Here we are with our first look into the processes and workflows I use to manage my time as a Technical Services Manager for a mining equipment manufacturer.
(You can see all the topics in this series here)
In my role I have many hats to wear, encompassing many aspects of our business. I rarely get to focus full-time on one particular gig. I am always looking to pull bunnies out of my hat, all while juggling many other things. And of course, all with limited resources.
If you are in a (CAD) management role like me, then you probably already realize that CAD management is a lot like Mark Kiker describes: “CAD Management is unique in that your area of responsibility does not match your circle of authority. You are responsible for putting in place processes, guidelines, standards, and quality control. But you have to do this from outside the chain of command.”
You have limited authority. You have limited control over resources. Yet you are expected to clean up everyone else’s mistakes. But, if it doesn’t go well it always seems to be your fault. Sound familiar?
You may not be in a management-type role like me, but I know you have tasks and responsibilities you must complete. When you have more tasks then you feel you have time for. How do you know where to start? How do you tackle this list?
If you look at the feature image, why is that gentlemen sweeping the parking lot? It is wet and muddy. There is still snow to melt, to make it more wet and muddy. He deemed this as a top priority (or someone told him too), but why? Sure seems like a wasted effort.
Know Your Role!
The Rock is famous for saying “Know Your Role… and Shut Your Mouth.” It is not only appropriate for a CAD Manager but really, for any position. You do not want to start taking on tasks/responsibilities, making
Do not know if the task is for you? figure it out by asking questions until you find the answers. Here are a few questions to start with:
- Where is the coffee?
- Am I the best suited for this task?
- Does this really need my (or someone’s) attention?
- What is my short-term (or long-term) plan? Does this fit?
- What are my resources (time, budget, hardware, software, people, etc.)
Your supervisor (or management) should have established your roles and responsibilities. As in, what you should be working on. If you haven’t then work with them to establish a game-plan. Review this often.
My long-term goals are for the year. Established by myself and my boss, these are the “chunky” milestones that I need to accomplish for the year. I used it as a compass to help with the tasks I prioritize.
Unfortunately my short-term goals are very hazy, but I’m working on it. So much stuff flows through my office that I struggle to keep up. Recently I’ve taken to looking at my list as what I should not
I use my boss (the general manager) as a sounding-board constantly. He sets my top priorities and helps get me the required resources. If I am not working towards the vision of the company and/or responsibilities for my position, then why would I do it? He’s also the one who does my annual review and sets my wage, so I think its important our priorities align.
If someone else is already assigned the task, you need to make sure you offer actual value to a task before stepping on someone else’s toes. Especially when they are better suited to handle it. This is a great opportunity to offer assistance on the task, but divert your attention to a more pressing task.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broken
“THREE RULES: MANAGE THE THINGS THAT AREN’T WORKING; DON’T MESS WITH THE THINGS THAT ARE WORKING; FIXING TRUMPS TINKERING EVERY TIME”-Robert Green
Try to remember that nothing is a bigger waste of time than taking on a task that no one finds an issue/requirement or your effort doesn’t make for a reward/payoff.
Is this task something that truly isn’t working or needs attention? A good motto for life is don’t fix what ain’t broken and don’t mess with the things that are working.
“WE CANNOT SOLVE OUR PROBLEM USING THE SAME THINKING WE USED WHEN WE CREATED THEM.”-ALBERT EINSTEIN
Maybe the process isn’t perfect and needs a bit of attention. So, how do you know if it is worth immediate attention and is worth the effort?
A great place to start is with Pareto Analysis (aka the 80:20 rule). I apply this rule in three different methods.
This principle states that 80% of the failures are coming from 20% of the causes. So, base your decision-making on only selecting the limited number of tasks that produce a significant overall effect.
Another way to look at this is to analyze the outputs of the time you spend (inputs). Why spend 80% of your time to only move the needle 20%. Eliminate (or put on hold) all but the tasks that provide the most potential for change.
I start every week by asking myself, “What’s the stupidest thing I’m wasting time on?” These tasks do not make the list!
