Goal vs “Target Condition”

Emily sent an email asking “how would you describe the difference between GOAL and TARGET CONDITION?”

I end up on this topic enough that I thought I’d discuss it here.

I am assuming we are referring to the “Toyota / Toyota Kata” context here. I mention that because while “target condition” has a pretty clear meaning in that context, we have to rely on the everyday meaning definition for “goal.”

Thus, I can’t objectively say “goal” means this, or doesn’t mean that because it means whatever it means to you.

Still, I can give it a try.

I have drawn on the following analogy frequently because I think it demonstrates the concept pretty well.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

I’d say that was a goal. It is a specific accomplishment that is clearly “done” or “not done” and it has a deadline. (Someone else once said “a goal is a dream with a deadline.”)

For those of you who don’t remember Woodstock*, let me provide some context.

President Kennedy made that speech on May 25, 1961.

imageOn May 5th, Alan Shepard had been launched into a sub-orbital space flight giving the USA a total manned space flight experience base of about 15 minutes. The previous month, the Soviet Union had launched Yuri Gagarin for a single orbit around the Earth, thus the entire planet had a total manned space flight experience of just under 2 hours (but the Russians weren’t sharing).

<— This is the best we could do.

The goal was selected for political and technical reasons. We had developed a huge rocket engine needed to do the job, and didn’t think the Russians larger rockets would scale well. So the Administration selected a goal they thought the U.S. could accomplish but believed the USSR would have a tougher time with. (They were right.)

At the time the speech was made, there were two competing approaches in play for landing a man on the moon.image

Both involved landing a large upper stage intact on the moon, then lifting off and using the whole thing to return to Earth.

The problem was thought to be how to get that huge moon landing rocket off the Earth and to the moon.

There were a couple of ideas kicking around at the time.

One was to build a huge rocket, maybe twice the size of the Saturn-V that eventually was used for Apollo 11.

imageThe design was never finalized, but the concepts were all lumped together as the “Nova” rocket. You can see the 36 story tall Saturn V (the biggest rocket ever built and launched) as the second from the right in this picture. The idea was to send the entire thing directly to the Moon with a single launch. This was called the “Direct” approach.

Given that building the Nova rocket (not to mention the launch facility) was likely to be…um…really hard, the other idea was to use multiple launches of something more like the Saturn rocket, and assemble the moon rocket in low Earth orbit, then send it on its way. This was called “Earth Orbit Rendezvous.

All through the late spring and summer of 1961 this debate was raging within NASA. Wernher von Braun, our chief “rocket guy” wanted this capability for a large lunar payload because he was interested in establishing bases and serious exploration of the moon. But that wasn’t the objective right now. It was get there fast and beat the Russians.

Another NASA engineer, John Houbolt had what was considered a bit of a high-risk (bordering on crackpot) scheme of a smaller-but-still-huge rocket, single launch, sending an expendable two-stage lander to the moon, having it land with two astronauts, then lift off and rendezvous with the return ship in lunar orbit. Not surprisingly this scheme was known as “Lunar Orbit Rendezvous.” It was risky because what was thought to be the trickiest part, the rendezvous and docking, was to be done 250,000 miles from the safety of Earth, with no way home if it didn’t work.

You can read the whole story here.

By the fall of 1962, Lunar Orbit Rendezvous had emerged as the only viable scheme to accomplish the goal by the deadline.

At the program level, they now had a target condition: How the process should operate in order to accomplish the goal. This does not mean they had worked out every detail. It only means they knew what they were trying to accomplish. This 1962 NASA film pretty much lays out the concept in as much detail as they understood at the time:

Remember, this is at the high level. But at this level they identified obstacles – things they didn’t know how to do – that had to be cleared in order to reach the target condition.

1) They had to develop the concept into a real rocket capable of pushing 90,000 pounds (and finally 100,000 pounds) into lunar orbit. They also had to develop and built the infrastructure to (according to the initial plan) launch one of these every month.

2) They had to determine if (and how) humans could spend 10+ days in space without psychological or psysiological problems. (Remember, we had no idea at the time).

3) They had to develop a space suit that would allow an astronaut to leave the spacecraft.

4) They had to develop techniques and technology for rendezvous and docking in orbit.

Each of these major obstacles could be, in turn, defined as a goal (or challenge) for the next level down. Project Gemini’s purpose was to test #2, and directly learn about #1 and #2.

imageimage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the teams working on developing space suits, developing docking technology, etc. then would set their own target conditions that progressively marched toward their goals or deliverables.

Bring this back to Earth

A goal is something you need to accomplish. It usually doesn’t assign the method, only the result and the “by when.”

A target condition is typically a major intermediate step toward the ultimate challenge. Importantly, it outlines the “how” or proposed approach, though necessarily doesn’t offer up the solutions to the problems.

The goal is “win the game.” The target condition is the game plan. To execute the game plan, we need to develop specific capabilities, or solve specific problems.

One thing the target condition does do is limit the domain of the problems that must be solved. This is critical.

There are always more problems to solve than are solvable with the resources available. By being specific about a target condition, you focus the effort on the obstacles that are actually in the way of achieving the target. As you proceed, you learn, and as you learn, the nature of those obstacles may change. Thus, the obstacles are not a static list of things to do. Rather, they are the unsolved issues that, right now, you think must be dealt with.

