Category: Process Control

Manage Your Time, Don’t Let it Manage You

You’re the Boss of Your Time

We all struggle with time management. The day begins with the best of intentions. Plans are made and then they blow up in our faces. Chaos takes control and we find ourselves in a vicious cycle putting out one fire after another. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You’re the boss of your time. If you don’t make a plan that is flexible, yet allows you to accomplish your goals, then you have just allowed yourself to be controlled by circumstance. No plan is perfect. You have to allow for the unforeseen. But, not making a plan allows the unforeseen to be the plan.

Setting Priorities

I have read from more than one time-management guru that the best planning begins the day before. Every day before you leave the office to allow yourself 15-30 minutes to set your priorities for the next day. Make sure to put this on your schedule and stick to it. Getting organized for the next day will help you to make goal setting a daily priority. It will also allow you to start the next day out with a plan.

On the flip side, allow yourself 15-30 minutes at the beginning of your day to review your priority list and readjust based on whatever you walked into that morning. Your list should give your day structure but it should also allow you the flexibility to adjust to new priorities and circumstances.

The To-Do List

You may see a to-do list as an anchor tied around your waist, but if done right it can be a valuable tool to managing your day and keeping track of multiple priorities.

I have discussed to-do lists in two other posts: Creating Lists to Manage Projects and Prioritize Tasks and Giving Your List Power – Creating Context, so I will just give some quick tips here.

Building your list can be done utilizing Evernote, Google Keep, One Note, a Word document, or pen and paper.

Use whatever method gives you the most flexibility and keeps you on task.

Get your priorities written and then prioritize them based on importance, when it needs to be completed, and how long it will take to accomplish each task.

Make sure to set a date for accomplishing each task. It is probably a good idea to add these tasks to your calendar and set reminders to ensure you get them done on time.

Keeping a list also has another side benefit – it allows you to go back and look at what you have accomplished which will help keep you motivated. Some days it can feel like you haven’t gotten anything done. Then you go back and look at your to-do list and see that you’ve accomplished quite a bit. That can give you a good feeling that should help keep you motivated.

Just Do Em’s

When starting your day if you have tasks that you can accomplish in under 5 minutes just complete those items. This will get tedious little tasks out-of-the-way so you can focus on bigger, more involved projects.

Minor tasks can clutter up your day and keep you from getting focused on important tasks. Better to get through them, or set aside a specific time for getting them done, so they don’t become speed bumps.

Your Outlook Calendar is Your Friend

Technology can be both an enemy and a friend. It is our enemy when we allow it to be a distraction – i.e. email and Facebook. It is all about how you utilize it. Turn off your email alert and set aside five minutes every couple of hours to check email.

One of the best tools is your Outlook calendar as it allows you to create tasks, prioritize, and set reminders. If you have longer-term tasks with multiple steps Outlook can help you to set up reminders to keep you on track. Here is a good video that discusses how to use tasks in Outlook to create a to-do list.

One thing to remember – if you need time to accomplish something create an appointment, not a task. A task is a specific item that needs to be accomplished without setting a specific time for doing it. If it is a specific activity that needs to be done then set an appointment for completing it.

Take Charge of Your Time

With all the tools and technology available to managers there is no reason why you should allow circumstances to set your schedule. By doing a little planning and taking advantage of these tools you can become productive no matter what comes up. Setting priorities, staying flexible, and keeping track of tasks will allow you to gain control and become the boss of your time.

Managing to the Numbers is a lot like Painting by the Numbers

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Managing by the numbers is a lot like painting by the numbers. It might give you a nice pretty picture but it lacks originality and inspiration.

Working in a manufacturing environment there is a huge focus on numbers. How fast are the machines running, how many pieces an hour are we producing, how much down time do we have, etc.

Data is important to understanding how well a process is working, but they don’t tell the whole picture. Managers get so focused on numbers and metrics that they lose sight of the big picture. They lose sight of the people in the process.

Focusing on numbers, while losing sight of people, can alienate and make people feel like cogs in a machine.

Production and financial numbers should be used to tell a story that people can understand. They should be used to guide people and help them to understand their role in the process. The numbers should be the start of a conversation not the end of it.

When talking to people about production and financial figures always help them see their role in either achieving the goals or working toward the goals.

Don’t become so caught up in the numbers that you fail to consider other factors driving the numbers. It is difficult to get the entire picture from just a bunch of figures. There are underlying factors that can’t be captured by metrics.

People, team cohesion, and input factors cannot be captured by data collection.

There are no numbers that will tell you when people are unhappy or dissatisfied with their work or that will tell you when there is an issue with the team dynamic.

An environment that has been poisoned by too much focus on production metrics can be hard to fix. Managers who focus solely on numbers without considering what the real causes are, or having empathy for the people in the process, have a difficult time mending those relationships.

Likewise, input factors, such as low quality raw materials that create production issues will get lost in the data. Often cheaper materials are purchased due to the fact that it looks good as a line item on a financial report. It is much harder to capture the true cost of production inefficiencies created by the poor quality raw material especially in processes with many input factors.

Gathering and reporting data is important in any business. It helps guide decisions in regards to investments and payback. Data tells whether a process is working or needs adjustment and gives guidance as to profitability and loss.

All the data in the world will not tell you what people know.

They know what is working with a given process and what is not. When it comes to team dynamics, only people can tell you what is and isn’t working.

