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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

Fortune Teller Crystal Ball for the Coach

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 11

This article discusses how the Coach can know in advance what the next step and a suitable expectation should be.

Recap of the last episode:

After her previous coaching cycles, Denise has realized that most steps fall into one of three categories, she calls the three types of experiment.

Type 1: Experiment for identifying obstacles

Type 2: Experiment for understanding the root cause

Type 3: Experiment for testing a solution

(Read Episode 10 for details -- new readers check footnotes below)


Episode #11

Denise continues to think about the three types of experiment and wonders, what would the experimenting record look like for each of the three? She draws a small spreadsheet with the two columns' Obstacle’ and 'Next Step.'

Since Denise and her team leaders Joe and Mark started distinguishing between an Implementation Obstacle and a Process Obstacle (read Episode 9 for details) they had decided to only write down the currently addressed Process Obstacle on the experimenting record. They had also developed the habit of drawing a dash in the obstacle column as long as the next Process Obstacle that required addressing was unknown. In such a case, the next logical step would be a type 1 experiment — find Process Obstacles to address, Denise thought. She filled out the first row in her spreadsheet.

In most cases, the next step for finding obstacles was a more detailed process observation or a trial run simulating the desired process pattern described in the Target Condition such as working with one-piece flow, zero buffers, or one operator less.

Running the process like this, of course, did not work perfectly but made obstacles clearly visible. This had become a trick they used quite frequently to understand better what they had to work on next to get closer to the Target Condition. It was a lot better than assuming and discussing what the obstacles might theoretically be.

This was also why Denise had rephrased question 3 on her card with the Coaching Kata questions. Instead of 'which obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the Target Condition?’ she now always just asked, 'which obstacles are preventing you from reaching the Target Condition?’. If the answer was, “I don’t know for sure” or she had the impression that her Improver came up with hypothetical obstacles, she often insisted on running the process with the desired process pattern as an experiment to find the real and relevant obstacles.

The Process Obstacles they identified that way were put down in the Obstacle Parking Lot. Then they selected one of them to address and wrote it into the obstacle column on the next row of the experimenting record.

The next step then logically had to do with understanding the root cause of the chosen obstacle. Often this required another observation, only more accurate. Regularly several steps with test runs and measurements were needed until the actual cause became apparent. Denise filled out the next row in her little 2 by 3 spreadsheet.

Once the root cause was clear, a type 3 experiment was needed. The obstacle remained the same, but the step now was something like 'test solution ABC to remove the obstacle.'

After Denise had filled out the third row accordingly, she thought, what about the expectation in these three cases? She added a third column to her little sketch.

For a type 1 experiment, ’Finding Obstacles,' the logical expectation was something like 'obstacles are known.' Ideally, including the unwanted effect of each obstacle, Denise thought as she noted the expectation in the table.

So for type 2 experiments, an observation or a test to investigate the root cause of an obstacle, the expectation was of course 'we know the root cause.' Just like this morning, Denise thought. This is precisely how Joe had formulated the expectation for his next step. And that step was a type 2 experiment, as Denise was pleased to recognize. Her little table seemed to work well.

A type 3 experiment, testing a specific solution to remove an obstacle, therefore had the expectation 'process metric changes by value X’ and not just 'solution works.' Only when there was a measurable effect on the process metric had the obstacle indeed been removed.

Looking at her sketch, Denise suddenly has an idea. If the Coach knows which stage the problem-solving process is at, they can predict what the Improvers answer to question 4, the next step and expectation, should be, she thinks.

If no obstacles have been identified yet, the next step should be an observation or test-run with the expectation to find obstacles and understand their magnitude.

If an obstacle has been identified, the next step should be an analysis with the expectation to understand the root cause.

And if the root cause is clear, the next step should be to test a change to remove the obstacle, expecting a positive change in the process metric if the obstacle is removed.

This is cool, Denise thinks. Now I know in advance what the answer from my improvers regarding next step and expectation should be. If their answer is different, I can ask deepening questions to help them to clarify for themselves. Then they can come up with a more precise step and logic and measurable expectation.

It’s a little bit like being able to foretell the future, Denise thinks and starts smiling. She calls her new trick: 'The fortune tellers glass bowl’.

Next week: Read how Denise discovers more helpful logic links for the Coach of which Sherlock Holmes would have been proud.



For new readers: Every week, I share hands-on tips for coaching with the Coaching Kata. This episode is #10 in a series of articles about Denise, who has taken on her first management position as a department manager at PowerPump Inc. Denise intends to develop her team through coaching. Read Episode 1 to get into the story.

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