Monthly Archives: February 2015

Ask and You Shall Succeed: The Power of Asking Great LSS Questions

qaWe all want to come across to others as being intelligent and knowing what we’re talking about.  Our society, especially the business world, values intelligence more than just about anything, and I often find myself working hard to “prove” my intelligence with clients, family, friends, etc. by providing answers to big problems.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have all the answers, we as lean Six Sigma (LSS) leaders, I would argue, do a disservice to those we are leading if all we do is provide answers. The true measure of a leader is not in what they do, but in what those who follow them do, both now and in the future.

Over the last decade of leading teams and individuals as a manager, and now working with clients whom I coach and mentor through LSS deployments and projects, what I’ve come to realize is that great leadership and coaching doesn’t start with great answers it begins with great questions!

Questions lead to answers, and answers lead the learning.

I would argue, all learning begins by asking a question, or better yet, by a wanting to answer a question that matters to you.  This aligns with the old adage, “when the student is ready to learn the teacher will appear.”  I often tell people don’t waste your time working with someone who isn’t ready to learn.  I would also make the same suggestion to myself in that I never pick up a book, take a class, etc. until I have a burning desire to answer a question that the book, class, etc. will help answer.

The challenge is knowing when that time arrives.  Personally, we’ll know it’s time when we have a thirst for gaining knowledge that will answer questions we have, but to know whether or not others have this same passion can be challenging.  What I’ve found most common is that when another person has this burning desire to learn they will seek you out (i.e. the teacher will appear).

When this happens and you engage with another person in the learning process it’s a wonderful feeling because you know the work you are doing has true meaning, and is likely to make a significant impact on another person’s life.  I often find this work is where I experience flow more often than any other aspect of the coaching I do.

Creating complexity instead of clarity.

From a LSS perspective, asking great questions will lead to great results, but what questions should we be asking to find those results?  This is a critical part of my overall argument this blog is focused on addressing in that our profession, I believe, has done a disservice to the business world by making methodologies such as LSS far too complex and confusing.

No one I have ever led or coached in the past decade has said, “Scott, I’m looking to make my job more complicated, could you help me with that?”  Unfortunately, that is what I see LSS doing in many cases, especially at the leadership level where decisions and actions on the long term probability of success of a LSS program reside.

What I’m leading to here is not a “dumbing down” of LSS, but instead I’m suggesting we need to start talking in the language of business and put away all the LSS lingo that creates more confusion than clarity.  People are more likely to run away / avoid what they don’t understand instead of embracing it.

At the end of the day we are paid to help facilitate change that leads to results that are important to the leaders of the organizations we work within.  These leaders don’t care if we are using LSS or some other methodology to achieve those results, and they shouldn’t because the end result is all that matters.  How we got there is important to doing it over-and-over again, but from my experience leaders don’t care so much about that; they just want to see action that leads to getting what they want.

Questions that lead to action that lead to results.

Over the last several years I’ve been using questions to drive actions that lead to LSS results, but recently I’ve realized the questions were still too much about LSS and not in a general business language anyone could understand.  This has led to a refinement of the questions you see below.

I also have come to see the power of understanding people (i.e. behavior, emotions, habits, etc.) in the success and failure of both LSS projects and programs, and how people are far more critical to success than the process and tools we spend 99% of our time on.  Most of what we focus on in a LSS program and projects is about changing what people do, and if we don’t understand people that’s a huge challenge to overcome!

The questions I’ve been using have been well received by clients I work with and students I’m teaching.  This is the first time I’m sharing them with the rest of the world and want to hear from you what your thoughts are on these 30 sets of questions that naturally lead people through the DMAIC process in a non-technical / confusing way.

The questions are focused on both people and process aspects, and not every question applies to every project, but in most cases the vast majority will need to be answered to achieve long term results.

