Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to my page for frequently asked questions (FAQs) and related answers. The intention is to provide brief but succinct answers to these common questions. In many cases, there is so much more information for me to convey through my Workshops, Webinars, and Development programs. I trust this is helpful but please feel free to contact me should you require further information.

Productivity Improvement

In business, the term “Productivity” relates to the measured output per unit of input, over a specific period of time. Examples are: 
  1. The number of products produced in a factory in an 8-hour period for a specific number of factory workers. 
  2. The number of orders secured by a sales team in a month for a specific number of salespeople.
  3. The number of resolved customer issues by a customer service rep per week for a specific number of customer service reps.
Once the measurement criteria are established, to increase productivity is to increase the measured output for a given input (e.g. by individual, team, or organization) over a given period of time (eg. hour, day, week, month, or year). For the output measurement, it is recommended to measure units of production versus dollar value to avoid the impact of monetary inflation when doing comparisons of the current versus the past.

In work processes, every hand-off from one functional group or person to another group or person is a potential contributing factor for delays or large portions of idle time. In general, hand-offs contribute to the largest portion of overall lead time (from start to end in a process). Even in world-class companies with processes having necessary hand-offs, the time for hand-offs can contribute to as much as 80% of the overall lead time. This is because of inherent idle time when there is a hand-off.

Consider traditional paperwork where filled-in forms are left in an in-basket. They stack up in the basket until the next person processes the pile of papers. Consider electronic sales orders that are submitted for approval. They stack up electronically for the person who approves/processes the sales orders to take the next step. These are examples of hand-offs that contribute to a large portion of the overall lead time.

The larger the lead time for any process there is a corresponding impact on higher costs and potential impact on customer satisfaction, competitiveness, and cash flow. This is why lead times are so important for companies and those companies with lower lead times than competitors will grow and prosper.

To improve the productivity of processes requiring hand-offs, some approaches can reduce hand-off time and overall lead time. This includes:

  • Reduce the number of hand-offs by combining tasks competed by a functional group or person.
  • Eliminate steps wherever possible in the overall process.
  • If batch processing is done with large durations between batching, reduce the duration time between batching and process smaller batches.
  • Physically or electronically notify the next functional group or person when the next step is to be made to have less delay time in responding.
  • Wherever there are critical hand-offs, set up time-based measurements as this will identify hold-ups and delays if they exist.

For productivity improvement, most scenarios are directed at teams, departments, and organizations as opposed to an individual. Therefore, effective delegation of certain tasks can have a significant impact on productivity beyond a single person.

To delegate effectively, ensure you choose the right people for what is required, discuss what is required with them and why it is important, get their buy-in, set expectations, allow some creativity and flexibility for how they execute, provide autonomy, determine how feedback is to be reported, and then set up touchpoints to follow up on progress. Finally, celebrate the success of the team.

As a leader, effectively delegating to a team can have a very high impact on organizational productivity as a highly effective team will outperform a single person. To enable a team for high productivity, the leader needs to:

  • Ensure the team has bought into what is required. This may require one on one sessions for buy-in as well as team sessions.
  • Ensure the team knows what is required and provide a deadline.
  • Provide autonomy for decisions but ensure the team knows when they need to go to the leader for feedback and/or decisions to be made.
  • Ensure the team has scheduled meetings in required intervals.
  • As a leader, attend sessions as required (could be random).
  • Provide expectations for reporting back (keep it simple and not overbearing).
  • Celebrate team successes as they occur. 

Effective Goal Setting

For a business goal to be effective, align the goal with company long-term strategies and the annual operating plan. This is critically important to ensure valuable time is applied towards high payoff activities. If a goal is not aligned, time will be wasted on less important activities.

For personal goals, as a best practice, one should write up a Mission Statement for one’s life. Once this is done the personal goal needs to be aligned with the mission statement. Reflect on this mission statement yearly and update if required as over the course of one’s life there will be different stages with transitions from one stage to the next stage.

The first requirement is to ensure the goal is a “SMART Goal”. 

SMART stands for:

  • Specific – State what is to be completed in clear terms by when and by who.
  • Measurable – Your data and systems can support applicable metrics.
  • Attainable – While the goal should reflect improvement it should be achievable and this may involve removing obstacles, adding funding, and/or changing methods.
  • Realistic – You should be able to accomplish the goal and believe it is possible.
  • Tangible – You should be able to experience the results of the goal through one of your senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, or hearing).

