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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

The Kata Cycle Part 2 — Go West

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 13

This article discusses how referencing the Kata Cycle can help the coach and how to evaluate the expectation regarding an experiment.

Recap of the last episode:

Denise’s last coaching cycle with Mark did not go so well as she struggled to coach when Mark was jumping to a conclusion to address the problem with the cable. Afterward, Denise reflected and came up with a step by step description of a systematic problem-solving approach. She calls this the 'Improvement Kata Cycle.' Will this help her in the coaching cycle with Mark today?

(Read Episode 12 for details)


Episode #13

It is Friday morning. Denise starts her coaching cycle with Mark. After the quick recap on the next Target Condition and the current data of the Actual Condition, they pick 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 feels the urge to burst out, see this is what I meant yesterday with 'jumping to conclusions’ when you suggested just to order a shorter cable from the supplier. At the last minute, she manages to bite her tongue. That would have been a no go, Denise thinks. My task as a coach is to realize the undesired behavior patterns of my improvers and then help them establish a scientific way of thinking and acting through coaching them. That’s not about telling them that they are wrong. Denise waits 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 realizes. That may be part of the behavior pattern of 'jumping to conclusions’ as well. She thinks of the drawings with the frequent behavior patterns she penciled into her notebook yesterday (see Episode 12). 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, Denise concludes. Let’s see, where are we on the cycle? She quickly goes 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 asks herself?

Pause for a moment and consider: What is the problem here?

Right, we have an obstacle, but we don’t understand the root cause yet, as 'cable is too short’ is not the root cause. So we actually should go back to (3) and understand more about the process. I’ll try that, she thinks and picks 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. Which 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 continues: "Look, the team members plug in the first side of the cable here," Mark points to a socket on the controller board. "Then they have to plug in the other side here," he points 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.

Pause for a moment and consider: What what would you do as a coach now?

Denise: "That’s interesting. So which 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 walk back to the storyboard, and Mark writes 'distance between sockets’ and 'length of cable’ into the obstacle parking lot.

Denise: "Which 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.

Pause for a moment and consider: What is the problem here and what would you do as a coach?

Denise realizes Mark is jumping to conclusions again and decides to ignore it.

Denise: "What does too long mean in data?

Mark: "That I don’t know?“ He looks at her a little sheepish. Denise thinks, ah 'threshold of knowledge,' we need to do a step here to find out.

She relaxes and continues: "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.


Workout for the Coach: That is a good moment for consolidating what we have discussed throughout the 13 episodes so far. So pause for a moment and do a workout for the coach: Denise has used several coaching tricks throughout this coaching cycle. What are they? Go through the above conversation again and write down your thoughts.


Hey, you're just reading on. I really mean it, complete the exercise ;-)

Now that Denise and Mark have agreed on a next step they finish the coaching cycle.

Denise: "And what do you expect?

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

Denise thinks that’s not a precise expectation. Not only is there data missing but also we will not solve the problem with a go&see step. However, she decides to ignore it as she feels she has been quite demanding with Mark today. They agree to meet again two hours later as it’s a small step and the weekend is ahead.

After leaving Mark, Denise thinks about the imprecise expectation for the next step and asks herself how she could address this.

Pause for a moment and consider: What is your reference as a coach regarding the expectation about an experiment? What should an expectation contain?

When Denise comes back to her desk, she grabs the notebook she calls 'personal management handbook’ and checks her little sketch with the three types of experiments and the 'fortune teller crystal ball' (see Episode 11). The expectation should match the type of experiment, she suddenly remembers. Let's see, how does this exactly work?

Denise starts her recap with type 1. No obstacle yet, so the next step is an experiment type 1 for identifying obstacles. From such an action, we would expect to identify several obstacles. The numerical expectation regarding the process indicator, 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 indicator for the obstacles we identify, Denise continues her thought, thinking of the obstacle formula (see Episode 5).

She continues with type 2 experiments. We are addressing an obstacle, but we don’t understand the root cause yet. The next step then is an experiment type 2, analyzing the obstacle more deeply. Again we would expect no numerical effect on the process indicator but that we know what the root cause is or can build a fact-based hypothesis for it.

Denise moves on to type 3 in her thinking: We are now testing a solution to remove the addressed obstacle. The expectation then would be a numerical one as the process indicator 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 but also our expectation should match that. Denise adds the column 'expectation’ to her sketch with the three types of experiments.

Denise looks at the drawing, and thinks. 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 (see Episode 9).

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 realizes. 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 pauses, how could I have a reminder for that? Suddenly she has an idea. Maybe we could build a hint for the coach into the Experimenting Record. She pulls out an empty experimenting record, cuts it along the columns and arranges them in the order of the logic above.

That’s cool, Denise thinks. Ideally, 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.' She decides to talk with her team about using this new format for the experimenting record.

Next week: Read about the tricks Denise has used in the above coaching with Mark and compare it with the thoughts you have written down. Expectation: We will find some helpful universal tricks, i.e., the Leatherman multi-tool for the coach.

If you like this post, forward it to a friend or colleague right now because they will appreciate getting helpful tips from you.



For new readers: Every week, I share hands-on tips for coaching with the Coaching Kata. This episode is #13 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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