Last week was a significant week for me. I had my first guitar lesson. After decades of obsessing on the diverse styles of David Gilmore, Steve Morse, and Johnny A (to name just a few) I decided to finally learn the instrument.
This week was perhaps more significant, it was my second guitar lesson. As I was driving to the lesson I started to think about what the next 30 minutes would be like had I NOT practiced. Lesson #2 would have essentially started where the previous lesson left off, or perhaps even back a few steps.
If you want to get lean-geeky about it, we are talking about the Plan, Do, Check, Adjust (PDCA) cycle and it’s impact on the learning process. I ended lesson #1 with plan to practice a set of basic chords, and I did. The second lesson allowed my instructor to check my progress, offer me ideas on how to improve, and set forth a plan for the next lesson.
Think about your improvement projects and coaching situations at work. Outside of these meetings with your coach, are you actually practicing? Do you cram the night before? Or do you just treat the coaching session like a confessional, “I really had good intentions, but…”
In the PDCA cycle, most of our learning happens in the Do & Check steps. No do = no learn. We know this, but we still have a hard time practicing.
Why does this happen so often in our working world? One hypothesis I have is we don’t focus the practice of our new skills on our primary work, but on “side projects.” We make lean thinking a side project! Then, day-to-day, our primary work takes precedence and we never get to practice (DO) our new skills. The key is taking what we’ve begun to learn and applying it to what we spend the majority of our time doing; addressing our most pressing issues. Then, as we DO, CHECK and ADJUST the real learning can happen.
Think of this way. How many times have you set aside time to deliberately learn a new fun skill such as playing a musical instrument or new sport? It’s fun, sure, but it’s also difficult. A lot of learning is involved. But we make the time to do it anyway because we want to learn. Shouldn’t applying lean to your ever-present, day-to-day work be easy by comparison? You don’t have to set time aside to practice, you just do and learn.