A baseline needs to be established to show the previous/current metrics as related to the improvement area that the goal is to focus on. The progress towards improvement can be compared to the baseline and the ultimate goal.

As a best practice, list potential obstacles to achieving the goal and the solutions that would address these obstacles. By anticipating potential issues, you can be proactive in avoiding these obstacles and can respond faster with solutions.  

Action steps to achieve the goal need to be listed with who owns the actions and when they are to be completed. This is important to actively take steps towards achieving the goal.

Tracking for related metrics showing progress and trends by week, month or other time frame needs to be established. If the results are trending away from the goal objectives, countermeasures to address a course correction needs to be made. Reflect back to previously captured potential obstacles and solutions for guidance in countermeasures.

Finally, make sure you celebrate successful outcomes as you progress and when the goal is achieved, Ensure team acknowledgment and recognition.

Being a perfectionist will impact productivity. Rather than concentrating on perfection, concentrate on results. Perfection usually takes the form of how an outcome looks and this will take more time to complete tasks.

Also, if a person fixates on their perfection, there is less likelihood of being able to delegate these tasks to others to free up your time for other activities that are of higher payoff. Perfectionists will often say “I need to do this myself to have it done properly”.

Developing a mission statement helps to drive strategic thinking and purpose for an organization. After establishing a mission statement, it can be referred to periodically to provide a sense of direction like a compass showing true north.

All critical goals need to be aligned with the mission statement to ensure the organization is concentrating on the right actions.

There are many types of graphing techniques and each type of graph shows different information in a different way. For goal tracking, here are the most popular and used graphs:

  • Line Graph – Shows progress and trends over time. As a best practice show lines for the goal to be attained, the actual data, and the baseline or previous interval of time (e.g. previous year)
  • Thermometer Chart – Show an accumulation of measured data over time. This can be used to show the accumulation of funds raised over time as related to a target or sales accumulation over time.

Attitudes and Behaviours

Because actions and behaviours come from attitudes, increasing productivity may require reshaping some of the attitudes that now dictate how you use time. Here are some aspects of attitude that results in increased productivity:

  • Concentrate on high priority activities with high payoff.
  • You must exercise self-discipline.
  • Get started – do not procrastinate.
  • Keep your energy level and enthusiasm high – demonstrate a “can do” approach.
  • Strive for results, not perfection.
  • Actively celebrate success.

Behaviours are a reflection of repetition over time and conditioning based on life experiences. Our subconscious drives these behaviours and we are often not aware of this link between our subconscious thoughts and the behaviours displayed.

To change behaviours, a conscious decision needs to be made to make a change in these behaviours. Once the decision is made the new behaviour needs to be applied with repetition over at least 17 days to effectively make the change to a new behaviour. To ensure success, a month of repletion is recommended. Use a tracking system with daily tracking to ensure success.

Time Management

It is a great exercise to calculate what your time is worth as this can be very revealing. For a person making $100,000 per year with 2,080 hours per year (40 hours per week over a 52-week period), the hourly rate would be $100,000 / 2,080 = $48.08 per hour. If you then divide by 60 the rate is $0.80 per minute.

If you factor in and remove non-productive time for statutory holidays, vacations, average sick time, training time …etc, the hours per year would be in the order of 1,650 hours per year and so the calculated hourly rates would be higher as would the rate per minute. In the example above, the hourly rate would be $60.60 per hour and $1.01 per minute.

At places of business we often frown on employees who waste office supplies, raw material in factory production, or other examples but we generally do not think of wasted time as an area of waste and yet this is usually the biggest area of waste for any company.

Multitasking keeps your mind full, busy, and always under pressure. Of all the bad habits, multitasking is among the worst and most common. “Switchtasking” or juggling two tasks by refocusing your attention back and forth between them, loses time and progress in the switch.

According to Professor Gloria Mark from the University of California, it takes about 2 minutes and 11 seconds to fully return to a task after interruption. Many people may be wasting a lot more time than they think.

In order to improve productivity, take measures to prevent interruptions and distractions in order to complete tasks before moving on to another task. In addition, group tasks together by type of task in a scheduled portion of your workday. An example would be to handle emails twice a day in blocked times.

Social media can be very important for work and a necessary tool for communication. However, social media can also be a productivity killer. To keep productivity levels at a high level while utilizing social media platforms, consider the following:

  • Turn off notifications and especially notifications with sound. This is probably the biggest single factor.
  • Tend to social media at designated times during the day. Work-related social media can be addressed during designated work hours and social media for personal reasons should be at lunchtime, breaks, or after work.
  • Do not allow random social media updates to distract from imperative and important items scheduled during the day.

