Move over Stooges! Make way Musketeers! ¡Adiós Amigos! Kevin, Mike and Joel are back for the latest edition of ‘Ask The KaiZone Coaches’. Each month, The KaiZone Coaches answer the most challenging and thought-provoking Lean and continuous improvement questions submitted by you, The KaiZone Community. While certainly not the most well-known (or best-looking) bunch, you will not find a more passionate, personable or practical group of Lean thinkers on the interwebs today.
This Month’s Question
Submitted by The KaiZone Community member Linda:
My Lean program is struggling to get off of the ground. Our performance suggests we’ve got no shortage of problems, but my staff struggles to identify opportunities for improvement. And the handful problems we have solved haven’t made much of an impact. How can I get my staff to identify more – and better – improvement ideas?”
Quit Playing Whack-a-Mole by Kevin Pavack
The first thing that I link to with your question is, “Our performance suggests we’ve got no shortage of problems.” The key with this statement is understanding 1) What does performance mean? – i.e., how are you measuring your performance? – and 2) Where do you want to be with that performance? In other words, as a leader, where should that performance be in the next 3-5 years (including, and most importantly, people-related performance)? What this then identifies are the gaps you and your organization have. By identifying the gaps, you have identified the first critical component of figuring out how you will close those gaps.
The next step is having a better understanding of problems. What are the problems you are referring to? In order to identify what those problems are, share with your team the gaps identified above. Ask your team to bring you the current condition in each of their areas. Specifically, ask them, “What in your area currently is preventing us from reaching the performance levels that we need?” Have them share that with you and the rest of the team.
Now, what do you do with this information? You have an understanding of where you want to go and you have an understanding of what’s preventing you from getting there in each of your direct reports’ respective areas. What you need to do next as a leader is 1) develop a long-term strategy (3-5 years) and then 2) Utilize the Hoshin Kanri process to understand strategically, operationally and tactically what you and your staff needs to do in order to close your gaps and remove the obstacles to reaching not only the performance you want to attain, but also giving your organization a roadmap and vision for where it needs to be and how it needs to get there.
That’s step one.
Step two for your question is, once the organization understands where they are going and how to get there, from a high level, they will need to identify the key opportunities for kaizen events, resources and ultimately, better improvements and more focused improvements that will take your organization and, more importantly, your employees and leaders, to another level. They can do this through many means. Some of which includes, Value Stream Mapping, Gemba, VoC, etc. Each area needs to understand deeply their challenges to meeting the vision of the company. Out of this will come your more meaningful kaizen events and your better improvement ideas. These will be purposeful, which is key. If you are already in “whack-a-mole” mode, these two steps will help you to break that paradigm and take you on a more meaningful journey around continuous improvement.
Coach the Leaders, Find the Constraints by Michael Grogan
My advice is start by observing at the gemba and always prioritize the development of the leader before the development of his or her staff. I would pick a value stream in the organization that is currently a business concern, then with the leader of that value stream, we would walk the process together (coach and learner). I would use this opportunity to help the leader to SEE. Remember, if the leader does not see the problems and understand the case for change then that is your biggest problem of all. So, selective coaching is the key here.
The one thing that I would avoid is jumping to problem solving without first grasping the entire value stream. Eliyahu Goldratt’s book The Goal does a fantastic job at explaining the Theory of Constraints and the importance of identifying the biggest constraints in your value stream. It’s by addressing the constraints first that makes the biggest impact to the business. This may be the reason why some of the improvements you have done have not made much of an impact. Although I would suggest more understanding of how one defines impact. Impact is both visible (quantifiable results) and invisible (unquantifiable – people development). You need both to grow.
Once the right problem is selected and the case for change understood (at least at a high level) then get the right people at the gemba and start problem solving. Then just keep repeating the cycle. My apologies if I made that sound so simple. Its funny how lean is so easy in theory and yet so challenging in practice.
Personally, I can really relate to the question posed. So many times as a coach I have had staff members get together in a conference room for a multiple day problem solving event and then I say “Welcome ,you’re here to have fun and learn, so please let’s get into teams and pick a problem from your business to work on”. Errrrrrr!!!
This approach has so many times generated disappointing results. But the good news is that I think I’ve got the root cause – I’m doing things backwards. As always there is never a bad student – only a bad teacher.
Joel’s Two Cents
I am going to try very hard not to sound patronizing here, but I am going to provide a very simple response to what I feel is a very simple question. Simple. Not necessarily easy.
It’s a fact in any organization . . . the number of opportunities to improve are limitless. I mean that literally.
Failure to identify the (literally) endless opportunities to improve is a failure of management.
Identifying a problem only requires that two conditions exist: 1. an expectation of what should happen (a standard) and 2. an understanding of reality (the current condition). Problems (or opportunities) arise when there is a gap between the standard and the current condition. It’s that simple.
Finding “good” problems to solve is a matter of defining the critical few standards against which the current condition of the process is compared.
Role number one for management is the translation and cascade of the requisite standard-setting information – the critical levers of quality, delivery and cost – from the strategic vision of the organization to the individual process-level.
Role number two is the establishment of a management system that assesses the current state of the process against the established standards and makes visible the gaps between the two. Executed correctly, a simple visual management process, focusing on the management of a critical few key performance indicators at the gemba, should yield more than enough improvement opportunities to get your improvement program “off the ground”.
Developing people to be effective problem solvers requires leaders to be effective problem finders.
Do you have a question or challenging situation that you would like to submit to The KaiZone Coaches? Simply use the Contact the KaiZone link and tell us about it!