How i learned to skip with Toyota

I do skipping at the gym. It looks like this.

I however do not look like this

But i want do be epic at skipping and make the rope go round twice.

Like this…

These are called “Double Unders”. So called because although you jump up once, the rope travels around TWICE. Hence Double Under.

These are very hard to do indeed. They are much more tiring than “singles”, and as you get tired in skipping, your rhythm goes off and eventually you stumble with the rope and the skipping stops.

At the gym I go to there are classes with a prescribed workout that everybody does. If skipping comes up it is always prescribed as double-unders, and there is always practice at doing double unders. If you can’t do them, you do normal “singles”. If it is NOT in the workout, then you don’t do them. So they are there or not there, intermittently. And if they are there, you’re trying to do them, but not in a consistent learning curve. In my case, not doing them at all.

So when they come up, it is very much…

I have been trying to do them for 2 years, without success.
Until I realised that I had merely been trying to do them, but I hadn’t been learning how to do them. There’s a difference.

Then one day the coach said this….

“If you want to learn double unders, it won’t work just hoping they’ll come, instead practice for 10 minutes a day. Then they will come”

So I did, I stayed behind for exactly 10 minutes a day after class. And then i saw this thing called “the five questions”, and then I had an idea, and I carried out the idea and here is a blog post all about it….

This is something called “the coaching Kata” from Toyota, allegedly apparently.
It comes from this man here, and this is what it is all about…

“Kata are small, structured practice routines or protocols. Through physical practice their pattern becomes second nature, done with little conscious attention.  Kata are typically for learning fundamentals to build on.  The goal is not the Kata themselves, which get used less as you grow more proficient, but the habits of thinking and acting that practicing them leaves behind.

An example is practicing to drive a car.  Once you can drive you don’t think much anymore about the routines of how to use the car’s controls.  You can now focus your attention on navigating the road and handle the controls automatically.” [link]

So those questions up top, they are a structured step by step practice routine to be followed explicitly and literally, until the practice of them is internalised. .

“They are stepping stones for anyone who wants to acquire new ways of thinking and acting. Kata make skill and mindset transferrable, which is particularly useful for developing an organizational culture. Practicing the routines of the Improvement Kata gives us a way to develop scientific thinking and acting.

Once you and your team develop the fundamental, scientific skill that practicing the Improvement Kata teaches, you’ll be able to develop your own style and apply it in the pursuit of many goals and challenges.”

Now I’m not a one for using foreign words in the workplace, it alienates and makes simple daily management tasks into something weird and esoteric, but “kata” has no obvious English equivalent. So kata it is.

I did the coaching kata to learn myself how to skip double-unders, and this is how it went. Yoda stands in for the imaginary coach that I dont have who is asking the questions, and I’m me….



And this is what happened, over time…

I’ve added the median in (3) and if we apply correct rules for checking for trends, then has there been a sign of an increase?

There’s only 7 data points, so this is possibly too few if this were a normal process being monitored. If it were, and i wanted to test my theory that i had improved due to doing the penguin jump then i would need to see a run of a certain number of data points.

However this is NOT a normal process being monitored. This is a record of skill acquisition that I know accumulates gradually, rather than jumps suddenly from one state to another. So i would expect to see a gradual linear increase like in the graph. So given i would expect it, and there it is, this is a match between my prediction and the outcome. Result!

Not only that, but on the last data point 25th April I did a whole workout unscaled doing double unders! Which was the actual purpose behind the target condition of repeated sets of 10.

This is a VERY DUMBED DOWN VERSION INDEED of this “coaching kata”. There is so much left unexplained, cos i couldn’t be bothered to type it, or cos i don’t understand it yet.
Despite the name don’t think of this as “coaching”. All soft skillz and middle management away days. Instead think of it as how to THINK systemsy wise. The keen eyed reader will have spotted PDSA in here. Check Plan Do. Any version you want, the Kolb learning cycle. What it is, regardless of how you name it, is a method of training yourself to think methodically. About making explicit your assumptions, about recognising and dealing usefully with where your knowledge of a situation ends and where ignorance, in its true sense, begins.