For handling emails, here are some best practices to be considered to increase productivity:

  • Attend to email at designated times. Twice a day should be ample. Do not let incoming emails distract you from planned activities that could be high payoff tasks. Make sure you turn off email notifications (sound as well as on-screen notifications).
  • Make every attempt to deal with each email once. Decide on whether to delete, respond to, forward, or store emails.
  • For the overall productivity of your organization: 
    • Do not reply to all unless it makes sense
    • Only send emails to those who need the information
    • Send to those who need to complete an action and copy those who need to know for information purposes
    • Make sure the subject line reflects the email content as this will help everyone to respond more effectively and to find emails quickly
  • For important emails, you can save the email in its standard format as a document to a folder amongst other documents like Word and Excel files.

Generally speaking, response time expectations for text messages is at a faster response time than answering an email. For your line of work and your customer’s expectations, you need to determine what is a reasonable response time. To answer a text within an hour should be acceptable in most instances and immediate response should not be necessary.

It is suggested to not set notifications for texts (sounds or vibration) when texts come in as this will distract and interrupt from planned work.

Note, if anyone needs to contact you for an immediate response, they can call your cell phone versus texting.

This may come down to preference but for planning and execution, a proper paper-based planning system will typically outperform a software approach. For example, the LMI planning system called “My-Tyme” is a planning system that covers so many areas of planning and execution in one handheld system.

Having a planning system with a month at a glance, daily planning pages with designed priorities, to-do lists, SMART goals, and journal entries all in one book is very powerful. The touch and feel of a proper planner reinforce proper planning daily. In a meeting when everyone is reaching for their cell phone and opening calendars to find open times, a My-Tyme user can open the month at a glance view in a matter of seconds.

With software systems, goals are forgotten and to-do lists misplaced.

It is suggested to use a paper-based planning system for daily planning but at the same time use a planning app on your cell phone for an hour-by-hour level of detail. This is because you will not have your paper-based planning system with you at all times (out shopping, traveling, away on the weekend …etc.).

When using both a calendar on your cell phone and a paper-based planning system, use the paper-based planning system for daily planning at the start of each workday and list all of the imperative tasks and important items to be completed during the day.

First of all, designate the first part of any day to plan the day. If this is not possible due to an early meeting or other commitment, plan at the end of the previous day. Secondly, ensure you list items to be completed that day and designate what are imperative items that must be completed, important items that you will try to get to that day, follow-ups to be made, and meetings to be attended.

At the end of each day, mark off what was completed and if any task was not attended to, move it to the following day.

If proper daily planning becomes a regular daily practice and proper prioritization is established, good results will be attained over time.

Often To-Do Lists are not very effective due to the following reasons:

  • They are built and then forgotten or misplaced to be discovered later
    • This applies to both paper-based lists and lists in electronic form on a computer
  • They are simply a long list of items without a sense of prioritization
    • The easier items get done first to provide a sense that progress is being made but more important items are often not tended to

As a best practice, To-Do lists should be incorporated as part of a larger planning and time management system. For each day, imperative items need to be listed for completion that day. Any important items should also be listed and completed the same day if possible or transferred to the following workday.

Paper-based planning systems work the best as they include goal setting, monthly, weekly, and daily planning with approaches to prioritization.

Physical Work Area and Electronic Work Environment

One’s work area should be organized logically to allow work efficiency. Those frequently used items should be nearby and be put back in the same spot so they are quickly found and used.

In world-class factories (especially those factories using Lean methodologies) you will see a work area with what is called a “shadow board”. Each tool such as a screwdriver, hammer, or wrench is placed in the same place and an outline or each tool is shown on the board. The placement of each tool is based on the movement and efficiencies of the worker with the most used tools in easy reach of the worker. See the image of a shadow board below:

Clear signage and visuals are also important. This results in high efficiencies for the work cell.

For an office environment, a desk, shelving unit, filing cabinets, file folders, and items like a stapler, highlighters, pens …etc need to be organized in such a manner as the worker can find items and information quickly. As in a factory, visuals are important to help maintain an organized approach. As a test for efficiency, an office worker should be able to find items within 5 seconds. Make sure your desk area is reorganized periodically and especially at the end of each day.

