Yes – the title isn’t a typo. This goes back to KataCon 4 in Atlanta. Though I had attended all of them, this was the first time I actually spoke at one. My task was to follow Rich Sheridan and share why I thought his message was a powerful one for an audience of Kata Geeks even if he wasn’t specifically talking about Toyota Kata in his company.
As an experiment, I took the sound recording from my talk and synchronized it with the slide deck. (That is harder that it sounds, by the way.) As another experiment I am sharing it via hosting on WordPress (the back-end of this site) rather than YouTube or a similar host. It is a little over 13 minutes long, and there is another experiment below it.
The default Starter Kata for “Grasp the Current Condition” places heavy emphasis on takt time and variation in timing of a regular process. However a lot of processes, both within manufacturing as well as in other domains such as health care, don’t seem to have any kind of regular heartbeat.
As Steve Medland pointed out at KataCon, this can present a struggle for a novice learner, as well as for a lot of coaches.
Before we get into ways to deal with this, I want to level set on what takt time is, and what it does for us.
Why Takt Time?
From an industrial engineering standpoint, takt time is an expression of how much capacity you need.
The traditional way to calculate takt time is to divide the total time available by the output required in that time. This gives us a “time per unit of output” that we have to achieve if we are going to get everything done. In other words, takt time is the required rate of production.
The whole goal of an ideal “Just-in-Time” system is that we have only the capacity required to meet the demand. If the system is even able to run faster than the takt time, we have excess capacity. Excess capacity = extra cost, and “overproduction” is a symptom of having excess capacity. Note that this is the “ideal” – it isn’t anything we can realistically achieve. The concept gives us a direction to strive toward.
Also Note: Determining how much capacity you need has absolutely nothing to do with how much capacity you have.
OK, that answered the question “What is takt time?” but not the question I posed: “Why takt time?” After all, I could just as easily say I need the capacity to product 96 units per day. But that doesn’t answer the question, “How fast do I need to go?” And that is what takt time gives us.
Think of it this way. If I need to make 96 units during the course of an 8 hour day, then I need to have made 48 units in four hours.
To make 48 units in four hours, I need to make 24 units in 2 hours. Which means 12 units in 1 hour. 6 units in 30 minutes. 3 units in 15 minutes. One unit every 5 minutes. And that is my takt time. (This is an oversimplification since I did not subtract break times to make the math easier to make the point.)
Thinking of it this way gives the people doing the work a quick way to know, very quickly, if they are ahead or behind. They can ask, “How long did this unit take?” and compare that with, “How long did we have?”
A Point of Comparison
Which brings us to the “Why.”
If I measure the time between units output at the end of the line, I can compare the actual time interval (the cycle time) with the required time interval (the takt time).
If we need to complete a unit every five minutes (takt time), AND
We know that our process can do that when there are NO problems, THEN
We can see very quickly if there IS a problem. We have to attack a source of variation and work on stability.
On the other hand,
If we need to complete a unit every five minutes (takt time), and
We know that our process is not capable of doing so even when running smoothly, then
We know we have to change the entire system to make rate.
Distinguishing between these two conditions is the main benefit of building a cycle time run chart (step 3 in the Starter Kata of Grasp the Current Condition.) That is a topic for another post, or just get a copy of the Toyota Kata Practice Guide ;).
The issue comes when people don’t see a steady rate of demand.
Sometimes they generally know how much time is in the day, but they see demand fluctuating all over the place.
This is true in manufacturing work as well as other cases, such as engineering work, software development, and a lot of cases in health care. The time to complete one “unit of work” varies, so it is hard to see any kind of cadence to the output even if the work is steady.
Key Question: Are you ahead or behind?
And how can you tell?
Regardless of all of the variation, though, we still want to know the answer to questions such as “Are we on track to get everything done today?” or “Has my load exceeded my capacity?” or “Is the backlog increasing, decreasing, or holding steady?” unless we are simply relying on luck. Asking and answering these questions is the purpose of many of the “lean tools” – including takt time.
He pointed out that the default worksheet templates for Grasp the Current Condition and Establishing a Target Condition emphasize process timing and cadence pretty heavily.
And the alternative is a blank template:
Steve makes a good case that there ought to be something that provides a more general structure without removing all structure. I agree – as a coach, structure is one of the things you are bringing to the table. Any learner, at any level of expertise, is more deeply embroiled in the process itself than in the process of improving the process. Having some structure really helps.
The key is to adjust the structure to fit the situation.
With beginners, the concept of takt time can be distracting, even paralyzing. Even more so if we use alien jargon like “takt time.”*
Using a hybrid structure like Steve proposes can get the learner moving into process analysis without getting wrapped up on terminology, or struggling with something she sincerely believes has nothing resembling a cadence.
