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Some thoughts about what #positive #lean could be by mixing #AppreciativeInquiry and #SolutionFocus

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I’ve been thinking lately of what some less deficit-based or more positive-based Lean could be. I know three kind of positive approaches:

  • Appreciative Inquiry, more geared toward identifying what gives life to people, what interests them;
  • Solution Focus, which tries to identify what works or has worked and do more of it;
  • Positive Deviance, which allow a group to identify people (the positive deviant) that achieve a definite purpose in the same condition as others who do not.

What I find interesting in these approaches is that I find them far more powerful when it comes to motivating people to change. Because they appeal to what people really want or like to do. Surely enough, epople do want to solve problems, but only to the extent that it allows them to move toward something that they feel interested in, something that serves them in one way or the other.

What’s the greatest moment in solving a problem? It’s not when you discover it, it’s not when you’re solving it. It’s when it is solved, because it allows you to demonstrate you’re stronger than the problem and because it allows you to continue toward what you were aiming at, before the problem crossed your path.

With this in mind, I tried to see how I could approach continuous improvement with a more strength-based a positive approach:

  • During pre-improvement activity: conduct some paired interviews with some basic Appreciative Inquiry questions with the purpose of identifying people’s positive core and raise their interest/motivation in doing something:
    • “Who are you when you’re at your best?”
    • “Tell me about peak collaborative experiences you had in the past or some spontaneous improvement that you witnessed: when, how?”
  • During identification of the current process/state, I’d see me using the Solution Focus scaling questions:
    • “On a scale from 0 (worst performance) to 10 (best performance ever), how would you rate the current process performance?”
  • Then I’d go for some Appreciative Inquiry Discovery about what’s working or a peak experience of when the process is at its best/when people are at their best in it:
    • What happened?
    • What allowed it to work better?
  • Then I’d allow some Appreciative Inquiry Dream about what would the perfect process (looping back on the Solution Focus Scaling question: What would 10 on the Performance scale mean for the process?)
    • I may try to introduce the Lean concepts of Jidoka (quality first) and Flow at this time, but without trying to force these onto the people: I suspect these could be re-discovered by people sooner or later, given proper coaching and gentle challenge.
    • I also find the “In-between” of the Solution Focus “SIMPLE” very interesting here because it allows me to ask such questions as: “If the process were running at a performance of 10 on the scale, what would other people see you doing?” and move the focus onto new behaviors.
  • I’d then be rendered to the Appreciative Inquiry Design phase where I could lead people to identify the Provocative Statements that need to be true for the Dream to occur.
  • And then for the last part of that Positive Lean approach, I’d mix Appreciative Inquiry Deliver/Destiny phase and Solution Focus to identify an Action Plan that would build on when people have seen the Provocative Statements already occurring, even a bit.
    • When, who, how, what has been done to get there? This is a first step in constructing a retro-planning for the Future to influence back the Present
    • How can we leverage people’s and process’ positive cores to make Provocative Statements come true?
    • What would be the quickest and smallest possible actions that could be done right now to move the current process performance from N to N+1 on the scale? (prevent failure: the smallest action is usually hard not to do and hard to fail).

By the time I would get at the end of this process, I should have an action plan with actions linked to a powerful vision of what the future could be, created by the very people that are running the process and going to improve it.

And then, because what we really want is continuous improvement, I’d teach middle management (often forgotten in change initiatives) how to use Solution Focus OSKAR coaching framework to help the team capitalize on their successes. That means starting with R (Results from previous actions, to bring past positive results to the fore and continue from there).

I’d really like your comments below on this approach: have you tried something similar? What worked? How could this process be improved based on what you’ve seen working?


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  • Hi Nicolas
    I’ve done quite a bit of work in this area. I’m predominantly an AI consultant now but come here from the worl of Quality and continuos improvement. I’ve created a ramework that marries the two with many traditional tools based within an AI philosophy. I’ve used mosly a PDCA framework so depending on how quality focus or AI focus the organization is, they will either see the PDSA language or the 5 D language (definition, discovery, dream, design and delivery). I didn’t see you mention the work of definition. That is really critical because many of the traditional quality tools such as business case and project charter helps the team get clear on things. Roles and expectations, etc re critical

    Also, I view three type of data: quantitative, qualitative and narrative. I see you mention qualitative (an assassmentbon how they perceive the process working), narrative (in interviews) but you didn’t mention quantitative. I think the world of OD falls short here. We need to encourage our clients to track measures that are meaningful so they can confirm their change (within the ‘check’ part of the cycle (or within destiny if they are using the AI language)

    • Hello Joanne,

      Thanks for your answer. I agree with you. This post is a thinking captured in real time and lack some structure and exhaustivity. The Define step is fundamental of course, you pinpointed this and I agree.
      I also agree with the data part (it’s incredible how people seem to enjoy living in such an approximative world yet grumble when it comes to measuring things). Though, I’d add that proper interpretation of data is also crucial. Without going as far as statistical Six Sigma, some bit of Deming and notions of common and special cause of variation would probably help people avoid tempering with process when it’s useless (is that 1% increase of decrease in unemployement really significant to warrant political debate?)

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