Developing Individual Habits for Kata & Lean Startup Thinking

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant

In the book The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life — Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process, author Thomas M. Sterner uses some familiar patterns to practitioners of  Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata and on a broader scale the Lean Startup. It is not new news if you follow these methods but an excellent way to reinforce and develop practice patterns on an individual and team levels.    Practicing Mind

Lean Startup people understand the Build-Measure-Lean cycle. Even a Lean person when they are applying countermeasures in A3 Thinking and the PDCA cycles in the Toyota Kata often struggle with being too focused on end goals. The idea is to break it down into small chunks that are easy to execute. In most cases, we struggle with the idea that we are creating countermeasures in lieu of solutions. These are experiments on the way to reaching a larger goal.  We think of each cycle as a tiny solution. I believe most of us do a poor job of evaluating. Instead, we judge the outcome of the cycle prematurely.

The author introduced the Do-Observe-Correct cycle (DOC) in the book. He explains the mental state of how to “Observe.”  He directly warns against evaluating before judging. He mentions several tricks and one of them is to observe the process first. Such as, did it move us in the right direction? This removes us from jumping to the judgment stage before actual evaluation takes place. A lot of this takes place in our internal dialogue. It is an act of staying in the present and in the process or being patient.

Another step in developing more patience is accepting that there is not a perfect outcome. As Lean thinkers know, there is not such a thing as a solution, it is a countermeasure. Perfection is always relative to where we are at in time. Rother typically uses a hill to explain this where Sterner uses the analogy of a sailor and a horizon.

By using DOC though we stay away from that idea of staying on plan, that waterfall thing. I think there is a difference between following a plan and following and being in love with the process. His explanation on how to stay within in the process,  to fall in love with your process is my biggest takeaway from the book. He uses the four “S” words; Simplify, Small, Short, and Slow.

An excerpt from the book (condensed):

  1. Simple, find it by breaking it down into its component sections. Don’t set goals are too far beyond your reach.

  2. Small be aware of your overall goal and remember to use it as a rudder or distant beacon to stay on course. Break down the overall goal in the small sections that can be achieved with a comfortable amount of concentration.

  3. Make the test short by simplifying it, by breaking it down into small segments and asking yourself to focus for only a short period of time.

  4. Incorporating slowness in your process is a paradox. What I mean by slow is that you pay attention to what you’re doing.  This space will differ according to your personality and the task in which you are involved.  Another interesting aspect of deliberate slowness is the way it changes your perception of time’s passage. Because all your energy goes into what you’re doing, you lose your sense of time.

As Sterner says, “when you work slowly, things become simpler. If you want to simplify something, breaking the small parts and work more slowly on each part. All four components take an effort to develop and maintain.”

If you are looking for a way at a micro-level,  a more mindful approach to reinforce Kata or Lean Startup thinking, The Practicing Mind can give you some great insight. However, read it slowly and maybe this is a good time to observe your reading habits?  Sterner has a new book that I have put on my reading list: Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life.

P.S. Being a fan of starting with observation, CAP-Do for example, I wonder when we flip the DOC cycle to OCD if that is saying anything?