Then, when the opportunity arises, the coach can still gently, but persistently, ask “How often does this need to be done?” and “How do we know if we are ahead or behind?”
Often the resistance is less about knowing there is some kind of schedule, and more about just being overwhelmed by all of the chaos that prevents any kind of stability.
Steve and I agree that timing is important. And I agree that it is important enough that it might be best to hold off on introducing it as a concept so we don’t create resistance unnecessarily.
But please don’t completely throw away measuring time just because it is hard. In fact, the harder it is, the more important it likely is. When it is easy to determine takt time, we likely already have an idea how long things are taking. The less appropriate takt time seems, the more critical it becomes to dig deep into where the time is going.
We are all being pushed into the zone beyond our knowledge base right now – having to rapidly adapt and adjust to different ways of working together.
This morning Craig Stritar forwarded a cool little video to me from Simon Sinek’s YouTube channel. In it Steve Shedletzky, a member of Simon’s team, introduces their weekly huddle – a way that this team, which has been working remotely for years, maintains their connection to one another.
One of the keys here is that this meeting is not a conversation about the business at hand. There are other meetings for that. This one is intended to strengthen the social bonds of the group.
They dedicate 75 minutes a week to this task. The video is a condensed version to give us a taste of their structure.
And it is structure that makes it work. It is structure that makes sure no individual dominates the conversation, and structure that keeps it from becoming the kind of wide-ranging conversation that happens over beer and pizza.
It is structure that gives them the freedom to hear and be heard.
Key points from this great TED talk by Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab.
You can’t plan the path, you can only set the direction. He talks about the “compass” guiding a project that followed a route which was totally unpredictable. There was no way to plan out the path to success from the beginning.
Instead, at each step, they asked “Where are we now?”
“What do we need to do next?”
“What’s in the way of doing that?”
“How do we deal with that?”
I’m paraphrasing here, of course, but the key is that once again we have an instance the Improvement Kata pattern in the wild.
I just got the book, and am reading it now. I think there is going to be a lot of good material to discuss here.
But this post is about a marketing email with an excerpt really resonated with me, and I want to discuss that. I wrote to Dan Heath, and got his permission to use pieces of the excerpt here. (Thank you, Dan)
Management By Measurement = “Ghost Victories”
I have talked about what I call “management by measurement” in the past. In that post I told a true story of a company that placed very heavy emphasis on reducing inventory levels without digging into how that performance was achieved. The net result was a an embarrassed CEO during a quarterly analyst’s call. Not good.
Dan Heath talks about the same thing in Upstream. He calls it “ghost victories.”
[when] there is a separation between (a) the way we’re measuring success and (b) the actual results we want to see in the world, we run the risk of a “ghost victory”: a superficial success that cloaks failure.
The most destructive form of ghost victory is when your measures become the mission. Because, in those situations, it’s possible to ace your measures while undermining your mission.
He goes on to describe a case in the U.K. where the Department of Health established penalties for wait times longer than four hours in the Emergency Departments. And it worked. Wait times were reduced – at least on paper. Then the facts began to emerge:
In some hospitals, patients had been left in ambulances parked outside the hospital—up until the point when the staffers believed they could be seen within the prescribed four-hour window. Then they wheeled the patients inside.
If making the numbers (or the sky) look good is all that matters, the numbers will look good. As my friend Skip puts it so well, this can be done in one of three ways:
Distort the numbers.
Distort the process.
Change the process (to deliver better results).
The third option is a lot harder than the other two. But it is the only one that works in the long haul.
All of this ties very well to Billy Taylor’s keynote at KataCon6 where he talked about the difference between “Key Activities” and “Key Indicators.” It is only when we can get down to the observable actions and understand the cause-and-effect relationship between those actions and the needle we are trying to move that we will have any effect.
To avoid the “Ghost Victory” trap, Dan recommends “pre-gaming” your metrics and thinking of all of the ways it would be possible to hit the numbers while simultaneously damaging the organization. In other words, get ahead of the problem and solve it before it happens.
He proposes three tests which force us to apply different assumptions to our thinking.
The lazy bureaucrat test
Imagine the easiest possible way to hit the numbers – with the least amount of change to the status quo. The story I cited above about inventory levels is a great example.
I can make my defect rates improve by altering the definition of “defect.”
There are lots of accounting games that can be played.
This is one to borrow from Skip’s list – How can the underlying numbers be distorted to make this one look good when it really isn’t?
The “rising tides” test
What external factors would have a significant impact on this metric? For example, I was working at a large company where a significant part of their product cost was a commodity raw material. As the market price went down, “costs” went down, and bonuses all around. But when the market price went up, “costs” went up and careers were threatened and bad reviews issued.
Those shifts in commodity prices had nothing to do with how those managers were doing their jobs, the tide rose and fell, and their fortunes with it.
