Faster Cycle Times - Just Do It!
by Rick Sidorowicz

Many see the notion of ‘faster cycle times’ as another management fad or prescription, or somewhat related to ‘time based’ competition, one dimension of competitive strategy and organization performance. A ‘faster cycle time’ strategy is a much more powerful approach than seen at first glance, as it addresses not the need to work faster, but how to align purpose, strategy, and structure for immediacy and action. It deals with the dynamics of how things get done - and in doing so, it gets at how priorities are set, how resources are deployed, how decisions are made, how performance is measured, and how change is managed. It is a model for action. 

A faster cycle time strategy is process re-engineering with a twist. The methodology is that of re-engineering key business processes and the goals of the effort are accelerated cycle times - that is clear. The twist - is action learning and faster decision making cycle times. We are in effect re-engineering the ‘management’ processes of the organization. 

Let’s examine several aspects of the approach for accelerated action.

What hurts?
Where are the gaps?

What cycles? What processes? What stuff needs to be addressed? Where’s the pain, right now? What hurts, and hurts the most? Where’s the gap in performance or capability between actual and desired? Identify the performance gap through benchmarking, customer feedback, supplier feedback, environmental scanning, or simply - the gap between your vision and reality. The numbers usually tell the story - focus on what really matters. Now!

What’s going to hurt down the road? All current gaps will widen as all your competitors get better and faster, and new competitors and technologies emerge. If you need more than five minutes to identify the issues that really matter take your team next weekend and run through a strategic alignment and planning exercise to get at the key performance gaps. If needed, book it today!

The bottom line - focus on what matters to the business, what hurts, what is needed the most. Nothing will change unless the need is a tangible, bottom line, business issue that is sufficiently ‘large’ to focus attention and drive action. And, what is the best use of your time, right now? 

Make decisions in real time!

This is the breakthrough for typical bureaucracies. A commitment to speed will involve a shift of power to those who are accountable for action and results. This is where you ‘walk the talk.’ There are several implications for the business, and the way business is done. 

Managing in real time means making decisions without all the information. It is risky. It will imply the risk of failure and nothing will ever be perfect. Make the leap.

Making decisions in real time means being accessible immediately, and cutting a communication and decision making channel through the organization that is distinct from the hierarchy. 

The action learning model requires timely, real time information to measure impact and performance. This may also run counter to the traditions and current information structures and formal information flows.

The organization will resist all intrusions. Conflicts will become increasingly visible and challenging. Resistance will crystallize in those areas of the organization where change is needed the most.

Clearly articulate the goals, vision, strategy, financial impact, and create alignment with and commitment to the effort. Clarify the groundrules for decision making especially those values and considerations that are not to be compromised. 

Empower and delegate. Let go and let them work. Define the effort, set the groundrules, launch, measure performance, learn, and readjust where required. 

Select the critical value delivery processes that need to be redesigned. Take on only as many as you can expect to do exceptionally well and focus on what really matters. Keep it simple and start with one to begin a process of action learning that will become a model for the organization. 

Focus only on the key business processes that add value for the end customer and drive business results.

Define the strategy and structure for execution including the cross functional process team, links to executives, definition of cycle time measures, linkages to mainstream business activities, and project deliverables. 

Assign your best resources to your effort - including: the ‘heavyweights’ to move the action; the unsung experts with a command of the detail; those who are adept at navigating the organization; and your executive apprentices. Stack the deck! You are dealing with your most important business issues and your business effectiveness!

Establish simple cycle time measures, set stretch goals and measure performance on a real time basis. 

Run action learning projects with clear time frames and deliverables. Launch pilot projects for live testing and impact as soon as possible. Create the vehicle for experimentation with immediate feedback and performance measurement. Live in real time, on site, in the action.

Getting ‘stuff’ done fast!

Go with what makes sense and don’t wait for perfection. Just do it!

Start only what you can finish crisply.

The role of executives is to identify and remove blockages and to manage the process of change. Let the team execute.

If we can’t do it all today, identify the portion of what can be done right now.

Elevate issues quickly if they become obstacles and deal with unforeseen obstacles and issues immediately to reaffirm goals and objectives.

The mechanics and dynamics of implementation involve action learning, pilot projects, and process redesign. What differentiates the approach is the focus on the simplicity and speed of action learning applied to the process of change management itself. 

Many ‘facilitated’ change efforts start with a bang and the promise of dramatic impact only to fizzle and fail when they come up against the pervasive resistance of tradition and the self serving culture of bureaucracies and bureaucrats. New visions and strategic initiatives often fall short of expectations as they fail to address how ‘work’ gets done and how decisions are made. Apply faster cycle time to your decision making and project management processes first for the most significant impact. The ‘doing’ makes the difference.

Rick Sidorowicz is the Publisher and Editor of The CEO Refresher and
the Minister of Culture of High Performance Retail.

Many more articles in Performance Improvement in The CEO Refresher Archives


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