Being Busy and Being Efficient – What you Need to Do When

We’re all aware of the “Busy Fools” syndrome – high output, high costs, high stress, and high risk. When you’re up to your neck in alligators it’s tempting to just keep ploughing on, Head down, bottom up, you know that you’re wasting time and money but you hope for the day when everything “quietens down” and “gets back to normal”.

If customer service deteriorates, this might be self-fulfilling. An IT industry insider once described to me the typical cycle of a high-growth IT business – rapid growth leads to poor service, which slows growth. Service improves, the company grows, service declines, ….. and so the cycle continues.

If we can avoid this decline in service levels then we’ll need to accept that things won’t just “quieten down” and that “busy” has become the new “normal”. So we need to know what to do about it.

And businesses who are “Quiet” and “Efficient” also need to have effective strategies.

That’s why some years ago we developed this simple “Busy” / “Lean” Grid, to help business leaders understand where their business is, and what they need to do about it. Let’s have a look at each of the four quadrants:

  1. “Busy and Inefficient” – the “Busy Fools” scenario. The busier we are, the less efficient we become. Stress levels increase, service declines and productivity tails off. One of our biggest challenges (as a management consultancy and training organisation) is in persuading prospective clients to stop chopping down trees and spend some time sharpening the axe! In this situation very few business leaders have the courage to make everyone “down tools” for a week to transform the way they operate, so we need to find another way. The solution is to spend a couple of hours training staff to identify the main sources of wasted time and effort, to generate improvement actions, and to implement a prioritised improvement action plan. Pretty soon, productivity increases, stress levels are reduced and morale improves.
  2. Quiet and Inefficient” – the “About to go out of business” scenario. At this point, massive action is needed to turn around the company’s fortunes. Sales, service and efficiency all need to increase – often with little or no investment available. Fresh thinking is required, often driven by new Leadership.
  3. “Quiet and Efficient” – the “All dressed up with nowhere to go” scenario. Being Lean is all about adding value and eliminating waste. Many organisations like eliminating waste but far too few focus on increasing the “value-add”. If you find yourself in this situation then you need to get close to your customers, understand exactly what they value and are prepared to pay for, and find more and more ways of providing this. As part of our work with clients in this quadrant we focus on VAST – Value-Added Sales Techniques. In the longer term, this needs to become part of effective Supply Chain management.
  4. “Busy and Lean” – the “making it look easy” scenario, where most of our clients are! When you’ve truly embedded Lean thinking and Continuous Improvement, the rewards are very clear. Even in a recession, sales increase, margins improve and people still find time to make this month better and more efficient than last month. These World Class organisations invest broadly across the business, they innovate their products and processes, they look to inspire their employees and stakeholders and they understand “why” they do what they do.

Whichever quadrant your business is in, if you’re keen to improve contact info@NicholsonConsultancy.com. We can help you add value, reduce costs, and “work smarter not harder” – all at the same time!

How to break out of the “Too Busy to Improve” trap

Once you’re up and running with Lean and Continuous Improvement, you’re in the “virtuous circle” where you’re continuously becoming more efficient, saving more time, and investing some of that time in becoming even more efficient.

But if you’re very busy and you haven’t yet started your Lean journey, what do you do?

The biggest danger to avoid is just to “wait until things quieten down”. This approach can be self-fulfilling – but not in a good way! If you don’t improve then the downside of “being busy” can be longer lead times, higher costs and reduced performance. All of which can lead to a permanent – sometimes fatal – reduction in business as customers go elsewhere. This is often called the “busy fool” approach – putting in more and more effort, but getting back less and less benefit.

Instead, you need to get started on the virtuous circle by finding ways to “force in” about 10% of additional time and resource “up front”.

To do this, you need to do a bit more of the things you always do to increase your capacity: work some short-time overtime, cut back on time-consuming unprofitable work, bring in additional labour, contract out some of the workload, reschedule low-priority work, etc, etc.

And then you use some of that time to provide some short, sharp awareness training about Lean, non-value-added activities and the Eight Wastes. People will soon identify where the problems are, and come up with improvement ideas. Then you help the teams to prioritise their ideas and implement them. Focus first on improvements that save time and make the job easier. In no time, you’ll start getting some “quick wins”. Productivity increases, morale improves and people start to smile again.

Pretty soon, you’ll experience the unusual sensation of having time to actually stand back and think. And then you realise that the virtuous circle has begun….

If you want help to break out of your own “Too Busy Improve” trap, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com. Pretty soon, you’ll be getting better results with less effort. And who knows, you might even start to enjoy work and live longer!

