Scientific Thinking: the Catalyst of Decision-Making

Scientific Thinking: the Catalyst of Decision-Making


It’s 5 pm, and after a painful day at work, you walk into your local hospital’s emergency room complaining of abdominal pain on your right side. The nursing staff sees you are in significant pain and asks what your pain level is on a scale of 1 to 10. You respond in agony that your pain level is 15. The staff immediately calls the doctor in, and upon meeting with you, states he is preparing you for surgery. He says this without completing any tests, drawing any blood, or considering any other assessment. He then tells you everything is going to be just fine. How does that make you feel? For a second, put yourself in the doctor’s shoes and reflect on how you would have approached this case scenario. Regardless of how crazy you think the doctor must have been in the above imaginary scenario, we’ve all acted like that when it comes to our approach for process improvements. We have repeatedly ignored the Voice of the Process, refused to experiment to achieve a better process condition but instead, we chose to follow the loudest and most dominating idea in the room while instigating that this or that improvement process isn’t for us.

Most, if not all of us, struggle with several decision-making villains that portray a different ecosystem than the one actually surrounding us. The pressure for quick results leads us to jump into conclusions, ignore good ideas, embark on new training programs, and even follow the wishful thinking path of looking at the data with the hope something will change. Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage (2012), and the Heath brothers in their book Decisive (2013) talk about the villains of decision-making. Those villains are the:

  1. Confirmation Bias: You ask for the truth, but in reality, you’re only seeking the reassurance of your beliefs. You see what you believe is happening, not what is actually taking place.
  2. Sophistication Bias: You know so much that simple and straightforward approaches are difficult to accept.
  3. Overconfidence: You’re so certain about the future that you ignore all the signals and voices around you.
  4. Short-Term Emotion: You’re letting emotions dictate your next move. You agonize about your circumstances and change your approach more frequently than the weather.
  5. Narrow Framing: You define your choices in a binary format (yes or no), instead of looking for ways to make things work.
  6. Adrenaline Bias: You love being heroes, and there’s nothing better than an environment where firefighting thrives.
  7. Quantification Bias: You want to financially quantify everything, and if you can’t see it in your financial statements, then it must not exist.

Take a few seconds and reflect as to which of these villains you recognize in yourself. Majority of us and those in our ecosystem struggle with the first two, almost always. Your extensive education and years of work experience are like kerosene that constantly fuels those villains to not only exist but be deeply rooted. So, what can you do about them? Before we talk about possible solutions, we need to identify and better understand the obstacles which allow these villains to exist.

When convenient to us, we begin to question things, conditions, and sequence of steps. Once everything is our idea, well it’s difficult to question anything, as we know everything.

Remember? The doors are wide open, and all the alarms are shut off for the sophistication bias to enter. Not only have we masked all the signals with the noise surrounding us but also forgot to question every detail with a purpose. Hence, it’s so easy to jump into conclusions and feed your overconfidence bias. Now, before you go ahead and start implementing a new tool or system, ask yourself: As an organization, what’s our purpose and how should we behave? The latter is what allows you to begin breaking through the barriers that all these villains have built while the former fuels your need for action.

That is why keeping things simple and forcing our thinking back to the basics is critical to the success of our thinking evolution. In the book Seeing To Understand: Your Scientific Thinking Lifestyle Coach (2019), I note that once you hear statements beginning with “I think,” “I believe,” “I have a hunch” then you know that you’re allowing an environment of uncertainty to deploy which begins leading to arbitrary and unintentional thinking. There is nothing arbitrary and unintentional about scientific thinking. Utilizing the back-to-basics skills of Training Within Industry (TWI) programs – Job Relations, Job Instruction, and Job Methods – paired with the simplicity of Process Behavior Analysis – the approach Dr. Wheeler has been promoting for decades – and reinforcing them through the Improvement and Coaching Kata, are inseparable components of your catalytic management system. Seeing to Understand is the catalyst which allows us to challenge the status quo, evolve our thinking, and achieve consistently becoming a better organization; not mimicking somebody else. Consistency is far more superior than intensity. Imagine yourself working out 20 minutes each day for 20 days versus 5 hours for one day. When do you think you will see tangible results? While Job Methods is a great skill to improve the process by questioning its every detail with a purpose, my reflections have taught me the following two key points: 1. Once a process is changed, it requires

a new wave of training for the staff, and 2. Not everyone is comfortable with change, so proactively putting the Job Relations foundations into action is the only way we will ever come close to the target state.

