Finding The Right CI Question To Ask

Central to Continuous Improvement is the PDCA (Plan - Do - Check - Act) cycle. I talk about this a lot as I believe it is rare for every improvement that we attempt to work perfectly the first time. One part of using this approach effectively is the ability to modify your questions when you aren't getting the answers that you need.

For example, the other week I was sitting in a meeting with a client's member of staff and I was trying to find out how to get their ERP system to behave in a certain way. They certainly had the answers, but because I come from an operational background (and they were IT) I had to try multiple attempts to find the middle ground where we both were clear about the conversation and where the right question could find the right answer.

If you have seen the film 'I Robot' with Will Smith you may well recall this in action during various scenes. Will Smith's character talks to a hologramatic recording, trying to find out the missing pieces of the puzzle he has been left to solve. Until Will's character has the right question the limited responses of the recording cannot furnish him with any more information. The right question needed to be presented in order to get the right answer.

Many continuous improvement projects suffer from this as well. We ask questions to others in the business and get a straight 'no' in return. We know that there is merit in the idea and it is up to us whether we try again with our question(s). With a little bit of diplomacy and a bit more understanding of where the other person is coming from, we can often find a slightly different question that can provide us with a better answer.

If you find that your continuous improvement projects don't get off the ground because of someone blocking the idea then perhaps it is time to increase your flexibility and ask different questions. I have experienced this many times personally, as have my clients, where a little bit of persistence to better understand the other person combined with different questions have eventually gotten me to the answer that I needed.

Don't give up, try a different question.

Giles Johnston
...fixing MRP systems and re-engineering business processes