Problem time

30 Nov 2015 Annelies De Meyere Leadership & ManagementLess is More

Wether you do a lessons learned, retrospective or kaizen event, the actions from there should be executed as soon as possible by the team. But sometimes problems that arise from these events are beyond the team's circle of influence. 

These problems cannot be tackled by the team, but can be handled by stakeholders, for example, or higher management. In order to get these problems to the right people and correctly follow up on them, we use visual management boards which are dubbed improvement boards. On these boards the organisation can choose to only add problems that go beyond the teams, or add all improvement actions across teams and organisation. In electronic tools such as Jira this broad version of improvement boards you can then easily filter for easy follow up of problems someone has taken ownership of, and follow up on progress.

Once these improvement boards are set up you can quickly start measuring lead time and cycle time on your problem handling.

image: Management 3.0

Setting up this kind of board can also help a lot during a change process, to make the work and effort everyone is putting in to get situations solved is transparent throughout the organisation.

How to do this?

  1. Make sure your improvement board contains stakeholder problems, not just tasks.
  2. Check or estimate when each problem was added to the board, and calculate a problem time per issue.
  3. Calculate the total and average problem time for the entire board, and communicate it to your team members. Make a recurring task in your task list to do this regularly (per week, per sprint?).
  4. Start asking stakeholders “What can we do better?” on a regular basis

With this kind of board in place, we also see a switch in the usual top-down approach. Work will also start flowing in the inverse way, bringing work from bottom to top. Passing by the servant leadership element and really going for the self organising team structures. 

Your manager will also need to put a number of lean practices into practice: genchi genbutsu (go see) to the gemba (workfloor) and find out what the details are behind the problem that has been reported by the teams on the improvement board. Only by talking to the teams who escalated the problem can you get to the heart of it and start experimenting with possible solutions.

This way of working is also picked up in other frameworks around the globe. LeSS, for example, uses a similar system named 'improvement service'. This improvement service is very clearly restricted to team members adding problems for the higher management to address. Here we often observe that this practice exposes misalignment between managers.

Want to know more about problem time, improvement boards and improvement services? Check out one of our Management 3.0 trainings or join a certified LeSS training.