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.
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.
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.
This is the first in series of posts I am drafting about what I saw, heard, learned at KataCon6 in Austin.
I was originally writing this up in huge chunks, maybe two posts. But when I bounced the “Part 1” draft off Craig Stritar, I got some good advice – there are a lot of topics here, and it might be more useful to break these up into smaller pieces, so that is what I am doing.
My intent is to generate discussion – so I would like to explicitly invite comments, questions and especially take-aways from others. In other words – let’s continue the great conversations that were taking place in Austin.
Day -1 and Day 0
Lean Frontiers traditionally runs the TWI Summit and KataCon back-to-back in the same week, alternating which comes first. This year the TWI Summit was Monday and Tuesday, and KataCon was officially Thursday and Friday.
Both conferences, though, have semi-formal activities and get-togethers prior to the first official day. Since there are things going on Wednesday, some people begin to arrive Tuesday evening. And because I was already on site from the TWI Summit, Tuesday evening is really when things got started for me.
Something I have observed in the past is that each KataCon seems to take on an informal theme of its own – a common thread or feeling that is established more by the participants than the presenters. Where the first KataCon was the excited buzz of a community coming together for the first time, this one seemed to me to be like a reunion. To be clear – it was a welcoming reunion. Unlike other conferences I have attended, there is nothing “clique-ish” about this one.
With that reunion theme, I want to give a shout out to Beth Carrington. She is a vital member in the fabric of this community and this is the first KataCon she has missed. I think I can speak for all of the regulars when I say “we missed you.” Those who do not know you still felt your presence and influence through your impact on the rest of us.
The other thing (for me) that was cool was just how much of the conversation took place after hours in the hotel lobby bar. There were long-time regulars catching up, and there were first-timers and newbies getting rich tutorials and insights from the veterans. That is why I titled this section starting with day “-1.” Those conversations were happening on Tuesday afternoon and evening as people started to arrive.
This is a community of sharing. Many of us are consultants and nominally competitors in an increasingly crowded market. Yet nothing was held back. We build on each other’s stuff, and pretty much everyone shares what they are thinking with everyone else. That’s pretty cool in my estimation.
The Kata Geek Meetup
The Kata Geek Meetup started at the first KataCon. At the time it was an informal mailing list invitation to attend a get-together before the conference started. Everyone got a “Kata Geek” button to wear with the idea that the other conference participants could identify those with a bit more experience under their belt if they wanted to ask questions, etc. The event wasn’t publicized on the conference agenda.
Over the years this has morphed into a mini-preconference that is open to all who can attend. People share brief presentations – maybe something they want to try out for an audience, maybe a rhetorical question, maybe a “what we are learning.” The pacing is much more flexible than the actual conference, and there is time for lively discussion and Q&A. Sometimes tough, challenging questions get asked – though always in the spirit of curiosity rather than trying to one-up anyone.
As I get into the actual content, I want to clarify my purpose in writing what I do. When I listen to presentations, I am more likely to take down notes of what thoughts or insights I take away than the actual content. These things are often a fusion of key points the presenter is making, or the way they are saying something, and my own paradigms and listening framework. That is what I am writing about here. I am not making any attempt to “cover” the presentations as a reporter or reviewer would or be complete in mentioning everything that was said.
PLEASE contribute in comments if something I didn’t mention resonated with you, or something written here sparked another thought for you.
Dorsey Sherman made a simple point: All coaching is not the same. It depends on your intention (as a coach).
Thinking about it a bit, the classic TWI Job Relations is coaching – usually (in its original form) to fix or change behavior in some way. TWI Job Instruction is coaching – in this case to teach / coach for skill. At a deeper level, the classes themselves are designed to give novice coaches a structure they can practice.
The Improvement Kata framework itself is a pretty universal structure that I can pour a lot of different intentions into and test ideas that I think will move me in a particular direction. I think all coaching is a process of exploring and experimentation simply for the fact that we are dealing with other people. We may begin with assumptions about what they think, know, feel but if we don’t take deliberate steps to test those assumptions we are just guessing in the dark.
Hugh is a friend from neighboring beautiful British Columbia. I recall telling an audience in British Columbia that Canada represents that nice couple living quietly in an apartment over a rowdy biker bar. 😉
A couple of take-aways I noted down as Hugh was speaking:
The storyboard represents a picture of the learner’s mindset – it is like an MRI.
Correction: Hugh informs me (see his comment below) that the MRI analogy came from Panos Eftsa.
I loved that analogy. When I look at the storyboard I am really seeing how organized the learner’s thinking is, how detailed, and whether or not they are connecting the dots of cause and effect from the levels of their target conditions to their metrics down to their experiments and predictions.