A quick way to prioritise improvement ideas and suggestions

If you’re swamped with improvement ideas and suggestions, here’s a quick team-based approach to prioritising them – Ease and Effect:

  • Write each idea on a sticky note
  • In turn, read out / explain to the team each improvement idea
  • For each idea, first ask the team “How Easy do we think it would be to implement this idea?” Get the team to reach consensus on this – “Easy”, “Medium” or “Difficult”
  • Secondly, ask the team “If we did it, how much impact or Effect would this idea have?” Get the team to reach consensus on this – “High”, “Medium” or “Low”
  • Use a flipchart sheet or large piece of paper and draw out a 3 x 3 Ease and Effect Grid. Use the vertical for “Ease” and split this into the three categories  “Easy”, Medium” and Difficult. Use the horizontal for “Effect” and split this into the three categories “High”, “Medium” and “Low”.
  • After each idea has been reviewed and ranked, place the sticky note in one of the nine boxes, based on its “Ease” and “Effect” rating.
  • Prioritise the ideas based on the following ranking:
  1. Easy to do, with High Effect
  2. Easy to do, with Medium Effect
  3. Medium to do, with High Effect

Keep track of progress using a simple traffic light (RAG) system – ideas that you haven’t yet started are coloured Red, ideas that you’re currently working on are coloured Amber and ideas that have been completed are colured Green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can download a copy of the Ease and Effect Grid (and lots of other useful stuff) here: http://www.nicholsonconsultancy.com/free-downloads/

And if you’d like some help in running your own Ease and Effect sessions, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

Getting Things Done – Managing Tasks and Projects

“Too much to do, too little time!” is a cry that we hear more and more often recently.  When you’re trying to tackle a dozen projects, a hundred initiatives and a thousand “to do” tasks, it can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to even make a start.

So here’s a “quick and dirty” way to make sense of it all.

  1. Make a list – a full list. The first step is to face up to the challenge and list out all of the projects, tasks, initiatives and “to do’s”. It might look like a long list but don’t be put off – this is the first step towards regaining control.
  2. Split the list into two – “Tasks” and “Projects”. Tasks are things you know how to tackle, don’t take up a lot of resource and can be achieved in a few days. Projects are things that take longer, maybe need some research or data collection, and involve more people.
  3. Take the “Tasks” and prioritise them using an “Ease and Effect” grid. Start with the tasks that are Easy to implement and have the highest Effect or Impact. Then tackle the tasks that are Easy to implement and have a medium Effect. Put these tasks into an Action Plan and track progress using “traffic lights” (also known as RAG – Red, Amber, Green) – Red items haven’t yet been tackled, Amber items are those currently being tackled and Green items have been successfully completed.
  4. Translate the Projects onto a simple timeline or “Gantt Chart”. Split the timeline into three – (a) items to be tackled in the next 12 weeks, (b) items to be tackled in the following 12 months, (c) items to be tackled in the following year. Agree who will be accountable for each of the projects and set realistic start and finish dates.

That’s it! Yes it’s rough and ready but it’s the quickest, most effective way to regain control of “too much stuff” – try it!

And if you need some help to manage and deliver some of those projects, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com.

The Number Eleven Motivator – “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress”

This one really gets to the core of workplace motivation, since it covers some of our basic human needs –

  • the need to have objectives and goals – something to aim for
  • the need to feel that we’re making progress towards achieivng our goals
  • the need for regular feedback, to help us keep on track

Without these – aither at work or in our personal lives – it’s easy to drift and to lose motivation. Remember – “You are happy to the extent that you are in pursuit of worthy goals”.

Effective Leaders get to know their people and make the effort – however busy they are – for regular one-to-one discussions with each of them. Formally, this might be done every six months through an appraisal and review system, but more frequent one-to-one sessions (at least monthly) are perhaps even nore important.

Regular, honest, constructive feedback is vital to individual performance and motivation. In fact, most of us would rather have negative feedback than no feedback at all.

As well as reviewing performance against objectives, it’s also an opportunity to talk about career progression and to ensure that the employee’s idea of their future trajectory is realistic and generally fits with the needs of the organisation. In simple terms, we might benefit from some fast track superstars but most organisations also need a fair number of “steady Eddy’s” – committed, reliable people who always turn up on time and just get the job done.

… if you’d like to know more about objective-setting, effective feedback that works, appraisal, performance management or any other apsects of practical workplace leadership, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.con

The Number Nine Motivator – “My fellow employees are committed to doing quality work”

When we’re surrounded by people who strive to do well, we’re often encouraged to up our own game. And the opposite is also true – if those around us don’t care about how good of a job they do, and set themselves low standards, then the rest of the team will often sink to the same low standards.

People give of their best when they’re challenged and supported. And no one was ever inspired by the prospect of being average, or “just see what you can do”.

That’s why it’s so important for Leaders at all levels in an organisation to have high expectations of their teams, and to tackle any examples of poor performance.

So maybe it’s time for you to set some stretch targets – agree one or two BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), expect excellence, give team members the support they need to achieve, and tackle poor performance immediately – it’s often contagious!

… and if you need some help with achieving a “One Best Way” culture or you want to know how easy it can be to manage employee’s performance, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

Housekeeping or 5S – which one is it?