For any office layout, it is strongly advised to have a whiteboard with dry erasable markers. The first reason for this is because writing important items on the whiteboard can be a powerful reminder for these items. Secondly, having a whiteboard can be very helpful in collaborating with others who come by your office, and being able to draw images and write keywords can spark creative thinking.

For computers and electronic document storage, a similar approach needs to be taken for organizing electronic documents. Any stored document should be searchable within a 1-minute period. Items requiring quick access regularly should be on your desktop in an orderly manner. Your folder system needs to be logical and cleaned up periodically. Document names should be meaningful. Email subject lines should be descriptive.

Modern-day computer operating systems have powerful search capabilities to find documents but having documents with meaningful names and in well laid out folders makes searches much more effective.

  • While it is not always possible to organize a computer work area in the following list of recommendations, these are some of the best practices to allow high productivity for the employee along with achieving a healthy work environment.

    • Make sure you have a good ergonomic chair as this will help with back support and will help to keep a better energy level. Lumbar support is important along with adjustments for chair height.
    • If you have a workstation that allows for adjustable working heights, you can vary between sitting and standing at the workstation.
    • Use an articulated tray for the keyboard and mouse (keyboard tray mounted under the working surface). When sitting this needs to be at the right height just above the employee’s knees.
    • With the use of a laptop, use a separate monitor to allow for dual screens. Set up the display settings for the “extended” view so that you can have a document like a spreadsheet on one screen while you have emails or other documents on the other screen. 
      • Studies have shown a significant productivity increase when setting up dual monitors. A Utah study found that workers showed a 44-percent boost in productivity for text tasks and a 29-percent rise for spreadsheet tasks when moving from a single screen to a dual-monitor setup.
      • Depending on the employee’s height, the laptop might be better placed on a stand so that the laptop screen is at eye level. This will help to prevent neck strain and poor posture.
      • Designate one monitor as the primary monitor and look at this directly in front of you in order to prevent neck strain from looking at an angle. The secondary monitor can be at an angle from your regular seating position.
    • Consider using a port replicator or docking station to allow a quick connection or disconnection of the laptop.
    • To avoid health issues like carpal tunnel, take a break from computer work after 1 hour of work. Get up from your chair and stretch or take a walk.

For computers and electronic document organization, an approach needs to be taken for organizing electronic documents. Any stored document should be searchable within a 1-minute period. Items requiring quick access regularly should be on your desktop in an orderly manner. Your folder system needs to be logical and cleaned up periodically. Document names should be meaningful. Email subject lines should be descriptive.

Modern-day computer operating systems have powerful search capabilities to find documents but having documents with meaningful names and in well laid out folders makes searches much more effective.

Working from home can be a challenge for many and there are many variables. An employee’s home can vary from living in a house with separate rooms and an available room for an office to a small apartment with a shared open space for work. Other variations relate to having young children or other dependents living with the employee. Shift work of a spouse/partner is another factor and there are many others.

The following recommendations are not always possible given the factors above but they are never-the-less best practices that can contribute to better productivity:

  • Designate a room with a door that can be shut for work. 
    • Have a desk and an ergonomic chair in the room. 
    • Have a monitor on the desk for a dual monitor set up with the laptop screen. 
    • Shut the door for conference calls and make sure everyone you live with know they are not to disturb you when the door is closed.
  • Communicate to those you live with what is required to work efficiently, have an exchange of ideas, and reach an agreement for working effectively.
  • For audio, you can use a headset but for clarity, a wired headset is typically better as wireless headsets can have static issues or drop off. The best option is to use a device like a Jabra speaker which has a built-in microphone and very advanced noise-canceling digital technology (they plug into a USB port). Note that the Jabra can also be used as a Blu Tooth device for your cell phone and be hands-free.
  • With so many video conferences occurring in recent times, one should consider the use of a separate webcam versus using the laptop camera. There are a few reasons for this:
  • Ensure proper lighting. If ceiling lighting is insufficient add task lighting.
  • Regarding work hours, make sure you put in an honest work day and respect your employer for your employment agreement and career. Consider the time you save from not commuting to work as the time you can spend for planning and creative thinking as this can be an investment in your career. On the other hand, when the day has been completed, have some discipline to devote your time to personal requirements as having a healthy work-life balance is important.
  • If you need to flex your hours, make sure you have an agreement with your employer and make sure you put in an honest workday.
  • When working at home wear clothes that are consistent with your work role and dress appropriately for video conferences.
  • Take breaks every hour to ensure you stretch and move around. Get the blood flowing and perhaps walk to another area of your home.
  • Make sure you hydrate as being dehydrated will tire you and is not healthy for your body.

