Do you know what to do next?

January 5, 2016 - 6 minutes read
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There are two key questions managers at all levels need to be able to answer regularly in their day-to-day operations:

  1. Out of all the things I need to handle right now, which one should I choose?
  2. Out of all the things I can improve, which one should I choose?

These are key questions, because the moment the choice we make is not the appropriate choice the negative ramifications are not negligible. Choosing to deal with an issue which is not the appropriate one means we advance/ solve an issue that delivers less significant value on the expense of advancing/ solving an issue that could have provided a higher value.

When we focus our improvement efforts on the inappropriate area we are realizing benefits that are of a lesser impact on performance in comparison to what we could have achieved. The cost effectiveness of this choice is low. But in this case the negative effects do not stop here. Improvement means change, change requires participation of people and ineffective change negatively effects people willingness and enthusiasm towards participation in the next change.

How can we lay down a system that will consistently guide us to answering these questions effectively? Is there one system that enables responding both questions, or do we need two separate systems?

To answer the first question, we need a priority system. A system that can clearly indicate, in a non disputable manner, the priorities of all entities waiting in the queue of “to be done next”. For this priorities to be clear an indisputable they must be based on a measure that is clear an indisputable. This measure needs to be sensitive enough to indicate the priorities and at the same time not too sensitive so that not too many items on the list become “urgent”. It must also indicate the priority with sufficient time in advance enabling, in most cases, taking a corrective action.

One thing that will not work is trying to answer all of these needs with a list of measures, it will only promote confusion. The priority should be set based on a single measure. This should be an important measure, crucial. In many cases this measure is quite straight forward, and is related to the key performance indicator that the process customer will look at. For example, it can be: Speed of delivery, Reliability, Availability. You may think of other such measures, they must be crucial for your process customer. Once this one measure is defined, you can now introduce the concept of a buffer. A buffer is the entity that defines your accepted SLA (Service Level Agreement). For example, the lead time in which your response/ service should be provided. Split this buffer to three zones; the first 1/3rd – Green – indicating the process started, you do not expect is to be completed and there is still sufficient time so that, normally, no management intervention is required. The second 1/3 rd – Yellow, mostly it is expected that within this part of the buffer we will be able to complete whatever it is we are doing, normally while the process is in this part, still no management intervention is required. And lastly, the third 1/3rd of the buffer – RED indicating that in case the process still did not complete management intervention is required, and that there is still sufficient time to normally complete the remaining process on time.

Now consider the list of “still to do” waiting for attention, each item item in the list has a color code attached to it. It is now clear that red items are of higher priority than yellow ones, which in turn are of higher priority than the green ones. Further more, well defined systems have low amount of reds and normally there is sufficient time to complete red items before missing on the commitment to the process customer, thus no need to optimize within the noise. Meaning no need to try and set priorities between the reds.

The result – a priority system with clear, indisputable priorities anyone and everyone can understand and follow.

Now, if every time the process creates a RED event, in addition to the corrective action taken, we will document where was the process stuck, it will enable a quantifiable identification of the place that has the largest number of occurrences, and accordingly where should we focus our improvement efforts. Improving at this location will undoubtedly reduce the number of occurrences of REDs thus clearly enabling a process performance improvement.

Therefore, with one simple system we are able to answer these two crucial questions clearly, effectively and in an indisputable way. Further more, the effectiveness of the system and of the improvement efforts facilitates broad cooperation and commitment of people in the organization.

Simple, doable and (almost) always possible.

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