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If you have the courage not to start a task until you are confident you have all you need to finish it, you and your organisation will be more productive. To validate that assertion, we have to unpack the concept.
[ Listen to audio version, read by David Hodes]
This is part 2 of the series. For more on this, see Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
We can start with what we mean by a task. The late great maven of work management, Elliott Jaques, defined a task as: ‘An assignment to produce specified output (including quantity and quality) within a targeted completion time, with allocated resources and within specified limits (policies, procedures, etc)’.
Let’s look first at the full kit challenge from the perspective of an operator. For a reasonably routine activity such as maintaining a piece of mechanical equipment, it’s not so difficult to understand what fully kitted could mean. We start with a schedule of the work scope. That scope would define the resource types required to acquit the task; say, perhaps, a fitter and a rigger.
We need the named qualified people to do the work at the time and place demanded by the schedule. They would need the instructions around how to get it done, including safety requirements. There would be requisitions for the parts necessary to complete the task, as well as any tooling and equipment. And, we’d need Operations to agree to isolate and turn over the equipment for maintenance at the given time and place.
We’ve done a good job of full kitting if we hand over a comprehensive list enabling the task to be completed, uninterrupted from beginning to end. Even better would be to identify the risks of what might go wrong—anticipating, say, a part that’s not due for service, but which often shows signs of wear and tear on inspection, thus demanding a replacement. Carrying that part along can save expensive downtime for the crew as they wait for the expediting of an ad hoc requisition.
Moving up the chain, we come to the work of the supervisor, who could be servicing several crews. What might full kitting look like for them? For a start, they will be looking into a deeper horizon than the operators. Let’s suppose they are planning for the week ahead while the operators execute this week’s plan. The supervisor’s full kitting might involve a review of all the work orders that fit into the planning horizon.
“How do we repeatedly do what we’ve been tasked with to
an agreeable standard, in a safe manner, productively?”
Has all the work been captured? Is he confident that all of the bills of material and task lists have been updated according to the feedback received from the last time they did those jobs? He will examine the rosters and look at who’s on leave, whose qualifications are expiring and where there are likely to be overs and unders on staffing. He’ll have to liaise with operations, and sometimes do that across two or more departments to ensure their commitment to coordinating operations and maintenance activities for the upcoming tasks. He’ll be liaising with Supply to ensure all the necessary paperwork is in place for the provision of parts and equipment. If he predicts clashes for scarce items, or long lead times for parts, he’ll have to factor this into his calculations.
The manager will have a whole area to full kit, before executing. Her time horizon will be deeper again than those of her subordinates. She will consult the budget and look where she can either increase throughput or save costs. She will review the ontime performance of the tasks across different periods in the past to understand what she can reasonably expect to set as team goals. She would be closely examining the reasons for previous delays such as materials shortages, missing work instructions, people failing to turn up to work, safety incidents and the like.
She’ll review the data on how much wrench time was used to perform the tasks against the time standards recorded in the maintenance system. She will take time to think about how her team might change the way they work to be more reliably productive, and thus reduce disruption to operations to a minimum. She will want to understand how communication and collaboration can be better managed across the business silos and will participate in an integrated planning review.
What might full kitting look like for the executive, say the VP of Operations? As he plans the work for the medium horizon of the business, he would want to know how best to deliver on his mandate of safety, volume and costs. He’ll be reflecting on his operating philosophy and thinking deeply about setting the goal and, in turn, what constraints prevent him from achieving it. What operating philosophy, he muses, could best inform his sense- and decision-making? He’ll be thinking about his grand vision and how best to communicate it in an inspiring but pragmatic way. Which initiatives are going to get funded, and what business case supports those decisions?
What changes to the organisational design will help deliver clarity on accountability and allow the chain of subordinates the resources they require to manage their work effectively? What learning initiatives need support so he can equip all levels of the workforce to be innovative and build an engine that perpetually converts knowledge into additional value? All the while, he’ll be mindful of the impact of his interventions on organisational culture. He’ll be designing initiatives which enhance internal cohesion between all the parts of the business while simultaneously increasing the capacity for adaptation to external changes in the marketplace.
As you read through the list of items, perhaps you thought of additional activities each of the four personas could undertake. No doubt you could, but that was not the point of listing them. What I’d like you to reflect on is when you look at your work, do you have a means by which you break that work down into its component parts? For the truth is that the prerequisite to being fully kitted is to have a plan.
So, we might extend the fabled mantra of ‘plan the work, work the plan’ to: ‘plan the work—fullkit the plan—work the plan’. And if we take a step back to see the work behind the work of planning the work, we ought to be thinking about what full kitting for the act of planning might involve. For example, carving out flow time; assembling all the documents, reports, and analysis required to be ready to go into a state of deep work; thinking ahead to what kind of desk research may be necessary; and creating a list of hyperlinks to the relevant online resources you’re likely to need.
Regardless of the level of our job, we all have heuristics, or rules of thumb, which have proven good enough to tame the mystery of how work gets done. The deeper we go into the knowledge economy, though, the more we find ourselves overwhelmed by the need to keep abreast of the know-how required to be effective in our jobs. Not only is the work we are asked to undertake increasingly complex, but there is the additional complicating factor of the ever-growing interdependencies through all the internal and external links of the value chain.
“Think how much more productively you could deal with a Murphy event, if everything else is under control”
So, how do we repeatedly do what we’ve been tasked with to an agreeable standard, in a safe manner, productively? As far as is reasonable—and in most cases, that’s pretty far—we must make a conscious effort to turn the heuristics into algorithms. The easiest way to make what we tacitly understand when we prepare to commence a task into an explicit set of instructions is to develop checklists.
In other words, being fully kitted means ensuring your checklist is complete before you commence the task. There will always be the case where the unknown-unknowns will run interference with your best-laid plans. But, is that a valid reason to avoid the effort required to work fully kitted? Think how much more productively you could deal with a Murphy event, if everything else is under control.
If you have the courage not to start a task until you are confident you have all you need to finish it, you and your organisation will be more productive. I rest my case.
This article is part of our series: Five commandments for high-performance execution
Part 1: Maintain True Data
Part 2: Work Fully Kitted
Part 3: Control Work Release
Part 4: Resolve Issues Rapidly
Part 5: Act by Priority
The change from standard thinking to Theory of Constraints (TOC) is both profound and exhilarating. To make it both fun and memorable, we use a business simulation we call The Right Stuff Workshop.
We’d love to run it with you. To learn more:
[Background image: Parts of Canon Camera, Vadim Sherbakov on Unsplash]
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