Work-Life Balance

The wheel of life is a diagram that shows key categories of one’s personal life with “You” in the middle. See the diagram below:

The key categories are:

  1. Financial and Career
  2. Mental and Educational
  3. Social and Cultural
  4. Physical and Health
  5. Spiritual and Ethical
  6. Family and Home

To achieve balance in one’s life, each category of the wheel of life needs to be considered for reflection and prioritization. When making daily decisions, one can refer to the wheel of life prioritization to make decisions based on prioritization and level of importance.

Over time, prioritization may need to shift as one goes through various transitions in one’s life.

Lean and Six Sigma

The term “Lean” was first used to describe the approach developed by Toyota to build cars. At the core of Lean, the elimination of waste is the objective but how waste is eliminated is not necessarily obvious.

As a high-level summary, a Lean organization has a “smooth flow of work” that has evolved with employee involvement and continuous improvement. Each step in the workflow is well understood and employee movement is highly efficient. What is produced needs to match customer needs and products are produced “at the pull of the customer”.

A key objective for the workflow is to reduce wasted time at various steps to reduce the overall lead time. Various forms of waste that are reduced include defects in production, distance of transported parts, overproduction of parts, waiting times, excessive inventory, excessive motion, and excessive processing time.

For new product development, much effort is applied in determining customer needs to ensure products will meet market needs and provide value. A “Value Stream Map” is determined to understand each step in the workflow and to ensure value-added steps are applied. An effort is made to reduce the amount of “non-value-added” time in the workflow.

When there is an issue in the workflow, the workflow is stopped and the issue is dealt with immediately allowing normal workflow to resume.

When Lean is properly applied you will see the following: Clean well-organized work areas, very good use of signage and visuals for all aspects of workflow, low levels of inventory as raw materials arrive through the supply chain as they are required, smooth workflow, highly engaged employees, few defects, short lead times, high profitability, and good cash flow.

Lean methodologies can be applied to non-factory applications and one can see Lean applied in many organizations including hospitals and health care facilities, courier services, engineering organizations, and software development.

Six Sigma was first implemented and developed by Motorola in the 1980s with the theory that reducing defects produced by a factory would result in a significant reduction in costs and hence higher profits and improved customer satisfaction. The term “Six Sigma” relates to only experiencing 3.4 defects per 1 million produced parts. Many organizations are very far away from this level of quality and are only at a 3-sigma level which is 67,000 defects per 1 million (a 6.7% defect rate) up to a 4-sigma level which is 6,200 defects per 1 million (a 0.62% defect rate).

Many tools and methods have been created under the umbrella of Six Sigma to reduce error rates in production and highly trained employees in Six Sigma methodology are designated as Black Belts.

Lean is a term first implemented by Toyota and is related to producing smooth running workflows with as little waste as possible in the production of products that are driven by customer value.

A good example of the application of Lean is the Canadian postal system where in the 1990s and prior an envelope placed in a mailbox would take about 1 week for delivery in the same city. After the application of Lean in the early 2000s, an envelope is often delivered within a 24 hour period.

Other examples of where companies have applied Lean include Toyota, Intel, Dell Computers, Honeywell, Nike, and John Deere.

Various forms of waste include: 

  • Defects in production, the distance of transported parts, overproduction of parts, waiting times, excessive inventory, excessive motion, and excessive processing time. 

Reducing waste can also be seen as reducing “non-value added” aspects to a workflow.

The concept of “Value Added” includes these 3 aspects:

  1. What is produced is important to the customer – would they pay for it?
  2. There is some aspect of the transformation of information or material
  3. Done right the first time

First of all, it is important to know what customers actually value. These “value drivers” need to be properly understood. As an example, a value driver could be how long will it take to deliver the product from issue of a purchase order (lead time).

A “Value Stream Map” shows all major steps from customer order being entered to delivery of the product/service to the customer. Time metrics are applied to each value-added step as well as the time between steps. This approach to workflow analysis shows areas of non-value added and value-added time and can be a powerful approach to understanding where wait times are excessive and where improvement efforts can be applied to reduce overall lead time.

Lean methodologies can be applied to non-factory applications and one can see Lean applied in many organizations including hospitals and health care facilities, courier services, engineering organizations, and software development.