Friday, 19 May 2017

Is problem solving a problem?

I have recently been reflecting on the differences between the approach we generally use in the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) and the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

AI has been used as an approach for change for many years, Cooperrider and Srivastva developed this approach in 1987.  To summarise this in a few words it is based on the theory that:
·      In every system, something works
·      Our focus becomes our reality
AI uses questions and opportunities for people to create positive visions of the future to build on the present potential of a process or organisation.

The problem solving approach that we have in PIU takes a different tack. From the moment we start scoping a project we begin to agree a problem statement and use a number of approaches to identify what are the problems, which of the problems are critical, what is the root cause etc.? Although problem solving can be a very powerful approach and lead ultimately to positive results and support resilience as further problems surface, there is a risk that the teams we work with may find this quite negative and that we miss out on opportunities to reward people for the things that are going well.

Cooperrider and Whitney (2001) identified the distinguishing features of the two approaches:
Problem Solving
Appreciative inquiry
1. "Felt Need," identification of Problem
1. Appreciating & Valuing the Best of "What Is"
2. Analysis of Causes
2. Envisioning "What Might Be"
3. Analysis & Possible Solutions
3. Dialoguing "What Should Be"
4. Action Planning (Treatment)

Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Problem to be Solved
Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Mystery to be Embraced

My main concern about just using AI is that sometimes there are process steps that need to be removed because they create the problem e.g. excessive approval steps, duplicating data, unnecessary handovers. How would an AI approach deal with over processing, is there a risk that it would encourage this?

As a lean practitioner ‘Respect for People’ is at the heart of my professional practice and to me this includes the concept of sincere conversation (being very clear about what is going well and what could be improved). However, the more I read about AI this also offers the opportunity for a direct conversation, but perhaps with a more positive angle.

Deming said, “A bad system will be beat a good person every time”. In PIU we are responsible for ensuring that the improvement process is robust and helpful I’m going to experiment with AI and explore how this can be used alongside problem solving; I have a feeling that the two concepts are not necessarily unconnected. I suspect there will be a follow up to this blog (possibly a Venn diagram showing the commonalities) if my instinct is correct about the two approaches not necessarily being mutually exclusive.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Teaching the history of lean

As part of our process improvement training we give our participants a brief history of Lean thinking. We’ve done this since the early days of the unit as it seemed to us to be essential to describe, almost before what ‘it’ is, where ‘it’ has come from. So we talk about Scientific Management and Henry Ford, as well as lean gurus like Deming and Taiichi Ohno. We tell attendees about the Toyota Production System and Jones and Womack. And we accompany our words with pictures of the Highland Park factory.
But what’s the point of this historical background? And does Lean in public service, where our expertise lies, really have anything to do with manufacturing and the history of manufacturing?

I’d like to explore the link in this blog post, because it bothers me that we may be wasting time and causing confusion rather than improving understanding. We have some evidence for this concern, because feedback from our training often highlights the benefit of examples from the university, and criticises examples from manufacturing - or even other service sectors. And yet - as George Santayana reminds us - ‘Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it’.
So there are two questions to answer:
  1. Do the basic principles of LEAN apply to public service environments?
  2. And does knowing where LEAN has come from tell us anything useful about how to apply it in public service environments anyway?
Let’s look at the first question. Taiichi Ohno, one of Lean’s principal proponents, said All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.” All Lean thinking in manufacturing, it seems to me, flows from that understanding. Every effort is bent towards the end of removing wastes from the moment a customer orders something to the moment it is delivered and paid for. In other words, the profit motive is supreme. Now, how Toyota and others saw progress towards that goal being made possible was certainly radical and different to what had gone before - in particular the notion of paying attention to the workforce’s knowledge and expertise - but the underlying rationale was the same - be more competitive, make more money.

Clearly service environments, and in particular public service environments, have a different raison d’être. Profit, at least until recent times, is not a motivator. Instead it is the provision of service within budgetary constraints. However, the application of lean principles to reduce the time and resource required to deliver service is as relevant here as in manufacturing.  Delivering better service, using the same or less resource is the aim of many public organisations, particularly in these cash-strapped times.
So that brings us to the second question. What’s the point in knowing where Lean has come from? If Lean is useful in service environments, isn’t it enough to know the principles and the methods? And broadly speaking, my answer to this is yes, that is enough. One can be ‘lean’ without a knowledge of history. And I think the inventors of ‘lean’, the people at Toyota, would agree. For them, Lean is a way of working rather than a set of documents and other such codifications of practice. The enquiring mind, the search for continuous improvement, the focus on service users rather than internal operations and so on, can all be fostered as part of organisational culture without the history lesson.

In our training though, we’ll keep on doing a bit on the history, because it is quite interesting.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Influencing change

I am attending the taught module part of Sheffield Leader we were discussing Personal Influence and introduced to a model to help us consider the various ways we may positively influence people. The model identifies three key elements authority, presence and impact. It led me to consider whether this model may be useful to support our project teams during workshops and process improvement events.

Using the model may help attendees to think about how they can make the most of the workshop and ensure that they lead positive change as a consequence of their influence within the workshop.

Their expertise and knowledge of the process: what works well, what can be improved, compliance issues
Not only being physically present in the room, also being emotionally and mentally present. Actively listening to others, asking questions and respecting others opinions.
Prepared to ask the bold or challenging questions
Transforms the thinking in the room
Delivers on actions

Their expertise and knowledge of process improvements, expertise as a facilitator, case studies from previous projects
Not only being physically present in the room, also being emotionally and mentally present. Actively listening to others, asking questions and respecting others opinions.
Progressing the agenda
Prepared to ask the bold or challenging questions
Transforms the thinking in the room
Delivers on actions

As well as evaluating a project or workshop on it’s outputs perhaps the cultural factors considered above would provide a way of evaluating the cultural outputs that also need to be delivered to ensure that we support a culture of continuous improvement?