Let the numbers be a guide but let your focus be on the people. Don’t allow yourself to be so driven by statistics and data that you forget the dynamic nature of what you are being asked to manager. Allow yourself the freedom to paint outside the lines and create something bigger than the numbers would allow.

 

 

 

Problem Solving Part 1: Data Gathering

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Three weeks ago I started a series on problems solving. Where have the weeks gone. Unfortunately, life happens and I was not able to remain consistent in my blog writing. But, I am back to continue discussion on this series.

This week we look at the first step in problem solving – gathering data. This might seem like a simple task, but in reality it can be very complicated. First, we have to decide what the right method is for gathering the data we wish to collect.

When we are facing a problem it is easy to just want to tackle the issue and go after everything that seems like a cause. You might call a meeting a brainstorm, or just get a bunch of opinions and take a shotgun approach in trying to resolve the problem. But it is a much smarter path to take the time to gather data and ensure that you are going after the right things.

MRP Systems

The first place to gather data may be a management information system (MIS) or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. If the data to the problem you are looking to solve is available in these systems it makes the tasks much easier. Often you can run a report to gather the specific data you wish to collect and put that data into a spreadsheet where it can be categorized and sorted. Then you can share this data with your team to put together some action plans to address the possible root causes.

Often though data gathering isn’t nearly that easy. Too often the problems we face come out of the blue and systems have not been developed to collect the data ahead of time in order to help troubleshoot problems as they arise. Or, you simple aren’t sure what the root causes are and do not know what data will lead you to the root cause.

Get to the Floor

When this is the case we have to look for other means to gather data. One technique is to put up a white board at the source where the issues are occurring to collect data in real-time as it happens. I would generally collect as much data as possible over a minimum of two weeks in order to give a wide enough sample to give valid data. Longer is better, but often when problems are occurring we need to resolve them as quickly as possible so we don’t have time to collect as much data as we would like.

You can also use technology and set up a spreadsheet where people can enter data as problems arise to get as full a picture of the situation as possible to help to identify the root cause.

First things First

Generally, I find that the simplest route to data collection is best. Give people whatever method is easiest for them to record problems. However, you collect data two items are most important – getting live data, and getting accurate data.

Yes, you could have a meeting and get everybody involved to brainstorm root cause but my belief is that the best way to gather data is where and when the problem is occurring. This will give the best and most reliable data.

My suggestion is to gather all your data first. Categorize it, analyze it, and then get your team together to discuss the root cause and possible solutions. If you brainstorm before you have collected the data, in real-time where it is happening, you are merely guessing.

Do the hard work of data collection ahead of time – and even though you may not feel like you have time to collect data, take the time. In the long run it will save you time and frustration to chase the right causes rather than chasing assumptions and guesses.

A Simple Problem Solving Process

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As manager’s and supervisor’s our days are filled with problem solving, whether people or processes. I have spent a lot of time on this blog discussing the people problems and ways to resolve them, now I would like to turn my attention to solving process issues.

When a process breaks down it can be difficult to find the root cause and often this is because there is no one root cause to a process break down, but rather a multitude of issues surrounding the process failure. And if there is a single root cause to the problem it may be difficult to sort it out due to the other issues that are closely connected to the root cause.

Isolating the issues and coming up with a solution to resolve the problem and get the process working properly again can be a daunting issue. And because of this it often gets us so bogged down in the details that we fail to act.

There are a number of problem solving and process improvement methodologies that can be employed including Lean, Six-Sigma, and 6-S. While I have a grounding in each of these methods I am by no means an expert in any of them and my guess is that most of you aren’t either. And while all these methodologies have something of benefit to offer most of us have neither the time, nor the organizational resources to become experts in these methodologies.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take the time to learn something about them, but if you are looking to solve an immediate issue I would suggest that there is a simpler way that utilizes some of the best that these methods have to offer without having to wait until you have time to learn them.

Over the next 5 post I will lay out a simple five step process for problems solving and resolution that I have developed that does not require you to become an expert in any of the above mentioned methods but utilizes elements of all.

If you follow the five steps as laid out over the next 5 weeks, and implement the plan as laid out, you will be able to identify the causes of the process failure, put a plan together to address those issues, implement that plan, and continue to improve it.

So here are the 5 steps:

  1. Gather data

  2. Evaluate data and choose focus

  3. Implement improvements

  4. Fine-Tune (re-evaluate)

  5. Sustain the improvement

If you have any experience with other lean and continuous improvement methodologies, you will see some commonality with them. I don’t claim any originality to my method, only simplicity.

What I would suggest is that too often we get so caught up in method and root cause that it keeps us from being able to act. We are chasing so many problems that we can’t focus on just one and often we need to address multiple problems at once and it seems so overwhelming that we just fail to act.

As Dale Carnegie once observed, “Our trouble isn’t ignorance, but inaction”. In other words, don’t worry about what you don’t know, do what you can do with what you do know.

By following along on my prescribed course of action it will get you to act, not just get caught in an endless cycle of data collection, evaluation, and frustration. Also, you don’t need to learn a lot of process improvement lingo or systems to begin acting. Begin where you are with what you have. Don’t worry about being perfect, if you wait for that you will never get anywhere.

So, stick with me over the next five weeks, follow the prescribed plan, implement the ideas, and if you need help along the way feel free to reach out to me at any time.

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