Maybe it’s just me but I’m regularly disappointed when people who should know better confuse the two. So here’s my little rant:

Unless you work in a very well-run hotel, please don’t pretend that “Housekeeping” is anything like 5S – it isn’t!

And if you’re doing 5S properly please don’t undermine it by calling it Housekeeping!

At worst, Housekeeping is a one-off tidy-up. At best it’s a standardised regular tidy-up that gets checked. Don’t get me wrong – it can be very effective and in some environments it might be all that’s needed.

5S on the other hand (sometimes also called 5C or CANDO) is a disciplined, systematic approach to workplace organisation. It uses simple visual management to

  • increase efficiency
  • minimise wasted time and effort
  • encourage team-work
  • establish “One Best Way”
  • instil discipline
  • continuously improve

So here’s a little challenge for you – have a close look at your business and each workplace within it, and then

  • if you’re at an early stage, decide if basic Housekeeping is all that you need (being tidy and looking good), or if you need to invest time and effort to reap the full benefits of 5S
  • if you think you’re already doing 5S, take an honest look at the list above and check how many of those benefits you’re currently achieving. If there are any gaps, maybe it’s time to reinvigorate your approach to 5S and raise your game

And if you’d like some advice, training and hands-on help to implement and sustain 5S, please contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com or call (UK) 01325 328855.

The Number Eight Motivator – “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important”

It’s easy to become sceptical about Vision, Mission Statements and the like adorning the walls in Reception, but working for an organisation that does worthwhile work that you believe in or identify with, is increasingly important.

We need to feel that what we do has some purpose and meaning, and we’ve probably heard the truism that “We are happy to the extent that we are in pursuit of worthy goals”

Hoshin Planning (Policy Deployment) is a very structured way of addressing this. Put simply, the idea is to cascade an organisation’s goals – by discussion and agreement – through every level of its hierarchy. Although it appears simple it often takes years to introduce the approach effectively. Done well though, everyone can see how the projects that they are working on fit into the “big picture”.

More easily, a good employee appraisal system should help translate the organisation’s goals into objectives, targets and measures for key staff.

Even more simply, regular one-to-one sessions where employees agree objectives and receive regular feedback, can be a great way of ensuring that employees understand how and why what they’re doing fits into the “big picture” and why it’s important.

Whatever technique we use though, we need to help employees understand that their work is important and valuable and that it contributes to a worthwhile goal. From a Leadership perspective we need employees to understand not just “what” they need to do and “how”, but also – and most importantly – “why”. Speaker and author Simon Sinek explains this in his “Start with Why” Ted Talk on YouTube.

… and if you’d like some help to find the “Why” in your own manufacturing business, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

The Number Seven Motivator – “At work my opinions seem to count”

In the age of smartphones, 24/7 email and social media it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by communications. Employees can feel it’s difficult to make themselves heard, and managers can struggle to hear people above the continuous “white noise” of messages. As a result, frustration increases, motivation drops and stress levels rise.

That’s when a simple technique – “Ease and Effect” – cuts through the noise, engages employees, makes managers’ jobs easier and quickly gets the best ideas turned into actions.

“Ease and Effect” sessions are one of the simplest, most effective ways to give employees a voice, to translate good ideas into action, and to sustain your Continuous Improvement activities.

It’s often best to start with a small workgroup – perhaps five to ten people – and be specific about the areas that you’d like to tackle. Give the team a week or two to identify problems and wastes (think of “The Seven Visible Wastes”), then bring them back together for a short brainstorming session.

Ask the team to rate each idea as to how Easy it would be to implement (Easy, Medium or Difficult) and how effective it would be (High, Medium or Low effect). Start with the “Easy, High” ideas to get some quick wins, then move onto the “Easy, Medium” and finally the “Medium, High”. Keep track of progress and see how quickly motivation rises and performance improves!

… and if you’d like some practical help to implement “Ease and Effect” in your manufacturing business, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

The Number Two Motivator – “I have the tools and equipment I need to do my job right”

People want to do the job right and they expect to be provided with the right equipment so that they can do just that.

Sadly this is still a real wake-up call for some manufacturing owners and managers. Here’s my advice:

Tools that aren’t easy to handle and clothing or PPE that’s uncomfortable become a real problem after a 8- , 10- or 12-hour shift. If you’re serious about quality and serious about treating employees well, invest in good quality gear – go for good value not just the cheapest. Would you want to wear those cheap nasty safety shoes day after day, week after week?

BYOT (Bring Your Own Tools). Get with it folks – this is the 21st Century not the 19th! Do you really expect your people to buy and bring their own tools to work? How do you control the quality? What if a tool fails and injures someone? What about sharing tools? What about 5S shadow boards? What about theft and “borrowing”? In my view, employers need to supply all of the right kit to do the right job to the right standard. Period.