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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

A must have Multi-Tool for the Kata Coach

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 18

This article discusses a simple trick for the Coach to boost the effect of the 5 Coaching Kata starter questions.

Episode #18

When Denise comes home from choir rehearsal, she parks her car in the garage and takes the elevator to the 3rd floor. For a year she has been living in this maisonette apartment in the city center, and she likes it. By the time she gets through the door, she is too tired to cook. She grabs a bowl of cereal, adds some yoghurt, sits down on the sofa, and turns on the TV. An episode of a crime series has just started. This time it is about a murder case in a widely branched, long-established industrial family. There are several suspects, but everyone seems to have an alibi. Gradually the investigators try to establish the logical connections and encircle the perpetrator. Suddenly Denise is wide awake.

She remembers the last coaching cycles with Mark. He was currently working on improving the quality of an automated screwing station in one of the assembly lines. His current Obstacle was ‘damaged seals on the motor housing’. The process ran like this:

First the seals were manually placed on the motor housing by one of the operators. Then the operator placed the lid on top and triggered the automatic station. The machine then put the screws into the holes of the lid and screwed it to the housing. Occasionally seals were damaged in this process. Mark currently struggled with finding out what caused the damage. Denise had spent several coaching cycles to help Mark understand the situation better, but somehow, they seemed to spin their wheels.

Denise watches the investigators mark on a city map the location where the victim had been found and the whereabouts of the suspects. Where had everyone been seen last? Then they checked the times and compared them to the distances on the map. Determining the place and time of the event, Denise thinks that could help Mark too. She intends to try it the next day.

When she enters her office the next morning, Denise opens the little notebook she calls ‘My Personal Management Handbook’ and writes down the idea she had last night.

When struggling to understand the cause, analyze place and time of the occurrence.

Below that, Denise makes a small sketch. It's like a funnel she thinks: First it's about pinpointing the obstacle on the city map - where exactly does it happen, then determine the point in time - when it does happen - in order to observe the process more precisely at this point. This may reveal some patterns regarding time and place of the obstacle and could help to understand the cause.

This is the ‘Root Cause Funnel’, Denise thinks. If the cause is unclear, go down the funnel. Denise smiles at the name for her new trick and closes her notebook.

She starts her coaching tour in production. "Good morning Mark, we have arranged for a coaching cycle, is it suitable for you right now?" Quickly they discuss Target Condition and Current Condition using their usual format of just mentioning outcome metric and focus process metric using ‘THEREFORE’ and ‘BECAUSE’ as linking words.

Then they continue with phase 2 of the coaching cycle. Mark is still working on the Obstacle ‘damaged seals’. He has conducted a deeper analysis of the rework as his last step. Denise asks, "And what did you learn from taking your last step?" Mark responds, "I looked at the damaged and removed seals of the last two days. They definitely are scrap. We continue to have about 8% rework due to damaged seals."

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

Denise goes through the Kata Cycle in her mind (see Episode 12).

Although Mark had come up with a result for the last step, he had not gained deeper knowledge about the Obstacle. In terms of analyzing the problem, their threshold of knowledge had not moved. They were still at 2 o'clock on the Kata Cycle; the cause of the seal damage was unknown.

She decides not to move on to question 3, but to follow up on the last step. "Mark, what exactly did you plan as your last step?" "I wanted to take a close look at the damaged seals of the last two days, which were rebuilt in the course of the reworking," Mark replies. Denise continues: "And what did you expect?" (Denise uses deepening questions on the last step - see Episode 17).

Mark takes a look at the experimenting record and begins to read: "Last time I noted that we expected to know the exact cause of why the seals get damaged." "And what did you learn from taking your last step regarding this expectation?" Denise follows up. She notices that she is now using the original cornerstone or opening question of phase 2 again (what did you learn from taking your last step) but with an addition, adding precision.

Mark replies, "Well, I still do not know the cause. But I've already observed the process so much, and I am getting nowhere with this."

Denise reflects on Mark' reply. He has clearly reached his knowledge threshold.

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

Denise keeps thinking. At the threshold of knowledge, I would usually ask for the next step. But I have done this for the last two coaching cycles. This has led Mark to observe the process over and over. Unfortunately, every time without new knowledge. Leaving Mark with yet another general process observation will not help and only cause frustration. Now Mark needed support in the methodical approach. This is a test case for my crime scene cause funnel, Denise realizes.

Denise decides to move on to phase 3 and asks; "Mark, what obstacles are preventing you from reaching the Target Condition, and which one are you addressing now?" Mark replies, "So from the last step, no new obstacles have been added. We still have the same three obstacles here." He points to the Obstacle parking lot. Then Mark continues: "So far I have been working on the Obstacle ‘Damaged Seals’ but we are not making any progress here. I think we should try another obstacle. But you probably do not want that. You always call that obstacle hopping." They both smile. "Yes, exactly," Denise replies, "let's continue trying to crack this thing with the seals."

Denise starts trying out the root cause funnel by asking about the place: "Mark, where exactly does the problem occur?" Mark reacts: "The defect in the seal is detected in the test stand when the tightness test is performed. But that is probably not the point where the seal is damaged. I think the seals could be already damaged the moment you insert them manually, or at the very latest when the lid is put on."

Aha, the threshold of knowledge Denise realizes. But we are a level deeper now at individual steps of the process. She, therefore, now moves on to question 4. "Don't worry if you do not know where exactly the seals are damaged, Mark, what's your next step to find out?" Mark responds, "I think it happens in the first two steps, but to really understand it, I will have to check every single process step. Best with 10 to 20 cases." "Sounds great," Denise nods and asks, "when can we go and see what we have learned from taking that step?" They agree on the next coaching cycle at the end of the shift the same day.

