Coaching for Process Change: 5 Must-Know Questions

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Jeff Cole

For those of us in the business of managing process change, escorting an organization from Point A (Current State) to Point B (Desired State) can often be a challenge. But, we must like challenges because we chose this career, right?

One of the most amazing changes ever took place mid-century and was dubbed the “Japanese Miracle”. After WWII, Japanese industry laid in ruins. To help rebuild, folks like quality guru W. Edwards Deming and others help them change their management approach and processes. Toyota also led the way with something they called the “Toyota Production System,” later referred to as Lean. “Made in Japan” transformed from meaning total junk in the 1950s to meaning the highest quality in areas like electronics and automotives by the 1970s. What can we learn from them and put into place by dinner tonight?

coaching for process change

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One thing some people don’t understand about Lean is that over half of it is invisible – it’s what is going on in the heads of the people involved. According to books like The Toyota Kata, Lean managers who coach others in the organization have 5 specific questions they tend to consistently ask. Turns out we can benefit from them as well. What are these secret questions?

1) What is your target condition? You may think of this as a desired state, or goal. I often ask myself “What should this look like?” or “What should this be like?”

2) What is your current condition? This is sounding a lot like “Point A” – Current state. At this point you have identified a gap between where you are and where you want to be.

3) What obstacles are blocking progress toward the Target Condition and which one of those will you work on? While we can fill a whiteboard with all our obstacles, to maintain a laser focus and do fast improvement, pick one of those to work on.

4) What is your next step? What quick PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) experiment will you try in order to mitigate the obstacle? Lean has a strong bias toward action – try something and if it works, standardize it. If not, fail fast and fail on a limited basis. We’ll have learned what does not work and can move onto an alternative tactic.

5) When can we ‘Go See’ the results? In Lean, nothing beats going to the gemba – where the action is in the process – to see how things really work. Instead of playing with theory, roll up your sleeves, try the experiment and go see the results. Then proceed back to Question #1 – rinse and repeat.

This is especially helpful in today’s frantic pace where people freeze like deer in headlights because they are met with too much information at once. Slow down to speed up - thaw that frozen thinking process by backing up, slowing down and asking these questions in a stable and consistent way. It worked for Toyota and can work for us – these questions are transferrable to just about any business and are especially helpful in process change.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my target condition involves a beer and a recliner and about the only obstacle in my way is finishing this column. Happy change!

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