In a past blog post, How do you handle inputs into your life?, I discussed the book A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance. Next week’s Business901 Podcast features the author, Dan Markovitz, founder and owner of TimeBack Management. Timeback is a consultancy specializing in improving individual and organizational performance through the application of lean concepts.
This is an excerpt from the podcast:
Joe: If you really sit back and take a look at what you are doing or have to do, that you have much more control over the situation than you think. Applying the Pareto Principle, you have a lot of control?.
Dan: “I think often we do. I think oftentimes there is a lot more room for improvement than we realize. We just haven’t bothered looking. We just say, “Oh yeah, I get interrupted all the time.” “Oh yeah, I get these problems.” But we don’t really understand why because we’ve never stopped to really grasp the situation. The other thing, where I think Lean is really important, comes in the notion of visual management. I hear people saying all the time, “You know, I feel like I’m always reactive. I’m not proactive. I’m always being tactical. I can never be strategic.”
They cite the same thing that you talked about ? an email comes in that’s kind of important or my boss comes in and says, “We have to do X, Y, and Z.” I think what I see is that because we are knowledge workers our work tends to be invisible. It tends to reside in bits and bytes of electrons of data sitting in our email inbox, sitting in a document somewhere on our computer desktop, whatever.
But it’s not real visible. It’s not like an engine assembly in front of you. It’s not like a fan blade that you’re working on in front of you. As a consequence what happens is that it’s very easy to pull my attention away from what I’m working on.
I think visual management, the notion of taking the work that you’re doing and somehow making it more visible, making it more visual, enables us to better judge whether we should be responding to this new problem rather than the thing that we were working on.
So again, the simple example, Joe, would be, I am working on something and then an email comes in, and I look at it and I say, “Oh, boy. I’m going to handle this,” and I get distracted by that.
The problem is I don’t know what I’m supposed to be working on. Because my work is relatively invisible, I don’t really have the ability to say which is truly more important, this new thing that came in or this old thing that I was supposed to be working on.
And so what happens is we’re always distracted by the squeaky wheel and we start giving it the oil or the grease, instead of saying, “Gosh, this wheel maybe squeaking, but I’ve got much bigger issues to take care of.”
I think ideas that you see in something like Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban, that’s one way of making the work visible. You’ve got the physical representation of it on a white board and now you can say, “These are the three things that I am working on now. This is my work in progress. Oops. Here comes something new. Well, is it more important than these three things, yes or no?” If the answer is yes, well then, great, change. If the answer is no, well then, figure out how you are going to handle it.
Stick with what you are doing and then figure out how you are going to cue up that new thing, or hand it off to someone else or ignore it or whatever.”