The best businesses seem to sense what the customer needs and immediately respond with value. In fact, they deliver a continuous flow of value. They know that lulls, in which the customer must wait, dissolve trust and feed doubt. 

Minimizing wait time delivers bottomline results, but wait time can be tough to pin down. It’s sneaky. It hides in pathways, in cars & trucks, in airplanes, in telephone systems, in email, in waiting rooms, on shelves, in meetings, in hand-offs, and in missteps.

Missteps cause the worst kind of wait time. It’s the worst because it’s unexpected and causes rework. It’s like promising to carry someone safely over a puddle, and then dropping them right in the middle. It’s painful because it makes a liar out of us. Rework bruises our integrity and robs us of time.

But concealed behind the stressful face of rework is a golden opportunity to master a foundational key to business success—continual learning and improvement. 

To cash in on this opportunity, we need a system that operates in short cycles, providing rapid feedback, like learning to skip a rock. Instead of shunning the mistakes that lead to rework, we must embrace and rally around them—failing fast and iterating through improvements. The system also needs to be blameless. It’s tempting to cast blame and never give people a second chance. But remember, failure is where learning happens, and besides, blame doesn’t move us forward. To move forward, we need people. To empower our people, we need to understand where our systems failed and take action to improve them. We need to establish a culture that continually ratchets forward in small lock-steps—never suffering the same problem twice.

Minimizing wait time and achieving success requires faith in people’s ability to learn and grow. It requires an environment that fosters learning and improvement. One where mistakes are embraced as part of the process, and questions flow freely.

The next time rework happens, invest a moment in tracking down the root cause and figuring out how to prevent it in the future. You can start with the 5 Whys Method. It makes quick work of finding the root of a problem.

In my experience, problems that cause rework are commonly rooted in the following areas:

  • Training (gaps)
  • Target / objective (lack of clarity)
  • Incentives (conflicting)
  • Work method (inconsistency)
    • Unclear instructions (need to clarify language and/or definitions)
    • Too many hand-offs (causes “not my job” syndrome)
    • No checklists (e.g., check-boxes, laminated photo, point & say)
    • Poor measurements (no “self-service” feedback on quality or efficiency)
  • Equipment (ill-suited)
  • Knowledge (gaps—nowhere to go when questions come up)
  • Motivation (apathy)

When we develop a system (routine) for continually discovering and reducing wait time, we create a virtuous cycle of improvement that perpetually bolsters the bottom line!

Feature photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash