How to Stop Firefighting – Preventing the Fires in 5 minutes

If your business life seems to be a constant round of fire-fighting, getting calm, fire-fighting, getting calm… and round and round you go (perhaps you don’t even have the calm moments!) then there are a couple of things you need to do to get you off that merry-go-round.

You just need five minutes a day.

Back in my production superintendent role, I would tell myself “five minutes a day doing something to make tomorrow better”. Some days I’d manage more and sometimes none. However the forward momentum built and that fed a positive feeling with its own reinforcement.
If you want to stop getting caught in the fire, decide what calm looks like and what you want it to look like and then build a detailed plan to get there. Identify specific actions, and break them down into small pieces.
Five minute pieces are all that’s needed to get you started.

The key is to take actions to prevent the fires happening in the first place.

And this can be achieved using just the 5 minutes each day – at least to begin with. What I saw with Honda was an objective review of plans after every project to refine timelines and other variables. In this way the plans became more and more accurate; for example, actions on a new product introduction plan kept on schedule, to the day, over a two year period!
Make sure you engage all the relevant people involved in the activity to get their ideas on how to improve it.
When things are planned in a realistic way, there’s more time to look at how to do them even better, and the continuous improvement loop is established.
Monitor your progress and benchmark it.
A common challenge, especially with younger businesses, is that there may not be benchmarks available. It’s crucial, in these early stages and when fighting fires, to be monitoring all aspects of the business to ensure the model is updated and scalability aspects are checked.
Use whatever business networks you have to compare data. It’s better to have a range of potential values to start with and then check the actual against these rather than operating in complete darkness.

Also look for signs of trouble.

For example, if a customer or supplier becomes difficult to contact or doesn’t return your calls – it’s a sure sign that there’s a problem, so get on top of it now before it gets worse.

All of these actions can give you a significant shift away from fire fighting and towards calm.

However, there will be barriers that impede your progress – and I will take a look at those next week.

About Hilary Briggs

A management consultant with over 15 years of industrial experience having held senior management positions at Rover Group, Whirlpool Corporation and The Laird Group plc. For the last 10 years, she’s worked with SME’s to improve their performance. Hilary is Managing Director of productivity specialists R2P Ltd.