SRLD™, A Lean Tool for Learning
- Raphael L. Vitalo
and Joseph P. Vitalo
Learning is the engine that powers our progress toward perfection. Every lean
tool is, indeed, a learning tool. Each analyzes a situation, uncovers opportunities
for improvement, and supports us in making and measuring the improvements we
uncover. But these lean tools apply to work processes and to work settings.
What about personal performance? What tool can we apply to continuously improve
our individual and team performance?
The Default Approach to Learning
Trial and error is the most common way people learn. We do a task, experience
a result, and, with many repetitions, progressively shape our behavior to better
produce a desired result. It requires no "mental work" per se, as
it occurs automatically. It is available to everyone. And, it can result in
well-entrenched new behaviors that activate quickly in response to situations
similar to the ones in which we learned. But the process of learning is slow
and inefficient, as learning requires many repetitions of errors before success
is realized. Each repetition is waste. Trial and error is also risky, especially
when the consequences of error are high. As well, it is limited in its value-added
contribution in that what we learn is "locked up" in our performance
of the learning. We can demonstrate our new "know how", but we cannot
immediately explain it or why it works. We are limited in our means for transferring
it to others. We can say, "Watch me," but that requires visual contact
between us and the learner. It also forces the learner into a trial and error
learning approach with all its inherent waste.
A Lean Tool for Personal and Team Learning
We offer a different approach to personal and team learning that is fully consistent
with lean's emphasis on eliminating waste and maximizing the value-added contribution
of everything we do. Our approach is a process for mining learning from performance.
It develops ideas from the last time an individual or team performed a task
and uses those ideas to produce a better next effort. It is based on the work
of Dewey (1910), Gilbert (1978) and Carkhuff (1983) and incorporates elements
of problem solving that populate other lean tools.
Mining Learning From Performance
Our process has just four steps. They are—(1) Judge status, (2) Uncover
reasons, (3) Extract learning, and (4) Set direction for improved performance
(Exhibit 1). Our acronym for the process is SRLD™—Status, Reason,
Learning, and Direction.
We have applied SRLD™ at the individual or team level for over 10 years.
It is an engine of continuous personal development when applied at the individual
level. It works as an engine of renewal for initiatives performed by teams and
Using SRLD™ speeds the cycle time of learning, eliminates rework, and
offers a number of value-adding benefits. For example, it generates knowledge
we can immediately share with others. What people learn is not locked within
their behavior; it is recorded and available to others for their use. Since
learning by SRLD™ is both public and reproducible, others can review our
method, the information we considered, and verify our conclusions. This allows
them to develop their own conviction about its correctness.
As an open and documented method, you can do SRLD™ as a group. When
done as a group, it provides a means for engaging and involving people in sharing
their information and ideas thereby enriching the source material from which
you derive your learning and the value adding benefits it generates. Given that
SRLD™'s output is recorded, you can transfer the knowledge you generate
in many ways. For example, you can incorporate it into written work standards,
performance guides, and visual aids. You can use it to build training programs
that transfer your learning to workers throughout your company rapidly.
Finally, we have found that SRLD™'s efficiency in generating learning
and its systematic format for expressing a learning make it a rich supply system
of usable contents for best practice information systems. It avoids a common
problem these systems experience—namely, being clogged with contents that
range from mere observations to speculative musings all mingled together. Automation
may make access to these contents easy, but the utility of what you retrieve
Learning to Do SRLD™
This paper describes an actual application of SRLD™ with an explanation
of its steps as they were applied. For many of you, it may be sufficient to
allow you to grasp how to implement SRLD™ and benefit from its use. For
those of you who need more assistance, Vital Enterprises offers a systematic
training course that teaches the skill of mining
learning from performance.
A Problem With Sustaining Change
Recently, a company we encountered began a major Lean initiative in its Manufacturing
area. We were visiting the company on a related issue during which we uncovered
that the company had previously implemented a Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)
and 6S initiative. Curious, we asked how they were received. They had been received
well by employees, we were told, and they produced important benefits at the
time. We asked what was happening with them today. We learned that the follow
through on preventive maintenance regimens and 6S was poor. The two obvious
questions we raised were "why" and "how are you ensuring that
your new initiative does not end up the same way?" These questions raised
a concern. "If we were not able to sustain our last effort to continuously
improve, why should we believe that this new effort will sustain?" This
is a question that the steering team for any improvement initiative should raise
for itself, as decade after decade we seem to re-discover and re-apply a newly
branded version of problem solving methods to get better at what we do. We have
many tools and lots of energy for uncovering opportunities and making improvements
(Quality Planning, Process Charting, Value Stream Analysis, workout sessions,
Gemba Kaizen events, Quick Change, Quality Circles, team problem solving, suggestion
systems, etc.), but we seem to have few if any tools and little excitement for
ensuring that the improvements we develop sustain.
