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Lean on “Tim” to improve your work processes

Posted by on Apr 24, 2017 in Lean, Workplace Improvement

1-page handout – 91KB

If you manage or work in a process that frustrates staff and falls short of customer expectations, here’s great news: Tim can help, he can start now, and he works for free.

Who is this generous Tim?

Well, he’s an acronym, designed to make a key concept more memorable. His full name is TIMUWOOD (typically referred to as Tim U. Wood). Each letter stands for a different form of process waste – a point where the process is overly complicated or too slow or redundant or error-prone.

Click on the thumbnail for a TIMUWOOD one-pager. This isn’t the only summary on the web, but it’s the best. It conveys plenty of information in concise plain English, and it’s tailored for service-oriented workplaces. If you work for any kind of service organization – a professional service firm, a government agency, an educational institutions, or anything like that – this TIMUWOOD summary will be very relevant.

The key is to put it to work, and here’s one surefire way:

Gather with colleagues who all work in the same process. Share the TIMUWOOD handout, provide a quick overview, and allow a few minutes for review. Then prompt the group to think about their process in terms of all eight TIMUWOOD factors. Ask: Which of the descriptions on the handout seem to match what we’re seeing and what our customers are experiencing?

A couple good questions will open the conversation. As people share their views, list the discoveries on a white board or flipchart. See where the group gravitates. Look for an emerging consensus around the two or three occurrences of waste that people seem to cite most.

Now, this exercise isn’t the end all, it’s a starting point. It gets everyone thinking more deeply about their process – in a way that sets the stage for improvement.

Here are additional questions to build momentum toward next steps:

• What are some “just do it” improvements we can make right away?

With those one or two occurrences of waste that really stand out: What’s the root cause? Some snap analysis will deepen the group’s thinking.

• Is there information or data that can help us get smarter about the situation? Who can do some research and get back to the group?

• How about a process walk? Some groups get so curious from their TIMUWOOD conversation that they schedule a start-to-finish walk-through of their process – literally going from station to station so everyone can get a better understanding of what goes on. This isn’t always feasible because some processes reach beyond a given location, but when it’s doable, a process walk with a cross-functional team will yield all sorts of useful findings.

• How can we hear from the people we serve? Processes exist in order to deliver something of value to customers, so customer input is the ultimate reality check. A few questions posed to select customers will uncover important insights.

Can all this improvement really start with a single page? We’ll let Tim answer that.


Download the 1-page TIMUWOOD handout (PDF 91KB)


By Tom TerezContact

Here’s how 7 words (or less) can thrill your customers

Posted by on Mar 15, 2017 in Customer Service, Performance

Quick, can you convey your mission in seven words or less?

How about your #1 work-related goal – can you rattle it off in a quick phrase?

Most of us can’t, but Mukesh Thaker certainly can.

He provides IT support in a big organization – the kind of organization where mission statements and goals can be wordy and remote.

Mukesh operates with his own down-to-earth mission, which he’ll tell anyone who asks: “My goal is to make people happy.”

Critics might say it’s too touchy-feely or too pie in the sky. Others might say it’s too vague and inherently unmeasurable.

But for Mukesh and his customers, “happy” is what matters most. He visits with people when they’re having problems with their computers, or connections, or software, or a combination of the above. When Mukesh solves problems, he makes his customers happy. He hears it in their words (thank you) and sees it on their faces (smile). Goal achieved.

We can all take a page from the Mukesh playbook.

Start by phrasing your mission in seven (or fewer) meaningful words. Enshrine your words on a sticky note. Keep it front and center for a full work week. Revisit at week’s end. Fine-tune as needed. Keep it visible until it becomes second nature.

And what if you can’t come up with a suitable phrase that informs and inspires?

Easy. Take the “make people happy” mantra and make it your own. Turn it into your daily imperative.

Mukesh will be thrilled, and so will the people you serve.


By Tom Terez • Contact

The power of “I really don’t care what people think”

Posted by on Feb 22, 2017 in Performance, Self-Improvement

Would you adopt a new approach if it promised improved performance and better results? Sure you would.

But what if that sure-fire approach was, well, unorthodox? What if it prompted eye-rolling among colleagues? What if it made you the occasional butt of jokes? Would you adopt it then, or would you stick with your old approach to avoid the grief?

For Rick Barry, it was an easy choice. During his 14 seasons as a professional basketball player, he threw all his free throws underhanded – while his court colleagues used the standard overhand toss.

Did Barry’s underhand throws look silly? Who cares if they did – they produced so many points that they became a big-time competitive advantage.

Barry sank 90% of his free-throws – compared to a 75% average for everyone else. In his last pro season (1979-80), he took top free-throw honors with an average of 93.5%.

The Hall of Fame forward scored 25,279 points during his career. Named to 12 All-Star teams, he led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Championship in 1975, averaging 30.6 points per game in the 4-0 series – and earning MVP honors. Did free throws matter? Two of those games were won by one point.

Among today’s basketball players, Chinanu Onuaku is following Barry’s lead. In his freshman year at Louisville, Onuaku made just 47% of his free throws. He adopted the underhand approach, put in the training time, and upped his average to 59% in his second year.

Now with the Houston Rockets, Onuaku is still tossing his free throws the unorthodox way. His comment to Sports Illustrated says it all: “I really don’t care what people think. As long as I get a bucket, I’m fine.”

