Time is Critical

    February 24, 2004

Time is critical. A very familiar sentence but here used with two very special meanings. In this newsletter, we will discuss three issues, which are raised by this sentence:

  • What does critical mean?
  • Why is time so critical to a company?
  • Why is time so critical to a client?
  • What does critical mean?

    Critical commonly means dangerous, serious or grave. However critical is used with a very specific meaning when trying to optimize performance of an organization or an operation. A critical resource is the resource which limits the output or profit. If we had more of that resource then we could make more output or profit. In a particular case that might be floor space; or it might be the operating capacity of a major production machine; or it might be the number of trained people we have to run the operation. Another meaning of critical is that it is a make-or-break condition for some decision. Both meanings are discussed in this newsletter.

    Why is time so critical to a company?

    Ask any CEO what are the factors that limit the results of the company. In other words, what are the critical resources. The answer will normally be one or more of the following:

  • people
  • money, and
  • knowledge (intellectual property)
  • However you can always buy, borrow or steal any of these.

    One critical resource which is rarely mentioned is time. Unlike the other critical resources, you cannot get more of this from anyone else. You have what you have and when it’s gone, it’s gone. If you don’t use this day, you lose it. This is not a new idea. A thought-provoking talk was given in 1999 by Bill Taylor, co-founder of the print magazine, FastCompany. The talk is no longer available on their web-site but is available on this site with their permission. (Click here to see the talk in another window.)

    Time is a key metric of performance

    What Bill Taylor suggested was that time is a key metric of performance. Successful companies are Fast Companies. They have a strong drive to get results on time. They frame their objectives with time as a key parameter. It is not just enough to bring a project in within the cost budget. The completion time is if anything a more important parameter.

    Bill Taylor suggested that time was now more important because of the Internet. Competition is much more intense. If you don’t do it fast enough, you will probably find that a competitor has got there first. This is absolutely true and reason enough to keep time in mind. However I believe there are two other important reasons why time should be your most critical measurement parameter.

    The first is that time can so easily get frittered away. It is too easy to assume that time flows by like a river. Go with the flow we hear. Yet the tragic events of 9/11 have made many people realize that you should make every day count. So to use a concept that Stephen Covey has pushed, go with the important and urgent. Do not touch the unimportant. Try to get to the important and non-urgent as soon as you can. This theme is not meant to stress you. Focus on what counts. Perhaps its Power Zen that you need, as someone has suggested.

    There is another important reason for hitting your important deadlines on or before time. Usually good things happen when your project is completed. The sooner you finish your project, the sooner you benefit from the results of your project.

    Why is time so critical to a client?

    The other equally important reason for keeping time in mind is that this so often affects what you deliver to your customer. Many now emphasize that it isn’t just the product you sell but the associated package of services that go with the product. The on-time delivery will be one of the most important elements of that package. Certainly late delivery can be one of the biggest turn-offs to any purchaser.

    The ISO process is often thought to be a Quality Assurance procedure. One of the advantages of the ISO process is that it documents the process flow. By this, you can ensure that the operation will deliver consistent results, both in quality and in time to perform. This is a great start. But how do you make the trade-off between time to deliver and other resources, such as cost or number of people?

    We all know that time is relative. If we are enjoying ourselves, then time flies. If we are doing some chore, then time drags. So what measure are we talking about and who does the measuring?

    The most useful time measurer for any company is its customer? But how many companies dare to let the customer tell them what is the appropriate time. We all know the counter-examples.

    1. We hang on the telephone to many large companies. A recorded message tells us that our call is important to them. But they keep us hanging on for several minutes.

    2. My bank very occasionally makes a mistake with my account. When I point this out to them, they tell me that the Investigations Group will look into this and this will take 7 days

    I guess such companies feel their performance is good. But by whose standards? Most of us as customers know this isn’t at all satisfactory.

    So what is the answer. It’s the constant theme from SMM. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. How would the customer view your response time? How would they view your delivery time? Let them suggest the standards of performance. If it seems a reasonable time, if it is better than the competition – then you’ve probably got it right. Now deliver reliably day in, day out, on that time promise. Charge a fair price and you have a winning combination. So many other companies do such an incredibly bad job of this that you will stand out from the crowd.

    And a final footnote.. Many companies have bought into the Total Quality Management process. Yet the customer may often not remark on the quality of the product, unless a defect is present. What the customer is very aware of is prompt response and prompt delivery. Yet few companies seem to have instituted a Total Time Management program …

    So What Now?

    If you accept that time is a critical resource for your company and a critical decision factor for your clients, then it’s pretty clear what you need to do. With time as a key company parameter, your principal project target is the date of completion. In a review of performance session, you discuss first all the target dates and how you are doing. There are balloons and squeakers when someone is ahead of the time target. And a big review of why anything at all is beyond its target time.

    You try to break the syndrome of “Oops, we seemed to have slipped. The reason was (blah,blah,blah…..). We couldn’t do anything about it. Don’t worry. We’ll soon have it done.” In other words, the easy acceptance that time is out of your control.

    For your customers, you measure your on-time performance both in responding and in delivering. You check what your customer needs and you deliver. You make TIME as important as QUALITY in how your company performs.

    If you would like help in applying these concepts, then please contact us.

    Barry Welford, President of SMM Strategic Marketing Montreal works with business owners and senior management on Internet Marketing strategy and action plans to grow their companies. He is a moderator at the Cre8asite Forums and writes on current issues on the Internet and on the Mobile Web in three blogs, BPWrap, StayGoLinks and The Other Bloke’s Blog.