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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

Joe coaching (pushing) Sam

Denise remembered observes Joe, one of her team leaders, coaching Sam, one of his shift leaders. At that time, Sam was working towards his next target condition, reducing errors with pins automatically pressed in on an assembly workstation. These pins were often pushed incorrectly. That led to a considerable amount of rework.

Sam had observed that for different products, the pins were inserted at different speed, even though they are always the same. Only the parts that were punched in varied slightly for different types of product.

Sam had discovered the pressing force being adjusted differently on each changeover as a possible cause. Now, Sam had the hypothesis that this was the reason the pins were occasionally not pressed in thoroughly.

When Denise arrived, Joe and Sam started their coaching cycle. Denise observed the following conversation.

Joe’s Coaching Cycle with Sam

At first, Joe and Sam briefly talked about target condition, actual condition and the last step. Then they started with phase three.

Joe: "Sam, what exactly is the problem?"

Sam: "I think that the different press forces lead to different results when pressing the pins in. Probably the force is set too low for some products."

Joe: "How should the pressing force be set correctly?”

Sam: "I don't know exactly, but it should be high enough to ensure the pins do not get stuck halfway but are pressed in all the way.“

Joe: "Don't worry if you don't know. What is, therefore, your next step to find out?"

Sam: "I will do a series of measurements with different pressing forces to find out which force is necessary as a minimum".

Joe: "And what do you expect then?

Sam: "That I know the minimum force required and that we can adjust the press accordingly during a changeover. Should I write that down?"

Joe nodded, and Sam filled out the next line in the Experimenting Record on his storyboard.

Afterward, Joe asked: "When can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?“

Sam thought aloud: "Well, until I've organized everything and carried out and evaluated the series of measurements…hmm…on Monday next week, maybe.“

Joe hesitated as today was Tuesday and Monday was nearly a week away. Denise noticed that Joe didn’t know how to deal with that situation.

Pause for a moment and consider: As a coach, how would you react in Joe’s situation?

Then Joe continued: "That's a long way out, can’t we get this done more quickly?"

Not a good idea, Denise thought immediately.

Sam also reacted slightly irritated: "Joe, that's a lot of work, I have to prepare this well, we can't just stop the line and do a series of measurements in the middle of a shift. I also have to figure out exactly how to proceed. To vary the pressing force, I have to change the tools and set up the controller program of the press for the different products. That takes quite some time. And then I also need the parts for testing. I'll have to find out where to get them. Maybe use some damaged parts, so we don't end up with a pile of new parts with pins pressed in only partway.“

Joe tried to back up: "Let's fix our next coaching cycle for Monday. And perhaps you can let me know sometime during this week how things are going.“

"Yes, of course," Sam replied, and wrote down next Monday as the due date on the Experimenting Record.

Pause for a moment and consider again: As a coach, how would you have reacted in Joe’s situation?

When Sam had gone, Denise asked: "Joe, how did the coaching cycle go from your perspective?“

Joe: "Not good. Now we will meet in a week from now. That is far too long, but I don't know how I could have got Sam to agree to an earlier appointment. That kind of situation happens to me rather frequently".

Pause for a moment and consider: As a 2nd coach, what feedback would you give Joe?

Denise thought for a while, going through her observation record. She had noted several points. The problem was that the step was too big. As often, the issue had already started before the phase in which the coach recognized it.

In Joe's case, with the step being too big and therefore taking too long, that had already originated in phase 4 of the coaching cycle. When Joe asked Sam about the next step, Sam had proposed conducting a series of measurements. That sounded simple. However, taking a series of measurements was often elaborate.

At this point, Joe could have asked deepening questions about what exactly Sam intended to do.

For example:

  • How will you proceed to do that?

  • What exactly would you like to observe?

  • How are you going to measure that?

  • How will you document this?

Very likely, they would have hit Sam's threshold of knowledge regarding how to prepare the series of measurements or how to measure and evaluate the results. In return, that would have led to a small next step to find out, e.g., to think about when or how to conduct the experiments. Sam would have been able to do that much more quickly.

