A target condition has three main elements:
- An achieve-by date.
- A level of performance that will be achieved.
- The operational process that will be in place.
The details of the #2 and #3 can take a number of forms, but today I want to talk about the achieve-by date.
Keep the time horizon fairly short, especially at first. For a typical process that is carried out every day, I usually suggest a two week time horizon. My rationale is this: I don’t want the target condition to seem big or complex. Two weeks is enough time to understand and significantly improve a handful of steps in a complex process. It is a short enough time to keep the improver from trying to fix a complex or global issue all at once.
For example, if a process is carried out in multiple departments, two weeks is enough to try experiments in one of them, but not enough to implement a change across the whole organization. Having that time horizon helps establish the principle of small, quick, steps rather than trying to develop some kind of implementation plan.
It is important to set an actual date, not just “in two weeks” – in two weeks from when?
But here is the most important part: Once the date is set, don’t change it.
If the date comes up, and the target condition hasn’t been reached, it is very tempting to say “Just a few more days.” But once a date is slipped, the date means nothing, because it can be slipped again.
Instead, missing the date is time to step back, reflect, and go back through the steps of the improvement kata.
This is the same thing you should do when you hit your target condition.
If you hit your target way early, or miss the date, it is also time to reflect on what you didn’t understand about your current condition when you established that target. Then:
- Confirm understanding of the direction and challenge.
- Grasp the current condition. This is important. Don’t just assume you know what it is. Take the time to do some observations and confirm everything is working the way you think.
- Establish the next target condition. This means erasing the old target condition, starting with a clean obstacle sheet, looking at the current condition and establishing a new target condition. I would discourage you from simply re-stating the old one. List the obstacles that you think are now preventing you from reaching the new target.
- Pick one obstacle (an easy one, not the one you were beating your head on for the last two weeks!), and design your next experiment. Start your PDCA iteration.
Coaches: Don’t let your learner just adjust the date. There is a learning opportunity here, be sure to capitalize on it.