Steven Spear told an interesting story in our session with him.
A Toyota sensei, very senior, was looking at a process unlike anything in his previous experience base. The researchers watching expected him to do “analysis by analogy” – to take what he observed, find a matching analogy in his deep experience, and then draw conclusions about the current situation.
This model, by the way, is a commonly accepted one for how “experts” work with new situations.
But that isn’t what happened. The insights were very fundamental, and quite specific to the process he was seeing for the first time.
The way he worked was revealed in the way he described the issues.
“Ideally,” he would say, “it should be ___________ . But the problem is __________ .”
In describing the “problem” he would describe the departure from the ideal situation. In so doing he was seeing problems, not as “seeing waste” but as seeing “departure from the ideal.”
This was, at least for me, a fairly significant ah-ha. I realized two things immediately.
- If I may be so bold, I got some insight into what I did in the same situation. At the risk of over-stating myself, I have found I am fairly good at getting to the core issues when looking at a process. Becoming a little more concious about it will, first, let me be better at it and, more importantly it will allow me to be much better at teaching others to do it.
- Tying back to #1, we teach this wrong. We teach people to look for “waste.” We teach them to look for ways to “make the process better.” We are always measuring “what could be” from a baseline of “what is.” This is totally backwards.
What we should be doing is measuring “what is” from a baseline of “what is perfect?”
What is the difference? I think it is important on a couple of levels. First is simple engagement of the workforce.
Ask someone “How can we make your work better than it is?” And the question carries all kinds of baggage. It says “Obviously you don’t do it as well as you could.” Whether or not it is meant this way is irrelevant. That is how it, all too often, comes across. The common symptom of this thinking is when you hear “This is as good as we can make it.”
Ask, instead, “Where is this process imperfect?” or “What gets in your way of doing this perfectly?” and you disarm the above objection. Anyone who works in the midst of complexity encounters dozens or hundreds of things every day that must be worked around or somehow coped with. All of those things take time, effort, energy, and each decision about how to handle something unforseen brings in the possibility of getting it wrong – making a mistake.
Think about it – how many mistakes result from someone just trying to figure out what should be done to correct some kind of anomaly, and making the wrong judgment?
Over the next few posts I am going to continue to beat these concepts to death from different angles. Forgive me in advance – it is my way of exploring it in my mind, and I am using you, the reader, as a sounding board. Writing things down forces me to think about them in more detail.