See this (largely redundant) post from a couple of years ago for another perspective. (oops – just realized I’d already used the Apollo analogy. Oh well. At the time all of this was going on, I was the geeky 12 year old who knew (and would talk endlessly about) every dimension, rocket engine nomenclature, fuel burn rates, etc. of the Saturn-V rocket.)

Hopefully this will spark some discussion.

———–

*If you actually remember being at Woodstock, then you likely weren’t there.  Winking smile

Shifting Perspective from Getting Results to Developing People

Note: This post has been in my “Draft” queue for a few months, so actually pre-dates the previous one. But I’m seeing a theme developing in what I am paying attention to lately.

Taken from an actual conversation.

“What is your target condition?”

“To get [this productivity metric] from 60% to 85%.”

(thinking) – he is only talking about the performance metric.

“How would the process have to work to achieve that level of performance?”

(pointing to process flow diagram) “We have two work flows. One for routine project work, the other is high-priority emergent work. Whenever a worker has an opportunity to take on routine project work, I want him to be able to take the next most important job from the prioritized work queue.”

“This would eliminate the need for the worker waste time trying to find me to get an assignment or investigate or guess what he should do next, and let him get started right away. It would also stop cherry picking the easier jobs”

“My goal is for the Team Leader to establish those priorities, and keep track of how work is progressing.”

(thinking) – OK, I see where he is trying to go. I’m not sure I would have taken this exact approach, but it looks good enough right now to let him run with it and see what he learns.

“What was the last step or experiment you completed?” (Note: I am trying asking this question with ‘you completed’ so emphasize I want results from the last one, not information about what is ongoing or next.)

“Before I went on vacation, I looked at the incoming work queue, and established priorities for that work. As the workers needed their next job, it was clear to them what they needed to do.”

“What result did you expect?”

“I expected my productivity metric to hit my 85% target.”

“What actually happened?”

“The metric did hit the 85% target, when I prioritized the work. Then I went on vacation, and as you can see here (pointing at the graph), the productivity dropped back to its baseline level.”

“What did you learn?”

“I learned that when I set the priorities, and track the productivity, it improves as I expected it to. I also learned that when I don’t do it myself, then things go back to the way they were.”

“What obstacles do you think are preventing you from achieving your target condition?”

“People don’t know what the most important job is.”

“You said your target condition is for your team leader to make those assignments. How does that obstacle relate back to your target?”

“My team leader doesn’t know what the most important jobs are.”

“How about writing that down on the obstacle list.”

(he adds it to the list)

“Any other obstacles?”

“Um… I don’t think so.”

(thinking) I’m pretty sure there are other issues, but he seems focused on this one. Let’s see where he is going with it.

“OK, so that (the team leader) is the obstacle you’re addressing now?”

“Yes.”

“OK, what is your next step?”

“I am going to assign the priorities myself.”

“What result do you expect?”

“I expect the performance to go back to its target value.”

“How is that addressing the fact that your team leader doesn’t know how to assign priorities?”

pause…

(thinking) He isn’t connecting the dots here.

“Let’s come back to your target condition. You said you want the team leader to do all of this, rather than you, right?”

“Yes.”

“What is keeping you from just giving him the work and having him do it?”

“If I did that the productivity would go down again.”

”How come?” (Yes, I am leading the witness here. My thinking is that if I can get the right words to come out of him, he’ll “get it.”)

“My team leader doesn’t know how to set the priorities.”

“Right, so that’s the real obstacle in the way of reaching your target of having him do it, right?”

“Yes, but if I have him do it, then my productivity will go down. Isn’t the idea to hit the goal?”

“Yes, but you said in your target condition you wanted to hit the goal by having your team leader set the priorities, not just do it yourself.”

pause… (he’s probably feeling a little trapped now.)

(continuing) “So, if your team leader did know how to set the priorities, you think you’d hit your productivity goal with him doing it, right?”

pause…

“What else might be in the way?”

“He (the team leader) doesn’t like to go and talk to managers in other [customer]departments about their work priorities.”

“Write that down. Anything else?”

“He sometimes is reluctant to give assignments to people who would rather be working on something easier [but less important].”

“Write that down. Anything else?”

“I don’t think so. It sounds like the team leader is the problem.”

“You remember the session we did about David Marquet, the submarine captain, right?”

pause… “yeah.”

“So is this an issue with his (the team leader’s) competence – something you need to teach – or clarity – something you need to communicate?”

“I guess I need to teach him how to set the priorities.”

“So that is still the obstacle you are addressing now?”

“Yes.”

“OK, so what step are you going to take first?”

and from here, the conversation took a 90 degree turn into how this manager was going to develop his team leader.

The target condition got clarified into the capabilities and information the Team Leader needed to be able to perform the job competently.

The obstacles turned into things which must be taught, and things which must be communicated.

In retrospect, the obstacle I was addressing was reluctance on the Manager’s part to accept that developing the team leader was nobody’s job but his. But I’m finding that to be a common theme in a few places.

