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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Making Time for Improvement

A common question by those just starting down a Lean journey is how do you find time for improvement.

“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” – Charles Buxton (Philanthropist and Politician)

It is an age-old battle — production time versus improvement time. Two worthy rivals attempting to occupy the same narrow 24-hour space. The issue is not which is more important. Production is! This is as it should be: a company is in business to sell its products and services. It must first make them. And that takes time. Production time always comes first.

Too often improvement is left to chance and the ingenuity of the willing to eke out small pockets of time — and make magic happen. We all know these people. They see the vision burning brightly before them and are determined to make it happen. Time and again, these people prove — with their own mental, emotional, and physical health — the familiar adage: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Improvement doesn’t just happen.  It takes time, and in the pressure pot of our day to day activities, there is never enough time to improve our situation. The structure of Lean permits and requires time be set aside for improvement. If managers do not definitively provide time for the task of improvement, then people will know that they are not serious about making improvement a formal part of the work.

One of the most common reasons I hear when improvement activity stops is ‘there is so much going on, we’re too busy to find time for improvement. The predominant culture in many organizations is on of firefighting – implementing temporary fixed to problems. Ultimately, however, fire-fighting organizations fail to solve problems adequately. Firefighting prevents us from getting to the root cause. And if we don’t get to the root of problem we will be right back to firefighting soon.

Most of us don't set aside time in the day, much less the week, just to improve. Without an improvement time policy, however, the danger is that needed improvements will never happen. It doesn't take much time or skill, mainly just will. We need to be encouraged and reminded that it only takes a few minutes to do kaizen. Without assistance from management, people have no good way to make time for improvement within the workday.

Management’s job is improvement. They must remove roadblocks that hinder this achievement. If managers do not take the time and make the effort to incorporate improvement in their work they are not serious about the effort. It takes time and effort to make changes in the way we do things, but it takes the time to consider and implement those changes if they are to survive in the long run.

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