Posted in change, experiment, questions, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The man who mistook his wife for an actual change in performance

There was once a man who mistook his wife for a hat.

This is his wife.

From the TV programme “The Good Wife” actually

This is a hat.

Any old hat

He thought

Why did he think that?

He had a brain injury. The injury affected the way his brain processed visual signals. Looking at his wife, he saw a hat. It wasn’t something he could do anything about, his understanding of what he saw was damaged, physically.

Oliver Sacks wrote a book about him and patients like him, with bizarre neurological impairments due to brain injuries.  There was a patient who after an accident saw totally in black and white. A man who couldn’t form any memories after the late 1960s.

The essence of these stories is that people see with their brains. If what is inside their brain is telling the, “IT’S A HAT!” then they see a hat

They form the image and create the understanding of what they are seeing out there in the world using their brain not eyes.

I think this is like how people look at graphs and see totally different things.

Remember the performance reporting archetypes?

Not mine, Mr Davis Balistacci’s

These are the 6 patterns of any three numbers arranged in every order they can be, with the name used to describe it when people have to invent a fairy story around the shape these numbers make on a page.

For example, here is the fairy story around “the rebound”…

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “An inexplicable decrease in performance in month 2 has been balanced with a rebound in performance in month 3 to ensure we are entering the next quarter with all our ducks lined up.”

Of course it is all total nonsense, inventing patterns and stories out of pure noise. It’s just what people do when faced with numbers or events, we first of all spot hey HERE’S something, and then say it is ALL ABOUT THIS!

It’s all very complimicated, making sense of the world without falling prey to silly ideas. This is why we invented numbers and statistics to help us.
Note: not do it for us, but help us to do it.

And sadly this is where people use numbers and statistics to muck it all up with THIS goddam awful thing….

The bleedin’ Add Trendline….

Just like Powerpoint is a failed substitute for telling a compelling story, so Excel can be a substitute for doing actual analysis.

We’ve moaned about this before, how a trendline added to some data like so…


…can fool you into thinking that there is some kind of long range and continuing decline in Some Numbers.

When looked at using actual analysis, the data shows there are two different processes, both stable but with ONE step-change happening….



The “add trendline” is a dreadful thing. If the performance archetype graphs, or one’s like them, go through a performance team, they might leave the other side with one attached to them….

This line purports to show….a trend!  It shows the way the dots are moving! The dots are going down! In the future the next dot will be even lower!

Take the same three dots in a slightly different order, stick a trendline in ET VOILA…
The trend is reversed! The dots are going up! In the future the next dot will be even higher!

I’m exaggerating for hopefully comic effect, but i see these sorts of things all the time. Excel is designed to put “analysis” just two mouse clicks away, for the unwary to click on.

However, stick these dots between two different types of line……

The lines represent the predictable upper and lower limits of the measure. We can see that the arrangement of the three dots now shows just meandering between these lines with no change in the underlying system that produces these numbers, because no change in the upper and lower limits…ie there IS NO TREND.

(Obviously 3 dots is too few to calculate upper and lower control limits. But it is also too few to make predictions from and that doesn’t stop anybody using trendlines to do it.)

This is how the unwary mistake their wife (some line pointing upwards) for a hat (an actual change in performance)..

They are looking at noise in all the wrong places. People are not idiots they “know” that there is random noise and movements in data. That not everything is signal. But what they don’t necessarily know is where this noise is, how to distinguish it from signal and even perhaps the mental model to map signal and noise onto.

Below is the same three dots with a trendline added or between some imaginary control limits. Look at the one below with the trendline added. The red arrows show the gap between actual data points and the calculated trendline.

This is assumed to be the “noise” between actual datapoints and some assumed “trajectory” that is taken to be…god i can’t believe I am typing this….the UNDERLYING  PERFORMANCE. uRRGH.

A different way of looking at the noise in the data is seeing the 3 data points in the context of the predictable performance of the system. What is predictable is that there WILL be noise, between these two lines. Within certain criteria there will be movement of data between the lines. This is a built in feature of all of reality, there is noise. And these lines help you understand where it is and therefore how to distinguish it from signal, true change of an underlying system.

