Always add hours; never subtract them

I was sitting down with the folks from The Puppet Kitchen the other day to talk about business best practices and it came up that they basically always feel like they’re at 100% capacity, yet don’t have any time for things like new business development or shop improvement.

Welcome to small business ownership.

But as I talked about with the puppeteers, there are things you can do to help with that problem (though I doubt they’ll cure it; frankly, always having something else to do tells you that you’re a growing business, so it isn’t a negative).  And top of the list is additive hour tracking.

The tendency for most folks is to try to make room for new things, rather than schedule their existing things and see what is left.  That shouldn’t really be that surprising if you’re ever seen the average American do budgeting: it is usually more about “finding more money to do X” then it is about “here is the money we have left to do X”.  In business, this often occurs between partners, who view themselves at 100% and then only schedule priorities from other parts of the business when absolutely necessary.  This can cause a lot of interpersonal strife, because it puts the requester in the position of having to justify why each request is more important than the other demands on a person’s time, which involves then going through everything someone has on their plate.

So additive hour tracking is a relatively simple concept.  Rather than starting with 100% effort and looking for nooks that can still be filled, start by assuming that you are doing nothing.  Then schedule things (in advance!) for what needs to be done.  For the puppeteers, that means both rigid things (like the classes they teach) and the flexible things (like bookkeeping and shop maintenance).

Once those are on the calendar, you can actually see the gaps where additional projects can be put and those can be scheduled (in advance!) by people who need help.  Want to make a pilot episode to pitch to a client?  Look at the calendar!  You know exactly how much effort your team can put into it, and can then prioritize it against a shorter project (like making a 5 minute improv short) or longer projects (writing a full length show).

The key point?  Say it with me now: “in advance”.  There is no way for a leader to lead if they don’t know what folks are actually doing and how much bandwidth they have left for new production orders.  Doubly important if you aren’t working regular hours where everyone is in the same room at the same time.

Also, if you’re in NYC, buy the Puppet Kitchen Google Offer.  Entirely worth it.  Love those guys.