Denise walks over to Joe, who is waiting at his storyboard. They start their coaching cycle. Denise immediately notices that Joe has not gathered current data for the process metric for quite a while. Last week's entry was the most recent.

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

Denise decides not to move on to asking about the last step. No matter what Joe would present, it would not be possible to relate it to the Actual Condition as current data for the process indicator is missing. Denise is a bit annoyed as Joe is an experienced Improver and they have had many coaching cycles together. He should know current data for the process indicator is vital. But telling Joe this would poison the atmosphere of their coaching cycle.

Denise forces herself to stay calm and repeats cornerstone question 2, "What is the actual condition regarding the process metric today?" This, of course, leads to reaching the threshold of knowledge. They agree on a fresh measurement of the process metric and schedule the next coaching cycle in 2 hours.

As Denise returns to her office, she thinks about the two coaching cycles. With both Mark and Joe she has repeated one of the cornerstone questions of the coaching kata and added a clarification.

"What did you learn from taking the last step, regarding your expectations?" was an example.

Denise thinks about some more options:

"What is the actual condition regarding the process metric today?" was another one.

"Which one Obstacle are you addressing now, that has an effect on the process metric?"

This was putting the ‘effect first’ trick (see Episode 5) into an open question.

All questions of the coaching kata can be made more specific in this way, Denise concludes. With this trick, as a coach, you can methodically guide without giving direct instructions.

Denise continues pondering. This could be particularly helpful if the Improver's answer to the first open question was vague or too general. Or if data was mentioned in an inappropriate format for the particular analysis such as averaged data. You could simply ask: "What is the actual condition regarding the process metric for each individual cycle?"

Denise opens her notebook and writes the trick down.


Repeat the cornerstone question and add...

  • what you would like to clarify?

  • a time constraint (e.g., today, this shift)

  • a data constraint (e.g., regarding each individual cycle)

  • use REGARDING as a linking word

With this trick, it would even be possible to build on the answer given by the Improver, and to help them clarify more deeply for themselves, Denise continues her analysis.

She recalls an example from the last few days. Joe had worked on an Obstacle in the assembly of the oil line. When asked what exactly was the problem with this Obstacle, he replied: "Threading the oil hose does not work this way. We should ask for a design change of the bracket". Denise had noticed that Joe had jumped to a quick fix, but at that point, she had not known exactly how to continue her coaching.

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

Denise now thinks about this situation again. It would have been easy with the ‘REPEAT and ADD’ trick she has just discovered. She could have repeated the question, taking up Joe's answer for clarification and help him to go deeper instead of jumping to solutions.

Something like this: "What exactly is the problem when threading the oil line?"

Now Joe couldn't have answered by simply repeating, threading the oil hose does not work this way.

REPEAT and ADD’ really was a super trick for the coach, Denise realizes. Just like a multi-tool. She adds another point in her manual:

To help the Improver clarify, repeat the question,

and add a keyword.

The keyword could be introduced by the coach to make the question more specific and thus to guide. Or the keyword could come from the previous answer of the Improver, just like the situation with Joe. Taking away a word for the next answer would help the Improver go deeper. Or the threshold of knowledge was reached. Denise thinks, taking a word away, and calls her trick: ‘STEP ON THE WORD’.

When Denise meets Mark in the afternoon, he reports an interesting insight. "I never thought this," he says. "In the 20 cases, I observed I have found 3 with damaged seals - but only after screwing with the automatic screwdriver. Before that, every seal was fine. I really can not explain that." Denis decides to continue testing her root cause funnel and go for timing next. She asks, "When exactly does the problem occur?" " Well, on screwing in, as I just explained" Mark answers. Denise stays calm and repeats the question - with ‘stepping on the word’: "When exactly in the screwing process does the problem occur?", "Well, I did not observe to that detail," Mark realizes and continues, "I'll have to take a closer look."

Recently they often both recognized when the threshold of knowledge was reached. Mark no longer had a problem with not knowing something and suggested the next step to finding out. Denise was happy. That had been very different in the beginning when Mark had always tried to appear as if he knew exactly what the problem was.

"How will you proceed in order to do this?", asks Denise. Mark replies: "I have already checked the scrapped seals from the last two days. They are usually damaged in the same place. But you only see it when you put them on a table next to each other and in the same orientation as in the assembly position." He is in a flow now, Denise realizes. Mark continues: "I'll take a look at this point at the automatic screwdriver."

When they met the next morning Denise is surprised to see Mark disappointed. "I've looked at it," he tells Denise, "It's true that when you screw in the third screw, the gaskets get damaged, but for some reason I can not explain why."

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

Denise glanced at her question card on which she has written down the deepening questions for the root cause funnel.

The Root Cause Funnel: TK Memory Jogger page 102

She asks: "And what exactly happens in the process when the problem occurs?". Mark replies: "It starts with screw 1. The screw is fed in automatically. The screwdriver moves over the first threaded hole, is lowered, and then screws in the screw. So it continues to the 5th and last hole."

Denise goes deeper: "And what exactly happens in the process at each of these screwing positions in relation to the seal?" Again, the knowledge threshold is reached and Mark proposes another detailed observation of each screwing position. When they meet again, Mark explains, "I've watched the following. When screwing in the first screw, the lid is slightly displaced because it has some play. This will move the seal with it and sometimes the seal slips slightly over hole 3. In this case, when the third screw is screwed in, it will damage the seal. The cause is therefore not at screwing position 3. That is only where the damage takes place. The cause is that the seal is sometimes moved when screwing in position 1 because it has some play."

Now we are really getting somewhere, Denise realizes. Although they still had no solution to the problem they had finally found the cause. The root cause funnel had proven itself.

Next week: Read how Mark and Denise find a really simple solution, and Denise uses another in-depth question from the root cause funnel.

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 part of 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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