However, Denise still hesitated to give that as feedback to Joe. To using that approach, the coach would need to recognize in phase 4 that the proposed next step could be too big. That was not as easy, as the coach usually did not know the topic in detail. The coach would need to pay attention to hints indicating vagueness, such as "I will measure“ or "I will have a look". Alternatively, the coach could listen for words that indicate more significant or multiple steps, such as "I will do a series of…“ or "I will do several…“. As Joe had not been a coach for long, using that approach would not be easy for him.

Denise decided on a different approach for her feedback.

Denise: "Joe, I also realized that you weren’t satisfied with the length of time it would take for that step. I'll try to give you some feedback on how you could handle that situation.

"I observed that at the end of your coaching cycle, Sam mentioned numerous things he has to do to prepare and conduct the measurement series.

"I have the impression that before that, when you first asked him about the due date, he went through them in his mind. To have enough time to conduct them, he consequently opted for a longer-term due date.“

While they were talking, they saw Sam standing at the press, checking various parameters on the controls.

Denise continued her feedback: "From my perspective, the following is therefore helpful:

"If you notice in phase five that the due date for the next step is too far into the future, try to break the step-down into a first partial step. You could do this by asking the following deepening question: What would you, and therefore, do first?“ Alternatively, you could ask: "What can you do today?"

At that point, Sam came back to them and said: "Joe, I just found out that I can change the pressing force in the controller independently of the product type. That means that I don't have to change the tools on the press for the different products of my series of measurements. That will make things much faster. I'll see how far I can get by tomorrow.“

When Sam left them again, Denise said to Joe: "That's how it often is. A step consists of many small sub-steps. We just consider it to be one step. The coach can help to surface the sub-steps by asking deepening questions. That allows us to have rapid coaching cycles every day or even several times per day.

"And above all, things frequently turn out to be different after taking the first sub-step; different from what we expected when we planned our big step and the improver, and therefore, has to adapt their approach. Just like it happened with Sam just now. Sometimes Improvers get stuck after the first sub-steps when things don’t work as they planned. If we have the next coaching cycle planned a week later, we will realize too late that they need help and the time is lost.“


Small Steps and Generating Impact

The tendency to think in big rather than small steps might be caused by our perception that our coach wants to know when we will be finished.

As a coach, we should focus on assisting the improver on the way rather than a status check on arrival. Helping a person work systematically (e.g., not to take shortcuts through assumptions), reflect and adequately adapt accordingly will lead to superior results.

Relying on status check only makes us feel that we are target and achievement-focused. However, that might be an illusion. Putting pressure on people by only checking on done induces shortcuts.

That is not a call for being indifferent about impact or being relaxed about reaching targets — quite the contrary. A good coach will be persistent about the improver reaching the Target Condition; on the due date, of course. Therefore, they will diligently coach on the way it is done.

A better attitude for a coach could be: I want you to be successful, i.e., to reach the Target Condition; therefore, I coach you often and challenge your approach.

Helping a person on the way through the unknown towards a Target Condition implies making sure we don’t overlook indications that things are different from expected because our brain has fooled us. That we go in small steps and experiment rather than making big plans based on assumptions.

Experiment — Learn — Adapt.

Phase Five of the Coaching Kata

A thought on phase five: How quickly can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?

To some coaches, the question five wording feels bulky and strange, and they start introducing changes to the question. Occasionally, I observe coaches asking question five something like this: "When will you be done with your step?“ I worry that this might even amplify the mindset of 'when will I be done‘.

The spirit of question five is more: When will we have gained first learning or insight? Let’s meet then to see what (unexpected) we have found out and if and how we need to adapt our approach. That can occur rapidly. In the above example with Joe and Sam, the first insight for Sam that changed his approach occurred only 3 minutes after their coaching cycle.

There might be nicer ways to formulate question five, but we should be aware of what mindset we induce with our words.

Success in the changing environment we live in might be more likely for those that know that they don’t know, and therefore act accordingly. Progress quickly by experimenting, learn, and adapt.

A helpful mental posture for the coach might be this. Working through the unknown zone towards the next target condition is like going through a labyrinth. Likewise, it is not so much about always pushing to get to the exit, that doesn't help and only builds pressure. It is more about quickly looking around the next corner to find out if it is a dead end. As a coach, we should be impatient about finding the next obstacle. Obstacles show us the way. Let's find the next one quickly. Always be impatient and curious to look around the next corner of the labyrinth.


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