It’s true in any setting where performance is important. If you don’t care what people think, you’ll find all sorts of new approaches that can score better results.

Have you found a unique scheduling system that goes against the grain but gets great results? Stick with it. Are you getting new insights from customers by organizing a first-ever series of focus groups – while getting curious looks from colleagues? Stay the course. Are you gearing up to bring process mapping to your team, knowing that it works but also knowing that some team members will balk? Trust your know-how and go for it.

MVP status awaits.


By Tom Terez • Contact

Keep an eye on a few key measures – or else

Posted by on Jan 17, 2017 in Performance, Self-Improvement, Workplace Improvement

I should’ve known better. My work involves performance and process improvement, so I’m well aware that meaningful measures and objective data really do matter.

But for an upcoming half marathon, I decided to go rogue. I’d run without my watch and without looking at the posted times on the course. It would be a test of sorts for 13.1 miles. I’d remain oblivious to time and see what happened, instead of closely tracking time like I’d done in all my previous races.

On race day, the early miles seemed to fly by. I felt so good that at mile 4, I picked up the pace. At mile 9, still feeling strong, I sped up some more. And with a few miles to the finish, I raced forward with confidence.

When I crossed the finish line, I had no clue what time I had logged — but I knew it was good. Perhaps my best time ever.

Except that it wasn’t. Not even close. For all the half marathons I’ve run over the years, it was my worst time ever.

As I dug into the official post-race numbers, I discovered what had happened.

Those first four fly-by miles were easy because I wasn’t flying at all. According to the data, my pace had been 14 seconds slower than my leisurely per-mile pace for long training runs. For whatever reason, my internal pacing mechanism was giving me a good report, but it was way off. Without a watch, I had no accurate reality check.

When I dialed up my pace at about mile 4, I felt like I was really hitting the accelerator. But the data told a different story. From that point to mile 9, my pace was only 46 seconds faster per mile — a measly 7.5% pick-up. Without any objective feedback telling me otherwise, I was relying on my internal pace clock, and it was again giving me a deceptively rosy report.

In the last four miles, I shaved another 33 seconds off my per-mile pace. I passed 482 runners — while being passed by only 19. All that passing surely boosted my confidence, further convincing me that this race could be a personal best. But because I had so dogged it early on, the quicker pace was nowhere near enough to get me a good time.

Did I have fun during the race? Absolutely.

Would I have run a faster race if I had been wearing a watch and tracking my pace? Without a doubt.

A few time-based data points early on would have right-sized my confidence — and propelled me to a faster pace in those crucial first few miles. Additional checks later on would have pulled me harder to the finish line.

I’ll be back to wearing a watch for my next race. But this story is less about running and pacing — and more about numeric reality checks and their impact on performance, especially at work.

When you’re busy with anything that involves a process or performance or both, your intuition and instincts will give you feedback on how you’re doing. But don’t count on it being accurate. You don’t want to get all the way to the figurative finish line, full of inflated confidence, only to find out that you produced so-so results.

If the outcome really matters to you, or to the people you serve, be sure to have some form of external feedback to complement your internal feedback. Keep it simple. Two or three objective measures can serve as an effective reality check.

So get clear on what you’re tracking as you go about your work. The race will still be fulfilling — and you’ll be far better informed every step of the way.


By Tom Terez • Contact

The top 10 ways to bring out the best in people

Posted by on Dec 14, 2016 in Leadership, Management

1-page handout – 64KB

Want to bring out the best in yourself? Then bring out the best in others. Here are 10 ways to take action, whatever your workplace role.

1. Think how, not what. Assignments and deadlines keep us focused on the work itself – sometimes so much that we lose sight of the people who do the work. Maintain a wider perspective. Instead of asking people what they’re doing, ask them how they’re doing.

2. Work it out now. When conflicts arise, letting them simmer is easier in the short term – but destructive in the long term. Unless you’re fond of grudges and hurt feelings, start resolving today’s conflicts today.

3. Just say thanks. There’s no need for fancy awards and rewards – because there’s no substitute for simple, sincere appreciation. Make a habit of putting your gratitude into words.

4. Take action inclusively. A bias for action is a good thing. But the action should be done with people and not to them or despite them. If you’re going to implement anything that affects anyone, gather a group of co-creators.

5. Turn up the differences. A workplace full of clones would be easy to manage. And boring. And terribly unsuccessful. Look for and leverage the many differences that you and your colleagues bring to the table. As long as you share meaningful goals, you’ll achieve uncommon success.

6. Make a point of asking. When you’re full of certainty about a situation, resist the urge to declare your perspective as the end all. Replace statements with questions in order to activate that nearby know-how and creativity. Go from “here’s what I think” to “what do you think?”

7. Tell stories. If you want to shape the workplace culture, become a positive gossip who dwells on what’s going right. Look for examples of employees serving each other and their customers. Then tell those stories over and over.

8. Engage people in return. When someone tries to engage you in conversation, be conscious of your reaction. In a hectic work environment, it’s easy to be dismissive. Take the time to open your ears and mind.

9. Show your emotions. You’re not a robot or a potted plant. If you’re thrilled, angry, enthused, confused, curious, or whatever, let it show in a constructive way.

10. Be the real you. We’ve all met people who are one way one day – then someone else the next. It’s no fun for anyone, including the chameleon. Get to know yourself, and remain true. Everyone will benefit.


Download a 1-page handout of this article (PDF 64KB)


By Tom TerezContact