What event are you training for?

Managerial Takt Time "Takt time" is part of the gospel handed down by Jim Womack and Dan Jones in their seminal book, Lean Thinking. Despite the awkwardness of the German word from which it derives (taktzeit), it's a very simple concept: it's the average unit production time needed to meet customer demand. The goal of takt time is to link your company's value-added work to the customer's needs.

But what if you're an executive or a manager without direct production responsibility, and without a clearly defined customer demand? How do you calculate takt time for a leader in this circumstance?

In the new book I'm writing, I suggest that a useful way to think about takt time for a leader is to compare it to the schedule for someone training for a specific event -- say, a marathon. The training schedule links the workouts to the goal, ensuring that training is done so that the runner peaks at the right time. The training schedule also ensures that the runner invests an appropriate amount of time in the different types of training needed for success: aerobic running, anaerobic running, cross-training, flexibility, etc.

If you're a leader, you need to link your daily/weekly/monthly activities to the strategic goals you've set. You can do that by allocating your time to the critical areas that will get you there: improvement, talking to customers, coaching & training your team, strategic planning and thinking, etc. Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, provides a good example of this kind of thinking:

I budget how much time I’m going to be out of Seattle and in Seattle. I budget what I’m spending my time on — customers, partners, etc…. I schedule formal meetings and my free time…. I’m not saying when they’re going to happen, but I budget all this stuff. I try to make sure that I feel comfortable that I have enough time to…think, to investigate, to learn more, but I have to budget my time…. I give the budget allocation to my administrative assistants, they lay it all out and then anybody who asks for time, they say, "Steve, this is in budget, it’s not in budget, how do you want us to handle it?"

I know very few executives that determine their calendars to this extent. When you think about it from the perspective of an athlete, however, it makes perfect sense. How can you decide whether or not to take on a new commitment or spend time on a new project if you don't know what else you're supposed to be spending time on? How can you be sure that your overall efforts are appropriately linked to your larger goals unless you have a master plan?

You've got 2000 hours per year. How are you going to spend them?