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10 questions for the #solutionfocused (#lean?) #coach

September 5th, 2011 Posted in Change, Lean, Solution Focus Tags: , , , , ,

Today seems to be under Coert Visser’s auspices. Here’s another nice blog post of him about questions to help a coach prepare himself to really listen to the coachee or client:

Doing What Works: 10 questions for the solution-focused coach.

I feel it really hard not to fall in the rhetoric trap where I know what I would like them to do (Lean management for instance) but feel listening is the way to go and so I need to ask them questions.

A coach mainly works by asking questions, but not in a rhetoric way. He must deeply want to know what is it that his coachee wants, how does he see things or how he feels about the change.

Of course, there’s no other way to do Lean management than by doing Lean management. Yet, there’s more than one path to reach that goal and it’s important to use the easiest path for the learning manager (the coachee) and help him identify what worked before in the direction of that Lean management.

For instance, if the coach identifies that creating a flow is the path to follow for now, one can go for the following kind of question:

Lean teaches us that the most efficiency is achieved in a flowing process (provide details as necessary). Tell me about a time where you have experienced work flowing? What allowed it to happen?

Then, work could focus on the current process:

In the current process, what gives you hope for increasing the flow-ness of it?


#Lean idea: Treating clients as cooperative, no matter how resistant they may appear (#solutionfocus)

August 29th, 2011 Posted in Change, Lean, Solution Focus Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s is a very nice blog from Coert Visser: Doing What Works: Treating clients as cooperative, no matter how resistant they may appear, is the quickest and most promising way to encourage further cooperation.

I’m now deeply convinced that it could help a lot of Lean CEO trying to “do” Lean if their senseï or Lean coach would deal with them in a solution focused way.

The traditional Lean coaching approach has traditionally been to hit the CEO on the head until they do it and get it (maybe from a cultural approach to coaching in Japan). Surely enough, Lean has to be done by oneself to be fully understood: what a one-piece flow can bring in terms of problem detection and team work is a marvellous thing that needs to be experienced to be best understood.

Few consultants that I know can run down this path: the CEO is barely available and most often nominate someone to take care of the Lean job, or worse, let the consultants manage Lean projects on their own.

Instead, if Lean coaches would deal with the CEO first, foremost and only, it might be a slower start but a better, firmer start in the end.

As Solution Focus is about what works in terms of behavior, it may help to raise awareness in the CEO that what he sees in his company is how he thinks. And that by changing his thoughts and corresponding behaviors, he might get something else that works better for the company as a whole.

I’ll post something about Motivational Interviewing as a way to approach that first meetings with the CEO… soon.


#Lean quote: “The most important person who needs to learn from shop floor experiments is the top executive visiting with the sensei” Michael Ballé

August 17th, 2011 Posted in Lean Tags: , , , , , ,

This powerful quote I’ve just read on Michael Ballé’s Gemba Coach Column.

That few of top management goes to the shop floor, let look and learn something might be the great explanation (root cause) of Lean failures.

You can only convince a top manager with blatant results and the most convincing results are those he can see and feel for himself.

If you’re not walking the gemba with top management, you’re doing work for yourself, for your own pleasure (with some results as a side effect), but not working for the long term benefit of the organization.

Lean projects are just that: projects, with a beginning and an end. Gemba walks with top management should be transformational.



Psychological flow and #Lean from suppliers and customers points of view

August 17th, 2011 Posted in Change, Lean Tags: , , , , , ,
Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Based on a comment by David on a preceding article on the same subject, I was challenged to think of the psychological flow of suppliers and customers of an organization’s processes.

Customers first

When dealing with customers, their needs have to be taken into account first and foremost. This means that the organization’s processes must not prevent the customers to experience flow (or even support it).

On the Skill axis, the processes must be designed in such a way as to make the customer feel like they are skilled in changing them. That doesn’t mean you wait for customers to offer advice, but that you actively seek it, in non intrusive way of course (with prevailing ISO 9001 certification, customers are inundated with customer satisfaction surveys). In Lean terms, this is where genchi genbutsu rules on the gemba of the customer: go and see him use your product in their environment and stay long enough to learn. That’s longer than you just thought.

The Challenge axis is a bit more tricky to me. Of course, we don’t want a customer to feel un-skilled and the process to be challenging to change (Anxiety zone). I feel the challenging part need to be understood as the way the organization challenge the requests of the customer.

In coaching, there’s a well-known difference between a customer request (what s/he is asking of you) and his real need. One need to work out the request to get to the need.

