Utility

This week, I had two of the critical conversations in the kata deployment. These were go and see experiments because my conversations were only elicitations of the impressions of my interlocutors. I wasn’t trying to see what would happen if I introduced a conversation into the process of management. I wasn’t trying to change their minds, but see how the current state of their minds reacted.

I showed the simple block diagram. It looks something like this:

Inputs Process Outputs
Difficult decisions Choose the decisions that will take the longest to answer (leave the easier ones for later).  Improved questions
Ideas of plans Draft a clear attempt at an answer, preferably a diagram with explanatory notes. Answers
Preliminary drawings Distribute it to the team members. Ask them to scrutinize it and ask questions. Plans
Impressions of obstacles Answer all of the questions that you can.  
Impressions of questions

For the questions that you can’t answer clearly, do research, or experiments, and find the answers.

Do coaching cycles on these research cycles.

 
Known hindrances Update the document with those revised answers.  
Known questions

Repeat these steps until the document can bear the scrutiny of a core set of team members. It’s not that everyone has to agree. It’s that the answers to questions must be defensible. The kata coach should be in these conversations, and look for indications that the interlocutors are making arguments and claims outside of their knowledge threshold. She should document these arguments and claims as obstacles and discuss them with the learner after the meeting. 

They should do more experiments (PDCAs) on these arguments and claims.

 
  Don’t even try having difficult technical conversations without a drawing or technical document in front of the members.  

Of course this process isn’t guaranteed to produce consensus, but lack of consensus isn’t what been plaguing us. It’s a maelstrom of vagueness. Of arguing past one another. Of groundhog day debates. Klinkenborg’s diagnosis comes to mind: people want so badly do be done, that they don’t focus properly on doing. They want the decision made. They “don’t want to argue.” They commit to an idea for a day, then the next throw their hands up, claiming indifference. 

I predicted tepid assent; instead, the idea received enthusiastic support. Why? What did I learn?

In a coaching cycle with my boss, he asked me, and we came to a different conclusion together than I had before the cycle. My conclusion had been something like bafflement. Sometimes people are excited by the same ideas that I am, sometimes they aren’t. Who knows why. His impression was clearer and probably more accurate.  

The question I’m trying to answer is not how to apply Lean principles to the work we’re doing (a question that’s interested me for years). The question I’m asking is, how can we overcome the most daunting obstacle before us? Also, at present, the team members’ descriptions of the obstacle are remarkably convergent.

My thinking, and consequently my presentation, emphasized how our problem could be addressed, instead of how my preferred technique could address our problems.

Is this learning, precisely? It seems more like the application of some general principles. Maybe it’s more like practice. I didn’t learn the principle. But maybe I’ve developed some experience in applying it. 

I think what I’m seeing is that  we (meaning, people in general) want to see precisely how a technique can help us solve our most pressing problem, not hear how, in principle, a methodology can justifiably be applied to a family of problems. Because the core team has been experiencing real grief, sitting in the same long meetings, and I have been trying specifically to reducing this suffering, the resulting ideas were more interesting to my teammates. As Rother would say, I’m focusing on the  one obstacle that we need to solve now. Not picking out the problems that I think I know how to solve. 

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