Making Time for Continuous Improvement

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We discuss why it is so critical to make time for continuous improvement and how to build the process into your routine.

Do you know what you need to do but never get around to making it happen?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I had a conversation with someone who wanted an outcome but said they didn’t have the time to do what was necessary to achieve it. We are great at being busy, caught up in the day-to-day and the associated reactive behaviour. We struggle to break free to a place of calm and freedom to be proactive.

Being busy but never improving

Unfortunately we are conditioned from the moment we set foot in the workplace to be or to look ‘busy’. We fill our time with whatever activity we can. As long as we are in motion and appearing to add value somewhere all is well. This activity can be through choice, through direction, or it can be driven as a result of poor process performance. Being busy can often be worn as a badge of honour, “look how long and hard I am working!”

It can be an adrenaline rush where the continual stimulation and reward of dousing the fires becomes the objective rather than stability and control. This activity results in an organisational flux filling human capacity and cramping the space for anything else. “Busy” consumes and wastes incredible amounts of resources and energy.

Inherent chaos inhibits a continuous improvement culture

In my experience it is frontline and middle managers who bear the brunt of the organisational chaos. They must deal with multiple competing demands, constant task switching and the reactive demands of broken systems and processes.All this on top of supporting and managing their teams. Given that this cohort are the key stakeholders in any improvement or change process it is a massive understatement to suggest that this creates a problem.

It’s not uncommon in my consulting life to have a conversation that is similar to “the Lean stuff sounds great and I get it, but I just don’t have the time”. Or, “we are a bit busy right now, so we will do that thing another time”.

I have two thoughts regarding this:

  1. I am curious and I want to understand why they are too busy, and;
  2. I feel that busyness can often be used as an excuse to stay in the comfort zone.

Lean management tools to support improvement

The positive is that we have a choice and there are tools that can help to relieve the overburden and stress. Typically the first step toward a place where daily proactive and improvement activity can happen is understanding the current demands on the leaders time.

What they are doing? When they are doing it? How long does it take? 

Essentially this is an exercise in determining capacity versus demand, and assessing how much time is being spent on reactive activity versus planned activity. It is not unusual to see leaders spending up to 80% of their day reacting. This is a troubling statistic for the individuals and for an organisation relying on leaders to be in control, focussing on stability and continuous improvement of process and people. The focus should not be on just making it all work enough to get through another day.

Like all lean tools, exposing the difference between what we expect to happen versus what is actually happening draws the situation into sharp relief, It begins a robust conversation around improvement. Some of the common issues for leaders are as follows:

  • Playing outside their lane (getting involved in activity outside the scope of their role).
  • Lack of clearly defined and enforced boundaries.
  • Failure to delegate or let go of low value activity.
  • Procrastination.
  • Lack of prioritisation of key tasks and assessment of task impact.
  • Continued interruption via people & technology.
  • Taking on others priorities or problems.

Once these issues are highlighted, it is amazing how easy it is to create time. The common thread of high performing individuals in any walk of life is that time is always a premium. It is the one resource we cannot create more of and should always be held in high regard, particularly for leaders.

Creating time for continuous improvement through routine

When leaders begin to reclaim time in their day and create space, that space allows for proactive activity to fill the void. It means there is time to stop, to think, to plan and to work “on” the process rather than “in” the process.

It’s not something that happens overnight but little by little, day-by-day. Time is liberated through a change in focus and the cumulative effects of proactive thinking and continuous improvement. Ultimately a leader is able to define the role to encompass the time and space to improve, and to move to a place of calm and stability.

Make a start, make it small, have success – repeat.

A full C.I. Framework, Not Just Locally Optimised ‘Islands’

For any process to not only be sustained, but to thrive, it must be supported by adjacent processes and systems. So when implementing Lean consider how the various tools interconnect – and ensure you don’t optimise or develop them in isolation.

Tools like Leader Standard Work, standardised problem solving techniques, and a Tiered Daily Management system should work together to handle the full PDCA loop.

The image below of the TeamAssurance platform below shows how we designed an interconnected platform that avoids disconnected ‘Point Solutions’ (digital or analog) that do not help, and or even act as barriers, to achieving an optimised CI framework.

TeamAssurance Connected Systems Chart-Mar-29-2023-08-13-03-7995-PM
Want to explore the opportunities offered by digital-aids to Lean tools? If you’re a Business in need, or a Consultant with clients in need, contact us for a demonstration of the TeamAssurance platform today.

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