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?”
“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?”
(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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.