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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

How to coach for better solutions

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 19

Ever felt stuck when trying to come up with a solution? That's pretty natural. Often first ideas are not the best.

Too difficult to implement, too much time needed, or beyond budget. But what if we can't come up with a different solution? The way out is counter-intuitive but read for yourself.

Recap of the last episode:

In the previous article, Denise and Mark worked on the obstacle of occasionally damaged seals on the pump housing. It seemed that the seals were damaged when the automatic screwdriver tightened the third of the five screws on the pump housing lid. 

As they didn't know what exactly caused that to happen, Mark observed the process to find out. When they meet for their coaching cycle, the following conversation unfolds.


Episode #19

This article continues Mark's and Denise's coaching cycle from the last episode and discusses how to coach for better solutions.

Denise: "Mark, what did you learn from taking the last step?"

Mark: "I observed the following. When screwing in the first screw, the lid often slightly moves because it has some play. This will move the seal with it, and sometimes the seal will slip over hole three on the other side. If this happens, the third screw damages the seal when screwed in. So the problem is not caused at screwing position three. That is where the damage occurs. The problem is caused already at the first screw when the moving lid pulls the seal along.

Denise thinks about the Kata Cycle (see Episode 12). At what stage are they in their conversation? At 2 o'clock, she realizes. The effect and cause of the obstacle are now known. Time to move on to the next step, a type 3 experiment (see Episode 10), to find and test a solution to remove the obstacle. Still, Denise hesitates to ask question 4; 'what is therefore your next step?' It seems to her that this would be too quick. Denise remembers similar situations in her coaching cycles with Mark and Joe. Often at that point, they had responded with a solution that was difficult to execute, took too long to implement, or was too expensive.

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

Since Denise cannot think of any other approach, she goes ahead anyway and asks for the next step. Mark replies, "I'll talk to the engineering department to see if the play in the lid can be reduced by changing the housing design or if there is a way the seal can be fixed to the housing. Maybe with a little pin on the housing and a fixing hole in the lid."

Just what Denise had expected. Both ideas might solve the problem but would need design changes which would take a long time and be costly or might even not be possible.

Denise feels trapped and continues, "Mark, what other options do you see to solve this problem?"

As the words leave her mouth, Denise realizes that she is no longer coaching.

Marks' face tightens, and he answers impatiently: "We have been working on this obstacle for so long now. We finally have to do something."

This was getting very difficult.

Denise tries to row back, "I understand, but a design change to the lid or seal will not be a quick solution."

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

Denise suddenly remembers one of the first tips she wrote in her notebook: If it gets complicated in one phase of the coaching cycle, the problem often originates in the previous phase. Right now they were in phase 4 (next step), maybe they should move back to phase 3 (Obstacle, effect, and cause). Denise decides to try that.

"Mark, I realize that I'm not helping you right now. Let me try again to find a better way to coach. What exactly happens in the process when the problem occurs?"

Mark replies, "when tightening screw 1, sometimes the lid is moved because it has play relative to the housing. The seal then moves with it and, in the worst-case, covers hole 3. Then, when the screw is inserted in hole 3, it damages the seal." "Lets sketch that sequence," Denise suggested.

While Mark does so, Denise notices that there were two variables. The lid only shifted sometimes. Also, the seal did not always end up in an unfavorable position over hole 3. Even if it was pulled along by the lid.

When Mark is finished writing down the steps, Denise picks up on her thoughts. She asks, "what exactly happens in the process for the lid to shift only sometimes? "

(Denis uses "Repeat and Step on the Word")

Mark replies, "that depends on how it is positioned in the housing. If it touches the right edge, it does not move. If it is positioned touching the left inside edge of the housing, it has some play. Therefore it will be moved to the right when screw number one is tightened."

Denise probes on her second observation. "And what exactly happens in the process for the seal to cover hole 3 when it is pulled along?"

Mark explains, "that depends on how the seal is positioned on the housing. If it is aligned with the left side of the housing, it is simply moved along and ends up in the correct position. However, if the seal is placed too far to the right and the lid on the left, the lid pulls the seal beyond hole 3."

