There's an old adage in business: "Time is money." This obviously refers to the need for greater productivity and output in a shorter amount of time. Otherwise, money is lost.
We all know time is important. What’s more, the business world is inundated with references to time, such as time and motion studies, widgets per hour, deadlines, annual and quarterly reviews, time and expense sheets, aged inventory, days of inventory backlog, time to value, average call waiting time, and so on.
But this poses the question: Who controls the time?
Management Has the Clocks
“A plan is what, a schedule is when. It takes both a plan and a schedule to get things done.” —Peter Turla
If businesses operate to a schedule, then it is management who sets the schedule. In most organizations, deadlines are set at the top and passed down into the organization, much like military orders. The problem is that a printed schedule or deadline is not a guarantee that the output will be delivered on time. A schedule is just a schedule. It's those entrusted with execution (whose who do the work) who determine the outcome. This is the real issue.
Employees Have the Time
No doubt, execution is a key competitive advantage. Being able to deliver to a cost budget and time schedule helps a company get to market faster or build superior customer loyalty by delivering when promised. But the facts suggest that on-time execution of a promised deliverable is rare. According to some estimates, nearly 70 percent of business goals fail to be delivered—not because the goals are too hard, but because of poor execution.
Indeed, in the value chain from printed schedule to actual delivery, there are many human touch points and several different functions and departments. In many cases, these touch points and handoffs are not well aligned.
Case in Point
Many years ago, we were asked to improve the claims processing time in an insurance company. The current average time of claim resolution was two to three months. Needless to say, customers were angry with the long wait for their claim checks. When we constructed an as-is process map of the steps involved for a single claim (from filing to resolution), we found that not only were there several departments and numerous handoffs involved, but the time between completion of one step and passing to another in the chain was often measured in weeks. Most of the time, the claim sat in someone's inbox or in-process tray waiting its turn to be processed.
After reviewing the process map, all the departments were surprised to see that processing a claim was so complex and lengthy. Few understood the whole process; they just knew their small piece. Not surprisingly, many started to complain that the problem wasn't their fault, because each person had so many individual claims to process. In the end, there just wasn't enough TIME in the day.
We listened to the angst for a while. Then, we asked them to break up into multi-function teams to design a faster process from scratch. After some prodding and encouragement, they came up with a team-based arrangement. One member from each of the various steps was organized together into a single group. This group was tasked with processing claims straight away, rather than letting claims pile up before being processed. They even came up with a speedy process for exceptions, when critical information was either needed or missing. The best part: the average claim resolution time was reduced to eight days!
Bottom line: Time is money. To save time and money, you need to understand the process. So, if you are concerned about time, schedules, and execution, I suggest you involve employees who know the process and do the work.