Welcome to Lean Leadership for Ops Managers, the podcast for leaders in Ops Management who want to spark improvement, foster engagement, and boost problem solving – AND still get their day job done. Here’s your host, Leadership Trainer, Lean Enthusiast, and Spy Thriller Junkie, Jamie V. Parker.
Hello, hello, I am glad you’re here today. We’re in a series that was inspired by my interview with Patrick Adams in episode 24. So just reframing the question from that episode, how are you as a leader spending your time? Or how are the leaders on your team spending their time? And these questions are great because it really helps us identify gaps in what we say versus what we do. Remember from some of our earliest episodes back about the Transformation Trinity and that episode, “Why Isn’t Lean Working?”, we found that often, we can find clues to that when what we say should be happening doesn’t match what’s actually happening. Now, in this case, we’re talking about the activities of leadership. We may say that leadership is serving and developing people through human interactions and relationships toward the achievement of goals that support purpose. We may say that leadership is serving and developing people. And we may say that the bulk of a leader’s time should be spent on developing people. And that’s developing their heart skills, developing their soft skills, developing their improvement skills. Another big bucket of a leader’s time is around improving work systematically. This is both doing improvement work and putting systems into your own work and also helping and supporting your team as they implement systems in their work.
Here’s the thing. Most of the time, almost always, when we evaluate how leaders are spending their time, the actual doesn’t match the expected or the ideal. So what do you do? Well, last week, we talked about what do you do when you’re treading water, or when you’re drowning, and kind of coming up gasping for air. This time, what we want to do is how can we use improvement framework to kind of position how you tackle this problem. Now, I really love the thinking process and the routines behind Toyota Kata, which is why I’m going to use that model as kind of the framework that we use for this. But this isn’t a training class on kata, I’m just kind of really using that to organize this process and organize the thought around it.
Now, if you know nothing about kata, that’s all right, you’re going to be able to follow this along. And if you prefer kind of A3 thinking or 8-Step thinking and that’s more of the model that you’re used to using, then use those frameworks. Use the framework that you’re comfortable with, you’re going to see that the gist is the same. So this is not saying you need to go out and learn Toyota Kata. What I’m saying is, I’m going to use this model of Toyota Kata, walk you through it briefly, the Improvement Kata, in particular, walk you through it briefly, and then kind of as we go, we’re going to talk a little bit about how we apply it to this problem like,” I just don’t have enough time” or “I’m not spending my time on the right things.” All right, ready?
So the step one of the Improvement Kata is we set the direction or the challenge. Now, a lot of times with kata routines, you’re given a challenge from your executive leadership in the form of like a three-year strategic priority. In our case, I’m not really talking about creating a one sense challenge statement, as much as I’m talking about really defining for yourself, kind of what good looks like from the organizational true north, the purpose, and the values. Use those things to create context of what we’re trying to achieve and how we add value. Narrow that down to your role as a leader and how you progress the organization or your team towards your true north goals. Some of this may be thinking about your team, how they create or enrich value and what they need to be successful.
The other thing you look at is the meaning of leadership and your role as a leader. So if you listen to episode 13, “What is Lean Leadership?”, we dug into my definition of leadership in more detail. And I talked about it here, right? Leadership is serving and developing people through human interactions and relationships towards the achievement of goals that support purpose. So the question really becomes here is in the context of your organizational purpose, your values, and your true north, and the context of how your team creates [enriches 04:38] value plus the context of the definition of leadership, what does this really look like? If you spent your time on high-value activities, how would you spend your time? If you didn’t have competing demands or non-value tasks to do, and so you have this block of time available and you could choose what to do, what would you do first? What would you do next? How would you prioritize? What does your team really need from you? How do you advance your team’s abilities to create and enrich value? How do you develop people so that they can better and more easily achieve the goals that support purpose? What are the activities you would do if that were your number one role – developing people so they can better and more easily achieve the goals that support purpose? If that was what your role is? Then what are the activities that you would do? What are the activities you would do first? What would you prioritize?
I want you to create more clarity on what this looks like, what that future state would look like, what this aspirational challenge is that you would love to achieve. It really helps us solve this problem of not having enough time or not getting enough of the right things done or being stuck in reactive mode if we know what our future state vision is, okay. So that’s really what you’re looking at here is, where do I want to go? What is that aspirational challenge for me?
Now, step two of Improvement Kata is to grasp the current condition. So now that we know where we’re going, the direction we’re headed, it’s time to understand where we are now. And this is where Patrick’s question comes in. The way I phrase it, how are you as a leader, how are you spending your time? And Patrick kind of talked about that you could look at your calendar, and if he looked at your calendar, he could make some assessments of what you’re choosing to value or prioritize. So that might be one step that you want to take.
