Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Don’t play with your kids’ toys, it’s bad. #Lean

December 22nd, 2011 Posted in Lean Tags: , , , , ,

I’m still in awe as to how managers that want to please their people do that by solving their problems in their place. Though this is based on good intent, I’m not sure people would find it a nice thing to do to play with their toys in place of their kid?! Sure, dads love remote-controlled cars as much as kids. But the toy’s for the kid, not the dad.

Problems are toys to the mind.

And if you appeared to have bought a too complicated toy for your kid, isn’t the best thing to do to explain the kid how to use it? This is the basis of the kata (as seen in Toyota Kata by Mike Rother): coaching in order to develop people.

What presents will Santa bring to your people? Who’s gonna play with them, you or them?

How come people don’t learn #Lean #management? #linkedin Answers

December 6th, 2011 Posted in Lean Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I asked this question on LinkedIn some days ago and got some really good answers (well, from my point of view anyway!). I plan to do a best of by combining some of the best answers because I see links between them… some time in the future!

Here’s the question and the answers.

#SolutionFocus responses to “What You Can Say To Kill Ideas” | Productivity Improvement (#Lean)

There’s this article I’ve just read here: What You Can Say To Kill Ideas | Productivity Improvement. I haven’t been in the Lean business for long, but I feel like I’ve already encountered all of them. Sigh.

I think I can give it a try at Solution-focusing it. Let’s go!

  1. Don’t be ridiculous. So you think some of these things won’t work. What part of it can you think we can start with that will work?
  2. We tried that before. Great! What worked that we could put back in place? What have you learned so we do it differently this time?
  3. It costs too much. Of course I don’t have your expertise on the operational stuff. What part can you think could be done cheaper?
  4. It can’t be done. What part can’t be done? What part can be done? When can we start?
  5. What’s beyond our/your responsibility. What part is under your responsibility? What are the smaller parts that cna be started right now? How have you succeeded to get management approval for other things? How could we apply the same solutions here?
  6. It’s too radical a change. Agreed, you can’t make such a big leap in one time. What small part do you want to start with?
  7. We don’t have the time. What have you the time for, currently? What can we temporarily drop and replace with some small parts of this?
  8. That will make other equipment obsolete. Great, I haven’t think of this: further improvements. What other improvements do you see?
  9. We’re too small/big for it. Surely. What needs to be adapted to our size? How would you change it?
  10. That’s not our problem. Ok. Who’s problem is this? How have you succeded in the past in bringing similar problems to their knowledge and get both os us to work them out? How could we repeat the same process here?
  11. We’ve never done it before. That’s true. Let’s do it, where do you want to start?
  12. Let’s get back to reality. What part do you feel don’t fit into current reality? What could be changed to make them fit? What about other parts, can we give them a try? 
  13. Why change it; it’s still working OK. Of course things are working already (indeed, the company’s still in business). I guess there are probably part of the organization already doing this future state map. Can you see them? How can we make more of them?
  14. You’re two years ahead of your time. So are some of our competitors. What in this plan is already (maybe partly) being done that we could build on?
  15. We’re not ready for that. You’re already doing part of that. Let’s get figure and ask the people.
  16. It isn’t in the budget. That’s fine, we’re going to self-finance this anyway. Where can we start today?
  17. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks. This is not necessary. Look closer, what have you already been doing? What have you noticed in this plan that you always dreamt to be able to do? Let’s go!
  18. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. That’s my motto too and probably your people’s too. What best to they want for them, the customers and the company? What have you noticed they’re doing superbely despite current work conditions? How can we remove these barriers?
  19. Too hard to sell. What part is to hard to sell? What about cutting this in pieces and going progressively? Where do we start? Have you sold similar challenging things in the past? How did you do it? How could we adapt that here?
  20. Top management would never go for it. What are we already doing that works? Could we show that to management as a proof of concept? What small experiment can we try on our own to demonstrate it’s viable?
  21. We’ll be the laughing stock. And a model for all others. How can we present this differently, then?
  22. Let’s shelve it for the time being. I understand some of it to be too big a leap for you. What specific part can start with? Maybe cut this into smaller pieces to begin with?
  23. We did all right without it. Great! On seeing this plan, what part do you see having done already? What further improvement do you notice in the plan could further improve your already good performance?
  24. Has anyone else ever tried it? Probably, and I think the people in your department have for some part of it. Can you help us point which part is already in place (albeit maybe only partly)? For the other parts, it’s currently done in other places. Would you like me to arrange an appointment with one of our competitors to show us how they’re doing better?
  25. It won’t work in our industry. What part do you see not doable in our industry? What would make it doable?
  26. Will you guarantee it will work? I guarantee you that if we try these things, we’ll learn something that will help your people improve their process.
  27. That’s the way we’ve always done it. Fantastic! What part have you always done already? What other part can we start working on, then? What prevents you from doing it absolutely all the time with 100% success? Can we start working on providing more of this better working conditions to you and your people?
  28. What we have is good enough. What do you have? How is it good? You’re the one to decide in the end, but can we just imagine what would happen if this plan were to be implemented? How would that further improve your current situation?
  29. But we would also have to change the___________. cf. 8
  30. It’s in our future plans. Excellent! What part have you planned already? What small tasks can we do to start now?
  31. We’ll have somebody study that problem. You’re taking this very seriously, that’s great. We’ll arrange to work through it with someone of your department for the details. What parts would you like to start with? Who are we going to see?
  32. It’s against our policy. Which policy? This policy’s here for some good reasons. Glad you noticed. What part is against the policy? What other parts can we start already? What would need to change to make that part conform to the policy? Have you got policy changed in the past because they hindered change? How have you achieved it? Can we do it again for this stuff?
  33. The supplier would never do that. You’d be surprised how much they’re probably doing this already. Let’s go and see them!
  34. The customer wouldn’t accept that. I may have missed something on the customer part: can you tell me which one and what need to change? What acceptable other parts of this plan can we start working on now?
  35. When did you become the expert? I’m not: you and your people are the experts, this is just a theoretical roadmap that needs to be worked with your people. Where do we start now?

