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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

The 3 Types of Experiment

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 10

This article discusses a general approach to solving problems with three types of experiments.

Recap of the last episode: After her previous coaching cycles, Denise has come up with an idea for making faster progress by distinguishing between two types of obstacles. Implementation Obstacles and Process Obstacles. She intended to discuss this with her improvers Joe and Mark in her coaching cycles tomorrow and also clean up the obstacle parking lots together with them.

The next day is Friday. Denise and Joe meet at 10 a.m. for their daily coaching cycle. Denise first talks with Joe about her thoughts on the two types of obstacles.

Afterward they clean up the obstacle parking lot and mark the process obstacle they were working on with a self-adhesive arrow. When they scan the experimenting records, they find that the last four steps were only addressing implementation obstacles. "No wonder we're moving so slowly," Joe thinks aloud.

They replace the implementation obstacles on the latest experimenting record with the process obstacle ‘piston jammed’, which Joe is currently addressing.

"From now on we use a separate experimenting record for each process obstacle," says Denise. "Then we don't lose track and can identify if we have truly removed the obstacle."

They start their coaching cycle and Joe explains what he has learned from his last step. After her coaching cycle yesterday, Joe had checked with production planning when the next batch of piston pumps was planned for assembly. He had found out that the following days morning shift would start a new batch, i.e. today.

As this had indeed occurred, he had not waited until the appointment with Denise but had observed the assembly process of the pistons in the morning. During the observation, the obstacle of the jammed piston had occurred three times.

Denise realizes that Joe has taken the next step on his own after the implementation obstacles had been removed. Now he's caught fire, she thinks happily. Her short daily coaching cycles seemed to be having their first effect.

Denise asks Joe what exactly the problem was with the jammed pistons. Joe answers: "The operators simply have to insert the piston with a straight, vertical move. Then it does not jam."

Immediately Denise notices that Joe has jumped to a solution. No, it was not even that. For the operators, the advice to insert the piston with a straight, vertical movement was not very helpful because the piston was inserted by hand and it was difficult, especially with the long pistons, to keep them precisely straight. If they really wanted to solve this problem, they first had to understand the root cause. Only then they would find a suitable solution.

Identify obstacle, understand root cause, then test solution. There seems to be an order, Denise thinks. She decides to think that through later.

She remembers her formula ‘Obstacle = Root Cause x Unwanted Effect’ and decides to stick to it. "Joe, what is the unwanted effect of this obstacle on your process metric?" Denise asks. Joe replies, "This morning, during my observation, the problem has occurred three times. Our records show that this happens on average about six times per shift. If the piston jams, we lose at least 10 minutes loosening it. That means a loss of 60 minutes per shift“. Denise suggests adding this data in the obstacle column on the experimenting record. Joe notes ‘Piston jammed / 60 minutes per shift’.

Denise thinks: This is a good way of describing process obstacles.

‘Piston jammed leads to 60 minutes lost time per shift.’ This corresponded precisely to the first and last part of the obstacle formula. She decides to note this trick later in her handbook.

Denise continues, "Joe, what exactly happens in the process for the piston to jam?" Joe replies, "I'm not sure. The operators are trying to insert the piston as straight as possible into the suction cylinder of the pump." Ah, Denise recognizes that the threshold of knowledge has been reached. Therefore she replies: "Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly." Then she immediately moves on to question 4: "So what's your next step to finding out?" Joe replies, "Then I'll have to take a closer look and do another observation." "And what do you expect then?" Denise prompts.

"That I understand the reason for the jamming of the piston" is Joe's answer. Denise thinks, yes we've identified the obstacle, now the next logical step is to understand the root cause. Only then will finding a sustainable solution become possible. So the expectation relates precisely to the obstacle. Her next thought is, would that apply always? Joe pulls her out of her thoughts. "Should I write this down?“ he asks. They complete the coaching cycle and Denise walks back to her office.

Arriving at her desk, she sits down and picks up her notebook and begins to reflect.

Her thoughts go back to the obstacle formula and discussion about the jammed piston with Joe. First, they had discussed the obstacle, then the unwanted effect, and now Joe would investigate for the root cause. Afterward he would have to come up with a solution. In general, the steps might look like this: Identify obstacle, determine root cause, test solution. So there were three basic types of experiment. She starts writing.

Next week: Read about the fortune teller glass bowl for the coach. With it, a coach can accurately predict the future. You don’t think so? Stay tuned for the next episode.



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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