The question in my mind is “What things would make this number look good, or bad, without any effort or change in the process we are trying to measure?”
The defiling-the-mission test
Hmmm. This is a tough one. (not really)
And it is a really common problem in our world of quarterly and annual expectations. In what ways could meeting these numbers in the short term ultimately hurt our reputation, our business, in the long term?
For example, I can think of an ongoing story of a product development project that hit its cost and schedule milestones (what was being measured). But they did so at the cost of destroying their reputation with customers, their Federal regulators and the public (and, to a large extent, their employees). They now have a new CEO, but the deeper problem has origins in the late 1990s.
How long will it take them to recover? That story is still playing out.
In another case I was in a meeting with a team that was discussing a customer complaint. The ultimate cause was a decision to substitute a cheaper material to reduce production costs. But this is a premium brand. There was a great question asked there: “Which of our values did we violate here?” – so the introspection was awesome.
Next step? Ask that question before the decision is made: “Is this decision consistent with our values?” If that makes you uncomfortable, then time to look in the mirror.
Then there is this little incident from 2010:
The metric was cost and schedule. Which makes sense. But the behavior that was driven was cutting corners on safety.
Getting Ahead of Problems
The book’s subtitle says it is about getting ahead of problems. I am looking forward to reading it and writing something more comprehensive.
Another concept Billy brought out in his presentation was the difference between what he calls “Key Actions” (KA) and “Key Indicators” (KI) – often called Key Performance Indicators (KPI).
He actually introduced me (and a couple of other attendees) to the concept the previous evening. (Did I mention that a lot of the rich discussion took place in the lobby bar?)
We use the concept in Toyota Kata, we call them the “process metric” and the “performance metric” but I think Billy’s explanation offers more clarity than I have been able to pull off in the past.
He also ties it back into “what we must practice” to get the outcome we want.
In short, I look at the outcomes (the performance) I want, then ask “What actions, if they were carried out consistently, would give me this performance?” Those are the things that must be tracked, improved, and practiced.
Continuing on the health care theme, a key performance indicator is “hospital acquired infections” – getting sick in the hospital. Everyone agrees that this metric should be as low as possible, ideally zero.
But just tracking the “hospital acquired infections” isn’t going to nudge the needle much. There may be periods when there are improvements if there is emphasis, but year on year these things tend to be frustratingly steady over the long run.
If I ask “What behaviors, what actions, should we take to diminish opportunities for these infections?” then one thing pops right up on top: Anyone interacting with a patient must wash (or sanitize) their hands before doing so. Every. Single. Time. That action alone would have a dramatic and measurable impact.
It is so important that some systems have automated tracking to ensure compliance with this simple rule. (It is amazing to me that, in general, some of the worst offenders are physicians, but that is a rant for another day.)
Key Action: Wash your hands. Key Indicator: Hospital Acquired Infections.
OK – what about industry?
“Our machine downtime is too high. We need to improve our availability.” Key Indicator, but not directly actionable. What actions, if we take them consistently, do we believe are critical to reliable equipment?
Now we can track those. What are the critical-to-reliability things that must be checked every shift? Are they checked? How do you know? Do you track misses?
How about your preventative maintenance schedule?
Is the machine in configuration? Or are there improvised repairs in place? Why?
These are behaviors, actions, that relate directly to the availability of the equipment.
Together, they form a hypothesis: “If we carry out these actions (and know we did), then we predict this KPI will improve.” For this to work, though, we have to test whether or not the actions were carried out AND test whether or not the KPI needle moves over time.
One thing I would add: Focus on what people should do. Not so much on things they should not do. It is a lot easier to get a new habit into place than it is to stamp out an existing one. Working to replace an undesired action with a desired action is a lot easier as well.
The things that keep people from carrying out the Key Actions are obstacles. Now we can engage the Improvement Kata process and get to work.
TWI comes into play as well. “Are we carrying out the actions as we should?” It is all to easy to tell someone to do something and assume they know how, or assume that the way they do it is the way you have in mind. Trust, then verify.
Continuing my breakdown of Billy Taylor’s opening keynote at KataCon…
Key Bullet Points
People follow what you do before they follow what you say.
If you (as a leader) think you are above the process…
Deliberate practice on your practice of leadership. Focus on one thing.
Break down your leadership style [into elements]. Practice deliberately on one thing you want to reinforce or improve.
That second bullet is a real challenge for those of us who are in leadership positions (or even positions of influence). “If you think you are above the process…” – do you follow the standards and expectations you ask of others?
I think a good test would be “If a production worker corrected you, how would you respond?” If your internal emotional response (that initial feeling you have, not how you show yourself) is anything other than “Thank you for reminding me” then you are exempting yourself from the rules.