My main focus points during these rewording was to keep in mind:

  • resistance surely is because I don’t have requisite variety when proposing a plan to change: so I need to let the people / managers adapt it
  • keep being oriented toward solutions: people are very probably already doing some parts of the future state map: find out which and build on it

I assumed a top managers wanting to move fast forward, so my reframing always has been somewhat pushy. Another approach could have been to be not to push at all and let the manager whether he wants to change or not. See my Solution Focus / Motivational Interviewing Series for such an approach.

Comments welcomed!



How to address Action stage of Lean change – #5 in SFMI #Lean series

This article is #5 in a Series about using Solution Focus and Motivational Interviewing to coach CEOs into starting their own Lean journey.

#1 in series gave a broad-brush view of what I intended to write about. Please read it first.

#2 in series addressed the precontemplation stage of change.

#3 in series helped reinforce the contemplation stage.

#4 in series is for supporting the preparation stage.

This article deals with the next stage of change: that of Action!

Background on Action

In the preceding stages of change, you first developed an understanding in the CEO’s mind that someone had to change and that it was him. Then you helped him (or her!) prepare for the change (see previous article on preparation). Now, the change is ongoing and you need to support the CEO during the Action stage of change.

During this stage, the role of the coach is to support the CEO in achieving whatever goal he set for him or herself by: Read more »

#Lean is hard on processes in order to be soft on people

October 11th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

After yesterday diatribe on the people side of improvement, it occurred to me this morning that when doing Lean management, what we work with are mainly processes, not people; at least not directly.

“Hard on problems, soft on people” is indeed an often cited quote in Lean culture.

Lean is based on a coaching culture where the coaches are the managers (“teach, don’t tell” is another Lean quote). Yet, you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to (whatever his/her [good or bad] reason).

So, the process is used as a pretext for that coaching. In an organization that needs to make benefits, improving efficiency is something well understood from employees. Yet, it’s hard (if not impossible) to come toward people and tell them how they should work better, because:

  • it’s disrespectful (and Lean is based on Respect for People!)
  • it’s presumptuous unless you did their job before and preferably not long time ago
  • and even if not long ago, you’d be served a well-merited “why didn’t you do it yourself when on the job”?
  • you don’t have requisite variety, meaning a manager can’t know the details of how to do each and every job he’s supposed to manage
  • and finally, it goes against what Lean management teaches us: having employees learn. If you tell, they don’t learn. Period.

