Diagnosing Current Reality as 1, 2, 3
..although note I did not say “as easy as 1, 2, 3.” Diagnosing our current reality of any situation is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for a lean thinker. It’s harder for a lean thinker than for a non-lean thinker. Why? Because a non-lean thinker is quite comfortable just assuming they know what’s going on. A lean thinker will not assume, they must observe. So here’s the 1, 2, 3 not-easy steps to diagnosing current reality.
Step 1: Define what knowledge you need to gain. What is missing? What needs explanation? What helps us understand the problem?
Step 2: Choose the right tools to help you fill that gap
Step 3: Combine it with direct observation
For example, if you want to understand the decision making structure, as in who is making decisions, where, and how, there are some tools that can help. You would understand the scope and scale of control from the organizational chart. You would review any operating rules that the team or department has in place. However, these tools only help you understand how it is supposed to work. How it is supposed to work is often not quite the same as how it actually works. You must combine this analysis with direct observation. You want to see the decision making, see the meetings, see the interactions, because it is the only way to truly learn what is actually occurring.
There are fundamentally 3 different types of problem statements. I’m am sure you could split it into more categories, but these 3 should get you started. Each one would lead you down a different path of trying to understand current reality.
The Process Problem Statement
The process problem statement represents that the process on the whole is flawed, disjointed, slow, or otherwise not meeting needs. These problem statements often include many failure modes, will often include time, may include overall consumption of resources, and represent reliability. An example: “The requisition process is too slow to meet customers’ needs, requires significant attention to keep it moving, and has a substantial amount of non-value-added work.”
For process problems, we need to be able to see the process, to see the activities, connections, and flows. Most of the other elements of current reality such as technology and skill sets are either enablers or barriers of the current reality and improvement.
Methods we would use:
- Value stream maps – use these (rarely) for understanding the 50,000′ connections and flows, to understand how they connect all together and to the customer
- Activity maps – to understand what the people do in a process, which helps highlight workload imbalances, bottlenecks, costs, and handoff gaps
- Product / Process maps – to understand how the work flows, including handoffs, delays, inspections, etc. Activity and Product / Process maps are often used in partnership.
- Or just draw a picture. When drawing any picture of a process, it is natural to focus on activities, connections, and flows because this is what is represented in the picture, rather than just results.
Direct observation feeds the mapping and pictures in this case. We map what we observe.
Also, an important but common mistake in any of these process maps is to try to map exceptions. There are too many exceptions to ever possibly map them all.
The Acute Occurrence Problem Statement
The acute occurrence is something that occurs and then is gone. It is a single observable event. There many be many contributing factors and there is often a single cause. An example: “The customer information is failing to transfer from the data entry to the automated mailer.”
Starting with the observable condition, you want to drill down from there into cause or causes.
Methods we would use:
- Root cause analysis through 5 Whys, Cause mapping, etc. helps establish drives of the occurrence.
- Direct observation helps uncover and confirm the causes.
The Performance Gap Problem Statement
The performance gap statement is often broader than both the other statements. A result is not being achieved, but it is clearly not just a process problem. Processes may be a component, but also might include the culture, capabilities, and environment. The performance gap statement (while not always this large) might be “our team faces a 3-fold increase in workload without any additional resources over the next 24 months.”
With these issues, we often must balance the investment of time to understand current reality with the importance and impact of the gap.
Methods we would use:
- A fishbone diagram is often a great place to start because it helps explore the multiple dimensions of improvement.
- Cultural assessment – the primary method is still observation and survey to capture repeated behaviors. This can also be built into a framework of Actions / Behaviors / Principles. Principles are unobservable, however, and therefore debatable.
- Capabilities / competencies mapping (there is no one right way) of what is available and what is needed helps understand learning and development gaps. This of course must be done in the context of the gap. The most effective is the 4 quadrant visual method which defines Understands, Capable, Can Teach, Can Coach / Mastery.
- Language Processing – by taking segments of interviews as data, they can be combined and then mapped into causal loops. For example, interviews to understand the current state of peer-to-peer coaching unveiled where the high-leverage opportunities of attack exists.
As I’ve said before, the quality of our understanding of the current state determines the quality of our decision making, problem solving, and even strategic direction setting. Take the time to understand and diagnose the current state effectively.
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