Dear Gemba Coach,
I’ve been told I should conduct daily stand-up meetings with my team to solve problems collaboratively. I’m not sure how to do so — any tips?
Ah. To tell the truth, I’m not sure how I’d do it as well. My understanding of daily stand-up meetings from the Toyota tradition is rather different, but, here again, I’ve come across different practices at different Toyota sites around the world: I suspect different mother plants have different approaches.
What is the problem we’re trying to solve? A normal behavior of teams – or any group of humans for that matter – is for people to produce norms about themselves. This is why it’s so hard to join a new group. Irrespective of whether you like the people and whether they like you, you need to get to grips with the set ways they have of interacting. This is particularly visible when people join a new company. After a brief period of honeymoon when everything looks peachy, new joiners struggle and struggle until finally they have to adopt group norms, or move on. The day they adopt group behavior, they feel better, and really start to integrate.
Group norms, however, can be rather arbitrary. People are mirroring each other, and mirroring the leader more than everyone else, and this somehow produces norms. The idea of a standup meetings is that norms can be steered, somewhat.
What Did We Learn Today?
To solve this problem, a standup meeting is very brief – less than five minutes. People come to work to work, not to standup and talk – or worse, to be talked at. In a typical standup meeting, the team leader will:
- Brief the group about the previous shift performance
- Point out an incident, particularly a safety concern
- Ask every one to check their practice or standards in that area
- Highlight any special even expected during the team, anything new or unusual
- Ask for questions – if any.
And … that’s that. The standup meeting’s aim is to make sure every one has safety procedures in place more than anything else, and beyond that to look at other topics as well, such as quality or some specific handover hiccups and so on. Some Toyota sites go beyond the team leader brief and each person in the team conducts the meeting in term. In this case, the team leader has to prepare with the person presenting beforehand. In other sites, the group leader (the frontline manager) runs the meeting with her teams. It varies.
I’ve not yet come across stand-up meetings to address or solve problems. This seems hard to do in five minutes and, in the lean tradition, the specific tool for this is quality circles: every team should be working on one quality problem at a time in dedicated time, organized and facilitated by the team leader. Again quality circles don’t have one set organization and different team leaders do it differently, but quality circles are where problems are addressed, one by one.
Deeper not Faster
What really worries me about the idea of using standup meetings to address problem solving is the risk of having a huge list of open problems without any serious means or hope of resolving them. In lean, we don’t tackle problems in the hope that if we solve more problems faster we’ll get to the end of problems. Problem solving is a learning technique, not a pressure tool. In the same way, A3s are a teaching support, not a tool to standardize people’s thinking.
In some cases, particularly with frontline management or staff it might make sense to have a daily discussion about a problem solved during the day. The aim here is not to solve as many problems as possible, but to check observation and discussion to make sure we learn something from the day, by looking deeper in one problem a day (which doesn’t mean we’re not solving hundreds of problems a day, without listing them).
I’m not sure how to help with your question. Probably the one important thing to keep in mind is that for problem solving to work as problem-based learning, problems have to be taken one at a time. The aim is to create space to think, and think more deeply, not try to go through the problem list faster. And the best way of tackling one problem at a time is … working one job at a time.