So, even if you know how to do it better, you shouldn’t say it. And so you focus on the processes instead. Because by improving processes, you squeeze problems out of them, which means food for thought for your employees, which they will solve because it’s their job (not yours as a manager!), which will improve further the process and make it all the more sensitive to more subtle problems.

So is the virtuous circle of Lean.

(The vicious circle of traditional management is all too common: no problem solving, thus more problems, more firefighting, less time to solve anything, and more problems, leading to people leaving the company, new hires, less experience of the current situation and so further less problem solving). I wrote about it here: Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement).

How often do you focus on the processes instead of only the results of them?

A response to Youtellus: The power of questions

I really like this blog post: Youtellus: The power of questions. All the stuff about asking powerful and mind-blowing questions is true and should be practiced all day long.

Yet, this part makes me wonder:

“Leaders and managers have the obligation to always look for ways that the organization as a whole can function more effectively.To do this, they need to ask questions about practices, processes, persons and structures:
Why do we things this way?is there a better approach?”

I mean, do we really need to ask people questions about practices, processes and structures? I guess that if we do, we’d find problems. People rarely get interested in these (I do, but then, I’m a Lean coach, so that doesn’t count because I’m not “normal” 🙂

To be a bit more serious, I was interested in processes at the beginning because I was a sort of productivity geek. But then I understood that improving processes with Lean or Six Sigma was not a matter of using tools. Even further, it was not a process matter.

Improving organization is a people thing.

I don’t mean a social or psychological thing (though these may help, but at the same level as can IT for instance – heck, I am in IT now!) When I say “people” I mean real people, with a head and a heart!

Improving organizations is about taking care of your people and what they care about.

And in the sentence “what they care about“, the important word is not “what” (it’s none of your business) nor is it “care” (how they do it: again, it’s personal to them). What’s important is “they“.

  • If you want money in your pocket as a manager, you won’t be able to motivate people.
  • If you want to improve your organization’s efficiency, you won’t be able to motivate people.
  • If you want to serve your customers better, you won’t be able to motivate your people.

In order to motivate your people, you need to help them identify their WIIFM factor: What’s In It For Me?

You need to ensure your people have identified what motivates them (but they’ll tell you only if they want to). You need to provide them with the support they need from you.

By instituting a permanent Dialogue between your people regarding what and how they want to contribute to the world, you will be able to fuel the change your organization desperately needs. By building on what works for them, they’ll build an organization that will also:

  • work well (efficiency)
  • provide your customers what they want (efficacy)
  • and help them fulfill their dreams
  • which may, in the end, provide some earning for you (and them) as a side effect.

Of course, you need to trust your people to be able to come to an agreement about making a profitable company. But do you sincerely think they’ll imagine something that can’t pay their salary?

If you don’t trust your people, they’ll notice and they won’t trust you. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Try giving first and see what happens. Only a bit, something that you won’t regret afterwards. Notice how it comes back, sometimes bigger. Then, next time, gives a bit more. And a bit bigger next time.

Then ask your people now that you’ve rebuild a trust relationship what they would like from you first.

And then give it to them.

Then see.



#Lean is social constructivism and constructionism (#stwg #systemsthinking)

A few days ago, I attended a Lean conference in Paris (with Michael Ballé) and had an insight with respect to what Lean senseïs (such as Michael) are trying to do.  Or, to be more accurate, I attached some specific meaning to a senseï-deshi relationship (which should be that of a manager with his collaborators, by the way). The details of this kind of relationship and what it entails is well described in Toyota Kata by Mike Rother (a book I yet have to read as I can’t keep pace with the TAKT of Toyota books being released… More info from Mike Rother is available on his own homepage for Toyota Kata with summary slides).

What is it that I had an insight about? Well, one recalls that:

  • a manager should spend most of his time on the Gemba, coaching his collaborators
  • the coaching consist mainly in having people repeat the PDCA loop: grasp the situation (by going to the gemba again), make hypothesis, test solutions and adjust/genealize through standardization where applicable.

One utterly important point (to me) is that the manager/senseï always stresses that grasping the situation, hypothesis formulation, solution testing and standardization must be done with all people impacted, on the gemba.

Testing is where constructionism as a learning theory occurs and co-thinking on a problem is where social constructivism happens. Let me explain below.

