Six Questions for Managerial Improvement


Executives, managers, and supervisors often get caught up in the “busyness” of their days and fail to consider which activities are both truly necessary and value-adding to the organization and the customer. They’re typically so deeply immersed in the minutia of their jobs that they lose sight of the forest for the bark, much less the trees. Reflection (or hansei, or after-action-review) is a necessary step for improvement. It’s a critical part of Plan-Do-Study-Adjust cycle of learning, and you see it done after projects and during focused improvement work (particularly on the shop floor). But why not reflect more frequently, especially in the office? Why not turn everyday office work into an exercise in PDSA?

The cascade of six questions below is an easy way to step back and gain perspective on what you’re doing, whether you should be doing it at all, and how it could be improved. Taken together, they enable you to bring a PDSA mindset to your daily work, not just to large improvement projects. (Note that these questions can be used both by individuals as well as teams.

  1. What did we do today?
    • (Connect activities and results.)
  1. What did we accomplish today (e.g., design, make, sell, service)?
    • (Track progress, celebrate success, and establish the value of the team)
  1. What obstacles got in our way today (e.g., materials, lack of information, miscommunication, repeated fires, etc.)?
    • (Start the conversation on where improvement is necessary and possible.)
  1. What were the causes of these obstacles?
    • (Start the diagnostic process.)
  1. What alternative approaches might remove, offset, or remediate these causes?
    • (Start the process of planning and testing improvement ideas.)
  1. How are the alternative approaches progressing? Where are they succeeding? Where are they failing?
    • (Instill the discipline and mindset of reflection and analysis.)

Try it for two weeks. My hunch is that these will provide an easier on-ramp to continuous improvement than first diving into the rigorous details of, say, an A3 analysis, and will propel you towards a more efficient and effective day.

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