The company asked our help and we suggested a simple solution—"Let's
conduct a mining learning from performance session with the people knowledgeable
of what happened with TPM and 6S and use what we learn to ensure that the improvements
you develop in this new initiative sustain." The company agreed.
Making Sure the Next Time Is
Better: An Application of SRLD™
We gathered together a team of knowledgeable people to complete the SRLD™
session. Each team member was trained in using the method. We established our
focus and set some ground rules for extracting and applying what we would learn.
SRLD™ begins with identifying the task for which improved performance
is desired. Here, the task was to sustain the application of 6S and preventive
maintenance (PM). As to ground rules, the team adopted some commonly used rules
(e.g., one speaker at a time, leave nothing unsaid, use your Working With Others
skills1) and added
a few specifically for this assignment. First, team members would each assume
responsibility for checking their facts with others not in the room. This meant
that we would split the session so that team members could have time to speak
with employees in different work areas and at different job levels (managers,
supervisors, and nonsupervisors). We all agreed that the problem was broadly
based and needed all the perspectives we could gather to ensure that we understood
the facts correctly. Second, we would push for quantitative information, not
just opinion. This too was important as it ensured some level of validity to
the information with which we worked. It also provided us an objective basis
for deciding among conflicting perspectives. With our ground rules established,
we reviewed the SRLD™ process (see Exhibit 1, above) and began our work.
Step 1 - Judge Status
Step 1 - Judge Status
- Record your task
- Document your targets for achievement.
- Record the results you produced.
- Judge how well you realized your targets.
In this step, we identify that task we were to perform, our targets for success,
how well we did, and where that achievement stood relative to our goals (Exhibit
2). As stated above, the team's task was to sustain the application of 6S and
preventive maintenance (PM).
With the task defined, the team documented its target for results. No one had
actually recorded a target for sustaining 6S and the performance of PMs, but
everyone agreed that the implicit expectation was 100% compliance—meaning,
100% of the designated work areas maintained to 6S standards and 100% of the
scheduled PMs performed on time.
Next, we recorded the results achieved. Compliance with 6S can be measured
using simple observations, but we also wanted to know whether everyone saw the
same thing. For example, if there was a real division among perceptions as to
whether 6S was being done and, in fact, it was not being done—that would
tell us that one reason it was not being sustained was that people did not understand
6S. As it turned out, perceptions about 6S were consistent. It was estimated
that not more than 30% of the designated work areas were maintained to 6S standards.
Direct observations supported this estimate.
As to PMs, we encountered an unusual situation. The department had an accounting
system that tracked and reported the completion of PMs. It consistently reported
that PMs were completed 100% of the time. In contrast, the estimates of completion
people on the floor reported averaged around 30%. In this instance, the formal
accounting system turned out to be wrong. Our first-hand observations on the
floor confirmed the 30% estimate. A closer look at the accounting system revealed
that the system simply counted the number of PM authorization sheets returned
with "Done" checked off. It did not audit the performance of PMs.
Once you have the task, target, and results, you judge how well the task was
accomplished. A task may be judged as performed to expectation, above expectation,
or below expectation. Clearly, success in sustaining the application of 6S and
the performance of PMs was below expectation (Exhibit 3).
Status of the Sustaining Task
application of 6S and preventive maintenance (PM)
- 100% of designated work areas have 6S implemented
- 100% of scheduled PMs completed on time
- 30% of designated
areas have 6S implemented
- 30% of scheduled PMs completed
- Performance of task is below expectations
Step 2 - Uncover Reasons
Step 2- Uncover Reasons
- Uncover why we accomplished as much as we did.
- Uncover why we did not accomplish more than we did.
- Organize the reasons by causes.
- Record the reasons.
With the status of the task clarified, we needed to understand the reasons
why the observed results were achieved (Exhibit 4). Each team member contacted
various other employees to share the perceived status and solicited their thinking
about two questions. The first question was. "What are the reasons we did
as well as we have done in sustaining improvements?" The second question
was, "What kept us from doing even better?" We always pursue both
tracks no matter what judgment we conclude as to status. The reason is simple.
It is just as important to continue to do what worked, as it is to replace what
did not work. Do one without the other and you compromise your learning and
your chances to improve your next performance.