In the chart above the blue arrows show where the noise is, between these two lines essentially. The three dots are relegated from “HERE’S THE NEWS! QUICK! THE LATEST DATA! WHAT’S IT SAY!!” to instead, “here’s some extra data, when we add these to the data and knowledge of the system already calculated from that data that we already have, does this tell us that anything has changed?

Or, in short, “anything we need to know?“.

I think this is a lot more useful than the incessant jumping around being fooled by randomness, mistaking wives for hats, noise for signal, jumping at every heartbeat of data. Heartbeats are predictable, they’ll keep on coming.

Data come in patterns. Notice the patterns they make, and look for any changes to the patterns.

Posted in data, experiment, measures, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

There are only 6 graphs you’ll ever see on a performance report and they’re all rubbish. Here they are.

This is Performance Cat, and she doesn’t like rubbish performance reporting.

And she definitely doesn’t like dumbass explanations for meaningless shapes in graphs…

One of the more adorable features of performance reporting in normal ordinary command and control organisations is the total inability to see signal through noise.
EVERYTHING is packed with meaning, every tiny twitch of a line chart, every minor bulge in a pie-chart, every spurt of a bar chart. Like a spurned lover obsessing over their exes Facebook page, every thing means something.

Take three numbers. Go on. I’ll do it too.

10, 20, 30

There are 6 permutations of these three numbers ( ignoring a number appearing more than once). Here they are in every order they can be in a line chart.

These shapes appear all the time on performance reports, but they are accompanied by something weird, an EXPLANATION. An explanation why these meaningless shapes, made out of pure math, are shaped as they are. They’re only actually shaped by random permutations, not anything to do with life’n’that. These shapes are the only shapes that these numbers can make when you’ve got 3 of them! This is it!

The explanations accompanying these squiggles are often exactly the same.

These are [drumroll] The Performance Monitoring Archetypes!

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Performance continues to be SKY HIGH! We’ve built on our successes and the trend shows we will improve further into next quarter and beyond”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Performance has been disappointing. A downward trend of 3 months in a row have lead to a new management team who are currently addressing the root causes of performance and will be rolling out a robust improvement process to ensure a turnaround in the next quarter”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “The dip in performance in month 2 has been turned around by the strong leadership of the new management team, ensure we are going in to next month with a strong trajectory”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Factors have combined to produce an unfortunate downturn in performance. A peak however in month 2 show we are maintaining our strong performance over the quarter.

What it looks like:


Commonly Interpreted: “An inexplicable decrease in performance in month 2 has been balanced with a rebound in performance in month 3 to ensure we are entering the next quarter with all our ducks lined up.”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “There’s a small setback in performance at the end of the quarter in month 3, following the stellar success of month 2, but this remains higher than month one’s outturn.”

So there we are, a description of three dots relations to each other and a made-up explanation as to WHY they are in that order…hey presto, a performance report!

For the true performance connoisseur, what tops off the appearance of these is a trend line. A trendline, provided by Excel, sprinkles these turds with the glitter of a statistical validity that they do not deserve.


Take the last performance archetype, The Setback. With a simple linear trendline added from excel, you can now interpret these 3 numbers arranged in this particular order as showing that performance is improving, that it IS only a setback, and that next month you can continue to see higher numbers. Cos that line is going up, look.

This is of course total rubbish. However it is total rubbish that is being produced daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, with no end in sight. No special IT will make this better. This is not a technical problem requiring a technical solution. It won’t end with a more expensive and colourful IT application producing these shapes and words.

I don’t think it will end when there is a better understanding of numbers and statistics. Saying “these are only three numbers from which it is impossible to draw conclusions of future performance” is true, but pointless. There is a reason why people provide reasons and justifications for random noise and continue to be “fooled by randomness”, and it isn’t  mathematical ignorance. That is not the cause.

Typical hierarchical command and control organisations runs on a binary view of the world where performance is “good” or “bad”, this cause a binary view of the numbers themselves where numbers are “good” or “bad” rather than numbers that just ARE.

