Your lack of takt is showing!

The faithful delivery of services and product on time is a challenge, maybe it’s time to apply more production-floor common sense to services.

Geoff Wilson

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before:  An executive hires a consultant to solve a problem.  The consulting agreement is for a lot of work–maybe redesigning the way an organization is structured–in a little time (and for a lot of money).  The consultant comes in, does the work “on time and in full,” and drops off the report at the end of the engagement.  The executive’s team hardly notices the consultant was there because, well, the consultant moved really fast and the organization didn’t.

The executive is left with a book, a recommendation, and a confused organization.

Sound familiar?  I suspect it does for those who have worked with any high-powered, high-fee consulting firm.

What’s the issue?

Well, let me unpack a notion from the world of lean manufacturing, and then come back to this example.

In lean manufacturing, one of the critical sources of waste is overproduction.  That is to say that making too much of a product and sloshing it into inventory is wasteful.  It wastes valuable production resources, not to mention valuable capital.

The solution to this type of waste is to align production resources to “Takt Time.”  Takt is a derivation of a German word that means “pulse.”  Takt Time, then, is the pulse of an operation or a business.  And, what is the actual pulse of a business?  It’s the demand for products and services within a given time period.  If demand for my product is thirty units per month and my organization is open every day, then my effective Takt Time–the time I should take to make and deliver a product–is roughly one day. Making more than one per day is wasteful.

There are many nuances to this line of thought, and it’s certainly possible to get too “lean” in your thinking.  Many companies have.  But the notion of Takt Time is super useful for an executive trying to balance strategic initiatives and daily business activities.

Let’s revisit our executive at the beginning of this post. Our executive has agreed with the consultant on the pace and delivery of a work product, but the organization is focused on daily management activities.  The strategic organization work falls into the category of important but not urgent.  In the end, the pace of the delivered work product is too fast for the organization to engage around at its current pace, leading to a far less than optimal delivery of the consultant’s product.

The product could be a total waste.

So what? Well, I bring this up because while Takt time is a concept that is well known in production environments, it is not well applied to services environments. And this is a tragedy.  Why?  Because products can be inventoried and eventually liquidated.  Overproduced services (like our consultant’s report above) are typically wasted.

To probably feel the result of a lack of service “Takt” in a lot of parts of your life. How often are you overserved “all you can drink” beverages by an overly enthusiastic server?  Maybe even more poignant in today’s economy:  How often do you find that your “subscription” service (for meal kits or pet food deliveries) ends up piling up wasted products, time or energy?

Often, I’ll bet.  And it’s because nobody actually aligned your real demand for the beverages or pile of meal kits in your kitchen with the actual pace of delivery.  When buying or selling services, consider the actual pace of consumption or the actual ability of the service to be consumed, and plan accordingly.

It’s all about Takt.

Now it’s your turn: How does matching service pace and demand fit with situations you are dealing with?