Tag Archive: whiteboard consulting

Getting to the Root of It

root causeNicole and I have stumbled into a bit of a theme these days, talking about the basic activities involved in Process Improvement and sharing with you some user-friendly and simple templates. First, we wrote about how to actually map a process, and next we covered how to look at that process map and assess which steps are a waste of effort – i.e., they add no value. Both those blog posts include handy templates which you can edit and manipulate to suit your needs.

So now what?

In Nicole’s example, we learned that External Failures were taking 56% of the total time involved in completing a process. Since External Failures are clearly non-value-add steps, that is where we will focus. It may seem obvious, but often it’s over-looked so I’ll say it again: start your process improvement work on the steps that offer the most efficiency opportunities.

The next step then, is to look closely at the External Failures and think about what might be some root causes for them. By reducing or eliminating them, not only will we reduce the chance of upsetting a customer, but we will reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the overall time to do the process.

Root What Now?

Root cause. The main thing that is causing a process to fail. Here’s an example: a customer’s dessert arrives and it is burnt. What might the root cause be for that? There may be a few of them, so let’s brainstorm. The customer received the burnt cake because:

  • the server wasn’t paying attention
  • the oven was too hot
  • the recipe was wrong
  • the chef wasn’t watching the oven
  • the oven timer was broken

There are a few examples of why the cake might be burnt. Are they root causes? Nope. They are sub-causes. Let’s dig deeper:

  • the server wasn’t paying attention because:
    • he/she was rushing
  • the oven was too hot because:
    • the thermostat was broken
  • the recipe was wrong because:
    • the chef made it from memory
  • the chef wasn’t watching the oven because:
    • he/she was receiving an order of fresh vegetables during dinner service
  • the oven timer was broken because:
    • it hasn’t had any maintenance in 5 years

So are those root causes? Maybe. Let’s take a look:

  • the server wasn’t paying attention because:
    • he/she was rushing because:
      • three servers called in sick and there was no backup plan
  • the oven was too hot because:
    • the thermostat was broken
  • the recipe was wrong because:
    • the chef made it from memory because:
      • he/she learned it from someone else who didn’t write it down
  • the chef wasn’t watching the oven because:
    • he/she was receiving an order of fresh vegetables during dinner service because
      • the delivery truck was late
  • the oven timer was broken because:
    • it hasn’t had any maintenance in 5 years

Brainstorming with Fish

We’re getting closer. We have a few root causes in there now, and a couple of others might even be able to go further. A great way to do brainstorming like this is to think in terms of categories of what could possibly go wrong. You can use whatever categories will work for you or your business, but some common ones include:

  1. Equipment
  2. Process
  3. People
  4. Materials
  5. Environment
  6. Management

A tool we love to use originated in Japan in the ’60s. Known by several names (Ishikawa diagram, Cause-and-Effect diagram, and Herringbone diagram, to name a few), we use the most common title – the Fishbone Diagram. This diagram is nothing more than a brainstorming tool that helps groups think about potential root causes of a problem or issue. Lucky for you, click on this Fishbone Template for you to use in your next brainstorming session. It will download automatically.

Here are the steps in using it:

  1. At the “head” of the fish, write the problem you want to address.
  2. At the end of each of the “bones” of the fish, write the categories you’d like to use. (Whichever ones will stimulate the best discussion.)
  3. You can start brainstorming sessions several ways. One we like to use is to give everyone a stack of sticky notes and a pen. Ask them to look at the categories and write down as many potential causes as they can – one per sticky note. Now have everyone put their sticky notes on the wall, clustered in the six categories. Discuss and add more (because people always think of more). Remove duplicates.
  4. Draw a line towards each “bone” and write the potential cause on it.
  5. Ask if there are any further “bones” that might go off of the one you just wrote. If there are, then draw a line connected to that line.
  6. Keep going until you’ve written down all the ideas, and then ask if there are any more.
  7. Done!

Now you have a big list of ideas, and the trick is to figure out which one of those is the most impactful. How do you know which one(s) to fix first? Well, Nicole will tell you that next week… so stay tuned!

Until next week,


PS – details on our new course, Leading Process Change, are coming within the next few days. Stay tuned to our Twitter (@whiteboardcons) and Facebook feeds, not to mention our website.

(Process) Rules Are Made to Be Broken


It’s true. Rules are made to be broken. Even in the world of Process Improvement.

“Wait, what?” you ask. “But Ruth, process improvement is all about rules and statistics and doing things the same way every time, yada yada yada. You’re contradicting the very foundation of what Whiteboard teaches!”

