The Iceberg that Sinks Performance

I'm back. The last few weeks have been hectic for me: I finished the manuscript for my book, A Factory of One, and submitted it to Productivity Press, who will be publishing it in November or December this year. Many thanks to all of you in the lean community who provided feedback, comments, stories, and challenges to my thinking along the way.

I've also spent a long week clarifying my thinking about how lean concepts and tools tie into time management and individual performance. In the spirit of visual management, I thought that drawing this relationship would be helpful. This is what I came up with:

Obviously, I'm no Rembrandt. But I think this iceberg does a pretty good job of expressing the actual situation that I've seen over the past few years when people complain that they're overwhelmed, or that their group needs time management training, or that they simply don't have enough time to do everything. Their complaint -- the visible symptom, the part of the iceberg above the water -- is not the problem at all. It's a symptom. The root cause -- the real problem -- lies below the waterline. And while it's invisible, it can -- and will -- sink the ship.

Time management "problems" are really just manifestations of dysfunction in one or more of the following areas: strategy; priorities; internal systems and processes; corporate cultural expectations; or individual skills. And this is why very often time management programs fail to improve the lives of the people who so diligently construct lists, who carefully discriminate between urgent and important, who pursue inbox zero, who never check email in the morning, etc. All those approaches -- as valuable as they are -- only address the problems in individual skills. They ignore the systemic issues that undermine individual performance. You can try not checking email till 11am, but if your boss reams you out for missing an urgent email she sent at 8:15am, you're probably not going to stick with that 11am plan for very long.

Carrying the iceberg metaphor a bit further, even if you do lop off the top -- even if you address the symptoms by adding staff, or bolstering a person's individual skills, the problem will just rise to the surface again. At some point you'll have to get to the root causes, or you'll end up sinking the ship.