Before embarking on an improvement project, it’s important to know where you want to go. Every company has a vision which is a long range ideal. However while a vision does provide direction, it is not a guide for daily improvements, it’s too vague and too far away. The “challenge” is what provides direction for the Improvement Kata. The challenge focuses on a specific strategic breakthrough that can be achieved in a 6 month to 3 year time frame.
What is a challenge? A challenge is a stretch goal designed to better serve customers. It is in an area where the business wants a better/different outcome but can’t get it using the existing process as is. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible. There isn’t an obvious solution to get the results we want. The challenge is the goal you are working toward. “When people see themselves as components in a system [and] work in cooperation to achieve a shared aim, they feel that their efforts hold meaning. They experience interest and challenge and joy in the work.” W. Edwards Deming
Once the challenge has been set, the next step is to grasp the current condition. The Improvement Kata Handbook describes a 5 step process analysis to assess the current condition.
- Customer Demand & Planned Cycle Time. What is the task and how much time do we have to complete it?
- Characteristics of the Current Process. What are the typical patterns of work? (Sketch) How is the process currently operating? (Data)
- Equipment Capacity. Do we have any equipment constraints? What are they? (Data)
- Necessary Number of Operators (if the process were stable). How many people are necessary? (Calculate)
- Outcome Metrics. How is the process performing over time? (Data)
While it seems like this analysis process is designed for a manufacturing environment, it can be translated to office and service processes. It just takes a little more time. What you are trying to understand is the pattern of working. You want to have a good enough understanding of your current state to allow you to set your first target condition. Remember, your first target condition is something that you want to be able to achieve in a few weeks.
Once the current condition has been defined, you can move on to establishing your next target condition. One important thing to understand at this point is that you are not trying to solve your challenge in one fell swoop. You will work toward getting there through a series of iterations. You’re approaching the problem one step at a time.
The target condition describes where you want to be, not how to get there. A good target condition is one where the solution is not obvious and where it will take some experimentation to find a solution. “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo
There are 3 steps to developing a target condition:
- Coach sets and achieve by date. The date should reflect the competency level of the learner with the Improvement Kata. It’s recommended that a novice would have a shorter due date of approximately a week. Once competency with the Improvement Kata increases, a longer time of up to several weeks can be set.
- Learner develops, proposes & fine tunes the target condition. This should be an iterative process. Decide what you want to change as well as what you will keep the same. Once the target condition is set it should not be changed. You can add additional details as you work toward this goal and lean more.
- Learner starts an Obstacles Parking Lot. The coach will ask about potential obstacles that could prevent reaching the target condition. This is not an action item list. The obstacles you actually work on will be identified in the PDCA cycles in the next phase of the Improvement Kata. The purpose of the parking lot is to help you see the limits of prediction and prevent you from going after several ideas at once.
*Illustrations by Bill Costantino