The Improvement Kata: Next Step and Expected Result

In the Improvement Kata sometimes it helps to think about the outcome desired and then the step required to accomplish it.

A couple of months ago, I gave a tip I’ve learned for helping a coach vet an obstacle.

Another issue I come across frequently is a weak link between the “Next Step” and the “Expected Outcome.”

In the “Five Questions” of the Coaching Kata we have:

What is your next step or experiment?” Here we expect the learner / improver to describe something he is going to do. I’m looking for a coherent statement that includes a subject, verb, object here.

Then we ask “What do you expect?” meaning “What do you expect to happen?” or “What do you expect to learn?” from taking that step?

I want to see that the “Expected Result” is a clear and direct consequence of taking the “Next Step.”

Often, though, the learner struggles a bit with being clear about the expected outcome, or just re-states the next step in the past tense.

While this is the order we ask the questions, sometimes it helps to think about them in reverse.

Reverse the Order

Have the learner first, think about (and then describe) what she is trying to accomplish with this step. Look at the obstacle being addressed, and what was learned from the last step.

Based on those things, ask “what do you want to accomplish with your next step?”

The goal here is to get the learner to think about the desired result. Don’t be surprised if that is still stated as something to do, because we are all conditioned to think in terms of action items, not outcomes.

“What do you need to learn?” sometimes helps.

“I need to learn if ______ will eliminate the problem.” might be a reply.

Even a proposed change to the process usually has “to learn if” as an expected outcome, because we generally don’t know for certain what the outcome will be until we try it.

Have the learner fill in the “Expected Outcome” block.

NOW ask “OK, what do you have to do to ______ (read what is in the expected outcome)?”

PDCA Outcome-Activity

That should get your learner thinking about the actions that will lead to that outcome.

A Verbal Test

A verbal test can be to say “In order to ______ (read the expected outcome), I intend to _____ (read the next step.”

If that makes sense grammatically and logically, it is probably well thought out.

An irrational post today.

Posted 3.14.15 9:26 am

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Oh No! Toyota is “Cutting the andon cord!”

WHAT DO WE DO!!

I’ve had three or four people forward various links to a story from Automotive News titled “Toyota Cutting the Fabled Andon Cord, Symbol of Toyota Way.”

Most of those people didn’t read past the headline.

I’ll quote from one paragraph into the article:

“In its place are yellow call buttons perched waist-high within easy reach along the line for workers to hit when a problem pops up requiring help or the line to be stopped.

Toyota switched to the buttons last year at its flagship Tsutsumi assembly plant in Toyota City, during a factory renovation. In Japan, the buttons were first used by a vehicle-assembling subsidiary, Toyota Motor East Japan Inc., at a Miyagi plant.”

The implication?

They got tired of the overhead rope getting in the way of flexibility in how they arranged the line, material, work flows. They improved their system. It is easier for a worker to initiate a help call (which leads to a line stop if the issue isn’t resolved quickly).

They first saw an obstacle (rope in the way) to another improvement (flexibility). They ran an experiment (at the Miyagi plant), wrung out the details, then put it into place in Tsutsumi for a larger scale trial.

What is totally consistent here is the approach to improvement.

We, once again, have confused the artifacts (overhead ropes, work documented a certain way, a method for distributing parts, an approach to tracking quality issues) with the purpose: Making gaps between “what should be” and “what actual is” every more clear so the can work on getting to the next level.

I suppose a headline that read “Toyota Replaces Overhead Rope With Buttons for Improved Flexibility” wouldn’t garner the same number of hits, nor would it trigger blog posts across the lean community, so I guess that headline worked for its intended purpose.

Here is what the andon is all about:

If anyone is looking for evidence that Toyota is somehow abandoning the principle of “Stop the line before passing along bad quality… this isn’t it.”

Move along…

Discussing Challenge and Direction

A manager and his direct report were discussing the challenge and direction for the next round of improvement. The conversation was going around in circles.

The manager was concerned about the excessive overtime, and wanted to establish a challenge to reduce it significantly.

The improver was skipping directly to talking about the things he would have to change in the process – mainly trying to level his demand signal somehow… long before “current condition” had been established… this conversation was just about context.

The manager was frustrated because he knows people habitually jump to solutions instead of first digging into the problem, and he was getting that right now.

The manager was repeating his question “But how can we reduce the overtime.”

Each time the manager asked about the process performance, the improver was offering improvement solutions.

Then I realized… The manager was asking for an improvement solution.

“How can we reduce the overtime?”

I asked him to just ask what he wanted the process to achieve. He still reiterated the same question.

Finally I said “Don’t say ‘how can we.’

Start with “I want…”

“I want the overtime to be 10% or less.”

The tone of the conversation changed immediately, because we really didn’t know what factors were driving the overtime. NOW it is time for the improver to go grasp the current condition (with help from his coach) and establish the next target condition (with help from his coach).

Then he can come back with:

“To keep overtime under 10% , we will need the process to operate like this.”

“Today, it is working like this, and we are running overtime as high as 30% in the worst weeks.”

“As my first step, I intend to…”

And how we’re moving in the right direction.