Ah, nothing is so black and white, grasshopper. Hear me out.

Process Improvement is Changing

In my process career I have witnessed and/or been part of many process improvement initiatives – big, small, fully funded and supported, done “off the corner of a desk”, successful, and unsuccessful.

The two things that made the difference between success and failure – in addition to the usuals of effective communication, engagement, and senior management commitment – were:

  1. Early evidence that the new methods work and are worth the effort, and
  2. The ability to be flexible and change your mind.

And this last one, flexibility, seems to be growing in importance. In fact, it also influences the first one – “evidence of success.”flexible

Traditional and, dare I say it, soon to become “old school” methodologies like Six Sigma and to some extent Lean, are based on strict methodologies that work really well in some organizations – usually those in a manufacturing or highly repetitive/operational industry. In other industries, particularly serviced-based, these methods have a more difficult time taking root. It’s not impossible, and there are many very successful examples – but it is harder.

It’s OK to Change Your Mind – Just Don’t Squirrel

When Nicole and I teach The Whiteboard Way©  to aspiring process-improvement practitioners, we are careful to point out the need to be flexible, and to change things along the way if they aren’t working. The ability to do this is refreshing to people who are often nervous about adopting a new method, or taking on “this process stuff.”

I recently did some strategic planning with a client – he was a little nervous about planning tactics for goals that were 12-24 months out. “Things can change, Ruth,” he said. And he was right. That’s why it’s important to have a plan and a process, and then if (when) things change you can make intentional decisions to veer away from or modify the plan. But – the modification is then intentional, not just because you saw a fun-looking squirrel and decided to run after it like the dog in the movie Up (love this clip: click here). Some people do this so frequently, that Nicole and I actually use “squirrelling” as a verb.

In the Four Disciplines of Execution, Sean Covey stresses the importance of using and tracking lead measures – those which you can influence and which drive the progress towards a goal – in the execution of a goal or strategy. His theory is that a “cadence of accountability” ensures that people develop the habit of reviewing their commitments and assessing whether those tactics (or lead measures) are making the progress they expected. If they’re not, then they change the tactics and the things they measure until it has the desired result. (Click to Tweet)

In the The Whiteboard Way© we teach the same principles. We combine traditional process improvement tools with modern theories about being flexible yet accountable, and we show how this approach generates increased engagement and better results.

Have you had success doing process improvement this way? Tell us about it!

Until next time,


FAQ’s on The Process of Coaching’s Experiential Learning Module

An interview with Peter Gardiner-Harding, Executive Director at playsthatwork

Peter-Gardiner-Harding_Bio_page1Many of you have asked about our Process of Coaching Course and what “experiential learning and simulations” as part of the second half of our day will be like.  We explained it in a recent post this way: After lunch, we’ll bring an actor in to “play”.  He will have a specific character, personality traits, and some previous past experiences built into his character.  And in this segment you get to do the hardest part of applying coaching tools – PRACTICE.  One-on-one you’ll get to work with the actor to go through the “Process of Coaching”.  Every once in a while we’ll “FREEZE” we’ll have the room give you some tips and suggestions, get feedback from the actor on how he’s feeling, and get feedback from Ruth and me.

I thought more about how best to explain it, and who better than the expert and experiential leaning guru himself? Our fantastic colleague at playsthatwork, Peter Gardiner-Harding (say that three times fast!), can share his thoughts on the subject?”  So earlier this week I had the pleasure of speaking with Peter (furthermore known as PGH) to gain his insights.

ND: So Peter, what IS experiential learning? How is it different than role-playing or simulation?

PGH: To me, role-playing is like a “let’s pretend”, and simulation is a subset of experiential learning itself, which is a way to experience learning with the mind and heart. (Click to Tweet) Participants are fully engaged – not playing a role with someone else.  They are doing the work in their own skin, with their own point of view, learning to integrate the new coaching skills into the way they coach. It’s here we use a professional actor who does the role-playing. The actor has the skills to portray a character and to deliver feedback so that learners have instant integration of their performance with their learning.

ND: How did you get into this field?

PGH: Although I started in business and became a CA, I was meant to be an actor. The combination of business and theatre is dramatic and meaningful, and I wanted to tell stories using my theatre and business backround together.

ND: Who gets the most out of these simulations?

