Finding Time to Improve

A major impediment to the rate of improvement in many firms is the time that can be devoted to improvement activities. It is not uncommon to hear employees at all levels say, “We don’t have the time to make improvements.” Unless this problem can be solved, it is unlikely that much improvement will occur.

Whenever I hear a statement like the above, I first always ask myself what the individual is trying to say. “We don’t have the time to make improvements,” might be a person’s way of expressing a fear of change, an unwillingness to contribute, a lack of resources to make improvements, or a seeking of further rationale as to why the improvement is needed. It is therefore important to try to probe the deeper meaning of this statement and understand what the person is really trying to say.

When the deeper meaning of “not having time to improve” is uncovered, management can set about trying to address it. Resources can be provided where needed, fear can reduced by introducing change gradually and without fear of repercussion, and further rationale can be provided. It is where the lack of time is used chronically as an excuse not make improvements that are the hardest cases to deal with.

Where lack of time is used to excuse no improvement, it is useful to remember a few things. First, there is no good or perfect time to make improvements. If we wait until that perfect moment when we have time, then we will never improve. The best time to improve is right now – when a problem is discovered and the need for improvement identified.

Secondly, organizations need to embrace change and become used to it. Many organizations are calcified – they never change anything and the status quo becomes a way of life. In such firms, change is difficult to introduce and manage. However, once the change process is introduced, such firms should make it a way of life and increase the amount of change they make. “Change is good, but more change is better” is a good motto to follow in such firms.

Where lack of time to improve is an habitual excuse used by people, I have found it useful to have management request that such individuals keep a detailed hourly log of their daily activities for a week or so. I have yet to see a case where such a log did not reveal activities that could be eliminated from the individual’s work, thus freeing up some time to devote to improvement.

To minimize the time impact of improvement upon a key production process, a kaizen team made up of a few people from the target process (in multi-shift operations they can be off-shift personnel), with the remainder of the team drawn from other areas, can work on improvements while the target process is allowed to continue running. In fact, maintaining the operation of the target process has the additional benefit that the improvement team can observe the process working and introduce improvements “on the fly” so to speak.

Where time is a constraining factor on improvement, management can also consider asking for volunteers for “after-hours” improvement events. Often, when a compelling reason for change has been provided, there will always be some employees who will donate some time after regular hours to work on improvements. if the firm is in good shape financially and is able to pay for the extra time, it can choose to do so, but oftentimes some employees are willing to volunteer their time without overtime pay just make change happen.

Removing the roadblock of “no time” is critical to making improvements and increasing the pace of change. No time, no improvement!


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