When the team members reassembled, they shared what they learned from others
as well as what they understood based on their own experiences. We used a set
of causal factors to prompt thinking and organize the reasons we uncovered (Exhibit
5). These factors account for most of why any human activity results in success
or failure. We developed them based on our own experience as well as the prior
work of Gilbert (1978) and Carkhuff (1983).
The readiness of people is the most critical factor determining task success.
We evaluate readiness by assessing peoples' physical capabilities; motivational
level; and knowledge, skills, and proficiencies against the requirements of
their task. We also assess their alignment to the task's purpose and approach.
We evaluate the readiness of each person or group responsible for implementing
the task (front-line workers, supervisors, managers, and executives).
The next critical factor is the method prescribed to implement whatever the
action is. We are concerned with whether it exists, is documented, and well
designed—meaning doable and effective.
Our last critical factor is the work setting's support for doing the task.
The key features of support are the adequacy of resources provided, the clarity
and timeliness of expectations and feedback, the incentives established within
the setting, and the performance by other organizations that must support doing
5. Factors That Enable and Hinder Success
- Physical capabilities relative to the task's requirements
- Desire or motivation
- Knowledge, skills, and proficiency levels of each relative to task
- Alignment with respect to the task's purpose and approach
- Status as existing and documented
- Status as to design (doable and effective as a method for implementing
- Resources (space, equipment, tools, materials, task inputs, funds)
- Expectation/Feedback information
- Assignment (Do what?)
- Method (How?)
- Results Expected (Achieve what?)
- Results Achieved (Accomplished what?)
- Success Realized (Performed how well?)
- Recognition/Rewards for correct performance
- Consequences for nonperformance
- Support from other interfacing roles and organizations
1. Front-line workers, supervisors, managers, and executives.
What We Found
The team uncovered 26 reasons why sustaining 6S and performing PMs did as
well as it did and why it ultimately failed. Here are the highlights.
What Enabled Success
Initial success was driven by the energy and desire of front-line workers
to improve their work settings. Employees were enthusiastic about having an
opportunity to influence their work and the initial commitment of employees
was reinforced by experiencing a direct and immediate benefit from sustaining
the improvements—specifically, they worked in a clean and organized
area and experienced less frustration in doing their jobs.
Employees were skilled in doing the processes they needed to sustain. They
were trained in 6S and in implementing their preventive maintenance tasks.
Initially there was good alignment among all levels of employees. Upper management
was involved and concerned. Supervisors worked alongside line personnel and
helped solve problems and obtain resources. They scheduled time for the front-line
workers to perform their 6S and PM tasks.
People credited two features of the methods used to implement 6S and preventive
maintenance for its early success. The process required keeping notes about
problems discovered and the fixes made for future reference. It also incorporated
a means for communicating across shifts so that problems uncovered and corrections
made were passed along.
With regard to setting support, the evidence suggested that the key enablers
were the delegation of authority to the workers to fix problems when they
were uncovered and to have a say in the way their work areas were organized.
What Hindered Success
The key factor that unraveled sustaining 6S and PM performance was the breakdown
in alignment among people. Management's priorities, as expressed in their
feedback to supervisors, appeared to change. They ceased to address sustaining
6S and preventive maintenance—rather, they narrowed their feedback and
other communications to the issue of getting products produced. With this
shift, supervisor support for workers doing these tasks evaporated. Time was
no longer allocated to the tasks, resources were not provided, and the opportunities
for cross-shift communication fell away. This change in emphasis by management,
in effect, revised the incentive system operating in the workplace. The new
incentives reinforced a return to the way things operated before 6S and
PM were introduced.
Also, the information system reporting the status of preventive maintenance
became a "check-off the box" exercise and no longer provided a valid
reflection of the actual state of PM performance. Hence, the feedback loop
to management and supervisors was corrupted. Worse still, everyone seemed
to be aware of it—at least, when pressed on the issue. This too undermined
the motivation of workers, as they read the indifference to incorrect feedback
as further proof that sustaining 6S and PMs was no longer a priority concern.
A subtler factor was the failure of managers to address what was happening.
When asked, management continued to assert that they wanted the 6S and preventive
maintenance to be done and they shared that they were aware of the drop off
in sustaining each. Yet, they did not systematically investigate why the problem
existed or explore how to correct it. Neither did management recognize that
their push on supervisors for production results affected how supervisors
promoted and supported sustaining 6S and performing PMs. They assumed that
supervisors would continue with the prior goals as they pursued the new priorities.