Let’s review some insightful examples from a few of the many organizations who decided to begin Seeing to

Once we began inputting the data into the process behavior chart format, as shown in Figure 2, we soon came to the realization that “No we didn’t improve in February or June” but instead “There’s no signal that indicates that we’ve improved the process.” Isn’t this a great moment to apply the first of the four JR foundations? Painful? Absolutely. Necessary? Indeed. It was time to take the team back to basics and shock our system with some aha! moments. After

Figure 1: Process Behavior Analysis Chart (Seeing To Understand, 2019)

Understand and focused on consistency instead of intensity. The general manager of one of the largest Oil and Gas tooling suppliers in the world was certain that production was doing very well in improving their performance (confirmation bias), margins were exceptional, and business was booming (overconfidence). However, he had one request, and that was to help change his team’s thinking, as times are changing, and fresh ideas are necessary. After a quick introduction to the Process Behavior Analysis (PBA) – our first vaccination against the first villain – that belief quickly changed, and the only thing we were confirming was that we didn’t really know what was truly happening. first making everyone aware of changes that will affect them – the third of the four most valuable JR foundation investments you have – we began building our approach around the four-step Kataapproach. Beginning with the development of a challenge and following with grasping the current condition. The latter is where most suffer through the confirmation bias.

Figure 2: Process Behavior Chart

Hence, we began a three-day JM deep dive and questioned every process detail with a purpose. Once revealing the true process condition and overcome the first wave of headaches, we set up our first target condition, intentionally. That did not take place through an arbitrary negotiation between a coach and the learners. We utilized both the JM 5W and 1H questions, alongside the process behavior analysis rules to allow the learners to build a target condition which was driven by facts, data, and intentional thinking. It was only a matter of time for the team to come across over a dozen obstacles, and they instantly began experimenting their way forward. That was the only way to scrape cataracts off their eyes and begin changing the environment within people operate.

Several dozen experiments within a period of four weeks, the team was able to: 1. Switch their thinking from

“What do you think we should do?” to “Let’s experiment to find what’s truly the obstacle and how we can remove it.” 2. Create data signals through their

Figure 3: Job Methods Deep Dive

experiments, and 3. Had fun doing this every day, throughout their day. The learners were both the Maintenance Supervisor – the only active mechanic in the building – and the Setup Lead – responsible forsetting up a six CNCs and 5 milling machines, daily. It was an approach that made everyone uncomfortable and often got them irritated dug up all the things they have been missing over the years – cataracts caused by the villains. But it also led to great emotional intelligence moments: “Through this exercise, I’ve come to realize I’m a bad manager. We should always strive to understand the Voice of the Customer and Process, and instead of jumping into conclusions andshut-down peoples’ ideas, we should always experiment.” David B., G.M. “Honestly, I’m having fun obstacle-hunting and I ain’t going back.” Tyler D. Setup Lead. Now, they’ve only begun their scientific thinking lifestyle, and the need to address training gaps through Job Instruction, as well as behavioral issues through Job Relations. In addition, there are several more obstacles in the way to becoming a better version of themselves. Through improvement and coaching KATA, they will continue to utilize their TWI and Process Behavior Analysis skills to expose obstacles, reflect, and expand their threshold of knowledge while keeping the decision-making villains dormant.

Let’s look at another insightful example of a publicly-traded medical device manufacturer of knee and hip implants. This team was challenged to wipe off WIP from their department without moving it elsewhere – nice catch there – or negatively impacting their hubs (customers). They were good at tracking their data but had no clue what the Voice of the
Process was telling them. At an average conservative cost of $11K per surgical kit, the department was holding approximately $4.7 million in inventory that couldn’t generate any revenue. Unless the kits are on the field and used by surgeons, they are a liability and not an asset. Each of the ten operators was responsible for every task associated with the inspection and replenishment of the surgical kits and expedites were a priority over any other field return. This was a very typical operating behavior that you could come across a multitude of organizations.

Figure 4: Process Run Chart

Meanwhile, the overall “feeling” was that “We’re improving. Look at the trend-line!” When asked what happened in the last two data-points, everyone “thought” it was because the hubs were batching their returns. Remember what we said about thoughtshunches, and feelings in a prior paragraph; they allow arbitrary and unintentional thinking to take place. And sure enough, it did. There was only one way to challenge our decision-making villains, and that was, yet again, by going back to the basics.

Figure 5: Grasping the Current Condition

Figure 6: Process Behavior Chart

Recalling our Job Methods skillset, we dove as a coach to build intentional thinking and to switch over a learner from doing the work to improving the work. I had several obstacles as a coach I have had to experiment and overcome on my way to helping each learner achieve their purpose; Improving the work is the work, and it’s fun! And they sure began improving not because of the training they received or a lean tool implemented. They began improving because their thinking was evolving consistently, and they made change a routine; not an intensified exercise.

People don’t fail systems; Systems fail people. That is because
we focus on fixing things, processes, and forget that we also need to change our thinking. It requires a rigorous application of basic skills such as that of Job Relations, Job Instruction, and Job Methods while utilizing Process Behavior Analysis and Kata as the way to consistently expand our threshold of knowledge. Change begins with you; not your people. Once you realize which, if not all, villains you carry, then you can begin puzzling together the right system that allows you and your organization to build the ecosystem necessary to change the environment within people operate. That approach is what is going to generate results you can count on.

Change begins with you; not your people. Once you realize which, if not all, villains you carry, then you can begin puzzling together the right system that allows you and your organization to build the ecosystem necessary to change the environment within people operate.

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