Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Power of Observation


One of the value adding activities that PIU offers is facilitation of process improvement events and workshops. How do we evidence that this is value adding?

We always ask for feedback from our project teams about our facilitation, and have consistently score well – although I sometimes worry that the outcomes of the event bias the facilitation score (and I recognise these factors are not mutually exclusive.

We always try to co-facilitate our events and this helps our reflective practice. My concern is that sometimes there is a risk that we reinforce the wrong behaviour (with the best of intentions – we all like to be supportive colleagues, constructive feedback isn’t always easy).


Recently we have had two external people who kindly gave up their time to observe and feedback on PIU’s facilitation skills and practice.

One of the concepts we often talk to our project teams and training practitioners about is Gemba (going to where the work happens) and how powerful observing a process can be to get some data about performance. We also warn people that it is likely if this happens as a one off (or rare) activity this can effect how the process performs. Regular, informed and supportive gemba walks or observations need to be in place to truly gain insight into process performance.

The first observation happened last week when the Engineering Timetabling Team agreed to have an external in the room. We put in place a confidentiality agreement and the team were very clear that the focus was on PIU facilitation not their comments or behaviour. I found this quite daunting, even though it is an activity that I am confident in delivering.

For me it was essential that the person recognised that their role was peer-support, and they were keen to learn as well as give constructive feedback.

At first I was conscious that being observed did change my behaviour, I found myself making eye contact with them rather than the project team. However, it was a four day event and I soon forgot that they were in the room and focused on the task in hand. 

Did it change my practice? Probably. It had a positive effect on my facilitation of the event. I was more focused than usual on how I was running the event and probably a little more thorough with my preparation.

What did I learn?  The feedback was incredibly constructive (and positive) which was really helpful. I had time to discuss points that I had been concerned about how I had introduced a couple of activities and a couple of times when I may have misjudged the mood of the room E.g There was one point when they were very tired and I probably should have used the time differently.  Knowing that I was going to receive feedback absolutely made me reflect more on how I had performed.

Why agree to be observed a second time? Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, I had another external person observe a customer journey mapping workshop this week. This time the observer was from outside of Higher Education, I welcomed getting feedback from someone outside of the sector, lean principle no. 5 (pursue perfection) for me means constantly striving to be the very best. It is my view that learning from other sectors can help us look beyond our comfort zones and inform our vision with regard to perfection.

Would I agree to be observed again? Absolutely, I also highly recommend it to others!

I am grateful to the participants of the workshops for allowing an external person into the room. I also offer a big thank you to Paula and Simon for their time and constructive feedback.

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