The other take-away:
Throughout his presentation, Billy was tying together the idea of “deliberate practice” and “developing leadership skills.” Leadership is a process, and processes can be broken down into their constituent elements and practiced.
This ties back perfectly to a broad spectrum of leadership development models. In the end, what we can control are:
What we say.
How we say it.
Who we say it to.
The structure of the environment that either inhibits or encourages the behaviors we want.
All of these things can be developed through experimentation, and then practiced. This is what Toyota Kata is about.
The first official day of KataCon kicked off with a keynote on deliberate practice by Billy Taylor. I first met Billy back in 2012 when I was doing some work with Goodyear. When I saw him at last year’s KataCon it was like running into an old friend, but that is who Billy Taylor is – even if you just met him.
Billy Taylor on Deliberate Practice
Pull quotes and thoughts
The Concept of Deliberate Practice
Toyota Kata has two sides, like a coin. On one side is scientific thinking. On the flip side is deliberate practice.
Traditional practice is often just mindless repetition. Deliberate practice has focused attention on perhaps one aspect of the routine.
A couple of things come to mind for me here. First is that too many coaches go through mindless repetition of the Coaching Kata. They just ask the next question on the card, and never practice using the questions to nudge the learner’s thinking to the next level.
This means they never practice in a way that pushes them as coaches. More about that below.
The other is that we, all too often, take a learner through the entire process much too fast. We do this in classes to give them a taste of the whole process. But in real life, perhaps it would be best to anchor each Starter Kata step and ensure there is at least understanding before moving to the next.
When 2nd coaching it is equally important to focus both the coach AND the learner on improving a single aspect of the board.
As I am writing this, I am reflecting more, and parsing more. This slide offers a ton of insight for me:
There is so much here on a lot of levels.
This is how I interpret the graphs: On the left we have “Just Practice.” Maybe I am learning to play a song on the guitar. As I practice I learn to play it better and better. Then I hit a plateau because I am comfortably good and not challenging myself anymore. I am just playing. And that feels awesome, because I validate to myself that I am pretty good.
At a higher level, this is the “lean plateau” that so many companies hit. They get really good at running kaizen events, or black belt projects, or whatever they do. They hit a pretty good level of performance, but things erode. They reach a plateau when the implementers are spending all of their time re-implementing what has eroded. They shift into mindlessly repeating the familiar rather than challenge themselves. What are we missing? Why is the skill concentrated into the same half dozen individuals who have been doing this since 1999?
The graph on the right represents something that is the same, but different. Take a look – each little squiggle repeats the graph on the left, only smaller. Each time a plateau is hit, the learner challenges herself to practice a new aspect. Things get a little worse for a bit, then as the new aspect is mastered, the process is repeated.
I see the job of the coach as two fold:
To challenge the learner in small steps, always looking for the obstacle to the next level of performance.
To offer up specific things to practice.
Billy’s presentation covered a lot of overlapping territory – enough for at least two more posts – stay tuned.
In his level-set / coaching demonstration, Steven Kane talked extensively about obscuring the jargon of Toyota Kata to defuse pushback.
Tracy Defoe had a separate brief presentation titled “Kata in Secret” – and this has been a topic of discussion in the weekly Cascadia Kata Coaches call that Tracy hosts.
The two cases were a little different. In Steven’s case, he was (I think) talking about an organized effort. Lots of companies trying something new need to alter the jargon a bit. On a broader scale, there are quite a few companies where Japanese jargon will create an immediate wall of resistance, so why create the problem? Just change the words.
And I’ve certainly encountered cases where there was resistance to the very idea of any structure at all. Dealing with that took regressing away from the Coaching Kata and back to the more informal conversation that the Coaching Kata is teaching us to have.
Tracy’s cases are a little different. She is collecting stories from often solo practitioners who are practicing Toyota Kata under the radar because they are perceiving career risks if they are overt. In one cases a leader was explicitly told not to use Toyota Kata because it ran counter to the corporate lean program. She did anyway.
While I find these stories interesting, I am not surprised by them. I have seen, and even advocated, this for a long time. I call it “camouflage.” My principle is this:
Do the right thing, but make it look like what they expect to see.
In other words, there is no point getting dogmatic about something unless doing so advances your cause in come way. In still other words, don’t let “being right” get in the way of what you are trying to get done.
For example – one company I have worked with for a long time got hard pushback from their corporate continuous improvement mafia office. “We don’t have obstacle parking lots. We have kaizen newspapers.” OK, fine. They labeled the obstacle sheet “kaizen newspaper” and just call it “improvement coaching” and everybody is happy.
The key is this: Don’t dilute what you are trying to do. If you start moving away from developing a pattern of scientific thinking in the people you are helping, then you are letting the tools take precedence.