What’s the problem? Why does it matter?
Who leads the people where this problem is most likely originating?
Does the leader have passion for solving the problem? Why do they want to solve the problem?
Using data, how could we measure the problem?
In terms of the measurement, how much better do we need to be or could we be?
If we were to meet the improvement goal, is the problem worth the effort to fix? Can we make a business case? How could we validate the potential financial impact of the problem?
Who are the vital players?   Who matters most to meeting the goal?
What players are needed to create a winning team?
How do we currently perform the process? What are the vital steps and behaviors in the process?
In terms of our measurement, how well do we currently perform?
Is this a people or process problem or is it both?
Do the vital players know what to do?
Do the vital players know how to do it?
Do the vital playes have the ability to do it?
Do the vital players want to do it?
What “bad” habits are keeping us from succeeding?
What are the vital causes and how could we validate them?
Which vital causes are worth fixing? Which vital causes, when minimized and / or eliminated will most help us achieve our goal?
What could be changed in the process to reduce the chances of the vital causes from happening?
What “good” habits could lead to success?
How will we know we’ve improved?   What objective data will we use to know we have improved and met our goal?
How will we know when people are doing the “good” habits? How will we objectively know the habits are taking place?
How will we give feedback on “good” habit performance?
How will high performing players be recognized and rewarded for performing “good” habits?
Did we get better? Have we achieved our goal?
How will we keep from going back to how we used to do the process?
How do we make the new way a permanent habit?
What was the financial impact?   How will we validate the financial impact?
Who needs to know about what we’ve done? Who can learn from our success? How can we share our success with others?
What’s next? Are there further improvements worth pursuing?   Did other problems surface that are worth pursuing?

5 question in 120 minutes that lead to a winning score!

holding stop watchOver the past few weeks I’ve been working with clients on developing lean Six Sigma (LSS) project ideas based on a methodology I’ve written about in the past.  The downside to this approach is the time it takes, typically 3-5 hours, which, in some cases, is too much time for leaders to commit to.  So what can you do if you only have an hour or two to work with?  In this post I’ll share a simple approach to identifying high quality project ideas in 120 minutes or less.

What is the primary reason we exist?

This is a “big” question, but I like to start with this question because it gets at the core of why your team or department exists.  The question helps create clarity around how you add value to the organization.  If you can’t answer this question you may want to freshen’ up your LinkedIn profile because you may find yourself being asked to leave when the next downturn in business happens:-)

What does our value chain look like?

Once  you understand why you exist, the next step is to map out in 3-10 macro steps / processes how you deliver on why you exist.  This can take the form of a value stream map, process flow, SIPOC diagram, etc.  Anything that visually illustrates the key elements of how you go from start to finish will work.  Also keep in mind you want to focus on only what you control.

How do we measure the effectiveness of our value chain?

What is the key performance measure that helps measure the performance of your value chain?  When looking at your value chain and putting into words why you exists it usually becomes quite apparent how best to keep score.  Typically, this measure already exists on a scorecard managed by your team.  This can also be a wake up call to your leader if, once you discover why you exist, you also discover you’re not measuring why you exist.  You can’t determine if you’re winning or losing if you don’t keep score!

Where does DOWNTIME exist within our value chain that keeps us from winning?

There is no such thing as a perfect process; all processes have some form of waste, what I refer to here as DOWNTIME.  These are the classic 8 lean wastes that include defects, overproduction, waiting, not using people well, transportation, inventory, motion in excess, and excess processing.  This step in the process is where project opportunities begin to materialize.  Simply brainstorming ideas is the quickest way to uncover potential DOWNTIME.  Don’t over complicate this, just pull out some post-its and Sharpies and get stormin’!

What are the top opportunities to reduce DOWNTIME in our value chain that will increase our chances of winning?

The last step in the process is to narrow the focus to the problems creating DOWNTIME that will have the biggest impact on creating a winning score.  The simplest way in evaluating the problems is to look at them from an impact / effort perspective.  How big an impact will a solution have in increasing your score?  How much effort will be required?  Look for high impact low effort opportunities first if you need some quick wins to build momentum.

Don’t have two hours to work with?  An alternative is to work through the questions at your weekly, monthly , etc. team meetings.  It will take longer, but it may also provide an opportunity to let the questions and answers “soak in” between the meeting so that when you finish the process what you are left with are high impact ideas that create a winning score.