Renowned lean executive coach Michael Ballé describes the secret of Takt time and how it can transform the way your operate your organization.
I used to be a consultant – I did projects for clients. When I was working, I was too busy to look for work. When the project finished, it was a mad scramble to find the next gig.
Then one day, I changed. I suggested to my customers that I could plan on working on their projects once (one day) per month. I didn’t settle on this timing right away. First, I tried one-day-per-week but it drove everyone crazy as they had no time to do any real work. I tried once every couple of months but didn’t work either. Once-a-month ended up being ideal because I was able to keep things moving without creating chaos.
Not only did it break the feast and famine cycle, it also completely changed how I did the job – I would no longer describe myself as a consultant (I no longer advise, I mostly listen and question) although I have no good way to put it otherwise. On-the-job questioner maybe?
Like many authors, I used to start several books and then some would eventually get finished. I changed my mind. I set myself the target of publishing every four years and only starting a new book when I had one out. I published The Gold Mine in 2005, The Lean Manager in 2009, Lead With Respect in 2014 and The Lean Strategy in 2017. Radical change.
I write columns once a week, blog posts once a month, and I tweet once every couple of days.
What Is Takt Time?
I got the idea from Toyota. They don’t think in terms of so many cars a day/week/month/year. They think in terms of a car every 70 seconds. Or 90 seconds. Or 40 seconds if the model sells really well. They define “Takt Time” as open time divided by customer demand, something they picked up from German airplane engineers.
In most companies, executives wait for one product’s sales to lag before they think about introducing the next product. And then they decide they need to completely revamp the product to include all the features marketing swears must be added to appeal to customers today. Not surprisingly, most of these products are late to market and unconvincing. For each model, Toyota has a takt time of three to four years. Some reissues are facelifts, some are radical redesigns – but the takt is kept.
Astonishingly, takt time thinking solves all your organizational issues: you don’t need to make organizational decisions. You know what you’ve got to deliver when, and you can then marshal resources and arrange priorities accordingly.
When you get some practice with the timing, you can easily figure out processes to make it more effective. And, if something goes wrong you can remain flexible. If you miss a beat, so be it: just don’t miss the next one.
Thinking in terms of takt – what is the rhythm at which I need to deliver what? – allows you to think completely differently about organization and processes. Essentially, you don’t need any, just common sense. In practice, you design processes to deliver at takt.
Why Takt Time Works
It’s radical because it puts the customer first, the product second, and the organization third. It’s by far the most effective way to organize because it communicates intuitively to everyone what they’re supposed to do – come up with a good product at every takt – and lets the freedom to people to self-organize to get it done. It’s a profoundly people-centric approach.
Resource-based thinking used to be perfectly adapted to mining or farming, but how well does it fit knowledge workers? Time-based thinking, on the other hand, gives orientation and flexibility, which is exactly what we need for knowledge workers to self-organize and still deliver. Knowledge work leaders can change their management approach from command-and-control to challenge-and-support: here’s the takt – what do you need to meet it?
Get started now: what is it you deliver to customers? At what takt? How do you know whether it’s good or not takt after takt? See if that doesn’t get you thinking!
Michael Ballé, PH.D. is a best-selling author, speaker and co-founder of the Institut Lean France. He holds a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Social Sciences and Knowledge Sciences. He is also a renowned lean executive coach. His latest book is The Lean Strategy (with Dan Jones, Jacques Chaize and Orry Fiume).