Understanding questions

question marksI came across this post from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University detailing the different categories of questions:

 

Some Different Types of Questioning

Facilitating student discussions can be one of the most difficult aspects of teaching. Listed below are some different types of questioning one might use to encourage student participation in class.

Open Ended Questions

What’s Going On? What do you make of this situation? Casting question nets out to see what comes in. Listening for entry and emphasis points.

Asking for Information

Where? When? Who? What? Facts and opinions.

Diagnostic Questions

How do you interpret and explain “A” and “B’s” impact on the situation?How do you weave these points into some kind of understanding of what else is going on, possibly behind the scenes?

Challenge Questions

Why do you say that? How would you explain� Where is the evidence for what you say? How can you say a thing like that? Is that all? That’s just the opposite of what Student X said. Can you persuade him/her?

Extension Questions

Exploring the issues. What else? Can you take us farther down that path or find new tributaries? Keep going? Therefore?

Combination Questions

How would you relate your points to those mentioned by Student A or to something else you said?
How would you understand X in light of Y?

Priority Questions

Which issues do you consider most important? Where do you start? How would you rank these?Action Questions
What would you do in Person X’s shoes? How?

Prediction Questions

What do you think would happen if we followed Student Z’s action plan? Give us a forecast of your expectations. How will he/she react to your thinking?

Generalizing and Summarizing Questions

What inferences can we make from this discussion and case? What generalizations would you make? How would you summarize the three most critical issues that we have discussed? Can you summarize the high points of the discussion thus far?

 

What I find interesting is that, while intended to be questions asked of students in a classroom, these exact same questions are the sort of things that ought to be asked in the workplace when attempting to promote continuous improvement.  This list of questions serves as a useful study guide for anyone looking to conduct a root cause analysis or initiate a process change.

Stump the chump and the art of accountability

business relationships teams friendsThis past Thursday night I delivered a presentation on understanding the 7 Wastes of Lean and how they are manifested in project management.  It was the largest gathering I’ve spoken to yet, and presented some interesting audience dynamics that were far different from when I presented the same topic to about 50-60 people at the New Hampshire chapter.  Overall, the presentation was fairly well received, however, and I think I delivered my point.  It was good speaking experience and gives me some time to reflect on how to work a larger room.

At the end of the presentation, a question was asked of me by an audience member:  “How do you make people accountable?”

It was clear that the situation this person was in had caused a great deal of frustration and difficulty.  As I pressed for details, it appeared that the situation was one in which a project had been assigned in typical “responsibility without authority” fashion.  Supposed team mates who needed to be a part of the project simply weren’t complying and, it also seemed obvious to me, the naming, blaming and shaming had begun.

My response?  A very unsatisfying quip that the project was doomed before it began.   The truth is, it looks like this project was sponsored via edict, by someone with no ability to grasp the difficulty of the situation or, even worse, someone who had and decided to place the responsibility for it upon the shoulders of an underling.  Also, I asked why people are resisting the change?  The answer was that they were afraid to change.  So, in my estimation, they were in an environment of disrespect because, lets’ face it, if you are fearful you are being disrespected, given the way things at work tend to go.

While likely accurate, those observations don’t really help the poor project manager who must deal with such a lousy situation.  The truth is, it’s always easy to blame management (which I also stated), however, you can influence from your own level on down.  So, I am sorry to say, that while the environment this Project Manager was in was entirely toxic and the assignment was probably doomed, there was a lot more that could have been done to make the situation better.

So, upon reflection over the course of the weekend, I have come up with some other advice.  Now, I won’t bore people with the usual rhetoric:  Approach the sponsor for additional support, lay out ground rules for the project team, establish tasks and task owners.  Those things are fairly simple and rely on utilizing tools rather than getting down into core people-centered concepts.  My best advice, then, is this:

Make friends.

I am as guilty as the next person in relying too much on being right and too little on being liked.  While all those smarts turn up evidence that is undeniable, people will still tend to go the other way, preferring to be wrong with friends than right and alone.  If you spend time making friends with people, they will do more to help you and be sympathetic when you are handed that miserable dog of a project.  Having those relationships does, indeed, make things easier and, therefore, enables the participation and experimentation needed to bring about success.

