Upon Reflection

I’ve been thinking a lot about the act of reflection. Yes, I’ve been “reflecting upon reflection” (sorry - it was too easy).

When I was at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky a few weeks ago, our Toyota Production System coaches specifically mentioned how important it was to Toyota to take the time to review their progress on a regular basis. I’ll admit that the act of reflection has not been something that has come naturally to me. For a long time I was guilty of making a plan, moving on it, and then forgetting the third step of Plan, Do, Check, and Act. And if you neglect the “Check” step you pretty much ensure that you will miss the fourth step - and that is to “Act” upon what you have learned. We have to be diligent about minding the entire cycle.

I have decided that one reason I often skipped the “Check” part of the cycle is because I thought a problem was “solved” and then I immediately moved on to the next problem. Pretty soon I was so busy on the next problem that I didn’t take the time to sit back and THINK about how our counter measure for the first problem was panning out. That meant that we missed the opportunity to fine tune a counter measure for even greater improvement.

By the way, Will Lichtig taught me that using the term “counter measure” as opposed to “solution” is meaningful. The word “solution” sounds finite, permanent, and complete. The term “counter measure”, on the other hand, allows for the idea that this is just one step of many actions we will take. In continuous improvement a “solution” never really exists because perfection is the goal, and while we will strive for it, we know we will never quite get there.

Back to my story on reflection.

When I first came to Devenney 8 months ago or so, I coached some of our people on the art of reflection. And sure enough in very little time a coworker set up a reflection at the end of a project milestone. I was so thrilled that she thought the idea of taking time to think about lessons was worth her team’s time! If, like me, you are a Lean coach and mentor (and aren’t we all) there is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing a team take a Lean idea and run with it. Anyway, I helped my coworker facilitate a “Keep, Stop, Start” session with her team. They did a wonderful job of logging lessons learned. The discussion was deep, thoughtful, and rich. But the real win? When they did another reflection on a later phase of the project a few months later, they brought their original “Keep, Stop, Start” list to the new reflection.

Yup, they get it.

When I talked to them, members of the team said they took this step because they wanted to accomplish two things. One, they wanted to make sure they had acted upon what they had learned in their original reflection. Brilliant! Two, they wanted to improve upon that original list and make those lessons learned even more meaningful. Real died-in-the-wool continuous improvement.

It reminds me of something James Pease said to me once. I was doing a presentation on tracking lessons learned and James spoke up and said - “enough about lessons learned! I want to know about lessons enacted!” (a quote he attributed to Matt Pohley). Wow. So perfectly said.

So how do we make sure reflection happens? One of the steps that helps me remember to take the time for reflection is to coach the team to build reflection sessions into the project design schedule. It is as important as any other step we take. Perhaps even more so.

There are also many forms of reflection. Keep, Stop, Start; What, So What, Now What; and even a good 5 Why session is a reflection. Pick a format that works for you and your team and run with it. Need help figuring out what format to use? Drop me a note and I’ll help if I can.

On a more personal level, setting time aside at the end of my day to reflect on my goals and progress has been very meaningful. I also work to build in some time for gratitude as part of that reflection because when I do, the world becomes a much friendlier place.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Stay Lean my friends.

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