Have you ever watched Olympic rowing? I find it fascinating how they create a rhythm and then change it as needed over the entire distance of the race. From the US Rowing website:
The stroke rate (the number of rowing strokes per minute that a crew is taking ) is high at the start – maybe 45 to even 50 for an eight; 38 to 42 for a single scull. Then, the crew will “settle” into the body of the race and drop the rating back – 38 to 40 for an eight; 32-36 for a single. The coach and the way the race is going determine when the crew will sprint but finishing stroke rates of 46+ in the last 200 meters aren’t unheard of. However, higher stroke rates are not always indicative of speed. A strong, technically talented crew may be able to cover more water faster than a less-capable crew rowing a high stroke rate.
Translating the idea of cadence into our manufacturing world, we know every project or program has a cadence. It’s critical to understand the team’s cadence when nearing the end of a project because finding the right cadence when pushing hard to finish is always a challenge. Push too hard, too soon and you run out of steam before crossing the finish line, conversely, not pushing hard enough means you end up not finishing as strongly as possible. There’s always a balance.
One of the keys to setting your cadence is knowing the goal. In rowing, the race is 2,000 meters. The athletes know they have 2,000 meters to cover, marked off in 500M increments. Each section of the race having its own strategy.
We aren’t as lucky in manufacturing. Our projects can range from a day to years meaning our “increments” (milestones) vary. As the leader, your job is to manage your team’s energy and focus accordingly. You have to know where in the race the team is. Are they in the first “500M” (pre-start up, start-up) or are they in the last “500M” (delivery of job 1, the close of a ten year program, etc.)
Get organized around the needs, not the wants. Prioritizing and understanding how to win the race makes sure you put energy in the right places at the right time.
Assess the needs early, plan for flawless execution, and yet be flexible in how you cover the last “500M”.