For example, the last known control chart in this organisation was several years ago, I should know cos I did it. It didn’t stand a chance because the environment is not conducive to it’s survival. Like putting a lemur 50 feet below the ocean, not going to work, it’s in the wrong place. For a control chart or similar approach to understanding performance to survive, never mind thrive, requires a curiosity and a wish to find out. What thrives in normal typical command and control organisations are the performance archetypes above, and Performance Cat will remain very annoyed indeed.

Please note the 3-numbers and the names i used for the “performance archetypes” are totally the creation and property of Davis Balistacci who is my new favourite, he came up with the arrangement of 3 dots and given them names, and all I’m doing is adding swearing and knob jokes and cat gifs. Go here for the real deal cos you’ll learn loads, I am. Hopefully he won’t get mad if he sees my cheap popularising. I’m referencing my steals!

Posted in data, information, leadership, questions, setting a numerical target is like..., statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

If it’s too complicated to understand it’s probably total nonsense

I stand on the periphery of “improvement activities” going on elsewhere in the organisation.

I see things second and third hand through organisational gossip, i.e. people mentioning phrases or names of IT companies doing work elsewhere, somewhere. I’ve got no involvement in it thankfully though.

Despite working in a corporate position, i have no idea what these activities actually are, and when they’re explained, in reports or in person, i still don’t. They’re totally opaque. Just words without any seeming concrete activity behind them. I’m sure there is activity, all sorts of meetings and lots of workshops and theme boards. But it’s completely mystifying what any of it actually IS.

I think this is because they’re mainly IT projects. IT projects being a synonym for improvement projects in normal ordinary command and control organisations. And I’m not an IT professional, so why would i understand? I don’t.

But there must be SOME activities that aren’t IT projects, got to be, but any mention of these still are opaque and don’t reveal what they actually are.

This stands in total contrast to any actual improvement activities I’ve seen or read about. They seem to be REALLY straight forward. You find out what the customer needs, and you help them get it. That’s it. Everything is reorganised around that simple thing, the purpose of the system is to help the customer. Wherever IT appears it’s in the context of serving that purpose. Pulled in because it’s needed.

So i don’t think I’m thick. I think the scary thing could be that all these activities are just total nonsense. Money and time being thrown at services to make them more more complex, cos simple things are easy to understand. Adding IT rarely is a simplifying action if it is pushed, if it is leading the redesign then it’s mucking things right up with unneeded complexity and waste.

I’m thinking that if it’s too hard to understand, that’s because there’s nothing there to understand. There’s SOMETHING there, obviously, just not something worth understanding.

I’m not advocating some kind of Brexit/Trump style bonfire of ideas and experts. But the basics ARE simple.

Eat food, not too much, mainly plants. Move your body, don’t smoke, don’t over drink. That’s easy.

Don’t fight European wars on two fronts. Facebook makes you sad. Nature makes you happy. Dead simple.

Design your organisation so maximum value flows to the customer with minimal waste, and keep on improving it. Easy as.

Rule of thumb: if it’s complicated, it’s​ probably rubbish. If it’s simple, at least you can tell if it is sooner.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Can you count up to 8?

Do you produce loads of whizzy hard performance data?

I bet if you do you use one of these clever whizzy performance applications to showcase your wares…

There’s lots of different types of these things, and an even larger number of people who use them, they like them, they think they’re the bees knees.

Being a contrarian systems thinker I don’t. I think these are symptoms of command and control management. They are not good things, but resultant things.  Symptoms.

In themselves they are neutral. Just bits, literally, of zeroes and ones that produce snazzy graphics to gawk at. But they are part of something, and that something is how large ordinary command and control organisations manage.

Command and control organisations (ie most of ’em) separate decision making from the work. They do this by making these two things (decisions about the work and the carrying out of work itself) be done by entirely different sets of people.

You know, like this…


So if those at the pointy triangle end are going to make decisions, they’d better be making decisions based on pieces of paper.

Which instead of paper is these days likely instead to be a screen, totally full of coloured muck like this….

Which is why this rot exists.
Because nobody knows what they should be looking at or why, not really, they default to stuff that looks clever. Merely having clever things like the above is a substitute for doing clever things. Like buying a book and not reading it, or going to university.

