Feb 20, 2006

My first test as a consultant

The meeting I mentioned in an earlier post was held a week ago. I had a presentation on A3 as a policy deployment tool, primed by a document sent beforehand. My e-mail soon showed that my presentation was not as effective as I had hoped. Here is the e-mail I sent today to my clients:

Hello all,

As a quick self-critique of my value-added as your lean consultant – I’ve got a lot to improve! I think we threw too many new things at you for one meeting, for one thing.

Using the A3 problem-solving method caused some perplexity among you. First of all, don’t worry too much about the tool at this very moment. Let me come back to that later. (A3 is a pretty silly name for a tool. Why name a thinking process after a metric paper size?!)

The terms “policy deployment” and “hoshin planning” also complicated matters. Apologies.

The key reason for referring to the tools is that they aid in aligning our goal with those of the executive group – with Mark T. as their designated liaison. We’ve always had “charges” for committees, and they aren’t bad for telling a group what to do. If the executive level just tosses a charge over the wall, however, we run the risk of wasting a lot of time.

All the work you guys did discussing the charge to place it in the nested A3 framework was important. Now that reflection needs to be fed back to Mark, because we brought up things that need clarification. Karen and Ellen will be identifying the unclear areas today.

Isn’t this a lot of mere wordsmithing? It’s hard to hold back from conclusions and solving problems. You are engineers – that’s what you do. You’ve also seen endless discussion of things that never change, and want your team to be different.

In the old world, we might have found a committee asking questions about a charge, but it is equally likely that the committee addressed the charge exactly as written. The process we chose – call it what you wish – includes a commitment by Mark at the executive level to adjust the charge or adjust our interpretation of it before you guys spend a lot of time on something that never sees the light of day.

The next aspect of using the A3 tool is the thorough examination of the current state. One of you reminded us of Cindy Jimmerson’s point that understanding the current state makes the target state easy to define. Without trying to invoke magic – “A3, A3, what do you see?” – we gather data, ask why, and gather more data. Sounds like engineering to me.

What if that reality-based target doesn’t align with the target we derived from the charge? Back to our customer as represented by our staff director. What if he, from our group’s study, starts believing that our new target differs greatly from the original one? He is forced to go back to his team and create new alignment.

The key is to start surfacing and examining the right problems, with continued interaction with the executive team. You identified some core issues that need to be resolved before you can really proceed. That’s not to say you’re looking at immovable obstacles in a futile situation. It just tells Mark that his team is obliged to do more work.

I hope this sounds like encouragement rather than exhortation. The peril of e-mail.

The blog adventure? Bob and I just threw that at you without remembering what it took to learn it. Well, Bob’s got a lot of IT background, but I don’t. I fumbled a lot when I tried to set up my first blog, and experienced that frustration, but forgot. (Well, if we really could remember pain, no family would have more than one child.) Free walk-throughs are available – just call me or Bob. Gee – I wonder if we’d hear more from our kids if we had family blogs??

I sincerely thank you for your feedback – you are my teachers and my learning objective is to figure out how a lean “consultant” can help a group like yours.

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