Using the Questions

This week I am coaching a kaizen team in the first phases of implementing a process to respond to problems on the shop floor.

They clearly understand the objective, and are working hard.

The key is to keep them focused on working out the problem response process vs. getting distracted by the production problems they are responding to.

For my part, in an effort to accelerate the cycles of learning, I am trying to consciously apply “the five questions" of the coaching cycle as outlined on page 247 of Toyota Kata by Mike Rother.

They are:

  1. What is the target condition? (the challenge – what do we expect to be happening)?
  2. What is the actual condition now?
  3. What problems or obstacles are now preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which one are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step?
  5. When can we go and see what we have learned?

This will not be my only opportunity – I have other challenges lining up in other parts of the company that I support.

I’ll tell you, though, it isn’t as easy as just asking the questions.

The first challenge is context. My actual condition is that this kind of rigor is new to even experienced kaizen practitioners out there. As Rother, and others, point out, most “kaizen events” simply aren’t structured this way.

There is a strong bias toward generalization and sweeping statements of "problems” and “what we need to do is…” I have to keep working to bring the focus back to what is directly in front of us as we try to work through this specific iteration. Yes, that other thing might be an issue, but it isn’t coming up NOW, so let’s keep working on what is actually stopping us.

This is important because it gives the problem solvers great power. If they can learn to stick to what is stopping them right now, they have an easier time not getting discouraged by all of the other issues that are out there.

One-by-one. Step-by-step.

Of course this iteration is complicated by the fact that we are working on a process designed to clear problems in another process, so it is easy to get sucked in to the production issues.

To their credit – we have a Home Depot technology andon light, and the team members who are the subjects of this experiment seem to be appreciating (for now) the fact that this group of people is swarming every issue they run into.

5 Replies to “Using the Questions”

  1. My comment might be off topic. What I like about this post of yours is that it shows how Lean words and ideas in a book, translate directly into actions in Gemba. Or, more often, how they do not.

    1. What is interesting is that the questioning process is working. Using it effectively requires the coach (me) to simultaneously apply it to myself.

      It is less about having them find the answers than it is discoverig the answers simultaneously and then seeking to understand the reason for any difference.

      They might have seen something I did not. Or their understanding of the target or problem condition might be different than mine. Or…..

      All of these things invite me to seek to understand by asking them to show me and explain further. That action, in turn, deepens everyone’s understanding. Kinda cool in that it works a lot better than brainstorming an action item list.

  2. Mark,
    I want to make sure I understand the context. Is your team working on the actual response system itself? The chain, in the chain-reaction? For example, the andon light is the trigger for the reaction, what happens next?, then what? etc?

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