Mike Rother and Bill Costantino have shared a presentation titled “Toyota Kata Unified Field Theory.”
I think it nicely packages a number of concepts in an easy-to-understand flow.
I want to expand on a couple of points but first listen to the presentation. (Yes, it has a sound track, to be sure to hit the “Play” arrow rather than just flipping through the slides.)
Note: Some browsers (Firefox?) have had problems loading from the embedded link. If that happens to you, here is the direct URL: http://www.slideshare.net/BillCW3/toyota-kata-unified-field-theory
Challenges and Campaigns
First of all, this presentation differentiates between a “challenge” and the target condition. That is important, and (in my opinion) has not been as clear in Rother’s work up to this point.
I have been advocating setting a challenge, or campaign if you well, for some time. This is where we address a class of problems that are a major issue. Things like:
- Too much cash tied up in working capital. (Which can be expressed a number of ways, such as improving inventory turns.)
- Poor schedule performance – “on time delivery” becomes the theme.
- Quality issues (too much rework, scrap, etc.)
- Our nurses don’t have time to prepare rooms for the next patient.
- Of course, safety can come into this arena as well, as can other issues that impact the organization’s health.
Setting a specific challenge doesn’t mean you ignore the other stuff. You have been coping with it and working around it for years. But you know you haven’t had time to fix everything, so stop believing that you do.
The point here is to galvanize the effort.
Chip and Dan Heath address the importance of setting the challenge in their book Switch (which I have reviewed here). They emphasize the importance of “scripting the critical moves” and “pointing to the destination” so that people have a good grasp of what is important.
Bill Costantino correctly points out that setting the vision, and deciding the theme or campaign, is a leadership function. This can’t be done by your “lean team” in a way that sticks. The discipline required here is for the leaders to maintain what Deming referred to as “consistency of purpose.”
Simply put, to say “this is the challenge” and then continuously ask about other stuff jerks people around and serves only to paralyze the organization until the leaders decide what people should spend their limited time on.
The good news is that it really doesn’t matter. If the organization can focus on One Big Thing long enough, their efforts will eventually touch on the other stuff anyway.
The Path to the Target Condition
One place where I think we can still use some more clarity is in the illustration of the path to the target condition.
This is the illustration from Slide 20 or the presentation:
The presentation (and Rother’s coverage in Toyota Kata) is quite clear that navigation through “the grey zone” is a step-by-step process (kind of like driving off-road at night where you only see as far as your headlights).
But the “plan and execute” paradigm is very strong out there.
My experience is that people in the field see this illustration, and fully expect the green path to be set out, and the “dots” identified, along with a time line and resources required to get there. It becomes a “project.”
This is a strong symptom of the “delegate improvement” paradigm that we should all be actively refuting.
Let’s look at how I think this process actually plays out dynamically.
Initially we know where we are, we have target condition, so we know the direction we need to go to get there.
We are still inside the red line of the “current knowledge threshold.” Solving these problems is generally application of things we already know how to do, perhaps in new ways.
All other things being equal, pick the easiest, and move on. (As we said when I was learning rapid maneuver tactics in the Army – “haul ass and bypass.”)
Up to this point, we have been operating inside the “current knowledge threshold.” Our efforts are better focused by pursuing a clear target objective, but we aren’t really learning anything new about the process. (Hopefully we are becoming better practiced at problem solving.)
Pretty soon, though, we reach the edge, and have to push out the red line. Why? Because we can’t solve a problem we don’t understand. As we approach the boundary, things get harder because we have to do a better job assessing, and extending the knowledge threshold around the problem.
This is the essence of the problem solving process – If you can’t see the solution, you need to better understand the problem.
The process becomes one of progressively solving problems, identifying the next, and expanding our understanding. Once there is sufficient understanding to anchor knowledge and take the next step, do so. Step and repeat.
Putting the whole thing in motion, it looks like this:
The key is that the “green path” isn’t set out as a predictable trajectory. It is hacked out of the jungle as you go. You know you are going, are confident you can get there, but aren’t sure of exactly what issues will be encountered along the way.
Let me apply my “Project Apollo Test” to this process.
Vision: “The USA will be the undisputed leader in space exploration.” Vague, a long way out there, but compelling.
Challenge, Theme: “…before this decade is out, [...] landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” In 1961, a serious challenge, but considered do-able based on extrapolating what we knew.
At this point, though, space exploration was exploring a lot of different things. Building a space station, reusable launch vehicles, pretty much the whole gamut was being explored by someone, somewhere. The effort wasn’t focused. The “man on the moon” goal focused it. Every thing was pretty much dropped except solving the problems that were in the way of making Lunar Orbit Rendezvous work.
There were four target conditions that had to be cleared.
Build and test the Big Honkin’ Rocket called the Saturn V plus the infrastructure to launch them in rapid succession.
And they had to answer three questions:
- Can people spend two weeks in space without serious physical or psychological problems?
- Can we build a space suit that lets someone operate outside the protection of a space craft?
- Can one space craft maneuver, rendezvous and dock with another?
Of course each of these objectives, in turn, had lots of smaller challenges. NASA’s effort between 1962 and 1966 was focused on answering these three questions.
In doing so, the threshold of knowledge expanded well beyond the immediate issues.
Yup, I’d say this thinking works, and it scales up.
Why did I go through this little exercise? Because if this thinking can put people on the moon, it is probably powerful enough to move your organization into new territory.