Now, people will say that such things ought not to be necessary and, if you are dedicated to a task or a company, that people should put aside their personal feelings and get the job done.  True.  They should.  True, also, that they won’t.  If you establish personal ties, however, people will choose to help you, they will choose to work on things they don’t want to just to spend time with people they like, they will choose to do a good job in order to make you look good, and they will choose to hold up their end so that they do not let you down.

In short, they will choose to be accountable.

The value of delayed decisions

decisions by mihaibrrr

decisions by mihaibrrr

Most conversations about improvement revolve around finding ways to speed things up.  Whether by focusing on the elimination of unnecessary activities, doing less more often, reducing clutter, training the mind to avoid multitasking, or any other approach to speeding up decision making the prevailing message is clear:  do things faster.

The desire to do things faster necessitates making decisions faster, of course.  Process improvement schools of thought are, essentially, designed to speed up decision making to one degree or another.  Last year, I came across Frank Partnoy’s Wait, however, which advocated something different – slowing things down.

Partnoy investigates the cognitive science of decision making across multiple situations, from athletes making decisions in milliseconds to investors like Warren Buffet who delay decisions for weeks, months or years.  In his investigations, he discovers a seemingly simply truth:  That the longer you can delay a decision, the better decision you will make.

Partnoy’s take seems to be out of synch with improvement methods that look to speed up our ability to make decisions. Nonetheless, I think there’s more in common than might meet the eye.  What I see in Partnoy’s book  is that decision making needs to be slowed down in order for genuine improvement to occur.  Adopting continuous improvement methods allows  for as much information gathering as possible prior to making the final decision.

The iterations surrounding any approach that looks to fail fast and learn constantly are all doing 1 thing – allowing for as much learning as possible prior to making a decision that can’t be undone.  Partnoy’s work reinforces the wisdom of this approach and makes it clear:  slowing down your thought processes, rather than speeding them up, results in the best possible outcomes.

 

Stump the Chump, and the Steve Jobs Paradox?

Paradox

iTime paradox by IlookingYou

Two weeks ago, I delivered the presentation that’s been adorning the home page to a monthly meeting of the New Hampshire chapter of the project management institute.  That presentation was drawn from a series I put on the blog just a little over a year and a half ago, where I made a connection between common, sub-optimal activities that are found in project environments and Lean’s 7 wastes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to stand up and speak about how Lean is not a set of cost reduction techniques nor a quality assurance program, but a philosophy of how organizations work, how people work, and of how people within organizations work.  While several in the audience were expecting a discussion of Agile software development when they heard the topic would be about Lean in Project Management, I think my focus on understanding environments and behaviors resonated with a few of the audience members.  Many asked if they could obtain a copy of the presentation, which I took to be quite the complement, also.

If the Q&A that followed, however, I was asked a question that – as I put it, “Stumped the Chump.”  One gentleman asked, in response to the portions of my presentation that focused on the Respect for People foundation of Lean and, in particular, the Shingo model, how I would characterize Steve Jobs and Apple’s success, given that Jobs was a well-known egomaniac and had a reputation for being quite stern and non-compromising.

While some members of the audience offered their take on what might have happened at Apple as others took up the cause of Respect for People and the “appropriate” management styles, in an effort to help me out as I stated that the question would require some thought, I thought up my response.  I briefly recounted my understanding of the work Steve Jobs did at Pixar, and the interpersonal dynamics he created within the hallways of Pixar (quite literally) that fostered collaboration and creativity – including several dynamics for idea sharing and generation that were drawn from – you guessed it – the Toyota Production System.

While this answer satisfied the gentleman asking the question, it has stuck with me for the past couple of weeks, as I felt the need to contemplate the question a bit further.  What I may have come to realize, is that there is something of a Paradox involved when a true visionary ascends to the position of influence within an organization.  These situations are remarkably rare, I believe, which is why they are so disruptive, revolutionary, and highly successful.  It is dependent as much upon the circumstances as the traits of the individuals involved, but it is clear to me that the person(s) who creates a whole new paradigm for conducting the work of an organization very often must embrace what I will call the “Jobsian Paradox.”

