To my readers, it’s no news that so-called “kaizen events” (or more precisely, kaikaku) work.
It’s also no news that continuous improvement (CI) after such events is hard to sustain.
That’s where Solution Focus comes into play. Reading the excellent blog of Coert Visser the other day, it occurred to me that I had misunderstood something in the SF approach. That of the type of solution being searched for.
Yes. SF does not look for a concrete solution such as a new method of doing things, a new tool or a new widget. It’s even stated in the underlying principles: S.I.M.P.L.E:
- Solutions – not problems
- In-between – the solution is in the interaction
- Make use of what’s there, not what isn’t
- Possibilities – past, present and Future
- Language – simply said
- Every case is different
My insight occurred in the “I“: solutions are in the interaction between people. I should have read the book more carefully. Moreover, SF comes from psychotherapy and is rooted in social constructionism, that should have raised my awareness… A psychoanalysis would probably link that to my IT engineering education… Well, whatever:)
A Solution Focus Approach to Continuous Improvement
So, what would a Solution Focus approach to “continuous improvement not working” be?
Well, let’s turn to the framework (see side picture).
- Move from Problem to Platform. What we have is people not taking care of continuous improvement, so what we do want is people constantly taking care of CI.
- What’s the Future Perfect? An ideal outcome would be that the team manager takes the CI as a way of life (or at least managing his team) and do it all the time in all situations.
- Scaling: where are we today? Well, it depends on the team!
- Counters / Know-How: what are the resources, skills, know-how and expertise that will count in getting us toward the solution (I’m quoting here the excellent and foundational book “The Solution Focus” that brought SF to organizations). Please mind the underlying part, which corresponds to the “In-between” of SIMPLE above.
- Affirm whatever the people are already doing toward the solution: recognize and value it.
- What Small Actions could you do right now to move up one level on the scale toward the Future Perfect?
Again, my insight regarding CI is in step 4 that deals with:
- resources brought to a situation (that is, put in the interaction between people)
- skills put to the service of the desired outcome / future perfect
- know-how which also relates to behaviors
- and expertise, also put to use in the situation
So, the learning here for me is that we should not be looking at new tools or some fancy visual management (though it might helps sometimes) to sustain continuous improvement, but really look after the way the manager is enacting CI in her behavior and her interactions with her team.
I’ve all too often seen visual performance management not being acted upon and slowly disappearing under dust because management was lacking the proper behavior toward it.
You can improve without visual management, but you can’t improve without doing things and displaying some improvement related behavior. Of course, when the two are used together, their effectiveness is far more powerful than used alone.
So, what is the solution?
Ok, so we know what team leaders must do: show, in their interactions, that they care about CI. What help does this solution gives us? My answer is:
Yes, you’ve read it properly. This solution at which we arrived is of no help for at least two reasons:
- It doesn’t gives us details at what, precisely, needs to be done.
- It’s been devised out of the gemba, so it’s worthless because it’s deconnected to the real reality (speaking in systems thinking terms, one would say that it does not have requisite variety)
The real solution is that we need to pass team leaders through the Solution Focus framework and have them come to the same kind of solution. They need to find their own answers to questions such as:
- What, for you, works for keeping people interested to continuous improvement?
- What worked before (or is working now) for keeping people working on a specific topic?
- What worked before (or is working now) for keeping yourself working on a specific topic?
Please beware: the last question is a treacherous one as the team leader will probably reply that her manager constantly reminded her of that very topic to be kept on top on the priority list…
We, as Lean coaches or consultants, need to constantly remind ourselves that team leaders not only need to grow their own visual performance management board, but also their own way of acting and enacting a behavior that fosters continuous improvement. Although it’s longer and sometimes tougher than to decide that in place of them, it’s also the only way that does not raise the so-called “change resistance” that we always find on our (and their’s) path.
Well, now, we know what needs to be done on the part of team leaders. To be more precise, we knew it before, but I feel it’s a new way to go look for ways to finally achieve improvements that are really continuous.