When the manager was asking “How can we…?” he was asking for a proposed solution right now, even if he didn’t mean to. The answer to a “how can we?” question is “Well, we could…” and we are immediately grasping at possible changes.

Listen to the words you use.

Be clear about what you are actually asking people to do, because that is what you are going to get.

…And we’re back

Some of you likely noticed the site was down for about 12 hours over Jan 2/3.

I had been the target of a “brute force” attack to attempt to login to the site administration, presumably to install malicious scripts, etc.

The attack was not successful, however it did consume all of the CPU cycles of my host’s server, so they shut off access to the site.

I have installed countermeasures, none of which are visible to readers.

It’s the wild west out there.

5S and Workflow

This company launched their focus on continuous improvement with a 5S campaign. Teams were set up, had the basic 5S training, and met with their management sponsors weekly.

One team was having problems getting past the initial “sort” phase of clearing out unused stuff. They struggled with setting up any kind of visual controls, for example.

A couple of months ago, we focused on their workflow for introducing the PDCA improvement cycle (“kata”) to the area supervisor.

We were using a combination of observation of the actual work, running tabletop simulations to develop things to try out, and live experiments in the work area as we ran rapid PDCA cycles throughout the days. We were after concentrated reps so they could practice.

They still struggled until we finally got the tabletop simulation to flow. The supervisor “got it.” She said “Oh…. I can see the big picture now.” She had been bogged down in the details, and hadn’t been seeing that they could improve their productivity dramatically by slowing down to the planned cycle time.

Once they had a target work cycle, they then tackled obstacles that were in the way of making real life work like what they had simulated, working them one by one.

Along the way, they saw a need to make “what to do” visual, and build it into the work area itself vs. just “telling then” or (probably worse) writing some kind of procedure.

Suddenly 5S had purpose. It was to help communicate what to do next, and to help see if “what is happening” is different from “what should be happening.”

The key learning is that this is really difficult if you haven’t thought through “what should be happening” first.

This team is now has the highest 5S score in the company… because 5S has a purpose.

Untitled

I came across this old fable again recently.

So much of it applies to the improvement culture – especially if you run your equipment all the time to “maximize your output”

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job in a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was really good and so was the work condition. For those reasons, the woodcutter was determined to do his best.

His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he supposed to work.

The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees.

“Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!”

Very motivated by the boss words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only bring 10 trees. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.

“I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.

“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…”

In the real world, this kind of decline happens much more slowly.

And it happens well beyond the context of equipment and maintenance.

If you don’t work to continuously improve your processes, they are degrading. You can’t just “standardize” your way to stability.

 

Good Leads Are Critical

When we did the first “Toyota Kata” based kaizen event here a second shift lead came up and told me “I’ve been working here 34 years and this week I learned what my job is.”

In most companies leads are expediters charged with forcing product out of the process when the system breaks down.

As we have introduced better flow into this process, things generally work better for overall output, but obstacles still occur.

The leads now assume a critical role for daily kaizen. They are the nerve endings for the entire production process. They are the ones who see the issues when they are small.

We are working with them this week to develop their skills to see, and capture those issues – the rough spots where the production team members struggle a bit to get things working; or where the team needs to bypass the intended process flow to make things work.

By helping them see the difference between smooth flow and rough flow, we are increasing the sensitivity of those nerve endings, and starting to flush out more sources of unplanned variation in a process with a fair amount of part and cycle variation.

At the same time, we are working with the core shop floor leadership team running then through PDCA cycles to develop their skills for improving flow.

What is kinda cool is that it is working, and the linguistic patterns (which reflect thought patterns) are shifting.

A Customer Experience Story

This has nothing to do with lean production except at the touch point of the customer experience.

Mrs. LeanThinker was looking for a replacement for her well-worn 5 quart stock pot. We were in Macy’s home department browsing.

She found one she really liked, a Circulon Symmetry model, full retail $140, sale priced at $69.95. Only this one was a brown color, and she wants black to match everything else she already has.

“Does this come in black?” A reasonable question.

“Yes” was the answer.

“Can you get it?”

“Let me check.”

The answer was that, yes, they can get it but because Macy’s didn’t stock it, they would “have to” sell it at full price. They do, it was offered, match online prices except Costco and Amazon.

We fired up the Droid, got online, and found this (click the image for full size):

pricematch

See the second line there?

That’s right. Macys.com has the same item at the “sale” price.

So Macy’s ended up price matching to their own web site. Oh – and they are shipping it to our door for no extra charge. Go figure.

Some things I just leave in the “perplexing” column. Yes, I know, they are two separate business streams and all, but really?

Then there is the Best Buy debacle that is brewing. Cancelling Black Friday orders on people three days before Christmas, but offering the item they ordered at full price in the store? I’m guessing there are lawyers involved faster than you can say “class action.” Where were the lawyers when the decision was made? What were they thinking?

Production Planners in a Lean World

Many organizations have a centralized production planning function that would undergo a radical change in a transition to pull.

I know many of you have experienced this type of organization, some have transitioned it.

We have a fledgling exchange on the topic started in the discussion forum.

I would like to invite more participation there on the topic. If you have comments or insights, how about putting them there.

http://forums.theleanthinker.com/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=18