They also expected the supervisors to "push back" if what they were
asked to do was not feasible. Managers did not read their supervisors correctly.
Rather than push back, supervisors and front-line workers alike read the behavior
of management as a return to old priorities. Those priorities were sustaining
a high rate of output with equally high quality. This confirmed their suspicion
that the 6S and PM tasks were no longer important and further undermined their
motivation to persevere in doing these tasks.
Step 3 - Extract Learning
Step 3 - Extract Learning
- Form a learning for each reason.
- Verify that each learning contains all required components.
- Organize the list of learning.
- Eliminate redundancies.
In the SRLD™ method, each reason for the results realized and not realized
is converted into a learning (Exhibit 6). It is this learning that guides improved
performance. We define a learning as the advice you would give someone else
doing the same task based on what happened. A useful statement of learning must
have three elements: the advice, the reason why it is important to apply, and
what benefit it will produce (Exhibit 7). The "advice" component tells
what you should do to be successful. The "reason" component tells
the advantage doing it will produce. The "benefit" component tells
the improved outcome that will result. The components educate and motivate a
reader and, together, increase the likelihood that the person will use the learning.
We use a standard format to guide people in producing consistently complete
items of learning. Exhibit 7 includes an example of a complete statement of
a learning in our standard format.
7. A Complete Statement of a Learning
||Tells what you should do to
||Tells the advantage implementing
the advice will create
||Tells the improved outcome
the advice will produce
"Do... [State reason] because... [State benefit] and that...
of a Learning From Analyzing the Sustaining of 6S and PMs
sure that performers of a task experience an immediate benefit from doing
the task because that will sustain their motivation and that motivation
will drive continued task performance."
For brevity sake, we will summarize the key items of learning here. You may
view a complete list of the learning the team developed by clicking
How to Ensure Improvements Sustain
Make sure all employees (front-line workers, supervisors, managers, and executives)
are aligned and motivated to do the task. Unaligned or unmotivated people
detract, not contribute, to sustaining change. Be certain that everyone with
a role to play has the personal resources needed to do it well. This means
they must be equipped physically (energy, strength, coordination, etc.) and
intellectually (knowledge, skills, and proficiencies), and must possess any
other personal characteristics needed for success (e.g., willingness to push-back
should matters go awry).
As to method, make sure the improved process is completely detailed and documented.
To be complete, the method must include guidance for preparing, doing, and
assessing performance of the improved process and for reporting the results
achieved. Make certain that people report any problems they encounter in implementing
the improvement and share their ideas for overcoming them. This will continually
uncover and clear obstacles to the continued use of the improved process.
Be certain that performers of the improved process derive a benefit from
doing it. This benefit should flow from the task itself—e.g., the improved
process might remove a waste-related frustration or improve the quality of
peoples' workplaces. This immediate and direct reinforcement will sustain
their motivation and energize their continued use of the improved approach.
Make sure that the new process people must sustain has no adverse impact
on them. Recall in our 6S and PM example that supervisors pressed performers
on producing products. You cannot expect people to implement a new task, here
6S and PMs, when doing so detracts from their ability to satisfy a competing
and higher priority task and makes them subject to negative feedback. Another
adverse impact can result from failure to build in coordination activities
across functions and across shifts. Everyone affected by a new process must
be continuously informed about its status; otherwise, they may be blind-sided
at some point and that frustration will undermine their support for it.
As to setting, provide people the resources they need to do the new task or
new approach to an existing task. Be certain people have the authority to
make the decisions needed to implement the process. Ensure they have the time
and information they require to do the task. Be certain you provide a means
to inform them about any problems they might encounter and any fixes that
have been introduced. The failure to provide this information to all parties
will result in them experiencing the frustration of the problem and, later,
the anger of knowing that it could have been prevented, if people had only
shared what they knew.
Be certain that there are explicit expectations for doing the new task and
targets for results exist. Be sure that feedback to performers is valid and
With regard to supervisors and managers, make certain that sustaining the
improvement is an explicit expectation of their jobs. Also make establishing
and maintaining an accurate feedback system one of their responsibilities.
Ensure that supervisors and managers are accountable for producing results
on these expectations. To set expectations and ignore whether they are being
realized is wasteful and destroys the credibility of every initiative.
Carefully align the incentives within your company to reinforce the performance
of the new task. Be sure that recognition and rewards are provided equitably
based on verified performance. This requires that your performance feedback
systems provide valid information. It also requires that your managers and
supervisors have the discipline and courage to use objective data as their
bases for crediting performance and counseling nonperformance.
