IPMA International Project Management Association
28 April 2021 / 8:31

Two watchmakers and efficiency

Once upon a time, there were two watchmakers. Hora and Tempus. Hora was famous for making fine watches with unique designs and reliable clockwork. Hora had many customers, but so do Tempus. Tempus watches were of comparable quality to his competitor. It was difficult for customers to distinguish which watches are better, made by Hora or Tempus. People were visiting their stores more often, and the orders for new watches were increasing in both stores. However, Horas’ business was prospering over the years, but Tempus became poorer and poorer, and his business went to bankruptcy.

Why was one craftsman successful but the other not?

Well, when both watchmakers started their business, they did not have many orders. They spend a lot of time making watches. They spent hours in their workshops – thinking about the best design, proper functionality, and clockwork improvement. Having a few orders allowed them to spend a lot of time in the workshop making watches. Indeed, assembling one watch required a few hours of focused work. Each watch consisted of about one thousand parts.  But that did not matter. Because making watches was their passion.

They put their soul into their work, and people started to notice that. Everyone wanted to have a watch made by Hora or Tempus.  As the demand for watches increased, so the phone calls and people in their shops. Watchmakers started to spend more time seeing customers or answering the phones than making watches. However, as both were making watches of identical high quality, Hora produced many more of them. Why?

At that time, Tempus was making watches in the way —all parts needed to be assembled together at once. If he had to answer the phone call or serve the customer in the middle of his work, he put the unfinished watch down – and it often fell to pieces. When he returned to work, he did not start when he left the work, but he usually needed to start from the beginning. The more his customers called him, the more difficult it was to find enough time to finish a watch at one dash.

The complexity of watches by Hora and by Tempus was the same. But the way Hora assembled a watch was different. Hora was building watches by stable blocks – one block at a time. He divided the components of a watch into several blocks (subassemblies) of about ten parts each. Then Hora put ten subassemblies together to create a larger block.  Then, ten of these blocks to build a complete watch. As a result, when Hora had to put down a partly completed watch –  to answer the phone or see the customer – he lost only a tiny part of his work. He made his watches much faster and more efficiently than did Tempus.

You can find the story of Hora and Tempus in many books. You might already read it somewhere – mostly when reading about System thinking, Decision-making, or Planning for interruptions. I encountered the story in the book Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadowns for the first time and in many other articles afterward.

I love that story as it shows how important it is to divide the work into blocks – batches. Primarily when you work on several projects and switching among tasks is inevitable. If the topic is new to you, read more about it in my previous article: Just-In-Time in Project Management

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Marek Demcak

Author of this post

Marek works as a LEAN focused Coach at Vaillant Group. His primary responsibility is to design systems to drive and to navigate cultural change towards a culture of continuous improvement. Marek develops his coaching practices in the industrial plants of the Vaillant Group in Slovakia and England.

Besides his love for cultural transformation and process improvement, he is very enthusiastic about project management. Marek founded and developed IPMA Young Crew in Slovakia. As the Management Board Member, he co-developed IPMA Slovakia by taking care of Marketing and Communication. In between 2019 and 2021, he was also the Management Board Member of Young Crew Global, responsible for the Global Young Crew Workshop and Coaches and Mentors program.

Marek has several hobbies. One of them is writing. To develop this skill, Marek writes about Coaching, Culture, Behaviors, and Project Manager Practice.

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