Six-Month Reflection Questions, Adjusted

By Jon Miller Updated on June 29th, 2020

I’m in the habit of looking back every six months, asking myself a few questions, and setting intentions for the future. In Lean terminology this is known as reflection, or hansei. January through June 2020 will go down in history as a period of disrupted routines, adjusted relationships and resources, everyday norms and baseline deviated far from normal. In such conditions when the assumptions that underpinned planning have gone out the window, doing hansei of progress towards personal or professional challenges can seem pointless. Nonetheless, there is value in reflection, even if it is only to confirm or deny the value of reflection in times like these. Here are some ways that I adjusted my reflection questions to these circumstances.

What Surprised You?

The regular plan-vs-actual questions of “What did you expect? What did you get? Why the gap?” are less useful this reflection cycle. Many root causes of gaps are too large, systemic, beyond the ability of the local team or me to address. A good corollary question has always been, “What surprised you?” This reveals assumptions, blind spots, wrong or missing data. This year, not much, as it turns out. I was in China in December and heard the first rumors of COVID, watched as it landed in Seattle, took into account the general failure of leadership to face facts, and prepared mentally for a worst-case scenario. It looked something like what is unfolding now. To some degree this is hindsight bias. I didn’t predict any of the specific ups and downs or future events. But very little has surprised me. The question going forward is, how can I prepare and respond better, when similarly forewarned?

What are the Obstacles to Optimism?

Answering the previous question came with the recognition of a certain pessimism, realism or critical bent in how I approach things. The Lean principles of dissatisfaction with the status quo, continuous improvement and the pursuit of perfection are the sunnier cousins of oh man things are so screwed up. What are the obstacles to optimism? The focus of this question for people with a sunny disposition may be on external factors. What small wins, relief of burdens or change in external conditions will allow us to be our cheery selves? For the rest of us, there is also the internal question of what assumptions or expectations prevent us from feeling and projecting optimism?

Which Processes were the Most Resilient?

The Lean mantra is “Good process, good results.” Results may be good or bad. We can’t control them. What we can control is the process of what we do and how. But the relevant question in today’s circumstances is, which our processes are still “good”? For instance, routines around physical fitness that seem good in normal times may turn out to be fragile if they rely on gyms to be open with their equipment, trainers, or the social motivation. I have work to do in making sure my processes, routines, habits are robust and/or flexible enough to weather disruptions of baseline conditions.

What’s the Long-term Plan?

When things haven’t gone as planned short-term, it’s helpful to have long-term intentions to keep working towards. One of the risks of hansei and problem-seeking is seeing many shortcomings, developing a negative mindset, becoming discouraged. Holding loftier long-term goals like winning a champion ship can help us forget the bad series, punt, play defense and get ready for the next opportunity to move the ball forward. This is more of a reminder, a refresh or occasional revision of long-term purpose that’s the basis of the six-month review.

What Can I Learn from the Small Adjustments?

I made many changes to daily life and work over the course of six month. Some large and some small. I’ve found over the years it’s often a handful few small adjustments that make biggest difference. It’s not always easy to know which ones will have an impact. What small adjustments had a larger than expected impact? Were they one-off, lucky breaks or were there general lessons to be learned from them? The intention is to keep reducing friction to finding and quickly trying out small adjustments.

How’s Everyone Else Doing?

This is the respect for people principle of Lean. I’ve added this to my personal six month reflection as an area of development. Being process-focused, assuming that everyone else is equally so (they are not), it’s easy to skip the celebration, neglect the social aspect, and to keep striving, reflecting, adjusting. Pay attention to the people around you. They are going through their own reflections, adjustments of expectations at different times, different rates and different ways. Not everyone is a whale. Some people don’t come up for air every six months, but need breathers daily, weekly or monthly.

How Useful was this Reflection Cycle?

With regards to specific six-month goals, so-so. But don’t throw out the process just because it seemed to stop working. There’s no guarantee that completely changing your approach will bring better results. Small adjustments, such as the questions above, help yield some personal insights, even in this highly unusual reflection cycle. Who knows where we will be in six months? But I am optimistic.

  1. James La Trobe-Bateman

    June 29, 2020 - 9:16 am

    Nicely put, Jon. Personally, the Covid situation has REALLY lowered the water level to see all the rocks. Nothing but good should come from it. 6 months is too soon, though. But it will change the 10 year trajectory for most of us.

  2. MaryBeth Jermyn

    July 21, 2020 - 1:43 pm

    Jon, great article and appreciate the hansei questions. Our reflection led us to believe the Lean structures developed allowed us to efficiently navigate the COVID seas; however, it caused the organization (not just the Lean Team) to be more innovative and flexible in it’s execution with the “Yes, and” mentality vs “Yes, but.”

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