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Advice from a child clinical psychologist



“Do not blame the character of the child or the parent. Investigate the system (or the mechanism).”

Advice, a child clinical psychologist, wrote in this article.

Fascinating thought, which we should be applying to business or adults.

Why are we challenging individual motivations and characters when the process or the system is problematic?

We have much to learn from cognitive behavioral therapy, which this psychologist is based on.

The question starts with a parent who asked, “Why is my child wasting time at home not motivated? (My summary)”

The answer was, “Do not blame the character of the child or the parent. Investigate the system (or the mechanism).”

This was an excellent answer and something we should apply to the adult world.

How often do we criticize individuals for their underperformances? At least in factories, I hear this kind of story a lot. “We need to train the operators.” After many defects, a quality person responded to the management without any investigation on the shop floor. Feeling strange, we went to the shop floor. The line was producing more than 1000 SKUs. The process contains more than 100 steps. There was a computer giving directions for these steps. As I observed, we saw many were ignored. I asked, “why?” The answer was that the computer directions were wrong. The computer program was giving incorrect instructions due to the wrong database. Instead of fixing the database, they tried to make people memorize each case. Sometimes to follow and sometimes to ignore the instructions. When I asked the experienced ones how they survived, they told me, “only pick the ones you know. Leave the complicated ones.” It made sense—no wonder we have unstable lead times and quality issues on many units.

Why do we design confusing processes and expect high performances? Inadequate processes lead to poor results. Yet, we often blame individuals for poor performances.

The article writes about how to improve.

  1. Follow the movement path of the child and understand the problems.

  2. Connect the motion and materials

  3. Use the incentives for short-term practices

  4. Plan together

  5. Break down what needs to be done in small steps. Instructions need to be in small steps, too.

The advice can be converted into such TPS thinking;

1. Go and see. Observe first.

The most important thing is to observe. We must see and understand the problem. Often we need an understanding of the problem before we rush to a solution. Most problems can be solved if we observe the facts. When we follow, try to ignore opinions since they could contain bias. Instead, watch with fresh eyes. Capture any strange “movements” and ask whys.

2. Standardized work

The goal of standardized work is not writing it. The goal is to improve the actual condition. The current condition might be messy. Then we should draw a messy work and make another more organized one. To organize, we must consider where to place the material to create a good motion. In production, the excellent movement should form a circle. By imagining the ring, put all materials in sequence. My coach said, “Don’t ask the people to memorize the standardized work. Let the materials memorize it. Let the people focus on quality and improvements.”

3. Incentives

This might be the most significant confusion or miss understanding, but incentives are ineffective in the long term. At least for this kind of continuous improvement activity. Here's why;

  1. Do we need incentives for “Habits”? We want following standardized work, problem-solving, and go and see to become habits. If incentives sustain such practices, we should think our system is wrong.

  2. As we improve, the results of each improvement will get smaller. (Total result might be better since more people can make more Kaizens.) Eventually, there will be a negative gap. Those incentives by results also guide people to chase low-hanging fruits. In the end, it will stagnate the improvements. Yet, short-term incentives might be a way to get some attention. A pizza party at the end of the workshop is such.

  3. Have you ever heard a psychologist write that the remedy is incentives? How many financial incentives have failed or, even worst, led to fraud?

4. Participations

Instead of a command and control environment, give chances for the workers to participate in designing the work. The reasons behind the processes that need to be done must be explained to make this happen. And then the workers should be involved in the design and improvements. This way, the workers take more ownership of the process and the system. Also, do not batch such participation. There is no way that an employee can cover opinions about the system in a few opportunities. Instead, keep it open so that as soon as an idea pops up, let it be considered. It needs to be clear that idea that requires money is not an option. Also, this does not mean the worker has veto power. If the operator has a negative opinion, it must explain why and suggest an alternative option. If not, try it. Scientific trials should come first before discussions.

5. Work standards

The standardized work describes the entire cycle, sequence, timing, and work combinations. Such standardized work consists of several work standards. Work standards describe quality, skills, tools, hunchs & tips and become the work instructions. These should be made with the workers and the team leaders since documentation highlights their understanding. It is also essential to think that this is not about making a dictionary. It is a brief summary of the tasks. We can keep the dictionary somewhere else, where they can pull information when needed. But the main thing for this work standard is to create focus points inside a task so they can perform well.

The Toyota production system is not based on cognitive behavioral therapy. I have not found any link between TPS and psychology. For example, the first formal therapist of such in Japan was assigned in 1988, much after the development of TPS. Yet, what TPS has discovered through Kaizen of the standardized work does not contradict what this subject has explained. (I admit that applying such a psychological approach in a non-manufacturing environment is bizarre.) And if TPS is not about repair but rather prevention of the breakdown, shouldn’t we focus on the psychological aspects of processes and systems?

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