Lean Manufacturing professionals work very hard to develop their ability to understand the shop floor and devise a plan to improve the conditions and problems that they see. They spend years learning tools and approaches to solve different business conditions and see themselves eventually being asked to pass that knowledge on to others. They develop a good understanding of how the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Problem solving cycle works and can use it to guide themselves through different issues. Unfortunately, there is typically a focus on results and improvement instead of spreading the culture….the skill set to become an effective Lean Coach goes undeveloped. Solving problems and Coaching others to solve problems are two different skill sets that need to be developed.
Recently, the book Toyota Kata has helped to create a structured approach to both Lean Coaching and Lean Manufacturing Improvement. Using the Toyota Kata approach can create a standardized approach for coaching lean methodologies behind the improvement initiatives. Passing on and practicing the Lean Coaching approach can create a sustainable culture beyond just focusing on Lean Manufacturing tools and implementation.
Although the Toyota Kata approach is a great organizational approach for leaders to use…I want to give some simple thoughts that can provide perspective of how you are working with your student. The relationship between the Lean Coach and the student can have many different dynamics that can make it difficult to create a great learning environment. So here are a few tips for new Lean Coaches to use with their students.
Make the Problems Meaningful…
I often see new coaches that are so focused on impacting the financial bottom line and KPI’s within an organization that they forget about the human aspect of problem solving. In order to get team members involved and engaged in the PDCA problem solving process, Lean Coaches must find a way to make the problem solving meaningful.
One of the easiest ways to do that is to focus on problems that impact the student or the employees directly. Focus on some hard work that is part of their daily routine, or a process struggle that makes if difficult for them to meet expectations. These are the types of problems that the Coach may not be able to directly tie to the Financials, but will instead grab the mind and heart of the student and allow them to be an engaged student for you as a Lean Coach.
Smaller, Quicker Problems…
As a Lean Coach…you should be focusing on developing the process of problem solving and how to think critically, not focusing on the results of the specific problem solving PDCA cycle. There are steps and an approach that needs to be practiced…and the Lean Coach is there to make sure that the fundamentals in the approach are there.
The best way to instill and learn once the proper approach is understood, is to get lots of repetition. Just like an athlete honing their skill in a particular sport, proper repetition of a Lean problem solving approach will yield greater results. The Lean Coach should be looking for simple problems that will allow the student to move through the PDCA process quickly to advance the learning and move on to the next opportunity or PDCA cycle. This will give the best opportunity for the Coach to “see” the students thinking and help guide them to a deeper understanding and more complex PDCA cycles.
Practice the Problem Solving Process…
If you are really looking to develop your students problem solving capabilities, you must be diligently focused on the process of problem solving…not the problem, and not the result. As a coach, it is very easy to get caught up in goal to solve the problem and get the specific result. In reality, going through the proper PDCA cycle multiple times while failing to solve the problem can end up driving much more learning than stumbling into a solution without a clear cause and effect. If you stay focused on requiring the correct process….as the student learns, the results will come.
Keep the Problems within your own skill set…
Coaching problem solving in some cases requires staying a step or two ahead in the process. Especially when focusing on more complex problems. So developing your own understanding of the problem while coaching will help you develop a good learning plan for your student. Many learning moments that your student will experience are ones that you have potentially experienced yourself as an individual problem solver. This is because most of the learnings that we all go through are simply breakdowns in the problem solving process. So, if you are yourself a beginner in learning the PDCA process, you might find difficulty in coaching someone around a problem at a much higher level. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn side by side with your student….
Be Aware of your coaching perspective…
Which brings us to the last tip. From what perspective are you coaching your student? Depending on where you are as a coach….where your student is in their learning….and potentially where the continuous improvement culture is at the moment…you may need to adjust your coaching approach.
I would always ask my team about their students and how they were currently coaching them. We talked about three different perspectives… Coach from behind, Coach side by side, Or take the lead. The first perspective, Coach from behind, was a coaching relationship in which a problem would be identified and given to the student to focus on while the coach checks in and guides at appropriate intervals. This is looked at as a pretty typical coaching relationship. The second perspective, Coach side by side, is when a student may lack the confidence or is still developing a needed skill set….so the coach will work and learn side by side with the student until they are willing and ready to attempt problem solving more independently. The third perspective, taking the lead, may be needed when the culture of continuous improvement is not developed and the student may not be willing to go down the learning path. In this case, the coach may need to lead by example to show the process and help develop the culture and process understanding.
Overall…there are many opportunities for your own improvement plan as a coach. As you develop your own personal problem solving techniques and skill set, practice and develop your coaching style as well. Doing and Coaching are different skills that need to be developed and worked on…and will always need to be worked on….that is the improvement process.