I was reminded again this past week about how all the new ideas about how to make change and improve things don’t make much difference without practice. I get excited when I read about something new that I can use in my work or life, or when I attend a training to learn new skills. And even though I know from experience that I have to apply and practice the skills to both get better and to get the results I hope for, I still forget it. I can maintain attention on learning new skills pretty easily. What I have trouble with is maintaining attention on old skills – on doing what I know works, even if it is not a bright shiny new object with lots of promise.
In Lean management, the primary way to maintain an improvement is to build the change into standard work. Once you experiment with changing something, and find out that it works, you adjust the standards to make it part of how you get things done. I have used this method a lot for both myself as an individual to support my own behavior change, and with teams I have led, and it really works. But only if you then check on whether standards and standard work are being followed. That is where I falter. Checking on whether standards are being followed is not particularly exciting, not as exciting as doing some new continuous improvement effort – but without it, how will I know if the standards work to maintain an improvement? How would I even know where to improve? But it is so difficult to maintain that focus. Just like when I sit on the cushion during meditation, practicing maintaining my attention on the breath. My mind jumps all over the place. I get bored. I start planning my day and all the things I need to do. And then somehow I notice all that mental activity, and gently bring my focus back to my breath. Over and over again.
This week, I want to practice bringing the practice of sustained focus on the basics into my day to day work (again – not the first time I have set this intention). Am I doing what I said I was going to do? Is my team? If not, what is getting in the way of that? It is all about checking and learning, so that we keep improving. As I once heard from Lean practitioner and author Pascal Dennis, “Says easy, does hard.” I hope that with practice, I improve my ability to sustain my focus on whatever is the object of my attention.
My gratitude to Karl Hoover for reminding me about what I had already learned. It makes it easier to sustain focus when you have a community of practice.