Noticing the unexpected

This blog is about a starter-kata for daily counting of the results that do not match your expectations about various events. It is about clicking a mechanical counter when something happened that is different from what I expected.
Kata Coach Gemma Jones published more detailed instructions in LinkedIn here.

Below is a Run Chart from personally practicing this starter-kata for ten days.

Examples of personal unexpected events that happened to me:
– I was late for a meeting
– I spilled coffee on my shirt
– I was about to be hit by a driver who was browsing her phone at a traffic signal
– A team that I coach came up with break-through idea that I had not imagined
– My daughter bought me a birthday gift that I was always thinking about, but did not tell anyone!
– I stopped my walk because of a surprise rain
– ….
– ….

I reflected below on the types of events that happened, specifically how these types can affect my ability to count them at the moment when they happened.

The more the event is noticeable, for example unexpected rain that interrupted my walk, the higher the chances I click the counter. The more the event is impacting me, a car that was about to hit me, I felt that this is unexpected event. Finally, if I was left to my own vices without being coached, my motivation wanes down after few days — that what actually happened. The count of clicks had negative trend, then I started realizing on the fifth day that I am not engaged. Afterwards, I started paying attention again to the events around me. However, without having a coach I cannot sustain using the counter.

Noticing unexpected results regardless how insignificant they might be can help organizations detect early signs of bigger problems. The following 3-minutes video by Steven Spear of MIT, talks about a choice organizations make in face of unusual small problems.

This choice can either be:
– Keep doing the work as usual while using workarounds, or
– STOP, analyze, come up with preventive actions, create new knowledge, and spread the learning.

While I have not been actually hit by the car, I need to reflect on this event and come up with preventive actions so that I can have safer walking, and perhaps biking.

I work with teams that use a monthly project plan. Multiple times daily, what was expected in the plan do not happen, despite the short-span of the plan. The ripple effect of these unexpected events are delays, impact on quality and ultimately not meeting business objectives. It just starts with small unexpected results that over-time become a pattern, and as Steve says those small problems can coalesce over time to cause a catastrophic failure.

I plan to keep counting for few more weeks to have more data for analysis so that I can create better understanding about what actually happen to me daily. Also, I will try to extend this thinking to the teams that I work with so that they are able “to see” more about what happen during their daily work. This however requires safety to confront uncomfortable facts, specifically if these teams are expected to follow a plan. I think the real value-stream is about observing what actually happen during the day, especially when what happened do not agree with what the team expected.

I’d like to thank Mike Rother, Tracy Defoe and Gemma Jones for creating this starter-kata. It helped to raise the awareness to pay attention to various unexpected results that happen daily.

Published by Sameh

I coach teams and their managers on Scientific Thinking, Lean, and Product Innovation. I have realized that the real coaches for teams are their managers, because they model the desired behaviors and actions. Furthermore, I shifted my focus to coach managers to champion experimentation in their teams, which has created a lasting impact.

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