A Better Way To Work TimeBack Management

About Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management. Prior to founding his own firm, Mr. Markovitz held management positions at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger. Learn More...

Leveling; smoothing out the flow; e.g., doing two performance evaluations a day for 3 weeks, rather than ten a day for three days -- and then needing to take a vacation because you're so burned out.
Overburdening people, process, or equipment; e.g., people working 100 hour weeks for months on end -- come to think of it, like most lawyers and accountants.
Uneveness or variability; e.g., leaving work at the normal time on Thursday, but having to stay at the office till midnight on Friday because the boss finally got around to giving you that project...at 4:30pm.
Waste; activities that your customer doesn't value and doesn't want to pay for; e.g., billing your customer for the really expensive 10am FedEx delivery because you didn't finish the document on time.

TIMEBACK BLOG Syndicate content

How to make big things happen.

Posted August 25, 2008 @ 5:01 AM

Long-time readers of this blog understand the connection I draw between Lean manufacturing and methods for making knowledge workers more efficient. A key element of lean is the elimination of waste in all forms -- from the trivial (the waste of paper clips) to the major (the waste of repairing defective products) to the tragic (the waste of human potential).

A recent interview with Professor John Kotter in strategy+business highlights just how important the elimination of waste really is. In talking about Lou Gerstner's early days at IBM, Kotter says,

When Louis Gerstner first became CEO of IBM in the early 1990s, the company was hugely complacent. And he told everyone, “We’re going to win. We might not win the series, but we are going to win the next game. We aren’t going to take days off — that’s not how you get there. That’s not how you make big things happen. I’m not asking you to work 200 hours a week and die. What you’ve got to do is take all the junk that you’re doing right now — and trust me, you’re doing lots of junk — and get rid of it, purge it, delegate it, whatever.” Once you do that, all of a sudden there’s more time to pay attention to opportunities and hazards and to do that consistently, without fail and without letup.

At all the organizations I consult to, I see people hammering away at their jobs -- coming in early, staying late, working weekends, and still overwhelmed by the amount of work they're not getting done. Lou Gerstner's quote reminds me how important it is to look for obsess over the eradication of waste in all its forms. When you get rid of the junk, you actually have time to make big things happen.

What junk are you doing? Attending pointless, flaccid meetings? Engaging in a string of 12 emails that could have been resolved in a 5 minute conversation? Spending the first 10 minutes of your day at the office trying to figure out what to do (instead of actually doing it)? Attending to trivialities rather than the critical issues that need your focused brilliance?

Eliminating waste may not get you to Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Workweek, but it sure will keep you away from a 200 hour week.

Tim, There is a problem when


There is a problem when we act on autopilot. Yes, that's useful when trying to do something that requires a high degree of manual skill -- making a golf putt, for example -- but when we slavishly and unthinkingly adhere to bad habits, well, that leads to all the productivity problems we both see.

I think that's the most impressive aspect of the Toyota production system: the company teaches and institutionalizes a mindset that leads people to question everything to see if there might be a better way. Maintaining that mindset in the wake of incredible success is just remarkable.

Emotional growth.

You know I'm in your amen chorus, Dan -- this is spot-on.

The problem is that we get married to the routines, bad habits, bureaucracy, and so on -- not because we think that they're actually serving our needs, but because we don't think about them at all. We derive emotional stability from continuing to do it the way we've been doing it.

Often, it takes a Gerstner-like leader to snap us out of that fog. The real challenge is to snap *ourselves* out of it.

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