Clearly, the stories of the founders of the Toyota Production System are not that far from what we hear of Jobs doing at Apple.  The outcomes are revered by many, studied and copied by others, and delved into by an army of commentators looking for the secret to the success these visionaries bring about.  What they have in common, however, is something that is, indeed, contrary to the tenets of creativity and innovation in both project and process.  That is, that at the beginning – when people’s mindsets need to be calibrated towards a new understanding and  that understanding needs to translate into action, someone authoritative, demanding, relentless personality must be at the forefront of creating and driving the system under which change will occur.

From those personalities come systems, and from that relentless focus on driving people to the correct behaviors comes guiding them to possibilities, and from satisfactory mediocre comes the expectation of greatness.  It must begin, however, with unique individuals willing to drive others to the point of aggravation in order to be achieved, which is something of a paradox in the realm of thinking that believes people are intrinsically motivated and that all a brutish task master can do is to de-motivate them.

This is, in many ways, akin to the concept of a Level 5 Leader that Jim Collins discusses.  To foster change, unique, rare, visionary people are needed.  In order to turn their vision into reality, however, a certain drive is required that leads the people with that vision to adopt behaviors we tend to believe, at least in the short term, are counterproductive and entirely suboptimal.

To wrap it up, the Jobs-ian paradox is this:  For true visionaries with the ability to persevere, many of the management practices and behaviors that we associate with high levels of creativity  and innovation among the workforce, are ignored or simply not practiced in order to bring the organization, as a whole, to high levels of creativity and and innovation.

 

Toy Dogs and the trouble with short-term thinking

Last night was one of those unfortunate, frustrating nights in our house.  At 3:10AM, the dog decided he needed to go out into the yard, which caused him to prance loudly around our bedroom until we woke up to let him out.  Although he woke up both my wife & I, I was awake enough to get out of bed first (which rarely happens), so I let the dogs into the yard, brought them in, and went back to bed.

About 15 minutes later, before either of us could fully doze back to sleep, the 3-year-old started to cry in his bed.  It was just a bad dream, and he went back to sleep quickly, but when I came into his room I moved his toy dog over on his bed to make room for myself.  The button on the dog’s paw that causes it to sing and talk was now easily triggered every time my son rolled over onto it, which we discovered about 5 minutes after I went back to bed.

My wife, aggravated with the singing, got out of bed and went down the hall into my son’s room, and simply moved the dog over, expecting it to finish its song and then go silent.  Too tired to take a look inside the dog and switch off the battery back, she stumbled back to bed hoping the problem would go away.  Of course, by now, the 3-year-old was awake, and playing with the dog – hitting the buttons over and over to listen to the dog sing and talk.  Then, it became my turn to go and try to calm him down, which was impossible, and by 5:15 he was ready to run and jump, so we got up and went downstairs to watch some cartoons while I tried not to bang my head against a wall until I fell into unconsciousness.

Most of us have been in situations like this, or at least similar to it.  Tired, frustrated, stressed out – we seek a quick solution to an immediate problem, ignoring the potential long-term consequences.  For me, I simply moved the dog over rather than putting it someplace where it couldn’t be triggered accidentally.  My wife compounded the problem by just moving the dog and not taking a moment to find the off button.  As a result of taking care of an immediate problem, we ended up with a much longer-term one:  the toy dog kept on singing and the 3-year-old kept on playing, leaving us both tired, frustrated and grumpy as hell for the rest of the day – which will culminate with trying to get the kids to bed (and this time with the dog switched off, which he won’t understand, which means he won’t sleep well….).

Taking a few extra minutes to solve a problem for good seems like an onerous burden when you’re in the middle of the firefight.  That exact same behavior, however, is what leads to the next firefight in the first place.  Although we instantaneously reward ourselves (even with just a few more minutes sleep) for taking care of an immediate problem, we need to remember that solving the bigger problem usually means thinking about the longer term, and that alone will usually guide us to much more long-lasting solutions that allow us to avoid the next problem altogether.