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How to Find Solutions to Problems Through Workshops

Jan 28, 2015
Posted by: GZupan
Category: General

A Sensing Session and Workout Session may appear similar on the surface, but I believe there are significant differences that are best considered when charting an agreement with sponsors.

A genuine leader for consensus is not searcher for consensus, but a molder for consensus. - Martin Luther King, Jr.As John Dewey stated, “…a problem well put is half solved.” I agree completely. To find a solution for tomorrow, we must first understand today. Sensing Sessions and Workout Sessions are similar facilitation paths that can build understanding and lead to solutions. Although, Sensing Sessions delivers universal agreement of problem(s) identified and prioritized, Workout Sessions also reaches agreement to solutions with a high confidence level.

The Sensing Session is based on U.S. Army technique to better understand how people feel, a.k.a., a "venting session". The primary goal is to help key stakeholders express their perceptions in focus areas. Sensing Sessions are an excellent means to quickly ascertain the potential problems needing to be addressed. Basically, Sensing Sessions gathers information from personal opinions and this tends to promote change but not always in the best direction. Keep in mind, facilitating sessions in groups with redundant perspectives, or excess voices with similar views, operating within a compressed period could impose bias and influence perception of discussion topics.

There are many tools used for Sensing Sessions, i.e., problem statement, scope, flip charts, post-it notes, affinity diagram, impact assessment based prioritization, etc. Sensing Sessions primarily promote conversation which tend to gravitate to solutions. Aggressive approaches to determining solutions for respective areas can be applied using cost/benefit analysis, a.k.a., Impact/Ease of Implementation Matrix. However, Sensing Session output will likely be inadequate which could impose greater risks on the implementation and stabilization efforts. I recommend coaches who can peacefully redirect, or parking lot, solution ideation during Sensing Sessions, as generating ideas with inadequate time could lead attendees to high expectations with little to no short term results. This can further perpetuate disruption, dissatisfaction, and disengagement of future efforts.

When conducted effectively, the foundational output of a Sensing Session provides an issue list (or, problem/defect) broken out by prioritized categories defining the problem, which in follow-up, will help determine strategic plans and define potential process improvement opportunities.

Knowing what factors or attributes are influencing a process can ease finding problem solutions. The Workout Session methodology, takes a significantly different approach. Workout Sessions can be applied with many different frameworks, methodologies and tools, i.e., Kaizen Event, GE Work-out, or PDCA workshops. The efforts tend to span over 90 to 120 day period. Before meeting with key stakeholders, chartering the effort is needed.  Definition of challenge, scope, key focus areas, process improvement metrics through data collections, and definition of success are best determined before holding the Workout Session. Businesses often justify efforts with baseline metrics produced with ROI figures to promote sponsorship by enterprise management and champions. Observation and data collection are vital to confidently take a snapshot, and form a contextual understanding of the organizational culture and problem areas being addressed.  Some approaches use the following:  

  • General observation
  • Pre and post surveys
  • Structured verbal interviewing
  • Observation based measurement for process tasks
  • Database review of collected records
  • Activity logs reported by operations

The preparation process will best identify the key subject-matter-experts that would be needed to take part in the face-to-face Workout Session. The participants in the Workout Session will verify that the collected information leads to a consensus, or resolve disagreements, so that everyone attending the session will be committed to act as a support agent in the implementation phase. The Workout Session methodology utilizes many tools, i.e., Process Mapping or Value Stream Mapping, SIPOC, Cause and Effect Diagram, Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA), data diving and statistical analysis, Statistical Process Control (SPC), etc. Like Sensing Sessions, the Workout Sessions uses a prioritization scoring methodology, however it goes into more detail.

I specifically recommend using the FMEA tool during Workout Sessions for greater analytical detail. Devised by the US Navy, FMEA considers all process steps or inputs, the potential failure modes, severity rating, occurrence frequency, detection rating and calculates the risk priority number to evaluate control solutions for each separate element. This listing determines detailed prioritization with actions and with clear assigned accountability by attending staff.

The Sensing Session is a simplified technique to seek out the issues in their company's current operational state and prioritize the listing, which can also be applied with business process improvement and product re-design efforts. A Workout Session goes deeper to assess the current state and bring key stakeholders to agreement on the most feasible, top-value-solutions, and help define a clear implementation plan.  Each technique is useful, depending on funding and time available. However, in my expirience Workout Sessions tend to be more effective by proactively characterizing the situation and democratically determining potential solutions to reach target goal. Workout Sessions establish teamwork driven motivation and clear deliverable accountability, which are the key deciding factors for success.

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