"Let's add the steps for inserting the seal and lid to our sketch of the assembly sequence," Denise replies. She points to the sheet on which Mark has written down the process steps.

After Mark has added the two steps, Denise continues investigating. "And how should the process run correctly?"

Mark goes through the sequence step by step, explaining: "The seal should be positioned so it can't move over hole 3 even if it is pulled along. To do so, the seal should be aligned with the left inside edge of the housing. Likewise, the lid should be placed touching the right inside edge of the housing, minimizing play, so that it will not move when the first screw is tightened. But this will be difficult for the team to assemble as they have to do two different positioning steps," Mark comments.

Then he continues: "Or we change the order of the assembly steps and put the seal on the lid instead of placing it on the housing. This will align the seal exactly with the lid. Then we insert the lid together with the seal into the housing and make sure the lid touches the right inside edge of the housing, thus reducing the play. That way, the lid can't move, and the seal is aligned with the holes in the lid." Denise asks Mark to sketch the desired sequence as well. "But I am not sure if that really works," Mark notes.

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

Hey, you're just reading on! Really take a moment to consider what your next action as a coach would be. The threshold of knowledge, Denise realizes and replies, "Don't worry if you don't know, what is therefore your next step to finding out?" "I'm going to run some assembly tests with the new sequence and see what happens," Mark replies. "And what do you expect then," Denise asks further. "That the seal will not slip over hole 3 when screw 1 is tightened. And that, therefore, there will be no damaged seals," Mark replies.

Denise and Mark complete their coaching cycle by filling Mark's next step and expectation into the experimenting record. Then they agree to meet again tomorrow at 9:00 am.

That was quite different now Denise thinks as she walks back to her office. As she reflects on her coaching cycle she realizes something interesting. After she had asked question 4 (next step) too fast, Mark had proposed a premature solution. Moving back to phase 3 by asking, "what exactly happens in the process for the problem to occur" had really helped. Mark had described the relevant sequence much more precisely.

Afterward, the question "how should the process run correctly" had shifted Mark's perspective. All of a sudden, the two options 'aligning lid' and 'aligning seal' had occurred. Denise writes down the two useful questions in her notebook.

  • What exactly happens in the process for the problem to occur?

  • How should the process run correctly?

With the first question, the coach could help the Improver investigate more deeply the current state of the process that caused the obstacle.

(Lid moves when placed touching the left side. Seal moves and covers hole 3 when placed to the right side)

The second question produced a desired pattern for the process that could be compared with the existing pattern.

(Lid doesn't move when placed touching the right side. If the seal is positioned on the left side, even if it is pulled along, it does not move far enough to slip over hole 3)

Although this seemed only marginally different from the solutions Mark had proposed (reduce play of lid and/or hold the seal in place), the difference in perspective was important.

Perspective 1: Reduce play between lid and housing and keep the seal from moving.

There was only one possible solution, a change in design to achieve this.

Perspective 2: Keep lid from moving and align seal with lid and holes.

For that, several options were possible. Aligning the lid with the right side of the housing was one. Alternatively, place two opposing screws into the holes before tightening them was a second.

Likewise for the seal. Align lid with the left inside of the housing instead, so it doesn't matter even if it moves.

This change in perspective somehow sparked new ideas with Mark. He realized that positioning the lid touching the right side would keep it from moving. Then it was only necessary to have the seal aligned with it rather than keeping the seal from moving as well. That was a lot easier to achieve.

Opposing the current process pattern with the desired process pattern seems to open the solution space, Denise thinks and calls her new trick "Compare the Patterns."

This was somehow counter-intuitive. If a solution was not working, asking for an alternate solution was a dead-end road. If in need of alternative ideas, it was a lot better to dig deeper into the current condition and the obstacle itself. This is another version of the "zoom in" trick (Episode 15) Denise thinks. If we don't know, we definitely know we have to observe more closely.

She closes her notebook and makes her way to meet Joe for their daily coaching cycle.

Next week: Read how Denise tests her new trick in the coaching cycle with Joe.

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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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