PGH: The people who really thrive in this learning environment are those that are exceptionally emotionally intelligent, and self-reflective; people who are good at receiving feedback and seeking it.  They levitate in these situations! (Click to Tweet) Everyone can benefit, but these people are the ones who who discover the most about themselves. And I believe that anyone who deals with other people in their jobs can glean a lot from learning to coach – IT software developer, for example, can learn to empathize with their users.

ND: Why do people find it hard to coach?

PGH: I would say the biggest barrier to effective coaching is when the coach has their own set of outcomes that drive the agenda for the coaching conversation. Keeping the coach’s outcomes out of the conservation is the key, so that the employee can self discover. It’s very difficult to straddle that line.  You can have outcomes and coach; you just have to be transparent about them.

ND: What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love seeing people come away from a simulation having experienced a transformative “a-ha” moment, when they actually see themselves and the results they get differently, something about themselves that they never noticed before.  Some people have come away from simulations having changed their lives both professionally and personally.


We absolutely love working with playsthatwork. And we also love seeing the “a-ha” moments when people really “get” the process of coaching and how impactful it can be on their teams. We know our attendees will love the experiential portion of our Process of Coaching course and are really looking forward to delivering it. Click here to register today! (Early bird savings end April 30th.)

Want to learn more about the process of coaching and how we use experiential learning?  Give us a shout at info@whiteboardconsulting.ca/staging, or Tweet us at @whiteboardcons using the hashtag #processofcoaching.

We’re so excited to see you all there!

Until next week,


That Time You Tried to Manage Alternative Work Arrangements


I was talking with a colleague in the insurance industry the other day, and, as often happens when discussing what we do at Whiteboard Consulting, the conversation turned to business processes, what they are, and where organizations can find them.

I love these conversations, because there is always an “A-ha” moment when the light comes on and the person finally gets it. (It’s not as easy as you think, especially if you’re not trained in the industry. Go ahead and try it. Write down five key business processes that are critical to customer or employee satisfaction in your industry. I’ll wait. … … … … Tough, isn’t it? But I digress…)

For my colleague, the A-ha moment came when he thought about his business clients and the implementation of benefits programs in their organizations. They get a new program and look at it and say, “Ok everyone, here are your benefits! Yippee!” and the whole thing ends up a complicated mess of paperwork and administration. Guess what? There’s a process in there, and it needs to be defined and efficient. (Click to Tweet)

Flexible, Remote, and Successful

At Whiteboard we recently engaged with Regus to use their gorgeous downtown Toronto workspace to host our upcoming course, The Process of Coaching. Regus helps businesses maximize the benefits of alternative work arrangements by providing access to the world’s biggest workspace network.

If this type of service is available, why do so many organizations find alternative work arrangements difficult to manage?

Do they do the same thing my colleague’s insurance clients do? “Hey everybody, we’re being flexible! Work from home! Yippee!” And then a month later when deadlines are missed and it’s impossible to find Employee X for an important call, it’s instantly revoked.

Do they manage remote teams by having a conference call once in a while to go through action lists? Are they surprised later when individuals feel disengaged and isolated?

That got the process geek in me thinking.

Nicole, David, and I work from home and from office space at Regus. We have no problem with our productivity, meeting goals, staying connected with each other and with clients, and we have the flexibility to hit the gym in the middle of the day (or have a nap, if I’m being honest) if we want.

The reason for our success in this area is that we have a process in place. If we didn’t, we’d be in trouble and we’d probably have to move to a formal office structure, which is not what we want to do right now.

It’s a Process, It’s a Process, It’s a Process

A while back Nicole wrote a blog posting on how processes don’t have to be big and showy, but you do have to have them! And if you look at some of the things that are bugging you at work (like unsuccessful alternative work arrangements) as processes, you’ll most likely be able to turn them around and make them work for you.

If you are thinking of setting up an alternative work arrangement, or if you’re in the middle of one and it’s not going very well, ask yourself what your processes are:

  1. Have you clearly defined who is eligible for flexible work arrangements and under what circumstances?
  2. Have you outlined the goals (which may be unique to each employee) expected out of each arrangement?
  3. Do you care about core working hours? If so, do you have a check-in process? (Once a day? Twice a day? Twice a week?)
  4. Do you have a way to personalize your communications process? Do you use Skype or another similar program that allows virtual face-to-face interaction?
  5. Do you review the success of the arrangement on a regular basis? (more than annually) Do you have a way to modify if things aren’t working perfectly right away?

Below is a highly over-simplified image of what your process might look like. (Bonus points if you can comment and tell us one HUGE improvement that could be made over this simple process flow diagram.)

