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Denise Robitaille


Tempus Fugit

Effective time management will positively influence the success of your organization.

Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 23:00

Time is arguably one of the most precious and least quantified resources that organizations possess. It’s a uniquely intangible, yet indispensable, feature of any process or activity. Things occur over a span of time. It’s an indisputable characteristic of our universe and is so self-evident that we often overlook its significance. We fail to give proper consideration to the role time plays in the completion of projects and the achievement of goals. During the recent ISO /TC176 Plenary meeting in Panama, a representative from the Egyptian delegation gave a presentation on the various aspects of time that are applicable to quality-management systems. Key issues discussed included time-management tools, cultural perspectives, how we measure time, relationship to process improvements and emergency-response times. It became clear that we need to do a better job in defining the time constraints that influence various aspects of our organizations.

Considerations span the gamut of activities from multi-year projects to production-cycle times. They can range from the mundane (“Are the timers on the ovens accurate?”) to the critical (“How fast can we deliver blood to a hospital during a crisis?”)

Globalization has added a new wrinkle to the issue. How should we do business with companies on the other side of the earth? What do we have to do to be able to respond to a client who’s always a day ahead? Who will answer the phone when they have an emergency at 3 a.m?

While there are numerous aspects to the concept of time in relation to QMS processes, the corrective-action process particularly illustrates the challenges and constraints we face. When conducting training on corrective action, I ask the participants, “How many hours will it take to conclude this step of the corrective action?” The answer I often get back is something like: “Probably three months.” Note that I didn’t ask how long it would take, which is a separate dynamic that addresses different constraints. Both need to be factored into the corrective-action plan.

First let’s look at total hours. If there are six steps in your plan, each one will take a certain amount of time to complete. Purchasing new software includes time for getting quotations, evaluating and testing, generating a purchase order, etc. Time that someone will devote to these activities might add up to about 12 hours. Then there will be assigned tasks relating to loading the software, training, revising associated documentation, etc. Each of these activities will consume a given number of hours. For an activity such as training, you’ll want to calculate the number of individuals being trained to arrive at total people-hours. (e.g. 10 trainees at three hours of training each equals 30 people-hours). So, we can total up all the people-hours for all the activities and arrive at a number that represents the expenditure of the organization’s resource of time for the fulfillment of this plan. If the number is 120 hours, it means that this corrective action will consume the equivalent of three people’s 40-hour week.

This is an important calculation because it reminds individuals, especially managers, that corrective actions happen in real time. The activities have to be carried out by the same people who have been hired to do other jobs. Returning to Deming’s exhortation, “Drive out fear,” consider that mandating people to complete a project without giving them adequate time for all the tasks is defeating and intimidating. ISO 9001 states in sub-clause 6.1: “The organization shall determine and provide the resources needed…”

If the plan includes other departments, their time has to be accounted for as well. This allows organizations to start addressing constraints. For example, if five people need to be sent off-site for training, then provisions have to be made to cover their jobs while they’re away. Have you factored that into your corrective action plan? Have you included the cost of hiring temps or authorizing overtime into the overall calculation of the return on investment for your project?

Returning to the training example, can you assign a dollar value to those hours? Many governmental agencies provide training grants and request companies to match the monies in kind, which means that if you have 30 hourly employees who have an average wage of $20 per hour and they each get six hours of training, your matching grant will be $3,600.

The second aspect of time to be considered is the actual duration until completion. While a project may require 120 hours, it’s obvious that those hours won’t be consecutive. The duration of a project depends on the availability of tools, money, and personnel, as well as parts delivery, production schedules, weather, vacation shutdown, prior commitments, and many other factors, depending on the nature of your industry. If your plan relies on a specialist who has been assigned to another project, then your project will have to wait until that person is available. This requires you to assess the urgency of your project, in which case you may decide to recruit an alternate person for the task.

Being able to realistically estimate the duration of projects helps managers establish a reliable completion date and avoid hearing, “Why isn’t this done yet?”

There are many other time-related factors that influence the success of organizations. Time is a resource we can ill-afford to ignore. Trying to bring a product to market with inadequate time is comparable to trying to build a device without the proper tools. If we don’t do a good job of defining our time requirements, we’ll find that tempus fugit. Time flies and leaves us behind.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.