The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

What Will I Do This Week That Will Still Be Adding Value in a Year?


It is easy to become so busy with work that seems urgent today that you don’t find time for the important-but-not-urgent work.

Failing to prioritize the important-but-not-urgent work is a common weakness in business today. To counter this situation you should build into your work system processes to counter the tendency to allow whatever is urgent from taking all the time you have.

Sure, you can miss a week of focusing on the most important matters if there are not deadlines requiring decisions and actions now. But if weeks and then months go by without the most important issues being addressed the long term consequences are drastic. And this failure to focus on the most important issues happens a great deal.

As managers and executives it is critical to focus on the long term success of the organization. To do so, you must have your effort focused on important areas for long term success. There are many ways to adjust your schedule to help make this happen.

You can carve out part of your time that is blocked off from urgent but less important matters. You can start some day on tasks you have identified as critical for the long term. You can design the management system to keep important matters from being overlooked as the urgent matters flood in. You can develop long term plans that have schedules to bring a sense of urgency to working on these areas now even though the big benefits may take months and even years to roll in.

Many things you do will have short term and long term benefits. When using the PDSA cycle to improve a process for some urgent issue, you have the short term gain and also build the capability of the organization to use PDSA to improve. You can be successful using the PDSA cycle today and also grow the capability of the organization to do so even more effectively in future efforts.

I find it helpful to ask yourself, “What will I do this week that will be adding value in a year.” First, it focuses you on examining your long term impact and how you are spending your time. Second, it helps you recognize the long term impacts of what you are doing. Often this helps you realize that spending more time on maximizing the long term benefits would be useful. We often ignore the value of the long term benefits, which results in us not thinking about how to maximize those benefits.

In the PDSA example, realizing that partially you are helping improve the process being examined but that another very important aspect is that you are building the capability of the organization over the long term. Taking extra time to be sure that people are learning, yes about the process being studied, but also about how to most effectively use PDSA is likely to have a bigger long term impact than the improvement made in this PDSA cycle.

This is especially true early on in the use of the PDSA cycle (or any other management tool) but that learning on using the tools most effectively continues for years. We often think using a tool a couple times is all it takes but that is far from true. Yes we can get so we are effective, but we can become significantly more effective over time, especially if we are focused on building our long term capability all the time.

Related: Improvement is a Learning ProcessLong Term Thinking with Respect for PeopleThe Importance of Working with Suppliers Over the Long TermA Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving

Categorised as: continual improvement, management systems, systems thinking

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