“Why Don’t You Just…”

Most leaders will at least superficially agree that organizations with an aligned, empowered workforce are more effective; that decisions are faster when made at lower levels that are closer to the actual facts; and that work teams are the ones in the best position to improve their own processes.

Most would agree that they would prefer their people to take initiative to come up with the best way to solve a problem.

Here’s a quiz.

Take a look at this old photo (it’s real, not staged!), and try to imagine what you think day-to-day interactions with this commander would be like.

Now… answer this question:

How much day-to-day initiative do you think the four officers in this photograph would show when the boss isn’t right there?

What does he teach them to do when he is talking to them?

Why would we expect they would learn to do anything else other than what they are being taught in the course of those day-to-day interactions?

This is, of course, an extreme case, meant to make a point.

But listen to your day to day interactions with your own people.

Do you give them directions they are expected to follow? Those directions, by the way, can take very innocuous forms. They can be disguised as suggestions, “Why don’t you just…” or “Have you considered…?” as well as just being orders.

You can think you are “correcting” or “teaching” people when your language actually is communicating something quite different.

You are teaching your people every time you talk to them. They will answer the questions you ask. If you make a habit of overriding their ideas, they will learn to not bother to work very hard to develop those ideas. If you argue with them, they will quickly learn to give in, or even just wait until you make up your mind. Any time you are making declarative statements about what should be done you are eroding initiative a little.

Frankly, from their perspective, it is a lot easier to just wait for the boss to give direction and follow it than it is to take initiative. There is much less psychological risk and energy involved. And if the organization has a history of risk-aversion you have an uphill battle to begin with.

It only takes a few negative experiences to stamp out initiative.

A thought experiment:

You wish people would take more initiative, self-organize the right people to work on problems in your organization.

Someone is working on understanding a problem or improvement. They come to you with a fairly decent picture of the current condition, but their next step isn’t the one you think they should take.

You have an overwhelming urge to say “Why don’t you just…” and get to a workable solution fast.

If you do so, what have they just learned?

You cannot simultaneously maintain full control and develop initiative.

Does Your Solution Have A Problem? Does Your Problem Have A Customer?

Javelin.com is a site with a few good tools centered around startup product development. (“Lean Startup”). I really liked their tutorial around the “javelin board” which is a vertical PDCA record specialized for testing product ideas.

In the tutorial, the phrase that really got my attention was this:

“Not all solutions have problems, and not all problems have customers.”

If you are a regular reader, you know one of the questions I ask frequently is “What problem are you trying to solve?” This is especially important if the proposed solution is a “lean tool.” For example, “there is no standard work” is not a problem, per se. I know lots of companies that do just fine, and have more than doubled their productivity before work cycles ever emerged as something to work on. “What obstacle are you addressing now?” is a question we ask in the Coaching Kata to explore the learner’s linkages between the proposed solution, the problem (obstacle), and target condition. The obstacle itself is a hypothesis.

The javelin board process first ensures that (1) you know who the customer is and (2) that you validate that the problem you THINK they have is one they ACTUALLY have… before you go exploring solutions.

Remember as you watch this, though, that the process isn’t different from the Improvement Kata. It is just a specialized variant. The underlying thinking pattern is totally identical… and the problem Toyota Kata is trying to solve is “We have to learn this thinking pattern.” Once you understand the pattern, and apply it habitually, then these variations make perfect sense. On the other hand, if you don’t understand the underlying pattern, then these variations all look like a different approach, and you’ll end up wrestling with “which one to adopt.”

DMAIC and Toyota Kata

A lot of the organizations I deal with have a legacy with Six Sigma, or some x-Sigma variant. If they are now trying to incorporate Toyota Kata as a way to shift their daily behavior, questions arise about how it fits (or might fit, or whether it fits) with DMAIC.

This sometimes comes about when the impetus to embrace Toyota Kata comes from outside the organization, such as an initiative from the corporate Continuous Improvement office. In this case, unless integration with legacy approaches is carefully thought through, Toyota Kata (or whatever else is coming down the pipeline) can easily be perceived as “yet another corporate initiative” or “something else to do” rather than “a new (and hopefully better) way to do what we are already doing.”

My Background

First a disclaimer. My deepest exposure to Six Sigma was during my time as a Quality Director in a large company that had a long history with TQM and then Six Sigma. Thus, I dealt with the Black Belts and Green Belts in the organization, and paid a lot of attention to the projects they were working on.

In addition, every certification project for a new Black Belt came across my desk. Unlike a lot of managers in the chain (apparently), I actually read them, parsed them, and asked questions when I couldn’t follow the story line of the project. (Apparently nobody expected that, but it’s another story.)

I worked with the corporate Master Black Belt, made input into their programs, and did what I could to create a degree of cooperation, if not harmony, between the Six Sigma community and the lean guys.

Thus I am not claiming this is anything new or profound. Rather, this is sharing my own sense of connection between these two approaches in a world where I often find them competing for people’s mindspace.

The Improvement Process Flow

As I observed it, a Six Sigma project was typically organized and conducted as follows:

An area manager, usually a Green Belt, identifies something that needs improving. He assembles a team of stakeholders. He is coached by a Black Belt through*:

Defining the problem and establishing a charter for the team.