On social constructivism in Lean

Lean is very high on socialization of workers (and managers! Western companies should learn from that) and the A3 document is where this most evidently occurs: the A3 holder should not work on his problem on his own but meet with all stakeholders with the A3 as a central point of discussion and summary of discoveries about the problem.

What this process is all about is plain social constructivism: people make meaning of their work environment by constantly exchanging between them about it, either in groups (in Obeyas) or face to face.

Here’s what wikipedia says about social constructivism:

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructionism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky.

(emphasis mine)

Sounds familiar to Lean people, huh?

Social constructivism is a way of seeing knowledge as meaning made out of social interaction. Any other “knowledge” is just hypothesis making and needs to be confronted (dialogued) with other people to check for validity and build meaning “into” it.

We all know how senseïs work hardly at breaking our (often wrong) mental models and replacing them with 1) Dialogue with stakeholders and 2) genchi genbutsu. This is where the second part happens.

On constructionism (learning theory) in Lean

With Lean senseïs striving for everybody to meet on the gemba where the real stuff happens, Lean is rooted in constructionism as well. Constructionism as a learning theory is defined as follow by Wikipedia:

Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning, and builds on Jean Piaget‘s epistemological theory of constructivism.

(emphasis mine; the page further elaborates on problem-based learning… hint, hint)

What this means is that those that do something learn and know (quite) for sure. What you know in your head without prior testing is only belief (which unsurprisingly rythms with bullshit in Michael speech…)

I recall having read about or heard some of the most impotant questions regarding A3 thinking:

  • how do you know this is a problem? Have you gone to the gemba to check?
  • what are you going to do to test your hypothesis? (constructionism)
  • how will you convince your co-workers about your solution? (constructivism)

Merging social constructivism together with constructionism

The beauty of it all is to have both social constructivism and constructionism learning combined into the same management principles: meaning making occurs on the gemba with people dialoguing together.

That’s what a Lean senseï is trying to do: design learning experiments on the gemba where his deshi could learn something.


Here are some other notes that came to my mind while writing this post. Causation or Correlation? Probably both, the reader will decide…

Michael’s doctorate work on mental models

Michael is the son of Freddy Ballé who introduced Lean in France and Catherine Ballé, an organizational psychologist. Michael did his doctorate thesis on change resistance, especially in the context of introducing Lean into manufacturing companies. That work resulted in the writing of a book (french only it seems): “Les modeles mentaux. Sociologie cognitive de l’entreprise” (which could be translated as “Mental models. Cognitive sociology of organizations”) where these topics are described in deep details along with hypothesis, experiments and their analysis – all on manufacturing gembas. Already.

TWI Job Break Down Sheets improvement by Toyota

Looking back into Toyota history, one can compare the way teaching is done today to how it was done at the time of TWI at the end of World War II.

  • TWI’s Job Breakdown Sheets originally had two columns: “Major Steps” and “Key Points“.
  • Toyota’s JBS have one more: “Justification for key points“.

They obviously realized early that meaning at work was very important for employees. This of course also relates to their “Respect for People” pillar which implies that people know why they’re asked to do things…

Now, I hope you’ll understand better what is meant by “mono zukuri wa, hito zukuri“: “making things is about making people” (Toyota saying as said by Mr Isao KATO here [last page]).


Positive #GROW #coaching model? (using #solutionfocus and #appreciativeinquiry)

“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” — Henri Ford

Reading some background information on the GROW coaching model, it appeared to me that it could easily be transformed into a positive change model.

GROW originally stands for:

It’s indeed a very simple and effective coaching model to be used. Yet, I feel that it can be enhanced by focusing more on the positive side and what works already for the coachee in order to bring more energy to fuel the change. Here are my thoughts on how to do it below. Read more »

How to address Preparation stage of Lean change – #4 in SFMI #Lean series

This article is #4 in a Series about using Solution Focus and Motivational Interviewing to coach CEOs into starting their own Lean journey.

#1 in series gave a broad-brush view of what I intended to write about. Please read it first.

#2 in series addressed the precontemplation stage of change.

#3 in series help reinforce the contemplation stage.

This article deals with the next stage of change: that of Contemplation.

