Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Borrowing From Neuroscience to Drive Kaizen Thinking

"If you are going to do TPS you must do it all the way. You also need to change the way you think. You need to change how you look at things." - Taiichi Ohno 
One of the most common issues lean coaches face when teaching structured problem-solving is keeping people from immediately jumping to countermeasures when addressing a problem. Touting the virtues of sticking to the process and mentioning that the countermeasure may be wrong is rarely an effective way to getting someone to forget what they already think is the answer and to take more time and effort only to arrive at the same conclusion. There are a number of reasons for countermeasure-jumping, and understanding the motivation behind the behavior can help people appreciate the importance of following the process. 
There are many reasons people jump to countermeasures rather than following the process to solve problems. The need to be an expert (for personal or cultural reasons) and being stressed or overloaded are two common reasons.  A third reason, which is the focus of this blog, comes from the study of neuroscience and our internal programming regarding how we make decisions. 

Fast vs Slow Thinking 

In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman presents the results of his research into decision-making. Kahneman presents two distinct processes in the brain that, although apparently designed to work together, often conflict with one another. The first, which he refers to as System 1, is the fast thinking process that runs on autopilot. The obvious purpose of the fast brain is to protect us from danger - i.e., we don't have to take the time to think about getting out of the street when a car is coming - and to keep us from having to relearn simple tasks each time we perform them. The fast brain is guided by intuition and habits, and takes virtually no effort to use. 
System 2 is the slow brain, and is used for issues that require deep-thinking logic and focus. It takes time and effort to use the slow brain, but it is the part of thinking that deals with complex issues and enables innovation and creativity to occur.   
The issue with all this, however, is that that the more the fast brain is used, the more it tends to dominate the slow brain and could, in fact, shut it down in most situations.  When applied to the workplace, the fast brain always wants to jump to countermeasures immediately.  
For a variety of reasons, many organizations tend to reward fast-brained people through promotions and bonuses because companies that want quick answers and immediate results do not value deep, careful thinking. Because of this, organizations that have not identified their few highly critical priorities will have cultures that lean toward fast thinking. 

Thinking, Reflecting, and Learning 

Kaizen requires slow thinking and reflecting in order to identify and challenge assumptions that are preventing effective and innovative countermeasures. This may be what Taiichi Ohno meant in the above quote when he wrote that TPS requires you to "change the way you think," since lean requires much more engagement of the slow brain. 
I believe that this is the reason kaizen is not natural for most people. Since most of us are overloaded in our professional and personal lives, we are dominated by our fast brains. As a result, we probably get more done by operating in this way - it's the quality of our work that we have to question. Getting people to understand kaizen requires making them realize this and to learn how to access their slow brains when approaching a problem. 
I spend a lot of time these days getting people to slow down when they're addressing problems.  If it's a small, one-time issue, I only try to get those involved to do a basic 5-why exercise to help them start to appreciate slower thinking without shutting them down completely. When dealing with the larger and more critical problems, however, I continually coach them to slow down and think about the steps in problem-solving before jumping to any conclusions.  It requires a lot more time and coaching to get a person or team to clearly understand a problem and think deeply about each step in the process. When people can start to understand the value of accessing their slow brains, the transformation (or "thinking differently" as Ohno stated) starts to occur. 
When you think about it, Toyota's 8-step problem-solving process is designed to encourage slow thinking. Clearly identifying the gap frames the process, and breaking it down requires looking at data and going to gemba to understand the issue from various perspectives before wasting time attempting to think about causes or countermeasures. Anyone who thinks an A3 can be completed in one sitting is being guided by their fast brain. And for people who do this, their fast brains will get a lot of exercise as they continue to address the same issues over and over again. 

The Big Gains 

Slow thinking is what leads to the big gains that lean thinking drives.  Organizations that approach lean without changing the way people think will likely end up disappointed and abandon the process as not applicable to their business.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why Questioning is Critical to Lean Leadership

One of the most critical but underappreciated skills required to successfully transform an organization toward lean thinking is the ability of leaders to use questioning to coach and develop team members. As important as coaching is to leadership, however, it is also one of the most challenging for people to understand and apply in their daily interactions with others. Like much of lean thinking, using questions to develop people is simple and logical but difficult to put into practice.

