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Most Improvements Don't Happen Instantaneously

Time is a funny thing.

As a society we often contemplate it, and some of us (including me!) have written on the topic of managing it as best we can.

So, why is it that there are so many improvement, delivery and project plans that seem to ignore the simple maths that lie behind the scheduling of activities?

I don't think that a week goes by that I don't experience a situation where someone has forgotten that it takes time to complete tasks.

This might seem like a daft post and that this can't surely be a real situation... I shake my head so often I could understand your point of view (if you do agree with that statement).

But, it does happen an awful lot in my experience and my guess is that this same experience probably exists somewhere in your business too. It might not be you, it might not be your team, but it might be lurking somewhere.

Whilst mulling this issue over, before I started writing this article, I thought of a number of instances where I spotted this phenomenon and I may have identified a place for you to start your investigations!

The place where time seems to get forgotten is in the tasks immediately after a behind schedule activity. Or, put another way, someone is struggling and they are hoping like hell that the following tasks can be done immediately and without their usual timings / delays:

  • Customers are promised delivery dates immediately after the late operation is completed, ignoring the other operations that follow.
  • Production teams are promised go live dates immediately following a late installation activity, ignoring all of the other task that need to happen.
  • Service users are promised queue jumps, when they complain, ignoring the fact that other service users are ahead of them.
I'm sure that there are plenty of other places in our businesses that host these kinds of 'zero time' promises, but this is a good place to start for many of us.

The knock on effect of making promises based on this spurious thinking are too great to list, but all involve letting others down (and the resulting chaos / fire-fighting that has to take place to resolve the situation).

Have a look in your own business and let me know if you come to the same conclusion.


About the author
Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes.

Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.


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