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Continuously Improving – Might maths be important?

September 19, 2023
At Story Construction (Iowa), in the last month, four leaders practiced workplace experimenting. For each this took 8 hours - about 5% of their work time assuming a 40 hour week. Such an approach to improvement probably won’t be for everyone at Story. But let’s conservatively assume it will be for 50%. They employ about 160 people thus, in a year or two’s time, 80 people may well be spending 5% of their work time experimenting - there’s 160 hours per week of experimenting going on at Story (alongside ‘getting the job done’). Just imagine that …

Now, how did this come about?

We have an ‘off the shelf’ Quest for practicing workplace experimenting. Two of Story Construction (Iowa), senior leaders did this Quest around mid this year as a means of evaluating the way of learning. Brant Carr (Story exec.) then worked with myself (Oscar) in taking our ‘off the shelf Quest’ and ‘Story’ising’ it. The three biggest adjustments were:

  1. Story’s language for PDCA which is PDCR – Plan, Do, Check, Reflect.
  2. Introducing two rounds of experimenting (Brant’s excellent idea):
    1. The topic of the first round is given to the learners – ‘interruptions’ at work. It’s very much ‘just get stuck in’, learn by doing.
    1. The second round ‘topic’ is their choice (with stronger guidance).
  3. Making it a ‘blended’ Quest. We got together live online (45mins to 1Hr each time) five times throughout to discuss collectively what each was doing and learning.

‘Test Group 1’ was selected (middle managers – Sam, Scott, Marcus, Mitch) as part of our development of the system. They embarked on the Story Practice Workplace Experimenting Quest mid-August.

Sam and Scott focused on Story’s way of recording what happens at each construction site daily, a compliance issue in many ways. There’s been a recent adjustment in requirement, these new requirements are frequently not being met, so they adopted a ‘PDCR’ approach. Both Sam and Scott realised early on that their planned experiments were too big – frequent smaller cycles are more effective. A terrific ‘early on learning’.

Marcus focussed on the time it takes to develop Crew Workflow Plans (CWPs), currently being 2-4 hours. At 18-20 construction sites and the development of one CWP every 6-8 weeks, Marcus first experiment time of 1Hr:40mins has the potential to help Story significantly.

Mitch is head of marketing for Story. Of course I thought at the start ‘hmmm, interesting a marketing person doing this stuff, we’ll see …’. Story has a revolutionary system for construction planning in the field (not a computer in site). This planning system is applied in their ‘non construction’ departments too, marketing being one. Mitch’s focus was on improving their planning of their marketing work. His data, centring on where work was ‘appearing’ from, was exceptional which permitted learning thus next steps based very much on fact.

While the above are sound ‘wins’ for Story, they weren’t the point. Brant and I stressed throughout that there’s no right or wrong, this Quest is about practicing a routine. Practice enough and ‘PDCR thinking’ will become an incredibly valuable habit drawn upon daily – focus on the people and their habits, the results will come.

For more information on customising Quests for your company, contact me please – oscar@vwaust.com.