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SRLD™, A Lean Tool for Learning - Raphael L. Vitalo and Joseph P. Vitalo


The Default Approach to Learning
A Lean Tool for Personal and Team Learning
  • Mining Learning From Performance
  • The Advantages
  • Learning to Do SRLD™
  • A Problem With Sustaining Change
    Making Sure the Next Time Is Better: An Application of SRLD™
  • Step 1 - Judge Status
  • Step 2 - Uncover Reasons
  • Step 3 - Extract Learning
  • Step 4 - Set Direction
  • References
    Feedback Please


    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.

    Exhibit 1. The SRLD™ Process
      Step 1   Step 2   Step 3   Step 4  
      Judge Status Uncover Reasons Extract Learning Set 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 organizations.


    The Advantages

    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 is limited.

    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

      Exhibit 2. Step 1 - Judge Status  




    1. Record your task
    2. Document your targets for achievement.
    3. Record the results you produced.
    4. 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).

      Exhibit 3. Status of the Sustaining Task  

    Sustain the 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 as scheduled
    • Performance of task is below expectations


    Step 2 - Uncover Reasons
      Exhibit 4. Step 2- Uncover Reasons  




    1. Uncover why we accomplished as much as we did.
    2. Uncover why we did not accomplish more than we did.
    3. Organize the reasons by causes.
    4. 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 the task.


    Exhibit 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 requirements
    • 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 the task)
    • 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?)
    • Incentives
      • 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
      Exhibit 6. Step 3 - Extract Learning  




    1. Form a learning for each reason.
    2. Verify that each learning contains all required components.
    3. Organize the list of learning.
    4. 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.


    Exhibit 7. A Complete Statement of a Learning

      Advice Reason Benefit  
      Tells what you should do to be successful Tells the advantage implementing the advice will create Tells the improved outcome the advice will produce  
      [State advice] "Do... [State reason] because... [State benefit] and that...  
    Example of a Learning From Analyzing the Sustaining of 6S and PMs
      "Make 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 here.


    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.

    Work Setting
    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 regularly provided.

    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 Direction
      Exhibit 8. Step 4 - Set Direction  




    1. Select learning for immediate action.
    2. Define an action for using each selected learning.
    3. Organize the actions.
    4. Integrate actions where possible.
    5. 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.

    Added Output
    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.

      Exhibit 9. 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.
    1. Document the process improvement.
      Tip: Record 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.
    2. Support performance of the improved process.
      Tip: Prepare 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 you uncover.
    3. Measure whether the improved process continues to be used and produces results.
      Tip: Measure 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 accuracy.
    4. Recognize achievement.
      Tip: Credit 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.
    5. Remedy failures in the continued use of the process improvement.
      Tip: Detect failures in sustaining the process improvement. Involve all parties in uncovering their causes and generating remedies. Act quickly to remove barriers to success.
    6. Continuously improve sustainment.

    Tip: 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 at:
    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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