Background on preparation

Following the preceding stages of change, if you’re reading this, it would mean that your CEO is now ready to change himself. Indeed, I remind the occasional reader that the beginning of this series was about having the CEO realize that he was the first person that needed to change. Most CEO know their organization need to change to implement Lean, but they usually don’t expect to change themselves. Yet, if they continue to do what they’ve always done, they’ll get what they always had.

So, the most critical part before being allowed to the preparation stage is that the CEO expressed Commitment to change talk, following MI questions aiming at raising DARN talk (Desire, Ability, Reasons and Need). That was the purpose of articles #2 and #3.

So, the CEO being now committed to change himself, the most important tasks during this stage for the MI coach are to:

  • build confidence in the change to come
  • talk about timing of change
  • present information, options and advice

All the while

  • resisting the urge to push by staying at the client’s place (or pace)

Lean role of CEO

This stage of change differs from preceding ones in that the CEO is expected to build an action plan for the change. There are two possibilities with that:

  1. either he knows how to “behave Lean”
  2. or he doesn’t

I have two responses to these situations, non exclusives and not related specifically to #1 or #2:

  • comfort him that he knows how to do it
  • teach him what he doesn’t know…

With that second point, it’s important to notice we’re still trying to avoid raising his resistance to the change, so any advice or teaching need either:

  • be formally requested by him
  • or gently introduced and asked for permission to tell before telling: “I know a way to achieve that. Would you like me to present it?” It’s also important to note that we’re not behaving as having a definitive knowledge or advice: we want the CEO to adapt what we say to his specific organization and make it his own.

It is now important to recall that Lean is mostly about empowering collaborators to spot problems and imagine solutions that they implement, measure and generalize (standardize in Lean terms) where appropriate, with maximum colleague implications. This is basic PDCA and scientific method.

We certainly don’t want the CEO to solve problems on behalf of employees, for that would prevent them from learning (and he doesn’t have time for that anyway).

The role of a Lean CEO is to coach, on the gemba, his middle managers into coaching, on the gemba, their employees into the scientific method (PDCA) in order to move current processes to a vision of one-piece-flow.

The purpose of this article is not to detail how to do that (they are shelves full of literature on that topic). Suffice it to say that, for instance, D. Jones and J. Womack approach is useful to keep in mind:

  1. identify value
  2. identify value-stream
  3. create flow
  4. pull
  5. aim for perfection

And the two tactics to get there are:

  1. just-in-time
  2. and jidoka (autonomation or automation with a human touch)

This is the strategy the CEO need to have in mind, down to employees and through middle management as well. Always, all the time. This is summed up as 1) continuous improvement with 2) respect for people.


So, the main strategy of the coach will be to help the CEO identify what behavior he needs to adopt in order for his people (middle management) to do what he wants them to do in order to do Lean. The what are: continuously, improve, respect and people. The how is what works for the CEO. So, most of the following questions are Solution Focused oriented on purpose.

With this in mind, here are some tentative questions, MI-style, to ask a CEO preparing his own change for some more Lean behaviors (be reminded that it’s always possible to mentor the CEO into Lean knowledge, provided he asks for it or gives you permission to do so – what we want is genuine interest in continuous improvement: Lean tools are only shortcuts to be used where, when and if people want to use them):

  • recalling preceding transformations/projects you managed successfully, what worked well in terms of your own behaviors for having them move on?
  • how do these compare to your current management practices?
  • what first steps would you see yourself doing first? Can you make these smaller? And even smaller? And, of these last ones, what even smaller step could you start doing right now?
  • what other behavior will you start doing tomorrow? What else? 
  • what else?
  • what will you see improve as a result? What else?
  • what is the place in your organization where continuous improvement would benefit more as a starter? What’s been your behavior toward it recently? How would you go about changing it? How will you measure results?
  • suppose a miracle open overnight (without you knowing it since you were sleeping) and all middle-management would adopt Lean behaviors. How would you know in the morning that things have changed? What would you notice first? What would you do to support it?
  • on a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate your current management practices regarding continuous improvement? Why not a lesser number? What are you doing that makes you give this score? What else?
  • on a scale from 1 to 10, how important is it for you to change your own behavior? Why not a lower number? What else?
  • on a scale from 1 to 10, how ready are you to starting implementing your new behaviors? Why not a lower number? What else?

Should you have comments on these questions, or other suggestions, feel free to leave a message below!

Stay tuned for #5 episode that will be about the Action phase.

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