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#SolutionFocus approach to continuous improvement in #Lean

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

Solution Focus framework

Solution Focus framework

So, what would a Solution Focus approach to “continuous improvement not working” be?

Well, let’s turn to the framework (see side picture).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Scaling: where are we today? Well, it depends on the team!
  4. 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.
  5. Affirm whatever the people are already doing toward the solution: recognize and value it.
  6. 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:

Absolutely none.

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.

What’s next?

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.



Some thoughts about what #positive #lean could be by mixing #AppreciativeInquiry and #SolutionFocus

I’ve been thinking lately of what some less deficit-based or more positive-based Lean could be. I know three kind of positive approaches:

  • Appreciative Inquiry, more geared toward identifying what gives life to people, what interests them;
  • Solution Focus, which tries to identify what works or has worked and do more of it;
  • Positive Deviance, which allow a group to identify people (the positive deviant) that achieve a definite purpose in the same condition as others who do not.

What I find interesting in these approaches is that I find them far more powerful when it comes to motivating people to change. Because they appeal to what people really want or like to do. Surely enough, epople do want to solve problems, but only to the extent that it allows them to move toward something that they feel interested in, something that serves them in one way or the other.

Read more »

Doing #Agile retrospectives with #AppreciativeInquiry

I’ve just stumbled upon a very nice article about doing “Appreciatives Restrospectives” at the end of an agile sprint: An Appreciative Retrospective | AYE Conference.

Could that be used during a Lean morning meeting when by changing the focus from problems to what worked (and capitalize on it through standardization)?


How to #coach people and get results from your #leadership?

March 18th, 2011 Posted in Change Tags: , , ,

I love this simple post: Demanding Change: To lead people on a journey …

It elaborates on a simple well known premise:  to lead people, you need to start from where they are (read the rest of the post to know more, then come back here).

But this is regarding the beginning of the path. After starting, there’s sustaining. And then a coach I had a chance to work with once told me the following:

A coachee stops where the coach stops.

And to end with, let me give you a tweet I’ve read:

Change resistance is inversely proportional to your leadership skills.

It hurts, doesn’t it? Well, it did hurt me!

But let me ask you a question.

Imagine you were leading people without them resisting you. What would that mean as to the choosing of the leading direction?


Reblog: DOING WHAT WORKS: Perspective change

Another short and nice article by Coert Visser about question that helps develop a Systems Thinking view of a situation in the mind of the person being asked: DOING WHAT WORKS: Perspective change.

The article doesn’t mentioned systems thinking, this is my link of the tswo subjects, but SF is deeply rooted in the field, so it’s no wonder the roots diffused to the core.


Reblog: DOING WHAT WORKS: Effective questions for helping and providing direction

Here is a very interesting article from Coert Visser about leading people by asking questions: DOING WHAT WORKS: Effective questions for helping and providing direction.

Also, follow the inner link to “Constructive and Activating Management Techniques” on the same topic.

Telling is straightfoward and not helping people learn. Indeed, people just take what you say and either accept or reject it. Of course, some rare people are able to say things crafted in such a way that it makes people think deeply about it and help them get insights about whatever it is that the discussion is about. Milton Erickson comes to mind for instance.

For the more mundane people like me, asking questions is a way to gently push people to think about an issue and by this way step by step creating in their mind a systemic representation of what you’re trying to get through to them. “What else?” is for instance a powerful yet simple question that fosters deep thinking (used in Systems Thinking or Solution Focus).

Socrates used this a lot of course, but it somewhat had not benefitted him 😉

What else are you using to make people stop-and-think?

#Lean may very well increase your employees intelligence…

Reflecting on my previous quick post (I really need to add value instead of just repeating what I’ve read elsewhere…) I made the link between these five practices that help increasing one’s cognition, and Lean. The practices, should you not want to read the previous post, are:

  1. Seek Novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things The Hard Way
  5. Network

There’s Systems Thinking playing behind the scene here as I feel (like the referred blog post’s author Coert Visser) that they are all related to one another. Let me review each point in turn and discuss it from a Lean point of view.