Establishing a Measurement that will define progress.

Conducting a thorough Analysis of the process, with a primary focus on sources of variation, especially those which are intertwined with quality issues.

Developing a list or set of Improvements and putting them into place, again focusing primarily on variation in methods, etc. that drive defects.

Establishing a standard to Control the process and keeping it running the new way.

Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. DMAIC.

In actual practice, it is very similar to the large single-loop “six step problem solving” process I was taught as “the problem solving process that came out of TQM.” That is probably not a coincidence.

DMAIC projects are typically targeted at measurable significant financial payback. Black Belts are trained to find and spend their time on high-payback projects. At least in the company I worked for, there was a minimum payback they had to achieve to get their certification. They also had to demonstrate knowledge of the various high-powered statistical tools.

It makes sense for people steeped in this methodology to ask how it fits in with “short cycles of experiments and improvements” that are the anchor for not only Toyota Kata, but kaizen in general (if you are doing it right).

And, put another way, if the organization is trying to establish a coaching culture using Toyota Kata, is Toyota Kata something different from DMAIC, or do they fit together? (I have actually been asked exactly the same question about Toyota Kata and kaizen(!), but that, too, is another story.)

To give credit where credit is due, this was the topic over lunch last week at a client site whose Six Sigma projects also follow the general structure I outlined above. Jazmin, the continuous improvement leader, was already working through this in her mind, and recognized the linkage right away.

Since the company has an active Six Sigma program, with dozens of projects ongoing, we wanted to find a way to integrate Toyota Kata thinking into what they were already doing vs. introducing yet another separate initiative. (It is easier to “embrace and extend” something you are already doing than bring something brand new into the domain.)

Relating DMAIC to the Improvement Kata

Here is how I relate DMAIC to the Improvement Kata.

Define the Problem =(more or less) Challenge and Direction. This is what we are working on, and why it is important.

Measure and Analyze = Grasp the Current Condition. Six Sigma has a host of powerful tools (which are often used just because they are there … so be careful not to make easy things complicated).

I would point out that if you follow the process in the Improvement Kata Handbook, you are also initially focused on variation in the process. Lean people tend to reduce all variation down to units of time, but in that noise are all sources of variation of the process. Defects, for example, don’t count as a delivery, and so introduce noise into the exit cycles. Machine slowdowns and stoppages, likewise, disturb the rhythm of the process. Like DMIAC, the Improvement Kata, as outlined in the handbook, steers you toward sources of variation very quickly.

Thus, a Six Sigma project team, and an improver following the Improvement Kata are both going to initially look for sources of instability. (Quality First, Safety Always).

At this point, the two diverge a little, but only a little.

Perhaps because DMAIC sounds like a single cycle, a fair number of teams tend to try to Implement a Single Grand Solution. They spend a fair amount of time brainstorming what it should look like, and designing it. Then, once they think they have a solution, they put it into place by establishing new “standards” (in this context, that usually means procedures), training people, and validating that it all works.

Again – a lot of kaizen events do pretty much the same thing, they just might do it faster if it is a classic five-day event.

A few years ago I was on a discussion panel at a conference in Chicago that was very Six Sigma centric. In the various breakout sessions, the Black Belts (who are mostly staff practitioners) universally complained about “management embracing the changes” and not enforcing the new processes. They were frustrated that once they were done, things slipped back.

In other words, once the energy input of the project itself stopped, entropy took over, and things regressed back to the original equilibrium.

And (once again) traditional kaizen events often have the same problem.

Blending Toyota Kata and Six-Sigma Coaching

Think of this conversation between the Black Belt coach and the Green Belt project leader in their daily meeting and check-in:

[preliminary social rituals]

“Just to review, what is the problem you are working on?”

[Green Belt reviews the charter and objective]

“Great, so what is the target condition you are striving for right now?”

[Green belt describes the next intermediate step toward the chartered defined state. He describes how the process will operate when key parts of it are stabilized, for example.]

The Black Belt is listening carefully, and may ask follow-up questions to make sure the target condition is clearly on the path toward solving the defined problem vs. chasing something interesting-but-irrelevant to the issue at hand.

“Good. Can you tell me the last step you took?”

[Green Belt describes a change they made, or some additional data they needed to collect and analyze, or a control measure they have experimented with, etc]

“What did you expect from that step?”

[Green Belt reviews the intent of the action, and what he expected to happen.]

“And what actually happened?”

[Green Belt describes what his data collection and observation revealed about the process, or how well his control measure worked to contain a source of variation, etc…. or didn’t.]

“And what did you learn?”

[Green Belt describes insights that have been gained, especially insights into sources of variation, or the effect of controlling them. He also describes what he might have learned about the tools, or struggled with in applying them.]

“Very good. So what sources of variation or obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target right now?”

[Green Belt describes the current suspects for causes and sources of variation in the process, as well as other issues that may be impeding progress.]

“Which one of those are you addressing now?”

[The Green Belt may well still be working on the last one, or might have it effectively controlled and is now addressing a new one. If he has moved on to a new one, the Black Belt is going to be especially interested in the control mechanism for the sources of variation that has been “eliminated” so it stays that way.]

