Herding Elephants Through Time
Leverage Time Through Speed of Response
The last entry in this space promised a “journey” in time – but not before nonchalantly chucking agile practices under the bus for the high crime of being “reduced to tools and techniques.”
The piece went on to say that reducing important ideas to tools and techniques causes us to “…forget the fundamentals.” Such that you inevitably encounter real-world problems “…your toolbox can’t fix” thereby making the case for “fundamentally dealing with time differently” to “handle anything reality can throw at you.”
Tools develop the gravity and momentum of a herd of elephants and redirecting a herd can seem easier than getting people to give up their tools. So how does one propose to deal with time in a “fundamentally different way” without merely introducing different tools?
By leveraging time, not managing it.
And this is how.
How It Started. And, Why Time?
Imagine running your family business. Say, a simple fabric loom. The cloths and tapestries coming off the loom are your family’s income. Now imagine discovering that a single thread snapped some time ago – rendering much of the run mostly unsellable – and you only caught the defect after pouring several minutes’ more material and work into the rag you’ve unknowingly built.
Now, if you happen to catch the broken thread before too much more weaving happens, you can step in, tie-up the loose ends, and continue, thereby minimizing the total scrap and lost time. Not accounting for the skill and time to find the break, tie the ends, reset and restart the operation, awareness of the thread when it breaks requires its own skill and time. Committing a skilled person to babysitting the machine is seriously inefficient. There’s much higher value work such a skilled person could be doing.
What can you do about this Catch-22?
How much better would the whole operation be if you could simply be alerted to a broken thread the moment it happened? You wouldn’t need to babysit the machine. In fact, you wouldn’t even need to be nearby when it happened. You wouldn’t need any more skills than knowing how to merely stop the operation. How much would that simple capability save you overall?
This is leveraging time: it starts with the ability to respond to events as fast as possible. In other words, minimize the lag between when something happens (good or bad) and your ability to respond effectively and decisively.
Now, think about everything else that must align in order for that to happen. In order for your speed of response to be as fast as possible. What else would have to be true?
Speed of response is not a tool or technique. It’s a strategy. Aligning your business to optimize speed of response will leverage time in ways managing time can never accomplish. Speed of response unlocks innovation. It improves quality. It delights customers and it’s rocket fuel for performance, growth, profit, and makes you competitively untouchable.
Too Good to Be True
Nope. It’s real. Very real.
But there’s a catch. Of course, there is.
As with any worthwhile investment, there’s risk. The good news is that it’s not a financial risk. It’s more of an emotional one. To align an operation to optimize for speed of response requires a level of executive vulnerability few leaders have the courage to allow.
In particular, an executive must be willing to allow employees to have the ability to take action. After all, you don’t achieve speed if every decision has to go up the chain of command for deliberation and back down again. Executives must also allow people closest to the work to make suggestions and even carry out changes within their sphere of operation. This also includes allowing for experimentation and errors, aka, learning opportunities. Who creates the conditions, knowledge, and resources for employees to do their work and also to improve the customer experience? Leaders do. Leaders are accountable to more than their board and investors, they’re directly accountable to their employees to let them make it happen.
This is the way.
There’s much more to this business of speed of response. We haven’t even touched on planning and organizing work. We’ll get into these in the coming issues. Let’s leave the discussion with this:
In pursuit of speed of response and all its benefits, the leader’s job is as enabler. Speed isn’t working “faster,” it’s eliminating delay
s. If ever there was a clearer connection between time and money: errors = spending money and delays = money later instead of now.
Remember the loom? That’s a true story. The guy who came up with the “early warning system” for his family’s textile business was named Sakichi Toyoda. And his single simple thought is the precursor to the now-famous Toyota Production System, one of the most profitable mass production systems to ever grace the face of business.
Yes, same name. Same family. One idea started it all.