Seek Novelty

By constantly trying to improve the company, Lean managers strive to maintain a state of permanent change. That is, a state where nothing stays as it is forever and people need to improve constantly, thus change and fin new ways of doing things. Novelty can be found in, for instance, the 5M:

  • Methods: innovate new ways of building the widgets your company sells
  • Man: rotate or change job to discover new places in the company
  • Materials: seek new ways of using your materials, or new materials altogether to improve your widgets (or reduce your costs)
  • Machines: innovate with your machine usage: error-proof devices (poka yoke), automatic unloading (hanedashi), arranging machines into cells, etc.
  • Mother Nature: how can you innovate with the constraints of your envionment to be more efficient? Or innovate in ways to preserve the environment?

Well, you can extend the 5M to 8M if you like, you get the point.

Challenge Yourself

Lean is continuous improvement and this rythms with constant challenge: how to reach that next better point from where you are? I don’t have much to say as this is rather obvious…

Think Creatively

Again, this is what a sensei requests from employees, for instance in A3 problem solving. From Toyota Kata, one knows that constant questioning is required: what’s the problem? why is this a problem? How do you know? What could another solution be? How will you check the results? How will you “sell” your proposal to colleagues (nemawashi)?

Some of the harder problems would probably mandates to think out of the box (as Einstein said, one cannot solve the problems with the same state of mind that created them).

Do Things The Hard Way

This means, do your homework. Don’t rely on others to do it for you or rely on devices to do it for you. If TPS is not hard way, I don’t know what it is! 🙂


Well, I can see two networking tools in Lean: A3 and Hoshin Kanri: they make you meet others, discuss the topics with them, have creative and hard discussions and so exchange possibly differing points of views. A good way to maintain brain plasticity, for sure.


It is said that Lean takes ordinary people to achieve extraodinary results by making them constantly improve the processes they work in. Now, studies have shown that it also turns these ordinary people into extraodinary ones.

Given the flow of past Toyota employees moving to the Lean consulting business, I tend to believe there might be some truth in these studies.

Reblog: Michaël Ballé “The Trouble with #Lean Experts”

This month column of Michaël Ballé on is very interesting (well, like all of what Michael writes!) and deals with Lean experts and the change resistance they’re creating and how to overcome this.

I can’t help but relate this to TWI. If I may remind readers of this blog, TWI setup 4 training programs and worked hard to develop companies at helping themselves:

  • instruct a job (job instruction-JI)
  • improve a job (job methods-JM)
  • maintain good relations with workers (job relations-JR)
  • build a training program (program development-PD)

Indeed, relations at work was of such paramount importance for TWI that they turned it to a whole training program (JR).

But, more important to me is the fact that in almost all of TWI documents, one can read between the lines and see that keeping good working relationships with people was something deemed important.

Michaël reminds us that LEAN = KAIZEN + RESPECT. All too often are we and our own management focused on the KAIZEN part, to the detriment of RESPECT. Indeed, respect is most often not even in the mind of people doing the work. The Lean Promotion Office is often seen as a team of consultants that come and put people back on the right track. How respectul is this?

Lean experts need to remind themselves that people they’re helping, teaching or coaching are not dumb. They know their work, they know where problems are and they have plenty of ideas on how to improve it. There may be other problems elsewhere (which they didn’t investigate because nobody told them they could or gave them time to do so), but, from a constructionist point of view, their reality is… well, theirs! So, should a Lean expert come in and sell them something else as the “real reality”, it’s no wonder s/he gets so fresh a welcoming!

Moreover, when teaching Lean, one must not just teach Kaizen and show Respect. One must teach Lean, which means teaching Kaizen and Respect. TWI knew that; it’s embedded in the documents, for instance when you read on the Job Methods card:

Step 3 – Develop the new method

5) Work out your idea with others

6. Write up your proposed new method

Step 4 – Apply the method

1. Sell your proposal to your boss

2. Sell the new method to the operators

3. Get final approval of all concerned on safety, quality, quantity, cost.

(emphasis mine)

Nowhere in here can you feel of something being enforced onto operators. Isn’t this teaching and showing respect for others and taking into account their skills and experience?

Last thing, teaching respect does not means letting people think you feel they’re not respectful. It’s teaching them how to investigate respectfully other parts of the process than their own, it’s teaching them that they need to do nemawashi (as it’s called in japanese) which is sharing their improvement A3 or proposals (as written in the JM card) with others and amend it where necessary (and better yet, go and see in the first place in order to capture the reality rather than fixing it later in the proposal). People are too often in a nonrespectful environment and tend to act in the same way. Trying to change behaviors with respect to this (and changing them respectfully!) for everyone’s benefits seems to me of utter importance.

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