For example, a follow-up question might be “Can you tell me how you are controlling that? What countermeasures do you have to detect if that variation comes back into play?”

We aren’t limited to SPC of course, and actually would rather have a binary yes/no  need-to-act/don’t-need-to-act signal of some kind.

What we are going here is iterating through sources of variation, and establishing a positive Control on each of them before moving on rather than trying to stabilize everything in one step at the end.

Once he is satisfied that the project team hasn’t “left fire behind them,” then the Black Belt can move on.

“Great. Can you tell me the next step you plan to take, or experiment you’re going to run?”

[Green Belt reviews the next action to either learn more about a source of variation or attempt to keep it controlled.]

“And what result do you expect?”

[If the Green Belt is proposing using a specific Six Sigma statistical cool, the Black Belt is going to be carefully listening, and asking follow-on questions to confirm that the Green Belt understands the tool’s function and limitations, how he plans to use it, what he expects to learn as a result, and why he thinks that specific tool will give him the answers he is looking for.]

“OK, when do you think we can review what you have learned from taking that step”

This interaction is using the Coaching Kata script to develop the Six Sigma skills of the Green Belt project leader. We already have a coaching relationship, so all we are doing here is practicing a technique to make it more effective and more structured.

DMAIC is now more like:

DM [repeat AIC as necessary]

as the team works methodically through the sources of variation as they are uncovered.

The Master Black Belt

At the next level up is typically a Master Black Belt who is generally responsible for mentoring and developing the Black Belts. They typically meet weekly or monthly and review and share progress on projects.

Only now, let’s shift the discussion to reviewing and sharing progress on developing the problem analysis and solving skills of the Green Belts. Remember, the Green Belts are line management, and we want to get them thinking this way about everything.

“Lets review your learning objective for your Green Belt last week.”

“What did he do? What did you expect him to learn?”

“What did he actually learn? Did he make any mistakes?”

“Is he stuck anywhere? What is your plan to give him additional coaching or instruction?”

In other words, they are following DMAIC as well. Except that the “problem” is the skill of the Green Belt and how effectively he is applying that skill to solve his chartered problem.

 

I am really interested in hearing from Six Sigma folks out there about how this resonates, or doesn’t, with you.

————

*Sometimes I observed a Black Belt doing the same thing on his own initiative, leading the project himself. Occasionally I saw a Black Belt acting solo. I am not discussing either of those approaches here, however.

Toyota Kata: Obstacles Are Not Action Items

Continuing my observations about old patterns that get in people’s way as they try to practice Toyota Kata…

“What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target?” (I also like to insert the word “now” in there sometimes to emphasize what I am writing about here.)

The intent (and to be clear, as I am interpreting it) here is for the improver / learner to give some thought to the things that have to change before the target condition can be reached.

It is not a list of stuff to do.

I am speculating here, but I suspect that there is a legacy from (mis)use of “Kaizen Newspapers” since, in actual practice, they often look similar to obstacle lists. (I believe the original intent of the “Kaizen Newspaper” was to function more like the Toyota Kata PDCA record, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Remember that there are two routines defined in “Toyota Kata,” the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata.

The Improvement Kata has four major steps, and the “five questions” that get the popular attention are actually part of the Coaching Kata.

Yes, it is the Coaching Kata that managers actually have to learn, but to be any good at it they (hopefully you!) need to carefully calibrate your bullshimeter so can effectively coach a poor answer to one of the questions into a good answer.

Once the target condition is established, the improver / learner should then set back to the perspective of the current condition and assess what is keeping her from just moving directly to the target.

With all of that as an introduction, let’s look at Obstacles in context.

This is Mike Rother’s schematic of the Improvement Kata from the Improvement Kata Handbook (<– click on the link to download it from his web site).

image

In this model, “obstacles” are the things in the way of getting to the target condition. Saying the same thing, with more emphasis, “obstacles” are only the things in the way of getting to the next target condition.

But obstacles are not action items.

Obstacles are the issues, problems, etc. that you (as the improver) see at the moment. They are based on your current understanding of the current condition.

As you progress by running your experiments, or gaining more information, you are changing your understanding of the current condition.

That is why we ask “What is the actual condition now?” rather than “What was the condition you started from.

The current condition is just that. (Which is why, as a coach, you should insist that your improver / learner keep the current condition up to date.)

As your understanding changes, your view of what might, or might not, be an obstacle changes.

Obstacles are sometimes rendered irrelevant. You might have eliminated a troublesome process step entirely. Or solving one problem might have done “collateral damage” and taken out a couple of others.

As you advance your knowledge, you will likely change your understanding of the obstacles, reword them, clarify them, edit them. New ones might come into view (for the moment).

“What did you learn?” is often at least partially answered by pointing out changes in the obstacle list.

Obstacles are not action items because it is unlikely you will have to deal with all of them.

So… don’t worry about getting the obstacle list “right.” It’s just a reflection of your current understanding which can, and should change as you go.

Coaching: Getting Specific, Finding the Knowledge Threshold

When coaching, I often find improvers / learners who tend to be superficial or vague about target conditions, current conditions, the experiments they intend to run, the results they expect, what they learned.  Huh… I guess I should have said “vague about everything.”

