Time, cost, and quality. Pick any two.
It’s a good thought to keep in mind when managing a project. You can choose to optimize two — and only two — of the three parameters. The third parameter will always go in the other direction. Let’s say you want something done in less time and at lower cost. By optimizing those two parameters, you’ve sub-optimized the third – quality will suffer. If you want high quality at low cost, well… it’s going to take a long time. Pick any two.
Interestingly, we only measure two of the three parameters. We have armies of accountants to keep track of how we spend our money. We have quality control experts to measure quality. We have no one who keeps track of how we spend our time. Are we spending our time wisely? Are we allocating our time based on strategic objectives? Who knows? We treat time as an infinite resource.
Though we treat money and assets and goodwill as corporate resources, we treat time as a personal resource. How you spend your time is pretty much up to you. This higher you rise in the ranks, the more you control your own time.
And that’s a practice that needs to change according to “Making Time Management the Organization’s Priority,” a recent article from the McKinsey Quarterly. As the article notes, “Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue … [it’s] an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.”
How can you change the “time culture” in your organization? The McKinsey article provides six suggestions. To save time, I’ll cover three today and three more in an upcoming post.
Create a time leadership budget – this may sound obvious but far too few organizations actually do it. When you create a proposal for a new project, you always include a cost budget. How about a leadership time budget? You can think of leadership time as a general corporate resource – just like money. Let’s say you have ten executives working on new projects. Assuming, that each works 2,000 hours per year, that’s an overall “budget” of 20,000 hours. If you add a new project, how much leadership time will it take? What will you take away to make the budget balance?
Think about time when introducing organizational change – organizational change takes enormous resources, much more than we typically estimate. That includes time. Yet we often ask managers to change things while also doing their “day” jobs. Establishing a leadership time budget can help here. So can managerial restructuring. My rule of thumb — call it the Travis rule — is that more managers mean more meetings. Reducing the number of managers can (within reason) reduce the number of hours spent in meetings and re-balance the time leadership budget.
Measure and manage time – ask your leaders to keep track of their time by keeping a simple diary. As McKinsey points out, “Executive are usually surprised to see the output from time analysis exercises, for it generally reveals how little of their activity is aligned with the company’s stated priorities.” As the old saying goes, if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Let’s exercise a little time budgeting here. Most people read at about 200 words per minute. This article is about 600 words long. So you’ve been reading for three minutes. Time to get back to work.