My Time Is Not Your Time

Klaus M. Blache | April 25, 2019

By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee Reliability & Maintainability Center (RMC)

I recently returned from a business business trip involving a round-trip flight and a three-night hotel stay. On my way to work, I purchased a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Upon arriving at the office, I contacted the IT department for some assistance loading an application. At lunch, I made a purchase using my iPhone. On the way home, I picked up a few items at a grocery store and drugstore. At home, I opened my mail, including a letter from the car dealer regarding a recent oil change. The next day, I took a cab to the airport to start another day of activities.

What do all of these events have in common? The vendors all wanted me to provide feedback through a survey. Often, a respondent’s input is tied to incentive pay and/or to obtain your shopping/logistics data. How many exchanges start with prompting you to take a survey at the end of the conversation? Let’s do the math. When I (and you) conservatively get five to ten survey requests each day: 

5 to 10 surveys/day x 365 days = 1,825 to 3,650 surveys

At 5 min./survey, that’s 9,125 to 18,250 minutes, or 152 to 304 hours, of your awake time. If you replied to every survey you’re invited to take, you could be giving up about an hour every day. Furthermore, I don’t want to provide more input until you can demonstrate you implemented previous collected data.

This is equally true on the plant floor. Too often I see where engineers are challenged to implement two or three kaizen-type events each year as part of their performance reviews. So, they ask trades, technicians, and operators for ideas and tell them that the good oness can be implemented quickly.

What they forget is this same workforce has been asking for these same improvements, and many others, for many years. That’s why most of North America averages less than one suggestion per employee. Also, imagine how many backlog jobs are not getting done if trades are now pulled away to help engineers.

Kaizen events, in general, are good. Engineers teaming up with trades is great. However, do it with a process that supports and rewards both sides. I did a study several years back (yes, another survey) that examined the benefits of ongoing employee engagement and implemented suggestions. The results indicated teams that control more of their daily work and problem solving have 36% greater productivity. Also, when team members are engaged enough to generate suggestions, it results in greater throughput. Listen more to the people working closest to your product and protect your time. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at




Klaus M. Blache

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