In systems thinking, this is also known as moving from the problem to be solved to the purpose sought. Often the problem masks the purpose. When the purpose is highlighted again, then a new path is often found which dissolves the problem. But this need the organization to be ready to ask challenging questions to the customer.


The customer part was probably the hardest. The psychological flow of the suppliers looks easier to me. To be in a flow, work with your organization should be easy (they need to feel like they are skilled to work with you) and, they need to be challenged and feel empowered to serve you at their best.

If your require the lowest of them, chances are you’ll get it, which will require few skill and will be less than challenging to them: a clear recipe for an apathetic supplier. But broad requests with a strong dialog between you and them where you share your customers’ vision and make them part of your extended enterprise will surely allow them to seek their most powerful skills to serve you and accept the corresponding challenges.

In conclusion

I sense a form of respect for people in both of these approaches: that in which you don’t accept fatality in your relations (you on one side and customer on the other – or you and “them” (suppliers)) and reach out to build that extended enterprise everybody’s talking about in the Lean literature.

My recipe for an extended psychological flow from suppliers to customers:

  • Co-create visions with suppliers and customers
  • Establish an extended Dialog between suppliers, your organizations and your customers
  • Praise and share results by focusing on what works to do more of it

Incidentally, this is also my recipe for successful changes

Psychological Flow and #Lean

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

In Lean, we talk a lot of Flow: how a process can add value step by step, without ever stopping, up to the time the product is sold to a customer.

Now, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi also introduced the concept of psychological flow in which people are in a very attractive mental state. That state occurs when people work on a task that is both challenging to them AND they feel like they have enough skills to tackle it.

How does it relate to Lean?

Well, in non Lean companies (dare I say most of them?) people are usually  entangled in processes that are far from providing a state of psychological flow:

  • either there are not challenging enough and require few skills on their part and they feel bored at work
  • or the challenge is high but they feel like they lack the proper skills to perform, and they feel stressed (anxiety).

As per the diagram above, people rarely are in the yellow part of it (arousal, control or flow).

What can be done to change that? Well, what Lean is all about: remove muda, mura and muri!

By improving processes, it is thus possible to remove all that administrativia that often is neither challenging nor requiring high levels of skills to be done.

  • muda (non-value added activities) is neither challenging nor requiring skills to be done, hence negatively impacting workers
  • mura (unevenness) makes work fluctuate between a high challenge and a low one, making people oscillate between anxiety and apathy
  • and muri (unreasonable) adds to the challenge without a possibility to achieve it with skills, hence producing anxiety

So, working to create a Lean company is striving to make processes and people flow.

What’s more, the link between the two is the traditional problem solving activity of Lean when the processes raise problems that are solved by people. This raise their skill level, which result in improved processes that are thus better capable of raising more subtle problems, to be solved again. A virtuous circle.

I hope to see how this can be turned more strength-based in another blog post…


Strength-based #PDCA (#lean)

Lean is traditionally viewed as being problem-focused. That is, it works on problems to solve in order to improve efficiency. The core of Lean management is Shewart‘s cycle or the infamous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Deming cycle.

Yet, I posit that Lean is indeed also very strength-based when “done properly” (that is, it’s LEAN not LAME – Lean As Mistakenly Executed). There’s a LinkedIn discussion group on Strength-based Lean Six Sigma which I encourage you to follow if you’re interested in the subject. I hope to write about this as well on this blog. Later.

What I’d like to ramble on today is on what the basis for a strength-based Lean could be. First of all, I must explain the difference between strengths-based and solution-focused:

  • Strength-based is about doing something by focusing on people’s strengths rather than focusing on their deficiencies or their problems. The strengths movement mainly came out of the CSV handbook (check what your strengths are on VIA for free!) though other companies devised their own list of strengths (Gallup or Clifton’s Strengthsfinder for instance).
  • Solution-focus is about identifying behaviors that worked in the past (or work in the present) and use them again. It’s not really about replicating a (technical) solution that worked in the past (though that could be the case. Yet, in Lean, standards are supposed to be your company’s best practices, so there’s no point in looking for solutions elsewhere).

So, what would a strength-based PDCA look like? Rather than giving directions, I’d like to propose some questions for each step that should elicit responses from people based on their strengths. or what worked for them. It’s a blend of Solution focus and Strength-based questions with a bit of Appreciative Inquiry in the beginning.