The key here is that as you’re going to go through these activities, you’re going to be tempted to make assumptions. And I want to encourage you to stay away from that temptation, fight it off, and instead, get the description of current state from the reality of what happens. So you might choose to do a time study where you evaluate what you’re doing in 15-minute increments. I’ve had clients who have done this for an extended period, for like a month, you know, every 15 minutes, they’re kind of mapping out what they did, or documenting out what they did. You might choose to start with an analysis of your scheduled calendar activities, and then observe what deviations occur. So you don’t have to do the full like, “I’m going to do a full one-month long study every 15 minutes.” You don’t have to do that to know your current state, you can narrow the scope. So you might say, “You know what? For me, what I really want to understand are the deviations between what I plan and what actually occurred. You might choose to take a flow approach and so you do some kind of waste walks of your own processes, if you will. You figure out where flow, and this might be flow of information, but where flow is most negatively impacted.
You might choose to start smaller. So you say, “Hey, you know what? Instead of doing the full-time study, I want to observe and document the tasks that I spend time on that are no or low-value activities. So I’m not going to worry about trying to map all of my time, I’m just going to try and map out how much time or what the activities are where I’m spending on no or low-value activities.” Or maybe you’re going to say, “You know what? Instead of looking at how I’m spending my time, I want to observe and document the interrupters. What interrupts the activities I’ve chosen to work on?” There isn’t one right answer. You’re going to use your situation to decide what to do first. And I say this because often, doing the scope of doing a full-time study in 15 increments for a month is crazy overwhelming. And now it becomes an obstacle that prevents you from doing anything at all. And so I don’t want you to get stuck because of that. You can narrow that scope and just focus on understanding the current condition within a smaller scope. As you progress through your problem solving, you can add to that current state description and understand it in a broader sense, but you don’t have to start there. So think about for you, what do you think is the best approach for grasping your current condition.
And then you go into step three of the Improvement Kata, which is to establish your next target condition. This is where you narrow again. So, in the first step, the challenge is the vision that was aspirational, then you’re going to say, “Okay, where am I today?” And now you’re saying, “Okay, so there’s this massive gap. I’m not going to try and get from one place to the next in one big step. Instead, I want to say a next target condition,” which is typically going to be somewhere kind of two weeks to a month from now. Let’s just use a month for our purposes. So one month from now, what do I want my condition to be then? What should it look like then? And part of step three, as you identify your next target condition for one month from now is then you identify the obstacles that are standing in your way to achieving that next time target condition. You say, “Okay. So this is what my next target condition is. This is the description of where I will be in a month. Now, why can’t I achieve that today? What are those obstacles? What are the things that I don’t know? What are the things I need to learn?” And by getting all your obstacles out, you can then better clarify and narrow because you’re not going to work on all the obstacles at once.
Now in step four of the Improvement Kata you PDCA your way toward the next target condition. Let’s say for example, that you decide to take the info from your interrupters, right, you Pareto them out, and you’re going after that. Or maybe you identify the most frequently occurring variation from what you plan to do to what you actually do, and then you’re going to kind of PDCA and experiment and take steps toward that. Maybe you go back to your flow observations. So you go back, you did some flow observations, you’re going to identify the eight process wastes occurring, and you decide that you’re going to take a 2 Second Lean approach first. And you say, “Okay, before I work on kind of these other pieces, first I want to do 2 Second Lean to remove some process waste and help flow get going.” Or maybe use an effort impact matrix to identify which obstacles or which of your own work processes you want to improve next. You know, how you write the schedule, or approve payroll, or do your daily performance review, or submit your reports, these are all processes that you could improve. You’re really going to kind of narrow down to what you’re going to work on next and define what you want it to look like in that month – your next target condition one month from now. And then you apply your skills and grow your skills to iterate, learn and reflect.
Now, this is one of my favorite keys to this process. Some of my favorite ways of thinking about iterative improvement or experimentation are these four questions I’m going to give you. Now, if you were doing full-fledged Improvement Kata and had a storyboard you would see this is really pulling from the thinking behind your experiment record. Or if you’re looking at coaching kata, these are part of the coaching kata questions. I’m just going to pull these four questions because this is what I think is most critical thinking behind this methodology, the thinking behind it. This is the part that if you never do a kata storyboard ever in your life, if you can get these four questions ingrained as the way you’re thinking through things, it’s going to have a drastic change.
All right, so the four questions are, what will I do next? So this is your what is your next step? What is your next experiment? What will I do next? And what do I expect to happen when I do that? So when I take that next step, when I run this next experiment, what do I expect to happen? And there’s a sub part to this question, like kind of an undercurrent to this question, which is, and how will I know? How will you know what is happening? So then you do this step, you do the activity, you do the experiment, you take the action, and then you say, “Okay, what actually happened? So compared to what I expected to happen, what actually happened?” And then what did I learn?
