By Susan Pleasant
I have become increasingly intrigued with the power of high agreement mechanisms and the principle of high agreement. I have to start with a disclaimer or, perhaps, a confession. I am a control freak. I have to corral that beast when I begin to explore high agreement because my control freak is at home in this place. So, know that I explore this area with a bias and thought process that attempts to build a list of criteria that distinguishes effective high agreement mechanisms from camouflaged control freak tools.
The first step in the high agreement journey is to get grounded in the basic definition of high agreement- “valuing a common way or process with clear understanding more than we value our own way, agreed upon standardization.” My control freak has just taken a back seat for a bit. Achieving a common way with clear understanding is no small thing. The principle of high agreement does not say “valuing my way until the next person comes along.” It does not say “do it this way until I have time to explain further.” This core principle of lean thinking drives to a common way…with understanding.”
How powerful this is – “with understanding.” With understanding implies that we know why this process or method is being chosen. This means that part of the high agreement of both what and how goes beyond because we have been told to do so, but to a place of understanding. Common understanding includes what outcome is expected from the new task or process, how the method was determined, open dialogue about why certain choices were not selected, the impact on customers, internal and external.
Designating a process as the “high agreement method” does not provide license for authoritative control. Rather there must be attention to opportunities for coaching and improvement. Part of the process of creating a method with high agreement is to see the method is a target condition, intended to make waste and abnormality visible. When the process is not being adhered to it is a time to observe the current state and understand the cause of deviation. The goal is to remove the cause of deviation and move closer to the target condition.
A remaining element of high agreement is structuring ways to surface gaps in execution and ideas to improve. These mechanisms need to be routine and taken seriously. Any other choice will result in grudging complacent compliance or quietly selected changes when no one is looking.
My control freak is growing impatient. But what about those situations where chaos abounds and stabilization must be achieved before we can begin to standardize? The control freak wants to grab this with a firm hand, set the standard, and deal with the understanding stuff later when things calm down. Stability is a prerequisite to standardization and improvement, always. However, unless a crisis is imminent, it is still necessary to gain understanding from those having to live with the new requirements. The starting point may be to create understanding of why the current way – chaos – can’t continue. Understanding may include engaging the right mix of people in selecting the near term method to be adopted until the baseline is understood.
High agreement clears the path for improvement. It takes the noise away to enable creativity. It requires engagement and systematic follow up. The control freak once again needs to transform to disciplined coach. A common way with understanding – another powerful lens for the lean journey.