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.

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2009 Management Improvement Carnival

Posted January 2, 2010 @ 5:09 PM

TimeBack Management is proud to be part of the 2009 Management Improvement Carnival, coordinated by John Hunter at Curious Cat.  Several of us are reviewing a variety of 2009's best posts from some of the best blogs.  Links to all carnival participants and the summary can be found here.

I've picked posts from three of my favorite blogs: Mark Graban's Lean Blog, Jason Yip's You'd think with all my video game experience that I'd be more prepared for this (which surely sets a record for longest blog title relative to the length of the posts), and Kevin Meyer's Evolving Excellence.

From Mark's LeanBlog, I've chosen the following:

Jason Yip's posts are generally quite short, but pithy and thought-provoking. There's always more than meets the eye.

Evolving Excellence is an awfully wide-ranging blog, but these posts are enlightening, funny, and powerful:

Finally, a special shout-out to Bill Waddell's masterful manifesto on the Hollowing of the American Economy, which was first introduced on the EE blog. This piece was probably the single most powerful article I read all year. Download it here.

Many thanks to all of you for entertaining, enlightening, and educating me over the past year with your wisdom and creativity.

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Kaizen: it’s good for what ails you.

Posted December 28, 2009 @ 11:20 AM

Breaking news from next month’s Harvard Business Review: kaizen is good for morale.

Well, HBR didn’t put it that way exactly. The (somewhat pompously titled) article, “Breakthrough Ideas for 2010,” argues that the top motivator of performance is progress, even if it’s incremental:

On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.

Although the article doesn’t talk about kaizen or about the elements of lean leadership, many of the ideas come straight from The Gold Mine or The Lean Manager. The authors recommend that managers “scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive, or holding up resources.” They go on to suggest that

If you are a high-ranking manager, take great care to clarify overall goals, ensure that people’s efforts are properly supported, and refrain from exerting time pressure so intense that minor glitches are perceived as crises rather than learning opportunities. Cultivate a culture of helpfulness. While you’re at it, you can facilitate progress in a more direct way: Roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Of course, all these efforts will not only keep people working with gusto but also get the job done faster.

Nothing wrong with these suggestions. I especially like the recommendation that minor glitches should be seen as learning activities. That fits nicely with lean thinking. But I can’t escape the feeling that there’s something wrong when high-ranking managers have to be told by the august HBR to, um, actually help out with some of the work. Shouldn’t this be common sense, rather than “breakthrough” managerial thinking?

The article also challenges the widely held belief that recognition is the most important factor motivating workers. According to the authors’ research, recognition ranked last. (Which makes you wonder about the methodology of all these studies if the results are so different.) But then they go on to say that

the diaries revealed that [recognition] does indeed motivate workers and lift their moods. So managers should celebrate progress, even the incremental sort. But there will be nothing to recognize if people aren’t genuinely moving forward—and as a practical matter, recognition can’t happen every day.

I’m not sure what salt mine the authors work in, but where I come from, recognition doesn’t have to be a large cash prize given out in front of the whole company. In fact, it’s quite possible to say “Thank you -- I appreciate the work you did” every day.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let me go back to the key premise: that improvement and progress aren’t just good for the company, they’re good for the workers. And that’s a virtuous circle we can all benefit from.


Are you making your work easier?

Posted December 21, 2009 @ 10:16 PM

Over at The Lean Edge, Orry Fiume wrote something that really got me thinking:
Productivity gains do not automatically reduce costs, they just free up capacity. The actions that management had to take to actualize productivity gains include. . .  reducing overtime.

Okay, this is obvious stuff, I suppose. But let's transfer this idea from the production line to the managerial class, and all of a sudden you've got a problem: most, if not all, managers and supervisors are exempt employees, which means there's no overtime pay. If they don't get their work done on time, they come in earlier, stay later, or work on weekends, and the company bears no financial burden. The wife might not see her husband at dinner, the father may not make it to his son's baseball game, but the company? No cost, no loss.

So what's the driving motivation, and what's the metric for lean work applied to managers? There's no cost-reduction incentive, the work is difficult (or impossible) to standardize, and, well, let's face it: we're just used to applying lean thinking to repetitive tasks like those found on an assembly line or a repetitive business process.

Orry goes on to say that

Employees also tend to interpret the statement “improve productivity” as “work harder”. The reality is that you can’t have annual double-digit productivity gains without making the work easier to do.
So here's the question for you: has your work gotten easier to do? What have you done anything to make it easier? When I think about the eight years I spent in product design and marketing in the footwear and outdoor goods industries, I can safely answer that in two words: very little. In general, I worked the same way as my predecessor, and my successor worked the same way as I did. That meant far too many last minute (read: expensive) flights to customers for feedback, a lot of late nights finalizing product specs, and a god-awful number of pointless, stupid meetings that chewed up time without adding any value to anyone. (I'd mention email, but this was in the days before we used email too much. We did run up quite a bill sending overnight FedEx packages to Taiwan, however.)

My point is simply this: you should be thinking about how to make your work -- no matter how variable, unpredictable, irregular, and creative it is -- easier. If you're not, you're probably not realizing the productivity gains that you could.

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