“Time Out” as a Competitive Edge

“Time Out” as a Competitive Edge

Summary: In most companies, managers are so stretched, they don’t have a spare moment to plan or think. Just time to do. This tip is based on providing employees on the F-35 program the “time out” to think and innovate. The results were outstanding and guidance is given on how you can make “time out” part of your own culture.


During a recent conversation with Admiral Steve “Smiley” Enewold, Program Executive Officer of the F-35 Joint Striker Fighter, about the pace of today’s business world, he made this analogy:

“It’s like being in a grain silo and the grain is pouring down on you at a terrific speed from the top. You have a small shovel and you are working like heck to dig your way out. You see a bigger shovel leaning against the wall, but you think to yourself, if I go over there and get it, I’ll drown!”

We both agreed. Unless we take time out and get a “bigger shovel” — translated as taking the time to think, reflect, innovate, collaborate and change — there will be no way to fulfill complex and demanding missions like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program is the most advanced and complex enterprise ever with the purpose of building a next generation fighter aircraft.

The mission of JSF is to provide the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and the United Kingdom`s Royal Navy and Royal Air Force with an affordable and stealthy tactical aircraft for the 21st century.

The program includes eight international partners – the United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.

Lockheed Martin is the F-35 prime contractor, while Northrop Grumman and BAE SYSTEMS are principal partners in the project.  In addition to the principal partners, Pratt & Whitney and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team work with the JSF team to design and build interchangeable engines for the F-35.

Despite the overwhelming demands of schedules, costs and quality on this expansive and complex program, project managers have been able to tap into innovation by using “Time Out” as a competitive advantage.

“Time Out” can be rapidly expressed as X/O.

Unfortunately for most of us, the pace of work is so fast, the X/O advantage is elusive. People say they don’t have time to think…don’t always take time to consider other options. This mantra seems to be, “Pile more work on fewer people, increase efficiency, and cut costs.”

In fact, this mantra is the sound of an organization going wrong.

In most companies today, managers are so stretched and stressed, they don’t have a spare moment for anything…no time to plan or think. Just time to do…to get the job done. There’s no time for analysis, innovation, training, strategic thinking, contemplation…or, sometimes, even lunch.

How JSF Improved Performance!

There was a time at JSF when adherence to timelines was the only momentum, the only obvious goal. Processes balancing cost, quality and schedule were not always clearly defined. People were hesitant to share “bad news.” Taking this track, the JSF project became a whopping 3500 pounds overweight and would cost millions of dollars and months to get back on track.

Over the next year, the entire project team focused on thinking, reflecting, imagining and envisioning ways to reduce the aircraft’s weight while maintaining performance parameters. Specialists could not make the necessary adjustments. The project’s shortcomings had to be remedied by the very people who were doing the work. The antidote had to be ongoing and everywhere, throughout the entire project. That’s when X/O became part of the culture.

By involving everyone and allocating time to think, discuss, discover, collaborate and explore — rather than just being busy — the F-35 project team was soon back on track with the most advanced next-generation strike fighter for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and allies across the globe.

Successful organizations — like JSF – lead the way in the creative use of “Time Out.” Underperforming businesses can only obsess about removing it!!

When a company can’t change or innovate, it is usually because their people are too damn busy.

How “Time Out” Can be Part of Your Culture

  1. Consider “X/O” as an investment with a high ROI. “Time Out” distinguishes organizations “in business” from those organizations that are merely busy.
  2. Recognize that people under time pressure don’t think faster. Think rate is fixed. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you can’t pick up the pace of thinking. Instead, you must allocate time to think.
  3. Focus on the lower levels – the people who do the work. If there is alignment, if the people who do the work are focused and executing, then astounding results can be achieved. They will be the first to surface the barriers and issues to performance if they are held accountable for targets.
  4. Give people targets to go after and time to think on how to achieve them. In 30 years of consulting, I have rarely seen workers given both targets and the time to figure out how to reach them. “X/O” is the missing ingredient required for all change and innovation.

The Bottom Line

The bankruptcy of innovation often results from a failure to set aside the resources necessary allow change to be a natural part of the organization’s culture. Ever increasing “busyness” diminishes individual performance, and workers know it.

“Time Out” is the space in which change and innovation takes place.

While there’s a cost in implementing new ideas, the X/O’s benefit is an increased vitality, a healthy and robust culture as well as a firmer grip on the future.

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