I thought of an image like this:
Hugh was asking the audience about his situation of a client company that started up 13 storyboards at once. Some of the thoughts that came out:
Um… OK, you have already done that. *smile*
Establish a specific area of work for each board, each coach. Don’t try to bring them along all at once.
Work through each phase of the Coaching Kata, anchor success and mastery one-by-one rather than trying to batch everything through at once.
What was good about his client’s approach, though, is they are establishing a routine of people talking about why the work is the way it is – and that is awesome.
Toyota Kata Level-Set
At this point I am letting go of trying to write in the sequence of the agenda. There are topics I want to go deeper into, others I may combine.
The Toyota Kata Summit attracts people across a wide spectrum of knowledge and experience with “Toyota Kata” itself. Balancing the conference can present a real challenge. There are people who have been practicing this in the trenches for a decade and are pushing the boundaries. There are people who might have read the book and are curious about learning more.
One of the countermeasures is a “level set” presentation at the beginning of the formal conference. This is a brief overview of the fundamental principles of Toyota Kata and I think it is a good grounding for the veterans as well – it is always good to pull us back to the basics now and again.
Traditionally Mike Rother has done the “level set” presentation. This year, though, was a change and Oscar Roche stepped up. Oscar’s title slide drove home a critical point that we often miss:
“Kata is the a thing that helps you develop the a way”
His next slide answers the implied question:
My thoughts – and a digression
A lot of practitioners get hung up on the idea that the way they know best is the best way, sometimes to the point of believing it is the only way. This is true for Toyota Kata practitioners, general “lean” practitioners, Six Sigmites, Theory of Constraints, TQM, you name it.
Sometimes I hear people make sweeping statements that dismiss an entire community, perhaps focusing in on one thing they perceive as flawed. “Lean addresses waste but not quality (or not variation).” “TOC doesn’t address flow.” “Six Sigma is only about big projects.” “Toyota Kata is only about the storyboard.” All of these statements are demonstrably false, but it is hard to have an open minded discussion that begins with an absolute.
All (credible) continuous improvement has a foundation of scientific thinking. Any approach you take has some basic “first moves” to get you started thinking that way. Toyota Kata is more explicit about that than most, but the underlying principles are the same across the board.
Oscar’s opening slide emphasized this point: Toyota Kata is a way, not the way. We can all learn to adapt vs. continuing to hammer on a nail that has hit a knot and is bending over.
A teacher provides insight.
A coach pulls insight from the learner.
You may go back and forth between these two roles. Be crystal clear which role you are in at the moment.
I’ll probably write more about this in the future in a separate post. What I liked about this thought is that it is appropriate for the coach to provide direction or insight at times. My own presentation at KataCon kind of hinted at this – someone has to bring in the paradigm of what “really good” looks like.
Nevertheless, it is critical for the coach to drop into the “teacher” role only when necessary (which I think is a lot less often than we like to think it is), and then get back into true “coach” mode as quickly as possible. Why? Because unless I am in “curious” mode with my learner, I really have no way to know if my brilliant insights got any traction. 😉
Paraphrasing from Steven’s presentation, the question “What did you learn?” is there to see if there has been a moment of discovery.
The Power of Nothing
The most powerful follow-on question to “What did you learn?” is silence. If initial response is fluffy or vague, or you think there is more, just wait. Don’t try to say anything. The learner will instinctively fill in the awkward silence.
Target Condition vs. a Result
This came up a lot during the conference. Billy Taylor talked about the difference between “Key Activities” (KA) vs. “Key Indicators” (KI or KPI). What are the things that people have to do that will give us the result we are striving for? Leaders, all too often, push only on the outcome, and don’t ask whether the key activities are actually being carried out – or worse, don’t think about what activities are required (or the time and resources that will be required). I’m going dedicate a post on that topic.
And finally (and I am making this one bold so I remember it!) –
Don’t rob the leaner of their opportunity to make discoveries.
How often do we do that?
Michael had a brief presentation on “What we are learning” focused specifically into the health care field. His thoughts on medical students actually apply universally with anyone who perceives themselves as successful.
We need to de-stigmatize struggle. Productive struggle is part of deep learning. Medical students should not feel shame when they struggle to learn a new skill.
Why do they? Michael pointed out that the people who manage to get admitted to medical school are high-achievers. Things may well have come easily for them in high school and their undergraduate studies. Now they are in a group with other high-achievers, they don’t stand out from the crowd, and the concepts can be difficult to master.
We see the same things in other environments – a lot of people in senior positions of authority got there the same way. Many are ultra-competitive. Now we are asking them to master a skill that runs entirely counter to their paradigm of intuitive decision making. Note that that intuitive decision making has worked well for them in the past. But maybe they are at the limit of what they can do themselves, and have to find ways to engage others. I don’t know… there could be lots of scenarios that put them into completely unfamiliar territory.