Blog March 21

The key is to have a process, discuss it with impacted people, communicate it, and stick to it. If you do, even complex situations like alternative work arrangements can work for your organization!

Until next time,


Sneak Peek into “The Process of Coaching”



This post is a short and sweet SNEAK PEEK into our: Process of Coaching course being offered on June 9 or 10 (register here) in the format of a FAQ!

Note there is an early bird discount of 10% (on the registration website) and a special BNI members discount of 20% (email us for details) so, if you like a deal (and who doesn’t?) – get a deal!

FAQ’s About the Process of Coaching

What is the target audience of this course?

The people who will get the most from this course are people managers.  Examples include supervisors, team-leads, managers, or directors that lead groups of people in the private or public sector. These leaders want to be just that – a leader, not just a manager.  They want to evoke a spark in their teams that will increase productivity, unleash skills, and create a great culture.

What exactly do you mean by “Process of Coaching”?

If you read our blog a lot – you know we love to talk about coaching (link, link, link).

We’re taking all of those tips, tricks, methods, and tools (along with more) and putting them into one simple process that you can apply to be a great coach every day.  The morning portion of the course we will be teaching you our Process of Coaching that helps to build effective and collaborative relationships built on trust.  This trust empowers multi-layered feedback and difficult conversations with accountability making sure that you get the most from your team.

What is Experiential Learning? Who’s this Kris guy?

Great question(s). If you come to our course you’ll learn why stacking questions isn’t a great idea! We will have a few blogs coming up over the coming weeks to give you more insight to the methods to our madness.  The first will explain why experiential learning is so effective with a one-on-one interview with Peter Gardner-Harding from Playsthatwork.  The second will be a blog feature on our fantastically famous actor, Kris Ryan, and learn a little more about Kris’ experiences with acting in a business setting like this.  After lunch, we’ll bring Kris in to “play”.  He will have a specific character, personality traits, and some previous past experiences built into his character.  And in this segment you get to do the hardest part of applying coaching tools – PRACTICE.  One-on-one you’ll get to work with the actor to go through the “Process of Coaching”.  Every once in a while we’ll “FREEZE” we’ll have the room give you some tips and suggestions, get feedback from the actor on how he’s feeling, and get feedback from Ruth and I– something you CANNOT replicate in real life! This is the most fun you will ever have in a business course, hands down (Click to Tweet)

What’s for lunch?

Excellent question. We haven’t decided yet, but rest assured, between two gluten & dairy intolerants (Ruth and I), and our vegan project assistant David Keyes, we’ve got you covered.  When you sign up, send us a note with any dietary restrictions and we will happily accommodate.

Why is the dress code business casual?

All of that real-live simulation means we need to be in an environment that means business.  So, when you arrive, you’ll notice our fantastic space at the Verity Club, 111d Queen St E, Toronto, ON M5C 1S2 (www.verity.ca) – you have no choice but to get right into a business mood with that buzzing modern business environment surrounding you.

Same goes for your outfit. Dress like you would when talking to your team at the office!

Where do I sign up?

Intrigued already? Sign up here to catch our early bird deal and join us for a fantastic day!

Join us in our on-going conversation about coaching and office culture on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

And if you sign-up, let us know about it! (Click to Tweet )

Are you excited yet? We are!

– Nicole




The Process Geek in All of Us

Geek GlassesWikipedia says of the word “geek”: Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to connote “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake.”

I do not use the word “geek” pejoratively. No, I use it with fondness to describe those of us who have an aptitude for any subject that goes beyond the average person. You could be an astronomy geek, a food geek, a botany or gardening geek, a Shakespeare geek, a 70’s geek… anything!

I – I’m proud to say – am a process geek.

In our line of work Nicole and I run into many geeks of all kinds (you know who you are). Naturally we are drawn to those who are process-minded as we are, and we’ve come to realize the following truth: there are many people who have an inner process geek and don’t even know it. (Click to Tweet)

We love to see that side of people and let them know how awesome it is and how they can make it work for them. Wondering if you’re a process geek too? Wonder no more!