Learning to use questioning usually requires understanding why it works and how it helps the leader and the person being coached. It is not an attempt to portray the leader as a wise or deep-thinking philosopher who has all the answers. It is a way to help understand what a person is thinking and how to tailor the conversation toward helping them see a situation in a different way. When a leader begins to understand why questioning is important, he or she starts to see how to apply it to a variety of interactions throughout the day.

Why We Question 

There are some basic reasons why questioning is an effective way to teach and learn. Understanding and applying questioning effectively requires considering these reasons during conversations with team members and reflecting afterwards to continually improve your ability to coach and develop others.

The most basic reasons to question rather than tell in conversations with people includes the following:
  1. To know what the person is thinking.  You can't help correct incorrect assumptions if you don't know what those assumptions are and why the person is making them. Use questions to better understand the assumptions behind actions and where they are coming from. 
  2. To help the person see things the way you do.  When you see a situation differently than the person you are coaching, you want to help the person to see the situation from your perspective. He or she is likely missing something, so you need to question to find out what it is and to help them understand. 
  3. To help you understand the facts.  It is possible that the person you are coaching knows more about what's going on at gemba than you do. If you believe in lean thinking, you must respect this and be open to the idea that you could be wrong and can learn something from the person you are coaching. Questioning is the only way to help you understand what you may be missing. 
  4. To help the person understand the value of thinking slowly and deeply.  I have found that one of the most beneficial ways to help someone develop is to get them to slow down and deeply think through a situation before acting. Most people feel overloaded, and when faced with a problem, just want to get it off their desks as quickly as possible and move on. Especially for the big problems, though, jumping to countermeasures without thinking deeply about the situation rarely eliminates the cause of the problem and, even when it does, does not tend to make life easier. It often ends up creating extra work or just buries the problem until the next time it comes around. Using creativity and innovation to address root causes and truly make things easier generally requires reflection and deep thinking to understand which pieces of information are fact and which are assumptions. 
  5. To get the person actively involved in the learning process.  Studies show that passive listening – sitting and listening to someone lecture – is a far less effective way to learn than active participation. Active participation involves engaging the mind when attempting to learn, and answering questions about a situation provides a good way to engage a person's mind. On the other hand, listening to someone lecture does not require engagement and allows the listener's mind to wander to other things going on at the time. 
Although it depends on the circumstances and the person being coached, some questions that can help provide clarity about the process and help develop the ability to coach include:  What do/did you expect to happen? What do you think is causing the problem? Did you learn anything that you didn't know when you started investigating the problem? I have also found that asking why is the most effective way to get someone to clarify their thinking and start to see what they may be missing.

Mixed Messages 

One of the reasons that people have difficulty with coaching is that those of us who teach and write about lean are likely sending mixed messages regarding the why and how of the process. On the one hand, we tell leaders that they don't need to be experts in everything and that it is okay to admit that they don't have all the answers. On the other hand, we talk about people like Taiichi Ohno and Hajime Oba and the ability these people had to see problems quickly and clearly, and coach others to the answers.  I believe that this turns people off of the process because most will never measure up to these legendary leaders. In actuality, these two and other legendary lean figures didn't know the answers but they did know how to use questioning to gather facts (or identify when the facts are not yet gathered) and help the person being coached to arrive at an answer.

Start Small

When I work with leaders to develop coaching skills, I recommend starting small with a few key conversations each day or week.  Teaching the ability to question – which, by the way, also requires questioning – is easier when connected to the overall philosophy of lean thinking. Decisions should never be made without understanding the facts, and understanding the facts often requires going to gemba and asking questions to those who are closer than you are to the processes involved. When people understand and believe this, questioning starts to become a normal part of leading teams.