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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

Find out how Denise discovers Go West

It was Tuesday morning. Denise started her coaching cycle with Mark. After the quick recap on the next target condition and some new data Mark had gathered on the actual condition, they picked up the topic of the short cable from yesterday.

Denise: "So, Mark, what did you learn from taking the last step?“

Mark: "I talked to Joyce from engineering about the problem with the cable and the need to make the cable a bit longer. But Joyce said that making the cable longer was not an option. She had some technical explanation about problems with electronic noise on the signal if the cable was too long.”

Denise felt the urge to burst out, see this is what I meant yesterday with jumping to conclusions when you suggested just ordering a shorter cable from the supplier.’ But she quickly bit her tongue. That would be no-go, Denise thought. My task as a coach is to help my improvers develop scientific-thinking patterns. Telling them that they are wrong simply feeds my ego.

Instead of jumping in with a question, Denise decided to wait for Mark to continue

Mark: "Well, we still struggle with the cable in assembly, and if we can’t have it longer, I actually don’t know what to do.“

He is stuck now, Denise realized. That may be part of the behavior pattern of 'jumping to conclusions’ as well. She thought of the drawings with the frequent behavior patterns she had penciled into her notebook yesterday. We quickly come up with an idea of which, we think, will work. If it doesn’t, we don’t know what to do.

Maybe the Improvement Kata Cycle can help me coach now, Denise concluded. Let’s see, where are we on the cycle? She quickly went through the Kata Cycle in her mind.

We have a Target Condition, and we have a precise current condition as well. So, that’s (1), and (2) of the Kata Cycle completed. We also have defined an obstacle to tackle (3). Mark has proposed a next step, which is (4), but conducting it did not lead to a viable solution, and now he is stuck. So, what is the problem, what is missing, Denise asked herself?

Finally, it dawned on her. We have an obstacle, but we don’t understand the cause yet, as 'cable is too short’ is not the cause. So, we actually should go back to (3) and understand more about the process. I’ll try that.

With that, Denise picked up the conversation with Mark again.

Denise: "Mark, I don’t have a solution either, but let’s dig deeper into the process and let's see what we can find. What obstacle are we addressing right now?“

Mark: "People often struggle when connecting the yellow cable and therefore need 5 to 10 seconds longer.“

Denise: "So, what exactly is the problem?“

Mark: "The cable is simply too short.“

Denise: "And what exactly is the problem with the cable being too short?“

Mark: "I’ll show you.“

They walk from the storyboard over to the assembly line, and Mark continued: "Look, the team members plug in the first side of the cable here," Mark pointed to a socket on the controller board.

"Then they have to plug in the other side here," he pointed to a sensor attached to the housing of the pump. "That is when they struggle because the distance between the two sockets is nearly as wide as the length of the cable and they can hardly get the second connector into the socket.“

Denise: "That’s interesting. So what obstacles are preventing the team member from plugging in the cable with ease?“

Mark: "Well, the sockets are too far apart, and the cable is too short.“

Denise: "Ah, that actually seems like two obstacles. Let’s put that down in our obstacle parking lot.“

They walked back to the storyboard, and Mark wrote 'distance between sockets’ and 'length of cable’ into the obstacle parking lot.

Denise: "What obstacle are you going to address next?“

Mark: "Now, unfortunately, engineering won’t agree to a longer cable so that only leaves the 'too long a distance between the sockets’ to be addressed. But I don’t know how that could be changed. I can’t move the sockets.“

Denise realized Mark was jumping to conclusions again and decided to ignore it. Maybe he just needed to vent about his frustration.

Denise: "What does too long mean in data?“

Mark: "That I don’t know?“ He looked at her a little sheepish.

Denise thought, ah, threshold of knowledge found. Great! We need to do a step here to find out.

She relaxes and continued: "Don’t worry, Mark if you don’t know, what’s your next step to find out?“

Mark: "I’ll measure the distance between the two sockets and the length of the cable and compare the two.“

Denise: "And what do you expect?“

Mark: "That we can solve the problem with the cable.“

Denise immediately thought, that’s not a precise expectation. Not only is there data missing but also we will not solve the problem with a go-and-see step.

However, she decided to ignore it as she felt she has been quite demanding with Mark today. They agreed to meet again two hours later as this was only a small step.

After leaving Mark, Denise thought about the imprecise expectation for the next step and asked herself how she could address this. She went back to her desk, grabbed her little notebook, and checked her sketch with the three types of experiments and the fortune-teller’s crystal ball.

The expectation should match the type of experiment, she suddenly remembered. Let's see, how does this exactly work?

Denise started her recap with experiment type one. If we haven’t identified obstacles yet, the next step is an experiment type one for identifying obstacles. From such an action, we would expect to identify several obstacles. The numerical expectation for such an experiment regarding the process metric, of course, is that it will not change as we are conducting a go-and-see step.

However, ideally, we would also measure the unwanted effect on the process metric for the obstacles we identify, Denise continued her thought, applying the obstacle formula.

She continued with type two experiments. Now we are addressing an obstacle, but we don’t understand its cause yet. The next step then is an experiment type two, analyzing the obstacle more deeply. Again, we would expect no numerical effect on the process indicator but that we expect to know what causes the obstacle or can build a fact-based hypothesis for it.

Denise moved on to type three in her thinking: Now we’re testing a solution to remove the addressed obstacle. The expectation then is a numerical one, as the process metric improves by the value of the unwanted effect if the obstacle indeed is removed.

So, not only the type of next step, type 1, 2 or 3, depends on our understanding of an obstacle, the threshold of knowledge, but also our expectation should match that.

Denise flipped though her notebook, searching for the sketch of the experimenting record with the three types of experiments.

When she looked at it, she suddenly realized: There is a logic link all the way through now. It already starts with the obstacle. The obstacle should be linked to the process metric as to having an unwanted effect on it. Otherwise, it’s an implementation obstacle.

The next step must match the obstacle. That is where the model of three types of experiments comes in handy. Also, the expectation should match the kind of step we are conducting.

You could even take it further, Denise realized. The learning or finding, what we talk about when asking "what did you learn from taking the last step," should match the step and the expectation.

That’s a lot to watch out for, Denise paused, how could I have a reminder for that?

Suddenly, she had an idea. Maybe the experimenting record is helpful to do so. Let’s take a look. She pulled out an empty experimenting record.

And there it was. Each column should be logically, and sometimes even mathematically (unwanted effect, numerical expectation), linked to the column on the left. On a map that would be west, Denise thinks and calls her new trick 'Go West.'

Now I know what Maggie meant when she said there are hidden reminders for the coach built into the templates and the storyboard. I wonder how many more hidden secrets I’ll find. That’s so cool. I need to tell Maggie I found that. I can’t wait for our lunch meeting.

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