Kaizen: Asking “Why” in After a Fail
By Chris Wilterdink
Failures happen. Even the best plans, the best intentions, the best ideas fall short of our projections and predictions. As a leader, it is important to reflect on results that didn’t match what you had set out to do. Finding the right questions to ask and the right distance from the failure are important, and maybe the tips at the end of this post can help you find meaning in fail ministry by using a continual improvement process. #kaizen
Several years ago, I was trying to get a group of youth workers together during the National Youth Worker’s Convention. Thought I got the word out with the time and place. Figured that I had chosen a good time that didn’t conflict with anything. Got the supplies and included dessert! (I figured that was a sure winner) Found the room, set up for the get together…had like 5 people show up when I thought I would have closer to 50. #fail
Any time I fail in ministry, I take time to do some “kaizen” work. If you have business people in your ministry, kaizen is a way of continually improving the production process so that failure in the end product becomes less likely. It originated in Japan in car factories with assembly lines – by consistently monitoring and improving individual actions in a process, the end of product (a car) became some of the highest quality, mass produced automobiles available.
A kaizen breaks down a result into the actions that made that result occur, and then ask the question “why”? repeatedly, like around seven times. So, for my example above here’s what a kaizen process would look like:
Result (End product): Not enough people showed up at the meeting that I had planned.
Maybe I didn’t have the right room selected.
It was difficult to find. It was far from other activities at the conference.
That was the room suggested to me, and I didn’t know enough about the space to know where this room was in relation to other things happening at the conference.
I didn’t look at any maps, just took the word of the organizers. It was also the room that was available.
I didn’t give myself enough time to look for maps and ask questions about where my meeting would be the most successful.
Because I was busy with several other ministry things while trying to set up this meeting.
Because that is the nature of my job!
So, through this kaizen process, I realized that one possible reason I didn’t have many people show up to my meeting was that I got too busy in the planning stages, and didn’t ask questions about the best place for me to meet. This process may lead to different conclusions if I answered the first “why” differently. Maybe I think the meeting was at a bad time…that would lead me down a different set of answers.
The kaizen process of discovering why a failure happened may seem redundant, as if you were discussing natural phenomena with a 4-year-old. The question “why?” can seem annoying, but taking time to answer that question honestly may lead you to unexpected clarity so that you don’t set the table for the same failure to happen again. Ask the “why” question until you get to a statement like “Why? Just because that’s the way it is.” And you’ll reduce your chances of a fail next time!