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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

Denise's coaching cycle with Mark.

Making Smaller Steps Part 1/2



Friday, March 3 - 3:30 pm


After the start of the second shift, Denise made her way to meet Mark for their daily coaching cycle. His overall challenge was to reduce the cycle time in the final assembly line for the F1200 pump, one of their main products. The next Target Condition Denise and Mark had established was to reduce the time needed to assemble the cover. However, once again, Mark was stuck and had barely progressed in the past few days.


They started their coaching cycle, and Mark explained what he had found out from taking his last step: “I have watched how several team members attach the cover to the pump. Everyone does it a bit differently. Additionally, even with the same person, the time needed for attaching the cover differs each time.”


After Mark noted his findings in the experimenting record on the storyboard, Denise moved on to question three.

She asked, “what obstacles prevent you from reaching the target condition?”

“I do not know” Mark replied, “when the team members mount the cover, the process is different every time.”


Denise realized their conversation had stalled. Mark is at his threshold of knowledge, she thought, but he has been at the same point for several of our past coaching cycles. How can I help him?


Denise decided to dig deeper: “What exactly happens in the process for the problem to occur?” When Mark gave her a somewhat blank look, she clarified: “What exactly happens in the process when the team members mount the cover?”

Mark roughly described the individual steps for the assembly of the cover. Denise asked him to sketch them on a sheet of paper. Then she asked: “And how long did these individual steps take today?”

“That varies” Mark replied. “Overall, it takes us between 30 and 40 minutes to mount the cover” he continued.

“And how long should it take if the process ran correctly?” Denise continued.


Mark thought about that and then answered: “Well, to reach our target condition, it should never take more than 25 minutes.”

“And how long should each of the assembly steps you’ve noted take to achieve that?” Denise continued.

Mark thought about that again and made some notes next to the work steps on his sheet. He knew how much time approximately each step currently needed. He added the times to his sketch. Based on that, he made a first estimate of how to ideally distribute the time of 25 minutes over each step. Mark created a small table. On the left were the work steps. Next to them, the current time needed for each step. In the right column Mark wrote down a target time for each step to reach a total of 25 minutes. Mark adjusted the times a bit until the individual times summed to 25 minutes.


Now he has a first target pattern with desired times for each step. That’s like a next target condition, just one level deeper, Denise thought. That is a cool way to ‘ZOOM IN’ she realized, and picked up the ball again: “What Obstacles keep you from achieving this target pattern?” She asked Mark.


For three steps of the pattern, the deviation between the actual time needed and the desired time for the step was particularly large. Mark named exactly these three steps as Obstacles.



He wrote them down in the Obstacle Parking Lot on the storyboard. Then he choose one to address next.

Denise asked “And what exactly is the problem that makes this step take ten minutes?”

“I do not know what exactly takes so much time, so I guess I will have to observe some more,” Joe replied.

That’s too imprecise for the next step, Denise realized. In the past few days, Mark has often quickly suggested another observation when he reached his threshold of knowledge. However, he has not advanced his understanding of the process by these observations. He needs to more clearly define what he is observing for, Denise thought.

That is an opportunity to test my coaching approach to clarify the next step, Denise realized. She had thought about that some time ago. Actually, the idea had come to her when skiing earlier in January. She had hired a private ski instructor for a day to improve her skills in powder skiing. After he had identified her fields of learning, he gave her some advice. Then they went on some practice runs.


Before every practice run, the ski instructor had asked the same question: “What are you paying attention to on this run?” At first, Denise had found it a bit exhausting, but it helped her focus enormously.

Denise asked Mark: “How will you proceed to do the observation?”

Mark thought for a moment before answering, “I’ll just focus on this one assembly step and watch it with the same person performing it several times.”

“And what exactly are you focusing on when you observe?” Denise continued.

“I’d like to observe which sub steps the person is performing and how long each of them takes.”

Denise dug deeper: “And what would you like to measure?”

Mark frowned again: “The duration of each step, of course,” he paused, “but that’s not enough, I also need to measure the variation of each step. Then we get a really clear picture of where the problems are.”


Time again to pat herself on the back. Denise was thrilled how well her questions to clarify the next step worked, and decided to ask one last question: “How are you going to document this?”

Mark thought for quite a while, and then suggested the following: “I will gather the times in a table. From this, I can make a graph with a bar for each step representing the shortest and longest observed time per step. Then we can see at a glance where the longest times and the biggest fluctuations are.”

That’s great, Denise thought, now Mark has defined a very precise next step.

Mark wrote down the step and his expectations on the Experimenting Record. They agreed to meet again on Monday.


Back in the office, Denise noted the four questions she had used to specify the next step as a new tip in her notebook.



She also updated her card with the deepening questions.



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