Process Geek

You Are a Bit of a Process Geek if:

  1. You’re reading this blog. Face it – if you’re on Whiteboard’s website, you’re interested in learning more about us and what we are up to. And what we do (be it training, facilitation, or strategic planning) always comes down to process.
  2. It pains you to know how long your proposal will be in the approvals process at work, and you’ve already thought of three ways to make it faster. If only anyone would listen.
  3. You stand in line at coffee shops and think of ways the line could move faster. Want to get Nicole ranting? Ask her about how she feels now that Starbucks has moved to individual coffee preparation vs. batching. I, on the other hand, am dying to revamp Tim Horton’s meal combo ordering process so that people don’t have to repeat Every. Single. Item. Separately. And. Slowly.
  4. Although the voice is annoying, you secretly think stores that employ the audible call to open cashiers (Cashier Number Four Please) are genius. Not only does it save the cashiers from shouting “I can help you down here”, but it also moves the line along just that little bit faster.
  5. At airports you wonder about people who don’t yet understand the effective processes for passing through security (jacket off, belt and shoes off, laptop out, all before you get to the bins) or boarding a plane (slide into the seat, check if people are waiting to get by, then slide out and throw your carry on up top).
  6. You kind of like doing your taxes. Even just a little. The feeling of organizing all the files and filling out the online apps is quite satisfying (especially if you’re getting a refund).
  7. You can’t believe how much manual paperwork is required at the bank. In 2014.
  8. You have developed routines for mundane things in order to make them as quick and painless as possible – at home: packing the car for a roadtrip, housecleaning, packing lunches. At work: preparing a monthly report, doing performance reviews, starting a new project.
  9. When you have a great idea for something, you grab a piece of paper or a napkin and you sketch out the steps and how it will work. You number things and use arrows to show the flow of the idea.
  10. You’ve already thought of ten other ways that you’re a process geek.

It’s not such a bad thing. Embrace the process geek in you and tell us about it! We’d love to help you make it work for you.

Until next time,



The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Effective Teleconferences

conference call

Working from home has many advantages. The fact that I just had a powernap with the dogs curled up at my feet is one of them.  The other also happened today: one too many glasses of wine at girls night, and I was not so pretty this morning. On went the sweatpants and off I went to conduct business in the comfort of my living room. What convenience! No commute. No fussy office attire. Hair and makeup? No thanks. #sorrynotsorry

Companies are on a mission to cut costs and tele-commuters and flexible work arrangements are on the rise.  Teleconferences are (when executed well), an efficient and cost effective way to get things done.

A colleague of mine sent me this the other day after a particularly painful teleconference.

As comical as that was, the real truth is teleconferences can often be frustrating and ineffective. Whiteboard has a few simple tips to make your teleconferences better, faster, and cheaper. Behold! Whiteboard’s Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Effective Teleconferences (Click to Tweet):

Whiteboard’s Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Effective Teleconferences

1. The right medium.

First before deciding to hold a teleconference, ensure that it will be the right medium.  Teleconferences are great for information sharing and questions.  In-person meetings are better for decision making, complex problem solving, brainstorming, or decision-making.

2. An Agenda.

Create an agenda and use it.  Clearly state the objective of the meeting and expected outputs and timing. People will be better prepared when they understand why they are there.  Also feel free to place some of the tips for participants in the agenda (particularly #3).

3. Mute & Speakerphone.

I’m going to say this only once. Use this cute (and not nearly as crude as my last) helpful mnemonic:




Please &




No one wants to hear you masticate, your yappy dog greet the mailman, or your heavy breathing.  Nor do you need to sound like Darth Vader. Speakerphone quality is horrible compared to a mouthpiece, and all these extra sounds make it worse. AMPLUS. Catchy, eh?

4. Make it personal.

Have everyone on the line introduce themselves and their role/title. Make sure people’s ideas are heard.  If you know Sally had questions about the budget yesterday, but all you hear is radio silence when you’ve finished presenting, call it out with a conversation starting open-ended question: “Sally, what are your thoughts on the budget?” or “Doug, this indicates some significant cuts to your division’s budget. How will this impact you?”

Note: this also keeps people alert and focused (i.e. not checking email, playing CandyCrush, or making breakfast).  Ruth did this to me on a teleconference the other day and I was MORTIFIED because I had just looked away to read an email and had no idea where they were in the document.  #teleconferencefail

5. The 10-second rule.

Without seeing facial expressions, it’s often hard to gauge how people are reacting to the content you are delivering.  Often, people’s natural reactions are to fill that glorious muted silence with more of their own cherubic voice.  They never take a breath for anyone to jump in. Or worse, they say “Any questions?” (Olympic 0.000037s pause). “Great Thanks. Talk Next week. “.  Allowing a whole 10 seconds (1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi……) allows for that awkward silence to penetrate and 9 times out of 10 someone (or more than one) will pipe up with a great question or comment that will spur discussion and make your call an effective use of time.

Like these tips? Have some funny teleconference stories to share?  Give us a shout at @whiteboardcons!

Until next time,


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