Those pointy-end-dwellers are to be pitied. It is not their fault, it is the system they are in. But because they go in a room and look at screens purporting to show the world outside that room, there is a bit of a disconnect. They could be looking at anything, and they often are. Whatever seems PERFORMANCEY.

There’s a word “truthiness that describes something that possesses the feeling of truth, something that you would personally WANT to be true, regardless of it being true at all.

Well I think that a lot of this stuff produced is performancey.  This is somethinig that looks like performance data, cos its all bar charts and that, but it actually isn’t.

All the stuff above despite being called performance dashboards are actually just performancey. They aren’t the right measures, shown the right way. They are facsimiles of performance measures that grant the illusion of performance. They are performancey.

I think a solid rule of thumb is that the more something tries to persuade you that it IS a thing, whatever that thing is, the less likely it actually IS to be that thing.

These dashboards go to immense lengths to swagger around looking performancey, this shows to me that they aren’t.

A chart drawn in the dirt with a stick would persuade me more.

That’s why I’m a fan of this man here….

He is Davis Balestracci and I’m rudely summarising him as a Demingy/Shewharty/ Donald Wheeler-ish kind of guy. The sort you need to read books and columns and that, because he knows his stuff. About data!

One of the things he says is you DON’T NEED all this complicated stuff and therefore you don’t need to know all the techy stuff that sits behind it, to produce it.

Instead, can you do the following….

  • Counting up to “8”
  • Subtract two numbers
  • Sort a list of numbers
  • Multiply two numbers
  • Ask better questions!
  • React appropriately to variation

Cos that’s all you need if you want to look at simple run charts and find out if there’s been any change in a process.

And that’s all you need do to make a control chart to find out how a process is likely to behave now and in the future.

I bet loads of people could do the above, given half a chance.

No need for coloured tat.  All that’s needed is the ability to count up to 8.


NB you REALLY should google Davis Balestracci stuff, he’s got lots online, he’s funny and simple and useful.  I’ll be trying very hard not to outright steal his stuff and reference it properly, but if I forget, remember to google Davis Balestracci cos he knows what he’s talking about and I rarely do.

Posted in data, deming, statistics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

I am totally positive


I am relentlessly positive about all of the following…

-Going to where work is and finding out what happens to customer’s problems

-Getting raw data about customers or how we do work that has never been collected before

-Sifting signal from noise

-Listening to a customer without saying anything back to them except to find out more

-Tracking work through our systems

-data informing decisions

-Asking why

-Asking why again

-Experimenting with method, knowing the only failed experiment is one where you don’t learn

-Learning something that matters about customers or work

-Value work and waste activity being understood as two entirely different things and treated accordingly

-Focusing on the problem that we are really trying to solve

-Support work helping core work helping customers

-Constancy of purpose

If I work in a place that does these things I will appear positive as I am positive about these things. The more of these things there are in a workplace the more positive I will appear to be, because these things work.
They work because they are based on a model of work and people that works

Pursuing any of these things is a good use of the money of whoever is paying me and helps people who are supposed to be helped by the organisation.

I am always positive about that, which is why I am always positive about doing all these things.

Posted in systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged | 1 Comment

I am totally negative


I am relentlessly negative about all of the following



-Best practice


-Strategic awaydays

-Strategic plans

-Strategic anythings

-Performance appraisals

-Service Standards

-Scrums (outside of a rugby game)


-Assessments for access to services


-Target operating models


-IT solutions

-Rapid Improvement Events

-Customer satisfaction surveys


-Culture change theme boards

-Mapping activities to priorities

-Transformation Boards

If I work in a place that does these things I will appear negative as I am negative about these things. The more of these things there are in a workplace, the more negative I will appear to be, because these things don’t work
They don’t work because they are based on a flawed model of work and people.
Pursuing any of these things wastes the money of whoever is paying me and lets down whoever is supposed to be helped by the organisation.

I am always negative about that, which is why I am always negative about doing all these things.

Posted in all wrong, command and control | Tagged | 1 Comment