Our challenge is how we de-stigmatize struggle.
Michael’s other key point touched one of the Wicked Problems in health care. I’m going to go into some more depth when I get to Tyson Ortiz’s presentation, but want to acknowledge the Great Question posed here:
“99% of activity needed to maintain wellness never involves a health system. Can we increase the striving capabilities and mental resilience of our patients, families, & communities so they can own their health journey?”
Amy tied our practice to the concept of “mindfulness.” One of her key points was learning to see that the pattern we are trying to teach may well be there in some form other than the explicit Improvement Kata.
She wrapped up with some guided practice of “being mindful” for the audience – which she said stretched her a bit as she had never done it with a group that large.
As a change agent, a mindfulness approach is critical. We have to learn to find everything about the way things are being done that we can leverage and extend. This means paying attention vs. the mindless approach of dismissing them out of hand with a single statement. Making people feel wrong may get attention focused on you, but it rarely helps make progress.
The afternoon was “Experientials” – four hour breakout sessions that went deep into a particular topic. As Craig Stritar and I were hosting one, I didn’t attend any of the others. Always a downside of being up-front – I see more of my own stuff than the awesome things others bring.
As I mentioned above, I am going to be digging into some of the topics in more depth, and I want to keep those individual posts focused vs. trying to cover a rich diversity of discussions all at once. Hmmm… one-by-one vs. batching. That might be a concept. 😉
Tyson zeroed right in on one of the biggest problems with “training” – getting people to adopt the new process or method after we have taught it to them.
Compounding this was that, in his example, the training was TWI Job Instruction – how to train. Tyson took a quick show-of-hands poll and informally confirmed his hypothesis that most people who take the TWI Job Instruction 10 hour course are already engaged in training and teaching.
This means that they have to do more than learn a new habit – one which will feel awkward to them at first. They also have to unlearn their current way of doing things – a way that is likely comfortable and familiar to them. To paraphrase from a slide of mine that seems to keep coming up: This. Is. Hard.
Taking what he has learned from Toyota Kata, Tyson saw the 4 Step Method for what it is: A routine for practice, not the end-all. For that to work, there must be actual practice using the routine. The 10 hour class is telling them about it* – and telling alone is not enough!
What Tyson did was add structured follow-on practice with real work, but not real training where the participants can practice, make mistakes, and learn in a safe environment. Then they move to live environments, but are still being coached. Then they are graduated and put on their own.
Another key is that passing each stage is based on performance, not a time line. It is up to the coach, since the coach is the teacher, and “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”
*Yes, the class includes demonstrating the four steps – but each participant typically only gets one repetition, hardly enough for us to know that they know.
Roger actually built on the theme that Tyson was developing – the process of getting Job Instruction incorporated into the daily routine of the organization.
We often call this “managing change” or more cynically “overcoming resistance” but I think both Roger and Tyson are operating at a much more fundamental and human level. It’s called paying attention to what is causing stress and fear and make sure you deal with it effectively and with empathy.
And it is empathy where Roger begins.
He used the Stanford design school model to experiment his way toward a solution that used the framework of Job Instruction in a way that worked for the particular situation. And isn’t that the whole idea?
As I was listening, I scribbled a note in the margin: “this is Menlo’s model” – the design process that Menlo Innovations. It isn’t really – this model uses different words. But the structure, intent, purpose is the same and is followed by all robust design and product development processes.
Roger was operating in an environment that was unfriendly to paper, had lots of high-variety and low-volume tasks that people had to get right.
Once he understood that he had motivated people in a tough situation, they began working together to develop simple solutions that worked – starting with simple sketches and hand-written notes on laminated cards.
Iterating through, always asking “What small step can we take?” toward the goal, always asking “How can we test that assumption or idea?” they converged on a solution that worked really well.
Not surprisingly, it was very visual and simple, and captured “Key Points” from the Job Breakdown.
There was a lot more good stuff at the TWI Summit. I’ll cover my own keynote separately. And I missed the 3 hour “Experiential” sessions because I was presenting one. And for the afternoon of Day 2 I was attending Oscar Roche’s version of a Toyota Kata class that follows the 5 x 2 hour structure of the classic TWI JI, JR, JM classes.
Thus, the next big thing for me to report on will be KataCon – which will be my next post.
One of the artifacts of Extreme Programming as practiced by Menlo Innovations is the Story Card. In the purest sense, a story card represents one unit of work that must be done by the developers to advance the work on the software project.
But the content and structure of the story card make it much more powerful than a simple task assignment. The story card is written in a way that engages the programming pair doing the work.
Before a story card is created the team works very hard to identify the primary persona that represents the human being who most benefits from their work. That persona gets a name, a face, a biography. She has wants, needs and aspirations.
