“Time is the shadow of motion” is an observation usually attributed to Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, pioneers of modern industrial engineering.
What they realized was this: You want to save time. But you cannot directly affect how long something takes. You have to look at the motions, at the process structure that is casting the shadow of time. To change how long the shadow is, you have to change the structure of what is casting it.
As you start your improvement effort, your challenge is often to change the size or shape of the shadow.
Grasping the current condition is looking at the process structure so you can see what patterns and characteristics of the process are shaping the shadow.
It is important to understand how the process patterns and characteristics are affecting the shadow before you just go changing stuff.
You might think “Oh, this part of the process ought to look like this…” and change it. There might be a lot of effort involved. But if you don’t have a sense of cause and effect, then you might end up with something like this:
Change have been made, but we really haven’t changed anything on the outside.
Your target condition has three components, and it is good to develop them in this sequence:
1. The “achieve by” date.
2. The target process pattern and characteristics, and the internal process metrics that will tell you if you are working to that pattern.
3. The expected change in performance if the target working pattern becomes the norm. Then check your expected performance change against the challenge. Is it moving you in the right direction? Is it moving you enough in the right direction? If not, then go back to #2.
Edited to add: In the purest sense, you should start with the performance change you require, then determine the pattern you need to achieve it. That is what it says in Toyota Kata, and in the Improvement Kata Handbook. I don’t disagree with that sequence. However beginning improvers, when asked to first decide the performance target tend to just make a guess and can struggle if they over-reach. I find that this is more of an iterative process than a fixed sequence.
Key Point: The target process pattern has to be what you must do to get to a specified level of performance. It isn’t “Well… we can make these improvements, and therefore might be able to deliver this improvement.” It’s “We have to make these changes in order to reach the goal we have set.”
The pattern of work is what should be emphasized. The performance level is an outcome, the shadow, of the work pattern. Your target condition is really a hypothesis: “If I create a process that follows this pattern, then I will get this level of performance.”
Why am I emphasizing this?
Because a lot of managers have been taught, by pretty much every MBA program out there, to manage to results.
They believe that by measuring and asking about results that those results will be achieved.
That may well happen, but often the changes made are (1) not sustainable and/or (2) people are creative at finding solutions that are destructive to the long (and intermediate) term interests of the organization.
The exchange of intent that is inherent in the Improvement Kata is a way to open up this communication channel.
The person making the improvement clearly has a result based challenge, and the boss ought to be asking the questions to confirm he hears it spoken back to him in the same way he understood it.
Then the boss should become intently curious. “What is it about the way we do things now that is creating (this result we want to change)?” In other words, ‘What is the actual condition now?”
“What process changes are you proposing as your initial step? What result to you expect? When can we see what we’ve learned? These questions are summarized in “What is your target condition?”