Step 4 - Set
Step 4 - Set Direction
- Select learning for immediate action.
- Define an action for using each selected learning.
- Organize the actions.
- Integrate actions where possible.
- Assign actions to people for completion by a date certain.
Your direction states the actions you will take to improve your next task performance.
You set direction by selecting from the learning you produced, those you can
incorporate before you next do your task. How many action items you specify
depends on whether you alone will be carrying them out and how much time you
have to prepare. Ultimately, you will apply all your learning, and it may be
possible to do that in your next cycle of performance. If not, you need to focus
on your most critical learning so you make your greatest gain possible in task
success. Exhibit 8 presents the activities we do to set direction.
In our example, the team was charged with performing the task of sustaining
improvements produced by its new lean initiative. Its focus was forward,
not correcting the failed implementation of 6S and PM. The team defined three
actions that fully applied all it learned. The first action was to build a check
sheet that listed each learning derived from their SRLD™. The second action
item was to produce a plan for sustaining improvements as part of each of the
team's lean events. The third action was to test each plan the team builds by
applying the Sustaining
Change Check Sheet the team developed. In this way, the team will
ensure that its follow through efforts for future improvements incorporate its
learning from its SRLD™ activity.
We hitchhiked on the team's work by building a generic six-step process
for sustaining any future process improvement (Exhibit 9). To craft a plan
to sustain a specific improvement, simply individualize each step to serve
the needs of that improvement. For example, in Step 2, spell out precisely
how you will prepare people to sustain the improved process identifying what
specific training they will receive by when and from whom.
Generic Plan for Sustaining Process Improvements
|Instructions: Create a plan
for how you will ensure the sustained use of the improvements you
made during this Kaizen event. Include each of the following six steps.
Add details to each step that record what you will do, who will do
it, and by when. Use the "Tips" provided with each step
to prompt your thinking about the details you should specify.
||Document the process improvement.
what is to be done, when, by whom, where, how, and why. Test your
documentation of the improved method using the Sustaining Change Check
Sheet. Adjust your method for doing the improved process to incorporate
any missing features. Next, test the method by asking performers to
use it and provide feedback on its completeness, effectiveness, and
ease of implementation. Use this feedback to fine tune the method
and your guidance for doing it.
||Support performance of the improved process.
people to sustain the improved process. Make sure everyone is aligned
with and motivated to support sustainment. Ensure that they have the
personal resources to do their roles well. Make certain that your
enabling systems (e.g., performance management, measurement, and feedback;
recognition and rewards; incentives) are aligned with accomplishing
this task. Be certain that time, materials, authority, information,
and other required assets are supplied as needed. Check your readiness
by applying the Sustaining Change Check Sheet. Correct any deficiencies
||Measure whether the improved process continues to be
used and produces results.
both the occurrence of the process as documented and its results.
Make status on each visible to all people involved in sustaining the
improvement. Audit the measurement system periodically to ensure its
correct performance fairly. Build on the positive—meaning, recognize
whatever is accomplished even if it is less than desired. Progressively
become more conditional is crediting performance as everyone has the
opportunity to build their proficiencies in performing the new process.
||Remedy failures in the continued use of the process
failures in sustaining the process improvement. Involve all parties
in uncovering their causes and generating remedies. Act quickly to
remove barriers to success.
||Continuously improve sustainment.
Establish periodic renewal sessions to reflect on how well you are
sustaining each process improvement, why, what you can learn, and
how you can leverage that learning into greater success. Do this
semi-annually at first. Later, a yearly session may be sufficient.
Involve all the people responsible for sustaining each improvement.
Use these sessions to extract new learning, set direction for improved
achievement, recycle commitment, elevate overall approach, and sustain
align and energy.
Byron, J.S. and Bierley, P.A. (2003) Working With Others. O'Fallon,
MO: Lowrey Press.
Dewey, John (1910) How people think. Lexington, MA: Heath. Available online
Gilbert, T.F. (1978) Human competence. New York: Mc Graw Hill.
Carkhuff, R.R. (1983) Sources of human productivity. Amherst, MA: Human
Resource Development Press, Inc.
1 Working With Others
skills are clarifying, confirming, constructive criticism, and hitchhiking.
These basic skills enable people to efficiently understand the ideas and information
another person is sharing and add their ideas to it in ways that build toward
better solutions together (Byron and Bierley, 2003).
Published April 2006; Last Revised March 2007
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