Why? A couple of reasons.
First, it establishes priority of effort. In software development compromises must be made between optimizing the interface and workflows for various users. By identifying the primary persona, the team says “This person’s use of the software will be optimized.” Other users will certainly be accommodated, but any compromise will break in favor of the primary persona.
Menlo, for one, works very hard in the up-front design process to smoothly integrate the workflow created by their software into the larger context and workflow that their end-user is trying to carry out.
The other effect is more subtle. It humanizes the “user” as the developers are talking about what their code does, or does not, do.
Rather than simply set out a feature in an abstract way, the story card focuses on granting an ability to the main persona. The process of creating the personas, and developing the persona map humanizes the group of people that would traditionally be thought of as “the users.”*
Thus, the feature would be described something like this:
“Sara is able to select her choice of color from a pull-down menu of options.”
Then the developers write code that enables Sara to do this, quickly and easily.
This is a simplification, but it suffices to set up my main point.
Who Are You Optimizing Your Improvements For?
Let’s translate this thinking into our world of continuous improvement.
Who is your key persona? Who are you enabling with your process improvement? What will this person be able to do that, today, he cannot?
Rather than saying “The lowest repeatable time does not exceed 38 seconds” as a target condition, what if I said “John is able to routinely perform the work in 38 seconds when it is problem-free.”
I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot more emotionally engaged with the second phrasing. This is doubly true if John is an actual person actually doing the work.
What about scaling to other shifts, other operators?
Yup. I agree that at some point your target condition is going to shift to “Any trained team member” but what I tell people today when they are trying to go there first is this:
“If you can’t get it stable with one person, you are never going to get there with multiple people.”
You have to get it to work once first. Then introduce the next layer of complexity. Start simple. One step at a time. Control your variables.
I have been experimenting with this linguistic shift in my Toyota Kata classes and consulting.
If you are in R&D this is an even more direct application back to Menlo’s model.
Training = Giving People Ability
I also ran an experiment with a client HR team that was charged with developing a comprehensive on-boarding training process.
Rather than do the traditional thing, which is take the laundry list of topics they are supposed to try to cover, and trying to figure out how to stuff everything into the time they have been given (40 hours, which is really more like 35 hours), I asked them to experiment with the following:
For each skill they have been asked to train, write it on a separate 5×7 card in the form of “[The learner] is able to _________.” In other words, describe the skill as an ability that someone is able to demonstrate.
Then determine how they will test that skill. Do that before they even think about how they are going to teach it.
Then develop training experiences and exercises that they believe will allow the learner to pass the test.
Software developers will recognize this as “test driven development” – start with the unit test, then write the code.
Testing Your Target Condition
As in the example above, a target condition should also be testable. By stating what we will observe or measure when the target condition is met, we are constructing a “unit test” of sorts.
By stating what we will observe or measure first, we can separate “solved” from “the solution” and open up the possibilities of what solution(s) we will experiment with.
In the culture of many more traditional software development and I.T. organizations, “users” can be almost a derogatory term, with an implied, usually (but not always) silent “dumb” appended to the front. We write Books for Dummies so they can understand our brilliant systems.
I’ll call the title of this post “Dave’s Observation.”
He is reflecting his experience in varied industries that if a company grows beyond its ability to deliver quality product, on time, then order volume will drop until it reaches a point that performance returns.
The business literature is full of examples of this – companies who could not keep up with their own success, their performance deteriorates and, well, many of them go out of business.
I have seen more than a few companies with aggressive growth plans that outrun their ability to actually execute, and they get into trouble.
This also happens in mergers and acquisitions where one company is merged into another with the assumption that the combined company can execute and perform in ways neither company has ever done. Starry-eyed executives often look only at the financial models, maybe equipment capacity, and skip over the operational aspects of their due diligence.
In the end, though, if the operational capability is not there, then none of the plans actually matter. Your “synergy” or “economy of scale” will evaporate like an ice cube on the Moon until equilibrium is restored.
Bottom line: If you are engaged in an ambitious growth plan, then list everything that has to be different for your model to work.
By “different” I mean you are asking for or expecting some task execution or level of performance that does not exist today as a matter of mundane routine.
Then ask “What is our plan to close this gap?” – and run the same exercise on executing that plan. “Change” is really hard, and just telling people what needs to be different, no matter how pretty the PowerPoint slides are, no matter how slick the presentation is, won’t make anything change. (If anything, it often breeds cynicism because it is read as unrealistic.)
Change requires step-by-step, methodical, practice to anchor each small change into the system, then the next, then the next.
Toyota Kata offers a good pattern for this. Just don’t confuse the underlying pattern with the methods used to teach it.