Wednesday, May 13, 2015

John Peterson: 4 Stages in Developing Your Teams

If you are one of the growing number of companies who do kaizen using 3-5 person A3 teams to do slow, steady, continuous continuous improvement (vs. occasional "events"), you will see that A3 team dynamics evolve with experience and confidence.

The thinking behind doing kaizen this way is that the people who do the work are the experts of that work, and it is truly disrespectful to fix other people's jobs. Practice using A3 to do the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) by using the process to make employee suggestions come to life. People who DO the work know the problems, they often simply feel powerless to do anything about them.

A friend of mine, John Peterson, Lean Manufacturing Manager of Ulbrich Stainless Steels and Special Metals (Wallingford, CT) shared with me what he has noticed after building a virtual army of A3 teams. Keep in mind that John is no newcomer to "Lean". He is a seasoned teacher and practitioner whose career in this type of thinking expands to a few decades. John noticed that he sees 4 distinct stages of development that occur when people take the baton and take real control of their own problems. What starts as a victim mindset gradually transforms to a true spirit of ownership. (Imagine a company where everyone goes to the same lengths as the owners do to make their customers happy?)

Here is how John laid out the four stages so even I could understand:

Stage 1-"WE Have a problem, and what are YOU going to do about it?"-this stage can be re-phrased as "I just work here" or "is it Friday yet?" This thinking is typical and is an indication that people have been ignored in the past. Sometimes you may hear, "I told THEM 3 years ago, but THEY don't listen." When you start doing A3 company-wide, this Stage dwindles.

Stage 2-"A bunch of us have been talking and here is what we think will work...."-this is still a hand-off, but the team has probably gone through root cause and agreed to countermeasures, but feel powerless to implement without some blessing of some kind. At this stage, an approval or a sign-off is needed to proceed. The problem is it cause improvements to happen too slowly.

Stage 3-"This is what we think WE should do, is that OK?"-alright, now we're getting somewhere. Suddenly the team has gone from we gave them what we have, let's see if they do anything, to we are ready and willing to do it, will you support us (do you have our back?)? This stage usually ends when everyone realizes that we structure improvements as reversible what do we have to lose? We can always go back.

Stage 4-"This is what WE did."-this might be followed up with, "we will close this A3 on Wednesday afternoon at 1:15, we really can't wait to show everyone what we did." B-I-N-G-O. This is where everyone realizes that people are smart and people care, and the team itself will ensure that things are well thought out (via the DMAIC). When you get to this stage, you are a very, very difficult group to compete with, and your customers are not merely satisfied, but delighted! This progression can take months or even years, but is what makes companies market disruptive.