“FIND PROBLEMS WHICH YOU CAN ATTACK TO GENERATE THE BIGGEST TIME SAVINGS… FOCUS ON MAKING SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS EASY SO USERS GET DONE FASTER WITH FEWER ERRORS”-ROBERT GREEN
The third way of looking at 80/20 is through effort vs reward. When we implemented a new ERP system, we used the 80/20 rule to dictate when we were done a task. Once we felt that we had solved 80% of the possible situations, we moved on. You might be surprised by how often the last 20% will take more time and resources than the first 80%!
Find the Real Value
“HERE IS REAL VALUE IN ASKING YOUR USERS WHERE THEIR BOTTLENECKS ARE AND FINDING THE SOLUTION(S) TO FIX THEM”-Robert Green
When reviewing your to-do list try to identify the bottlenecks. Resolving bottlenecks in your processes can increase productivity. Increasing productivity (yours or others) is a big win.
Think of a pop bottling line. Where are the bottles accumulating? That is the bottleneck!
The process that accumulates the longest queue is usually the bottleneck. The cause could be from many factors. People may be swamped (lack capacity), maybe your hardware/software crashes frequently, or maybe
To resolve the bottleneck, you always have two options: increase efficiency or decrease the input.
Lean and Six Sigma is a new addition to my toolkit. I find so much value in these philosophies that I am working (slowly) towards my greenbelt in certification. I want to ensure that I am applying these to their utmost impact.
With Six Sigma everything starts and ends with customers. Who are your customers? As a CAD Manager type, my customers are the CAD users, the supervisors, and management. These are the people who define quality and set the expectations. They rightfully expect performance and reliability. Everything I do must meet their expectations or it offers a no-to-little point in completing the task.
Do not lose focus of who your customers are!
Continuing with the six-sigma philosophy, reducing variation will solve process and business problems. Your business is made up of a series of interacting processes. The activities that use resources (people, machines, computers, etc.) to transform inputs into outputs. The output of one task becomes the input for the next.
At some point, you need to stop and smell-the-roses. Exam your processes and eliminate waste and inefficiencies.
- Eliminate waste – the unnecessary (unneeded) steps, the repetitive steps, and the “just cause” step. Ensure all steps add value. if it does not, why are you doing it?
- What is the cost of poor quality? as in the costs that would disappear if the processes were perfect. Quantify the negative outcomes due to waste and inefficiencies
- Why? identify the problem and working
backwardskeep asking “why is this occurring?” until you reach the root cause
“DON’T FIND FAULT, FIND A REMEDY.”-HENRY FORD
I like using the six-sigma modeling steps to help find the waste in a process. Basically, it is a 4-pass process starting at a very high-level outlining the process and finishing with the documentation, instructions, and procedures required to improve and streamline the process. Obviously the complexity of the process and the number of people involved drive how much I spend at each pass.
In Review (Tieing it all together)
Alright, so what does any of this have to do with time/task management? It comes down to this. Being busy is ok, but too often we confuse activity with productivity. We need to focus our time on quality, not quantity. We need to find the tasks providing the biggest bang for the buck. Then when working on the task we must eliminate the waste, focusing on being productive.
When given a task or looking at your list of tasks, start by asking is this really for me (know your role)? or is it best for someone else?
Once you’ve established the task is for you, if it is a major initiative, rank it where it fits within your long-term and short-term goals.
Now apply the 80-20 rule to it, using the results to set the priority within your list. If you deem the effort isn’t worth the reward, then obviously the process ain’t that broke.
Once you start working on the task use the 80-20 rule as a guide to know when the task is complete and gauge the effort you expend.
With each task ensure all steps add value. if it does not, why are you doing it? When working on a task remember who your customers are for the given task. The outputs need to be aligned with their needs and expectations and all other activities can be eliminated.
So the moral of the story is that you can improve your time management by eliminating the waste and focusing on tasks the provide real value. Remember, don’t fix what ain’t broken!
Feature image courteous of https://gratisography.com