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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Give Your Team a "Time Out"!

Performance improvement is about improving work flow of operations. However, sometimes it is necessary to take a break and reflect. If you have ever gone to the gym or hired a trainer, you know that constant training, without rest days, leads to fatigue. Furthermore, if one continues at the same rate and without rest, then progress turns to regression.

The same concept holds true for operations improvement initiatives. Performance improvement efforts start to produce diminishing results if the team does not take a break from such activities. A good performance improvement should include "forced rest" a.k.a time-out build in to the process. Let me address the following two questions that I come across:

1. Where does one build time-outs in process?
2. How many time-outs are sufficient in any given cycle?

Let us take a look at these questions individually:

Performance improvement is a cyclical process. There is a start and there is a definite end before the cycle repeats. A typical cycle includes the following stages: Analysis, Re-engineering, Testing, and Implementation. Some organizations may have more stages, and others may have less; but these are the core stages in any performance improvement initiative.

Time-out, in this context, means to "reflect". A proper definition of a "time-out" would be:

"A period of compete intra-cycle disengagement"

Every stage within the performance improvement cycle has a process in its self that involves review of the current state, application of tools and techniques, an expected outcome as a result of the application of those tools and techniques, and an evaluation of the result. I would like to add here that the first and last processes mentioned here are not the "time out" periods we are referring to. Rather it is a period between the first and last "stages" of the entire cycle.

Let me simplify it a bit more. The core stages mentioned were: Analysis, Re-engineering, Testing, and Implementation. The time out should be inserted between "implementation" and "analysis" resulting in the cycle having an additional "forced" step: Analysis, Re-engineering, Testing, Implementation, and Time-Out.

This should now have provided an answer to the second question, i.e. 1 time out is sufficient per cycle.

So how many cycles are required in a given initiative? Well! this is a whole other topic, but let me end with this thought. Performance improvement also means to increase efficiency while reducing complexity. With an optimized process it is not possible to have a complicated process. Therefore, if a cycle introduces added complexity of a given process; then one needs to really take a time out!

Question of the week:
Do you build time-outs in your performance improvement initiatives?

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Till next time....

CEO & Senior Advisor