“Work fascinates me. I can watch it for hours.” During a gemba, I came across this statement at the back of a Hoegaarden beer mat which was attached to a whiteboard.
Sometimes we are so absorbed by our work that we forget to take a step back once in a while. A step back to observe the process, to observe the work delivered, to look for improvements, to adjust the strategy, …
The disadvantage of not being able to take a step back is that it’s perfectly possible to start working very efficient, doing non-effective (read: non-value contributing) work. Like they say: doing the wrong things in a very efficient way.
The rumor is that the ability of taking a step back is one of Toyota’s criteria for acquiring people. During the job applications they leave the job applicant waiting somewhere in the production line/hall for half an hour. Afterwards they ask him what did he see during the waiting time and what could be improved.
Step back, look forward
Step back, look forward. Start, pause, stop. Evaluation. What’s in a name? It are all initiatives to taking the time (and courage) to take a step back and evaluate the current situation and progress.
The challenge is that when times get hard, it’s extra difficult to take the time for this review moment. Nobody has time for a step back moment when shit hits the fan. However, it could help that to build in review moments into your calendar and into the process.
Let’s take a look how Agile did this.
Agile and retrospectives
Agile is an iterative and incremental method used to develop software. (More about Agile in “GAP analyse: Agile projectmanagement en de PMBok aanpak voor kennisgebieden Project Integration, Scope en Time Management”)
In contrast with the familiar waterfall approach, Agile works in bursts. Short sprints of 4 to 5 weeks after which a working piece of software is delivered.
Agile has it’s step back moments build into the process in the name of retrospectives.
After each sprint, the team and customer get together to evaluate their last team effort. What went well? What could go better? It doesn’t matter which technique they use: brainstorming, root cause analysis, … The principle of taking a pause to observe the current efforts and see how the team can improve will positive effects on results, commitment and team mood.
Plan – Do – Check – Act
There’s no use for a step back moment when you’re not taking action. So design a method for assign and follow-up on actions and progress. Use the action list in your next retrospective. See if you made any progress (see also blog entry “A daily sense of measurable accomplishment”) and act upon it when it’s not working.
So, when are you planning your next step back moment?