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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

How to take Deliberate Steps

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 20

Ever ran into an imprecise, big, hairy, description for a next step. We tend to define big chunks of action as a single next step to give the impression that we know what we do and are making progress. However, that can lead to long term due dates with no or little knowledge gained.

Also, steps often appear smaller then they are, containing several “disguised” sub-steps. In each of the sub-steps, we might learn something new and unexpected that needs our course to change. If we have agreed on a long due date for our next coaching cycle as a coach, we might be surprised how little progress we have made.

This article discusses tips for helpful coaching to take deliberate, small, and quick steps.


Episode #20

Denise makes her way to meet Joe for their daily coaching cycle. His overall challenge is to reduce the cycle time in the final assembly line for the F1200 pump, one of their main products. The next Target Condition Denise and Joe had established, was to reduce the time needed to assemble the cover. However, in the past few days, Joe had not made much progress.

They start their coaching cycle, and Joe explains what he has found out from taking his last step: “I have watched how several team members attach the cover to the pump. Everyone does it a bit differently. Additionally, even with the same person, the time needed for attaching the cover differs each time.

After Joe has noted his findings in the Experimenting Record on the storyboard, Denise moves on to question three. She asks, “what Obstacles prevent you from reaching the Target Condition?” “I do not know” Joe replies, “when the team members mount the cover, the process is different every time.

Denise realizes their conversation is not making progress. Joe is at his threshold of knowledge, but he has been at the same point for several of their coaching cycles. How can Denise help him?

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

Denise decides to dig deeper: “What exactly happens in the process for the problem to occur?” When Joe gives her a somewhat blank look, she clarifies: “What exactly happens in the process when the team members mount the cover?”

Joe roughly describes the individual steps for the assembly of the cover. Denise asks him to write them down on a sheet of paper. Then she asks: “And how long did these individual steps take today?” “That varies” Joe replies. “Overall, it takes us between 30 and 40 minutes to mount the cover” he continues. “And how should the process run correctly?” Denise continues.

Joe thinks about it and then answers: “Well, to reach our Target Condition, it should never take more than 25 minutes.” “And how long should each of the assembly steps you’ve noted take to achieve that?” Denise continues.

☞ Pause for a moment and consider: In the last two paragraphs, Denise is using several tricks which we have discussed in previous episodes. Which are they?

Joe thinks about that and makes some notes next to the work steps on his sheet. He knew how much time approximately each step currently needed. Joe writes them down. Based on this, he makes a first estimate of how to ideally distribute the time of 25 minutes over each step. Joe creates a small table. On the left are the work steps. Next to them, the current time needed for each step. Next to that, the target time for each step to reach a total of 25 minutes.

Joe calculates back and forth a few times until the individual times sum up to 25 minutes. Now he has a first target pattern with desired times for each step, which was like a next Target Condition, just one level deeper.

That is a cool way to ‘Zoom In’ Denise thinks, picking up the ball again: “What Obstacles keep you from achieving this target pattern?” She asks Joe. 

For three steps of the pattern, the deviation between the actual time needed and the desired time for the step was particularly large. Joe named exactly these three steps as Obstacles.

Joes list of the process steps might look like this.

He writes them down in the Obstacle Parking Lot on the storyboard. Then he chooses one to address next. Denise asks “And what exactly is the problem that makes this step take 8 minutes?” “I do not know what exactly takes so much time, so I just have to observe again” Joe replies. That’s too imprecise for the next step, Denise realizes. In the past few days, Joe has often quickly suggested another observation when he reached his threshold of knowledge. However, his observations had not generated significant new knowledge about the process. Precise observation was one of his learning fields Denise had realized.

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

That is an opportunity to test my questioning technique to clarify the next step Denise thinks. She thought about that some time ago.

Actually, the idea had come to her during a ski holiday in the Spring. Denise had hired a private ski instructor for a day to improve her skills in powder skiing. After he had identified her fields of learning, he had given her some advice. Then they had gone for some practice runs. Before every practice run, the ski instructor had asked the same question: “What are you paying attention to on this run?” At first Denise had found it a bit exhausting but it helped her focus enormously.

Denise asks Joe: “How will you proceed to do the observation?” Joe thinks for a moment before answering “I’ll just focus on this one assembly step and watch it with the same person performing it several times.” “And what exactly would you like to observe?” Denise continues. “I would like to observe which sub steps the person is performing and how long each of them takes.

Denise digs deeper: “And what would you like to measure?” Joe thinks again: “The duration of each step of course” he pauses, “but that’s not enough, I also need to measure the variation of each step. Then we get a really clear picture of where the problems are.

Denise is thrilled how well her questions to clarify the next step work and decides to ask one last question: “How are you going to document this?” Joe thinks for quite a while and then suggests the following: “I will gather the times in a table. From this I can make a graph with a bar for each step representing the shortest and longest observed time per step. Then we can see at a glance where the longest times and the biggest fluctuations are.

That’s great, Denise thinks. Now Joe had defined a very precise next step. He writes down the step and his expectations on the Experimenting Record. Denise and Joe agree to meet again the next day. 

Back in the office, Denise notes the four questions she has used to specify the next step as a new tip in her notebook. 

Coach for a precise next step:

·  How will you proceed to [do that]*?

·  What exactly would you like to observe?

·  What would you like to measure?

·  How are you going to document that?

*Alternatively put in a word or part of the sentence from the Improvers answer. See “Step on the Word” technique in Episode #18.

Example: How will you proceed to do the observation?

Next week: Next week we will discuss the tricks Denise has used in her coaching cycle with Joe.

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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