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  • Tilo Schwarz

How Black Holes help with Toyota Kata

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

by Tilo Schwarz


In 1783 John Michell an English natural philosopher predicted objects so massive that they would be able to capture anything even light. The idea of black holes or dark stars as they were called at the time was born. It took over 140 years until scientist using Albert Einstein's theory known as General Relativity were able to show theoretically that massive stares could indeed turn into black holes at the end of their life. It took yet another 40 years until astronomers discovered the first black hole in 1971.



How can you discover something invisible that consumes everything even light? Nobody has ever been to or seen a black hole face to face. Until a couple of weeks ago we did not even have a single picture of a black hole.

However, we are sure they are there because we can measure and observe the effects of their extreme gravity on objects around them.


As a coach using the Coaching Kata, we sometimes struggle when our improver seems to have a hard time identifying and precisely describing obstacles to address.

Often we are tempted to jump to a next step then which certainly helps to escape the awkwardness in the current coaching cycle. The backlash comes with the next coaching cycle because addressing a vague obstacle with an even more ambiguous step will not yield precise findings and progress towards the next Target Condition. We are stuck again.


Some thoughts that help me in situations like this:

  • Any deviation between current- and desired state of our process metric is an indication that obstacles are present. Just like their massive gravity effects reveal black holes.

  • If we measure the process metric frequently and detailed enough we will be able to spot outliers which are often caused by significant obstacles or an accumulation of smaller obstacles. So outliers are an excellent spot to search for obstacles.

  • Some obstacles reveal themselves through trends. "Look, the process metric is continuously increasing between measurement 15 and 28. What was different here?"

  • And yet again some obstacles can be detected by patterns they create over time. „Always at 9:00 a.m. our process metric peeks. What might be causing it?“

To use this in our Coaching Cycles, it might be helpful to have precise and frequent measurement of the process metric. Good visualization on the storyboard will certainly help too.


If you would like to improve the charts on your storyboard the following points might help:

  • use run charts as they are better for finding trends

  • avoid averaged data, display single data points instead to spot outliers and patterns

  • have the target easily visible, e.g., a red line, to identify deviation quickly

Summary: We should be able to detect outliers, trends, and patterns immediately.


The ultimate test: Will you fall in 'love at first sight' with the charts on your board?



A good way to think of the deviation between Current- and Target Condition might be this: 'We can't reach the target yet? There must be some obstacles.'


I personally find the thought 'it's just obstacles' really helpful at times when things get tricky. Rather than staring at the deviation and asking myself will I make it. It's always just obstacles. If we can see their effect, they are there. Let's go and find them.


Read more about how to use these tricks and 'love at first sight' in this weeks story about Denise who has taken on her first management position as a department manager at PowerPump Inc. and intends to develop her team through coaching.

FOOTNOTES


Read more about black holes and their discovery at Science Focus


Find out more about John Michell and his thoughts way ahead of his time.


Thank you to Caroline Schnopp and Johannes Rathberger for challenging my thoughts on how to come up with a more precise recipe for coaches in question phase 2 of the Coaching Kata which led to the black hole example.


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