As several of my clients would tell you, one of my themes is “drive out ambiguity.”

Recently I’ve been trying a simple follow-up question that seems to be working to help people dig a little deeper without pushing them back as much as other questions might.

“Could you be more specific?”

I will plead completely guilty to stealing this from an unlikely source.

In his book “The Cuckoo’s Egg“, Clifford Stoll describes a line of questioning during his oral defense of his PhD thesis in astronomy:

I remember it vividly. Across a table, five profs. I’m frightened, trying to look casual as sweat drips down my face. But I’m keeping afloat; I’ve managed to babble superficially, giving the illusion that I know something. Just a few more questions, I think, and they’ll set me free. Then the examiner over at the end of the table – the guy with the twisted little smile – starts sharpening his pencil with a penknife.

“I’ve got just one question, Cliff,” he says, carving his way through the Eberhard-Faber. “Why is the sky blue?

My mind is absolutely, profoundly blank. I have no idea. I look out the window at the sky with the primitive, uncomprehending wonder of a Neanderthal contemplating fire. I force myself to say something—anything. “Scattered light,” I reply. “Uh, yeah, scattered sunlight.”

“Could you be more specific?”

Well, words came from somewhere, out of some deep instinct of self-preservation. I babbled about the spectrum of sunlight, the upper atmosphere, and how light interacts with molecules of air.

“Could you be more specific?”

I’m describing how air molecules have dipole moments, the wave-particle duality of light, scribbling equations on the blackboard, and . . .

“Could you be more specific?”

An hour later, I’m sweating hard. His simple question—a five-year-old’s question—has drawn together oscillator theory, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, even quantum mechanics. Even in my miserable writhing, I admired the guy…

[Emphasis added]

As you can see from Stoll’s experience, his professor was seeking to find his knowledge threshold – something a kata coach should be doing as well.

Now, I’m not going to push the “5 Whys” quite as deep as quantum effects (except, perhaps, at one client who DOES deal with things at that level…), but I find this is a far more effective question than “Why?” or asking leading questions. It, obviously isn’t universal, but it has been working reasonably well with a client whose corporate culture drives indirect assertions and vague predictions.

Try it… leave a comment if it works for you (or bombs). But please… be specific.  :)

P.S. – In this video, Cliff Stoll tells the same story, likely more accurately, and makes another valuable point:  “It’s obvious” is a statement which often hides limited understanding of what is being discussed. It might be “obvious,” but… let’s go see.

Where Toyota Kata Doesn’t Work

image

I’ll admit right up front that the headline is worded to attract search engines.

If that’s how you got here, be prepared to think.

Can You Prove That This Works

This is something I hear a lot:

“I can see where _____ applies to your example. But my process is __(different somehow) ___.

Fill in the blanks.

Other versions are:

  • “I can see how that works in manufacturing, but ____.
  • “How does this apply to _____?”
  • “Can you show me examples in (something that is an exact match to what I do)?

Anyone in the business of process improvement has heard versions of this excuse for years. It always comes up. “I can see how that works for cars, but we make ____.” is an older version.

One of my favorites came via a friend working with a Japanese supplier to Boeing. They told him “We can see how this would work in American culture, but we don’t think it works in Japan.” Yes, we were teaching Japanese management techniques to the Japanese, and they were telling us it doesn’t work in Japan.

So… this style of “Prove to me that this applies to my specific situation” is something we’ve all heard again and again.

Science

If you manage to read all the way to the bottom, you will see that I readily concede that I cannot prove that “Toyota Kata” or learning problem solving based on scientific thinking works to improve any process out there.

To be able to prove that, I would need knowledge of all processes, past, present and future, and have to make the case that, in each and every one of them, I have indeed established that it works.

What I do have is personal knowledge of application in a very diverse circumstances, which adds to the collective experience of thousands of people who are working to apply these methods and principles. So far, we haven’t found that case where it can’t work. We might someday, but haven’t yet.

The assertion that this thinking is universal is a refutable hypothesis. You can, with some effort, establish rigorous proof, through repeatable experimentation or direct observation of a counter-case that my theory needs modification.

But before we get to that part (at the end), let’s go through some more common instances of this line of thinking.

The Instance of Product Development

Here are a couple of things to think about.

Let me ask, “How do you do product development?”

Typically (HOPEFULLY!) I’ll get some version of:

  • Understand what we are trying to achieve – performance specifications, customer needs, etc. that today’s product cannot provide.
  • Assess the baseline capability and identify gaps between what we need to do, and what we can do with technology, manufacturing capability, etc.
  • Based on that, establish the first, or next, of what are likely a series of intermediate goals converging on the requirement.
  • Iterate through cycles of trials, tests, experiments, learning, etc. to converge on a design that meets the requirements.

Now, to be clear, there are LOTS of variations on this, and lots of ways to manage the execution of this thought process. Some are dramatically more effective than others, but at the core there is a rigorous application of the scientific method.

What is the alternative? Guess at something, build it, and hope it works? Even that approach is going to (hopefully) have you going back and assessing what you learned when it doesn’t work.