So let me say those four questions again:
What will I do next?
What do I expect to happen when I do that?
What actually happened?
What did I learn?
And that becomes a routine. So every week or every three days or every day, you’re going to try and get this into a routine, a cadence. You’re going to kind of iterate through this and take steps and do this reflection and take steps and do this planning reflection. And this is you working on it toward your one-month next target condition. And then, of course, you repeat the process and you set your next target condition one month from there. And you go through this process and iterate and taking steps over and over toward the aspirational challenge or direction you set for yourself.
So what I just described is this framework you can use when you tackle this problem. So in Improvement Kata, the four steps:
Set the direction or challenge.
Grasp the current condition.
Establish your next target condition.
PDCA your way there.
Now, the reason I really like this framework, particularly for this type of problem that you’re talking about for you, your leadership and your time and your priorities, is that it allows you to have an aspirational challenge to work towards while really narrowing the scope of what you’re working on this month, and then narrow even further on the obstacles you’re working on this week, today and right now. And in fact, probably my favorite thing about Improvement Kata is the way we look at obstacles. We think about problems or wastes when we do a waste walk, when we think about the problems. There are so many problems we could solve. There are so many process wastes we could work on reducing and eliminating. And that can become what we start chasing. And in Toyota Kata, I don’t even know if it’s in the new stuff but back in the old school there were these images when I first learned it years ago, and so there’s these images, and I’ll put it on my show notes. So you can go and see the show notes, see these images. So there would be this gray area, and so on the left side you had, “Here’s my current condition, right, this is where we’re going to,” and then you’d have on the right, “Here’s your next target condition.” And there was this oval with all this gray area and all the dots. And all the dots were these obstacles or problems or process wastes that were in between those.
And the thing that this approach does is it helps you instead of just kind of tackling random things or asking the question, “What could we improve?”, you’re able to really focus and say, “What should we improve? What do we need to improve? What obstacles do we need to overcome? What process waste do we need to remove?” Because what you find in these images is that not all of those obstacles or problems or process wastes are standing in your way from getting to your next target condition. And so instead of getting stuck spinning, we can be really targeted. So check out the show notes, you can find those at processplusresults.com/podcast, and then this is episode 26, to see what I’m talking about. And then you can get the links to all the kata stuff too.
So before I wrap up this summary, I want to say one more thing. And here it is. If you go back all the way to episode 13, I talked about three pitfalls that Ops Managers fall into with Lean, and one of the most common pitfalls I see is making it all about their work. This is where we’re all about improving the work on the floor, the work in our team’s processes, how we make product and manage inventory. But in too many cases, when it comes to our work as managers, we just keep doing what we’re doing. Or we rely on our gut without thinking through the problem or the challenge systematically. Or we say, “Ugh, it won’t work here. My work as a manager is just too variable. I don’t make widgets. This is knowledge work.”
So here’s the thing. If you want to get more of the right things done, if you know that how you’re spending your time, in reality, doesn’t match how you spend your time, then you’ve got to improve your work. You got to improve your work. And this is also often an opportunity for you to engage your business partners that help you with it, which is great skill practice for you, both in the skill of improvement work, and a skill, the soft skills of people relationship and human interactions. We can’t just make it all about their work. You’ve got to do this in your work, too.
All right, quick recap, and let’s talk about your next step. So we did a brief walkthrough of the Improvement Kata framework:
Set the direction or challenge
Grasp the current condition
Establish your next target condition
PDCA your way there.
And we talked about how you can apply the thinking behind it to work on this problem for yourself. Remember, it’s not just about kata, specifically, you could use A3 thinking instead. The point is, we don’t want to fall into this pitfall of making it all about their work and ignoring how we improve our work. So what’s your next step?
Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to assess whether this is a problem or challenge that you want to work on improving. Because it might not be for you. If it is, if you say, “Yes, this is a problem or challenge that I want to work on improving,” then I want you to take a look at your 2021 calendar, your calendar coming up, and decide when. When is the right time for you to prioritize this problem or challenge? Is this something you want to prioritize and start working on now today? Is it something that you want to prioritize further down the list? I don’t know the answer. That’s an answer you have. That’s something you have to decide for yourself. Is this a problem or challenge that you want to work on improving? And if so, when? Answer those questions for yourself.
All right, you can find links to the episode and all the kata resources. Mike Rother is fantastic. He makes all of his resources available on a Creative Commons license so that you can use them. You don’t have to buy them. You can also see anything else we mentioned at our show notes. So where do you find those? You go to processplusresults.com/podcast. That’s processplusresults.com/podcast and then this is episode 26. Until next time.