks completed. Tasks completed is not as pertinent as a productivity goal; but if the list can be related to profit, revenue or a specific result, then each service employee can understand the daily impact that he has on the company. This is important when giving employees a sense of accomplishment.
Making daily goals helps everyone feel better about themselves and is a key motivator in some organizations.
Besides consistency, a company that wants to manage its time might pay attention to order.
Order doesn’t create time but disorder uses time, and that makes order an essential element for a company seeking good time management.
A well-ordered company has material, files, tools and equipment readily available when an employee needs them. An employee who needs to search for tools, records or materials is an employee that is wasting time. Having everything in its place and organized in convenient locations will facilitate work at both manufacturing and service companies.
But order is more than good housekeeping. Order entails good organization as well.
Many managers do not pay enough attention to organization. When organization is divided by function, everyone knows who is in charge of what; but when the organization is divided by rank, some additional instructions may be required to avoid confusion. Most managers know their own responsibility, function and involvement, but the employees may not know who controls which operation. Worse than this, some managers may have dual responsibilities or they share responsibilities with another manager.
The poor employee who makes an incorrect inference may end up waiting for a manager to act while the manager does not even realize that time is being wasted.
An example of this confusion might be a Sale Manager who is responsible for sales and marketing but not the sales and marketing that the Technical Manager handles. If the division is clear, than all employees know who does what. But if the division is not clear, then both managers may wait for the other manager to take charge. In the meantime, nothing is getting done.
The "who does what" question crops up in many situations and causes people not to act when they should. The intelligent manager will create a chart that clearly delineates functions, responsibilities and involvement.
For one project that I worked on, I did my part of the work but no one else seemed to be doing his part. It occurred to me that I should try to understand the reasons that no one seemed to be participating so I asked one executive, "Who is the organizer of this project?"
He said, "I am."
I said, "Okay, who is the leader?"
He said, "I am."
So I said, "Who is the advisor?"
He said, "You are."
"Then," I said, "Who will do the processing, filing, scheduling, interviewing and documentation?"
He said, "My assistant will have to do those functions."
I thought for a minute and said, "Let’s talk about what needs to get done."
He said, "I know what needs to get done but I don’t have time. Can you make this as effortless as possible?"
I said, "Sure" -- but in my mind I realized that I would need to do some of the leader’s work myself or the project would never get done.
So, I (acting as the leader) created a schedule, assigned functions and planned the tasks to get the project done.
Early in my career I would have envisioned boundaries and I would have stayed within my perceived boundaries. I would not have tried to lead. I would not have tried to organize. And I would not have tried to do the work.
If everyone respected all the boundaries all the time, some projects would not get done.
Every manager needs to organize and, before he starts a project, he needs to know who does what. Here are some tips.
Every project needs a driving force that may be the motivator, the authority and the innovator. Every project needs a leader who may be planner, organizer, scheduler and administrator. Some projects need an expert who may be the advisor, counselor and consultant. Some projects need a supervisor who may be the instructor, controller and expert. Most projects need workers who will process, carry out, fulfill, produce and document.
Without a clear understanding of who does what, a project can get stalled for long lengths of time. The leader may be waiting for the advisor to produce suggestions. The advisor may be waiting for the authority to define the scope, purpose and goal. The workers may be waiting for additional instructions, and the authority is waiting for everyone to get the job done.
Sometimes, when the project is simple and the processing time is short, one person can take on all responsibilities to get the project done; but when the project is expected to take months or years, all the planning should be done up front and by someone who can envision all the various roles.
If you are the planner, you may want to view the roles by function, involvement, time commitment and responsibilities.
If one member of the team (usually the senior man), takes on too many roles, then the planner must gently point out the time commitments required and the tasks that need to get done. If some of the team members limit themselves to the leftover tasks, they should be encouraged to contribute to more important roles when their skills lend themselves to tasks like organization, control, scheduling and reporting.
While this paper is beginning to sound like a pitch for organization by ability, the reader should not forget that creating a capable order will save time and, in some cases, a lot of time.
Keeping the project headed toward the final results will also save time.
In too many cases, someone gets distracted and stops working on the project even when he has promised to give the necessary time. In this case, one of the team members must approach the drifting worker/executive and ask for his permission to (temporarily) substitute someone else for his role. This works better than pleading and cajoling the wayward member. It works better because it frees the member from responsibility.
In some cases one or two of the managers can get a project back on track if they see the big picture (results and benefits) and can diplomatically plan the steps and create order. The undisciplined executive need not even realize that control has shifted out of his grasp, and he can still benefit from the beneficial and timely results. Everyone will win.
I should also say that a project might benefit from management aids like checklists, flow charts, schedules and/or to-do lists. These simple utilities will keep things on track.
I know that I have just presented an unusual approach to time management. I have focused on consistency and order as they relate to a department, project or company. I think of this as the organizational focus of time management. Other good suggestions for time management can be read with regard to personal time management. Standard management texts or management articles usually focus on the personal aspects of time management. These other suggestions are worth utilizing in conjunction with organizational time management.
Jay Jacobus may be contacted at http://www.mgm-in-a-nutshell.com firstname.lastname@example.org
With insightful guidance many companies can unlock profits, start new initiatives and release hidden potentials. Jay Jacobus is a consultant who advocates basic concepts, uncomplicated methods, clear explanations and confidence building results. Learn how to improve resources, controls, operations, results, sales or productivity. Jay has a background in management, ISO 9000, quality and consulting. Go to his website to learn how to get your own improvement project started. Contact through http://www.mgm-in-a-nutshell.com