  • What works well in this job?
  • What first attracted you to this job?
  • What makes you “tick” about it?
  • Apart from this job, what do you love to do?
  • What do you think you are good at?
  • What would your friends and co-workers say about what you’re good at?
  • What are your wildest dreams for this job?
  • What three wishes do you have for this job?


  • What are you willing to do about this job?
  • What behaviors of yours have you seen successful in helping changing something you care of?
  • How are you going to approach what you want to do about this job?
  • What needs to be true (preliminary steps) for your wildest dreams for this job to come true?
  • What are the next physical concrete action that you need to do to advance on these preliminary steps?


  • Where are you on your path to achieve your plans?
  • What worked? How did you notice?
  • What have you done that made it work?
  • How are you going to continue measure progress?
  • What next?


  • What have you learned from what worked?
  • What have you learned from what you did that made it work?
  • How are you going to use that again with what’s left do to?
  • What do you know now that you couldn’t before taking action? What might be further on the road?
  • What new opportunities does it bring for your plans for the future? How are you going to improve your plans, then?

There’s so much to say about strength-based Lean and how you really can put the “respect for people” first in your Lean management so that your work experience skyrockets…

Using Motivational Interviewing to elicit change under constraint (#change #lean @biggerplate #mindmap)

I’ve just finished a wonderful ebook on “Motivational Interviewing in Probation” (see my links on my delicious account) and it appeared to me that this skill may very well be suited for Lean Coaches when they don’t have the opportunity to coach top management but are asked to “do Lean” in the company.

Most of the time, managers are asked to “do Lean” and this very request triggers their change resistance upon arrival of the loca Lean expert (coach). As each managers may be on a different stage of the change model (see my previous article on Stages of Change Model), the coach should be addressing each of them differently. This mindmap explains how.

Use your new MI skills to achieve that and tell me how it works. Warning: it may look easy, but it’s some hard and live intellectual work. But who said Lean was easy anyway? 🙂

See the uploaded MI on Probation mindmap on Biggerplate here.

The happy complexity of organizational productivity (#lean #solutionfocus #appreciativeinquiry #systemsthinking #positive #psychology)

I’ve been reading that article in Havard Business Review about “The power of small wins” (paying article) and somehow some things felt down together in place:

  • Lean management and any continuous productivity improvement approach for that matter
  • Solution Focus
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Positive Psychology
  • Happiness (at work)

Read more »

Nice website about #Deming : (#lean #systemsthinking #change)

I’ve stumbled on this nice websiote with lots of advocacy for Deming’s work (yes, the quality movement initiator). Have a look at

Moreover, the site also makes the link with Lean and Systems Thinking and advocates for a change in management techniques.

Have a good reading!

When is the last time you reflected on your own management behaviors?

A #systemsthinking explanation of lack of respect for people (fundamental #lean pillar)

I have recently finished reading this excellent paper from Raul Espejo regarding the law of requisite variety: “Giving Requisite Variety to Strategic and Implementation Processes: Theory and Practice“. Espejo is a person to read if you’re interested in the Viable System Model (see corresponding articles on this blog and my delicious bookmarks on VSM) as created by Stafford Beer.

In this paper, Espejo make the stunning comment that (I quote, emphasis mine, excerpted from page 3):

“[…] many organisations are still driven by the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them, but not to make distinctions of their own. Therefore the assumption is that the complexity of a senior manager is much greater than that of a professional in the production line. Somehow it is assumed that people at the top have much bigger brains than those working at ‘lower’ levels. Since they don’t, the space of creative action at ‘lower levels has had to be reduced. The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This becomes manifest when power is exercised by enforcing distinctions made at corporate levels to construct a limited context of action for the majority in the organisation.”

The last emphasized sentence is insightful for me: “The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. What is meant is that with top management having a mental model of having bigger brains than people at lower hierarchical levels, they take on more decisions than people below them. This mental model then hinders learning from the very people that top management would probably want to have bigger brain but that they prevent them from developing… Management complains about employees being cogs in the machine, but, because they think they are, they remove every opportunity for them to turn back to being human and use their brain, which makes them further into cogs.

Another case of espoused-theory vs. theory-in-use, I guess.

In Lean, we say that management should act as coaches to their reporting collaborators and don’t give them answers (we even encourage management to let their employees fail in order to learn). It may be slower on the short-term, but probably the best way to grow them and increase productivity and morale in the longer term.

How many times today have you solved someone else’s problem?

I hope you’ll solve less tomorrow…

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