So what, exactly, is it about the methodology we are teaching with Toyota Kata that is any different from the above?

  • Understand the challenge and direction.
  • Grasp the current condition.
  • Establish the next target condition.
  • Iterate from the current condition toward the target condition using a rigorous scientific approach that drives learning.

Why wouldn’t you want to apply that method to R&D? What do you do, if you don’t do this?

And, to be even more clear, I think I can make the case that all of the exotic product development methodologies – “Production Preparation Process (3P),” “Agile” and it’s cousins, “Lean Start Up,” “Design for Six Sigma,” “Set Based Concurrent Engineering,” all of them, are simply methods to cycle through the this learning process faster, cheaper, and more robustly.

Toyota Kata is nothing more than a tool to teach the thought pattern. Don’t lose sight of that.

Here’s the kicker. What we are doing, in reality, is working hard to figure out how to apply robust product development thinking to production processes, not the other way around. This stuff started in R&D. The Wright brothers used this process between 1899 and 1903 and beyond to the first practical airplane in 1908. Wilbur’s diaries and letters are essentially a PDCA cycles record.

Scientific Process Engineering

In spite of the little rant above, most engineers take a lot of care to design the product. They study and understand the details of its function, and carefully make modifications in a controlled way so they can test the effects of what they are doing.

On the other hand, it is relatively rare to see the same rigor applied to designing the production process. Many times it is allowed to come together ad-hoc. There is often deep understanding of the core value-adding process steps – how to do machining, welding, painting, etc. But the design and management of the movement of material and information from one process step to the next? Not so much.

Why wouldn’t you want to learn how to apply the same rigor in designing the production system that you apply to designing the product itself?

What is the alternative? Actually I know what the alternative is. Set financially derived metrics, and a high-stakes rewards system for hitting them. Then leave it to managers to figure out on their own. While you’re at it, divide the system into functional areas and set those managers up to compete with each other’s performance. It is a robust system with a reliable, repeatable outcome. Maybe not the outcome you would seek intentionally, but reliably predictable nonetheless.

So how about giving a thought to applying scientific design principles to your production flows? It can’t make them any worse.

Back to Engineering

In a large engineering department, most of the activity isn’t research and design work that I discussed above. It is production work. The products are drawing changes, bills of material, quotes and estimates, CNC programs, engineering change notices, resolution of production problems. This is all vital engineering work, but it is production.

Each of those products is assembled from components. The “material” might be information, but if you decompose outputs into their constituent components, you see sub-assemblies coming together from smaller bits, and in turn, assembling into the bigger “thing” whatever it is.

This is a factory. It just makes useful information rather than hardware.

The irony is (1) There typically even less attention paid to how things are done, what struggles people have to get the information they should have gotten, but didn’t, etc. then there is in even the worst manufacturing floors. And (2) There is often little realization that even people sharing the same cubicle often are working to different interpretations of the requirement, much less methods of doing the work.

So here’s a question:

Are you (as a manager) expected to improve the lead time, quality of output, productivity… any of those things… in your department?

If the answer is “No” then great. I’m glad to hear that things are working perfectly for you… though you might want to spend more time understanding what people are really dealing with, because “No Problem” is often a BIG problem.

For most, though, the answer is “Yes.” They are expected to deliver some improvement in throughput, quality, productivity, etc. Note that these are all production system measurements. That makes perfect sense, because, as I said, these processes are production.

OK… you’re on the hook to deliver improvement of some kind.

How are you going about improvement in your process?

Indulge me a bit, and let me ask a couple of questions.

  1. What you are trying to achieve with your improvement?
  2. How is your process performing today in comparison to that? Do you know what it is about the process that is driving that current performance?
  3. What are you working toward, right now, as the next step to reach your goal?
  4. What kinds of things are you going to have to fix or change to get there?
  5. Which of them are you working on now?
  6. Can you share a bit about what kind of things you are trying in your improvement effort? How are they working for you?

I realize that Toyota Kata might not apply, but if you are actively working to improve anything, you likely have answers to some form of those questions (hopefully).

Of course, those are a variation on the Toyota Kata coaching questions, aren’t they?

It’s just that we usually don’t ask and answer questions like this explicitly. Maybe the effort would be a little more focused and clear if we did. Because all we are trying to do with Toyota Kata is make the scientific thought process more explicit so it is easier to teach. The idea is to get more people learning and understanding how to think that way, which I believe is generally a good thing. Most people would agree, at least with that last part.

I Still Need A Specific Example

Here’s where I sometimes scratch my head, especially when I get this question from someone with a technical education, and often a graduate degree on top of it.

When you went to those universities, did they teach you with examples that exactly matched the job you are doing today? Likely not. Yet you have figured out how to apply those principles to what you are doing.

In those classes, seminars, case studies, they used problems and examples to help you understand the principles.

Then they expected you to take the specific instance of those principles from the examples they used, turn them into a general case, then figure out how to apply those general principles to a different problem, case, or set of circumstances.

In the end, that is really all they were teaching you: How to figure out how to apply a general principle or theory to a specific case or problem. They likely didn’t accept an exam answer that said “You didn’t show me an exact example of this problem.”

