When do you get the time to implement continuous improvements?

One of the questions I get asked, particularly at networking events or at workshops, is ‘how does someone find time to make improvements to their business?’

It’s a good question and in this update I wanted to share a simple approach that you can use in your own business to help with scheduling the implementation of the improvements you want to make. This tool is simple to create, and if you are good with spreadsheets, it is even easier!

There are three steps to create the tool, and it will help you gain visibility over the workload of your team and schedule the best time for implementing your improvement projects. The diagram below should help put the three steps into perspective:

Step 1 – Determine the available capacity for project work.

For every member of your team you need to evaluate how many hours they have in their diary that aren’t already planned for their normal ‘day to day work’. If a person’s core work takes up 30 out of 35 hours then they have 5 hours available per week. If someone’s time is completely consumed by their day to day work then you may need to consider re-designing how their work gets completed in order to free up some time. It is also worth considering any other projects or requirements that might come along to affect their time. Items that come to mind include accreditations, away days, holidays, management planning sessions etc...
Once you have done this you should have some idea of what time is available for project work in total for your team each week. This is shown in the diagram above as the green line.

Step 2 – List out your projects.

This next step is a simple listing out of your upcoming projects (improvement or otherwise) and then breaking them down into a sequence of project steps. By allocating estimated time (hours) for each step you can quickly build up a picture of how much resource is required for each project. This is shown in the diagram as the red line. 

Step 3 – Schedule your projects.

Based on the priority of each project you have listed and the available hours per week you can now schedule the project steps going forward. This allows you to drip feed the projects into your working life rather than having to stop everything to get the job done. Using the basic functions of a spreadsheet can help you to plan out the project tasks methodically, allowing you to check the total number of allocated hours per week. A whiteboard, or similar, can also be used for the same effect and really depends on your preference for working.

Any time the red line goes over the green line you risk falling behind your schedule, and so you can re-arrange your project tasks to balance out available resources and the time required to make the changes. 
Finding your own way of doing this is important. For example, if you have six available hours per week identified as ‘project’ capacity and you fill your diary with six hours of improvement work and then something goes wrong in the business, the schedule will be unworkable. It might be better to schedule for only part of that available time and get a feel for this approach over a period of a few weeks. Each week you can adjust the percentage of this available time that you will use to schedule your improvement tasks.

Using a simple approach like this can help to iron out the bumps in demand when trying to make improvements happen, but it can also advise you if change isn’t happening quickly enough. There are many solutions to the problem of fitting projects into the working week and this is only one solution, but one that can help many businesses identify how they want to manage or improve their current approach to balancing the day to day tasks with making changes. Even a rough attempt at the above method can provide you with insights into what needs to change in your business before you can make the improvements you want.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer