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

The Cost of Disorganization

Posted April 14, 2008 @ 4:08 AM

Yesterday I met a woman who worked as the head fundraiser for a state senator. Talented, skilled, driven, and sharing a political vision with the senator, she seemed to have been in the ideal job. She quit after six months.

Conflict of ideology? Sex scandal? Financial shenanigans? Nope, nope, and nope.

Disorganization. She left because the senator's chief of staff couldn't manage the workflow in the office and organize the commitments that needed to be fulfilled. It wasn't the chief of staff's messy desk that was the problem, either. It's that the chief of staff had a nasty habit of handing off work that needed to be done by the next morning around 6pm the night before -- because she wasn't on top of her work. Faced with a non-stop series of "emergencies" that forced her to stay late at the office, the fundraiser quit. And she was followed by several more staffers over the next few months, because the environment had grown so toxic and stressful.

Stop for a moment to consider the real cost of your disorganization. If you're working in an office, you don't work alone. You're only one station in the value streams that flow through you (finance, accounting, HR, product development, whatever), and the downstream workers depend on you to pass information and your completed work in a timely, predictable fashion. When something languishes on your desk for two weeks without attention until you finally drop it on the next person at the last minute, you create muri and mura for that person. You do the same thing when you start meetings late and squander people's time. Or when you schedule last minute meetings and disrupt others' workflow. And if you do it egregiously enough, you end up losing good people who won't tolerate that sort of disorganization -- perhaps the height of muda.

These are the questions you should be asking yourself when you process your email, your phone calls, and the ad hoc requests that come at you while you're walking to the coffee machine: what work needs to be done on this thing? What's the deadline? How long will it take to do it? If you're rigorous about asking these questions, you'll be less likely to drop a bomb on someone at 6pm.

Organization for its own sake has no value. It's only useful for its ability to help smooth the unevenness in workflow and reduce waste. If you work alone and you're willing to bear the cost of muda, then there's no problem. But if you work in a company, the deleterious effects of your lack of control spread far beyond your desk -- and may be more than the organization can bear.

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How to apply standard work to meetings

Posted March 30, 2008 @ 10:24 AM

I've been writing a lot recently about standard work, and how it can reduce waste and improve efficiency. But knowledge workers often feel that standard work isn't applicable to their jobs, because they're so highly variable and unpredictable. This simply isn't true.

Let's take meetings (please). If your meetings are like those in most organizations, they're flaccid, bloated, puffy things have half the attendees struggling to control hypnic jerks and the other half checking their Blackberries.

Last year, I wrote about how Fabtech Systems, a custom prosthetics manufacturer in Washington, has defined standard work for its weekly meetings. The company figured out how long it takes to cover all the bases in the weekly meetings. Each operator has a standard reporting sequence that lasts a specified period of time. And everyone follows the standard work to the minute. The company also tracks performance on a variety of metrics after meetings. Are people getting the answers they need? Are problems resolved? Is there a higher or lower level of production problems following the meeting? Etc.

This is a great step in standardizing meetings. But you can go one better by making these metrics visible to everyone involved, including you. A simple andon system can help you identify variation from the ideal, spot trends, and create countermeasures for commonly recurring problems. I've created a sample Excel spreadsheet that you can download here to see what this kind of andon might look like.

This isn't perfect or complete by a long shot, and your specific needs will certainly be different from what I've created here. But it might serve as a starting point for you to apply standard work to your job.

Let me know what you think of it.

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How do you manage two dozen direct reports?

Posted March 26, 2008 @ 7:39 AM

Since the 1930s, conventional managerial wisdom held that seven to 10 direct reports was optimal. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that this notion is being challenged.

Assigning more workers to each boss started catching on during the corporate restructuring pushes of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when flatter organizational models took hold. Now some consultants are urging companies to loosen their views of supervising, so organizations can run with fewer bosses. Research in Europe suggests that a manager can oversee 30 or more employees, in part by using technology to communicate and help monitor work. . . . The researchers offered several possible reasons for managers' increased span of control, the technical term for how many workers are being supervised. Improved communications techniques may "help managers leverage their knowledge, solve more problems and supervise larger teams," they wrote.

The article mentions email, intranets, and web conferencing as key elements of the better communications techniques. To that point, the president of Cornerstone Research explains that most routine issues can be dealt with by email.

In my experience, however, most people seem to hit the wall around 10 direct reports. Beyond that number, they get overwhelmed with tracking work, solving problems, 1:1 and group meetings, email, etc. To double or triple that number seems impossible.

My question to you: do you manage more than 10 people? If so, how do you do it? What techniques do you use to reduce the burden of meetings? How do you stay on top of email and solve your staff's problems in a timely manner?

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