It’s Still Science

I will totally concede that there may well be specific instances where the general principles of scientific thinking wouldn’t work to improve a particular type of process. And in those cases, there is certainly no benefit to working to learn how to apply, and teach, scientific thinking.

I say that because I believe in the scientific method, therefore my assertion that “These principles are universally applicable” is a refutable hypothesis.

I welcome the discovery of a specific case where they don’t apply. But the other side of the scientific method is I cannot prove the non-existence of that case.

If, on the other hand, you can establish that you indeed have the proverbial “Black Swan” on your hands, let’s take a look. The burden, though, is on the person suggesting to refute the hypothesis to provide compelling evidence.

Can you please explain what it is about your specific process that defies application of scientific thinking to understand it better, and improve it? What specific characteristics would a process have that makes it so unique that you are stymied in any attempt to apply what you have been educated and trained to do as a scientist or engineer?

I am really curious, and welcome exploring that together, and perhaps modifying my theory to adapt to any true anomalous situation.

That’s science.

Coaching with Intent

As I continue to explore the concepts in David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around, I am finding increasing resonance with the concept of intent. I’d like to explore some of that in relationship to lean, “Toyota Kata” and organizational alignment.

For a quick review, take a look at the sketchcast video, below, and focus on the part where he talks about “we replaced it with intent.”

I think the critical words are “You give intent to them, and they give intent to you.”

Think about that phrase, then think about how we normally talk about “intent.”

OK, are you back?

In my experience, “intent” has traditionally been a one-way communication. “This is what we need to get done.”

A few months ago I was in a plant, discussing this principle. One of the managers expressed frustration saying “I think I was very clear about what I expected…” (And he was) “but then when I checked he had done something totally different. How does this work for that situation?”

What was left out of that conversation?

…and they give intent to you.

Let’s put this in Toyota Kata terms.

What is the relationship between the “Challenge” and the “Target Condition?”

Think about how the target condition is developed.

Start with the challenge – this is the level of performance we are trying to achieve – the “mission” in military terms, the overall intent of what we are trying to get done.

Once the direction and challenge (the intent) are understood, the improver / learner’s next task is to get a thorough understanding of the current condition. How does the process operate today? What is the normal pattern? Why does it perform the way it does? This should be focused in context of the direction / challenge / intent.

Then the learner (NOT the coach!) proposes the next target condition.

Depending on the level of skill in the learner, the coach may well be assisting in developing all of this, but it is the learner’s responsibility to do it.

Imagine this conversation: as the learner / improver is discussing the target condition, he relates it back to the challenge as a verification for context.

“The overall challenge we have is to _______. As my first (next) target condition, I intend to _____ (as the learner relates his next level of performance, and what the process will have to look like to get there).

Adding the words “I intend to…” to that exchange has (for me) proven to be a powerful tool when learners are struggling to embrace / own their target conditions. Those words establish psychological ownership vs. seeking permission.

The same structure can be applied to the next step or experiment.

“What is your next step or experiment?”

I intend to (fill in your experiment here).”

Going back to the sketchcast video, remember the part where he says:

“Captain, I intend to submerge the ship.”

“What do you think I’m thinking right now?”

“Uh…. hard to tell… I’m guessing you want to know if it’s safe.”

“BINGO! Convince me it’s safe.”

“Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. All men are below. All hatches are shut. The ship’s rigged for diving. We’ve checked the bottom depth. We’re in the water that’s assigned to us.”

In not only stating intent, but going through the checklist, the “learner” demonstrates that the intent will be carried out competently, or not.

We are asking the same questions when we ask about the next experiment, what outcome is expected. Logical follow-on questions could include seeking assurance that the experiment actually addresses the stated “one obstacle” being addressed (this is the right thing to do) and that learner has a plan to carry out the experiment that makes sense, knows what information he intends to collect, what observations he needs to make, and how he intends to do these things (that it is being done competently).

At an advanced level, a good answer to “What is your next step or experiment?” could (should!) include all of these elements – enough information to convince the coach that it is a good experiment, seeking the right information, in the right way.

It becomes  “to address that obstacle, I next I intend to (take these steps, in this way, with these people) so that (fill in expected outcome). I intend to measure here and here, and verify my results by…”

Of course as a coach, if you have a learner who is unsure how to proceed, or looking to be told what to do (which is quite common in organizations that have to overcome a command structure where the boss is the problem solver), how do you need to phrase your coaching questions to get the next level of responsible language out of your learner’s mouth?

If they are waiting to be told what to do, how do you get them to offer an opinion?

If they are offering an opinion, how do you get them to offer a recommendation? Is it well thought out? “What result do you expect?” “How do you expect to achieve that result?”

If they are offering a well thought out recommendation, how do you get them to express an intent? What do you have to hear to be convinced that intent is well though out?

I want to be clear: This is advanced stuff, but it goes hand-in-glove with the coaching kata.

And, to give credit where credit is due, it is all the work of David Marquet. I am just adapting it to the kata here.

What is your expected result?

I share this often enough at client sites, so here it is for everyone – a little geek / kata-related humor from Randall Munroe of xkcd.com. Title: “The Difference” (between ‘scientists’ and ‘everyone else’)

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