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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

What is the Obstacle Formula?

by Tilo Schwarz | Tips for the Kata Coach | Episode 5

In this article, I discuss identifying and evaluating obstacles and a structure for the 2nd Coach to give feedback.


For new readers: Every Monday I intend to share hands-on tips for better coaching with the Coaching Kata. This episode is #5 in a series of articles about Denise, who has taken on her first management position as a department manager with a small assembly team at PowerPump Inc. Denise intends to develop her team through coaching. Read Episode 1 to get into the story.


Recap of the last episode: Because Denise is often struggling in phase 3 of her coaching cycles she has asked David, her 2nd coach, to focus his observation on this topic. By doing so, he was able to help Denise to understand why she struggled to support Joe, her Improver, to find obstacles (Read Episode 4 for details). Now David and Denise return from the coaching cycles this morning and reflect on what they have learned.


After Denise’s two coaching cycles with Joe and Mark this morning, Denise and David her manager who observed as a 2nd coach, return to their offices. David is glad that he was able to help Denise as a 2nd coach. Sitting down at his desk David reflects on his feedback to Denise.

In my feedback, I started describing my observations during the coaching cycle and tried to focus on facts. Next, I explained my impression of the effect of what I had observed. Then I could have provided a suggestion to Denise on what to do. Today though Denise came up with an idea by herself, David realizes. He likes this structure for giving feedback and writes it down.

Source: Toyota Kata Memory Jogger, 2018, page 147

David asks himself; What would my feedback from this morning be like using this structure?

*see Episode 4 for David‘s original feedback

David writes down an example:

I have observed that Joe did not present current data for question two and that the chart on his storyboard for the process metric was out of date as well.

I have the impression that thereby it became difficult for you to help Joe identify obstacles precisely during phase 3.

In my opinion, it would, therefore, be beneficial to make sure during phase two of the coaching cycle that current data is at hand.

David closes his notebook and plans to practice this structure for giving feedback as a 2nd coach during the coming days.

*see TK memory Jogger pages 144 to 148 for more tips on how to provide feedback to the coach

When Denise returns to her office, she sits down at her desk, opens the little notebook she calls My Management Handbook and starts reflecting on what she learned from her coaching cycles this morning. Denise starts writing. Each obstacle generates a measurable, unwanted effect on the process metric; Obstacle = Unwanted Effect.

She reflects further; to eliminate an obstacle we have to understand the root cause. If we know the root cause and remove it, the unwanted effect disappears, and the process metric should improve by precisely the amount of the unwanted effect. Denise starts writing again and specifies her formula.

Obstacle = Root Cause x Unwanted Effect

This way the formula is even better, Denise thinks. Also if we haven’t identified a specific obstacle yet the unwanted effect is already measurable. Hence obstacles can be identified through variation and outliers when taking a look at the process metric.

*See TK memory Jogger page 61 for more on this formula

Denise reflects further. To do so, we would have to be able to see the outliers regarding the process metric immediately in phase two of the coaching cycle. Regarding Joe‘s Target Condition this means we would need single event data, no averaged data, for the variation of the assembly time and that is for every single pump assembled. If we do this outliers will show themselves. Denise starts writing again.

Chart the process metric as a run-chart. Don’t use stack or pie charts.

I don’t want Joe or Mark to print out new charts every day anyway. A run-chart can easily be filled in by hand, Denise thinks. Actually, a bar or line diagram would be perfect, with a red line for the target value. Then we would easily understand the current condition at one glance.

Her new trick is complete. Denise writes down as a summary:

We have to spot outliers, trends, and patterns immediately -

use run-charts with single values to do so.

Suddenly she has an idea for a name for her new trick: ‚Love at first sight‘.

Denise smiles and closes her notebook.

Next week: Read how Denise and David come up with a helpful structure for the storyboard.



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