The 52 Minute Change Pit Stop | 15 Habit Tips to Turbo Charge Improvement


There is a scene in Raiders of The Last Ark where Indy is frantically looking for Marion through the bustling back streets of Cairo.

Indy has to fight his way through the locals, has a couple of  punch ups, gets chased by knife wielding baddies and eventually, after a crowd of locals move apart – comes face to face with an intimidating swordsman blocking his path.

At that moment, Indy stops in his tracks and ponders his options on how he could solve this problem. We expect him to enter an epic fight, perhaps use his whip, Marion’s frying pan, involve a wicker basket or even that cheeky monkey-spy that likes eating dates.

And what does Indy do?

He thinks “I really don’t have time for this”, gets out his revolver, shoots the scary swordsman and continues his search for Marion, finds her and they eventually save the day.

Indy didn’t have the time to mess around. He needed to solve the issue quickly, so he shot the guy.

Every day, we are bombarded with issues at work.  A recent survey by BUPA highlights that 43% of UK employees feel they have too many issues to deal with to even take a quick lunch break.

And like Indy, in the middle of all of the other issues we are dealing with, we will occasionally come across a major, ‘red flashing’ issue – like the intimidating swordsman – that will stop us in our tracks.

There are many types of  ‘red flashing issues’. They could be anything – review and update a strategy, redesign a broken process, repair a poorly delivering service, increase a target of some form or something else entirely.

And often you may find that as part of a business improvement, change management or employee engagement programme, you or a member of the team has to jump on and resolve one of these issues quickly (without using a revolver!)

In these instances, the time investment of setting up a project using a range of Lean Six Sigma and Change Management tools and techniques (which you may not know are methodologies which can help solve business problems) could well be challenging. I am not implying any of these methods are in any way inappropriate to use, I just want to provide an alternative approach to consider.

Your sponsor may need a really fast turnaround. And you can’t allow this type of meeting to be a wasted effort, it’s too important. These types of events have many names – Kaizen, Workouts, Scrums, Huddles etc. All focus on driving accelerated improvement.

Having road tested many of these methods, this is the first 52 Minute Habit that I want to cover for the rapid workshop habits that work for me.

The kind of mindset at play here is similar to that of a modern F1 pit crew. The team need to be finely tuned, focused and ready to be literally unleashed on the issue. This video shows just how far pit crews have come over the years and is a fantastic example of lean process thinking in action. This is about speed, accuracy and focus.

So think of this as a 52 Minute “Change Pit Stop“! Before I begin, the 52 Minute Change Pit Stop is really a High Intensity Improvement Challenge. It’s all about getting a team fired up to solve a problem as one team.

And just like the F1 pit crew, work needs to happen before they are ready to jump onto the issue. The 52 minute clock starts from the moment a team come together in a room to fix an issue.

  1. Identify and Recruit Your Sponsor. Meet with your sponsor to understand the issue and get from them a clear outcome on what is needed.  They then need to email the team beforehand (draft this for them beforehand that they can then update and send to save them some time) to highlight the urgency of the issue, help clear time in diaries and set expectations that the team need to deliver a solution.

The sponsor needs to come along at the start of the meeting and spend no more than 5 minutes detailing the issue – and outline the ‘Big 3’ things they need from the team to fix in the issue. They then need to come back for the last 10 minutes to hear the proposed solution and then make a go/no go decision.

Habit Tip #1 – I’ve found that if the sponsor appeals to the competitive nature of the attendees and sets them a challenge, the attendees more often than not will rise to the challenge. So, instead of putting “Fix the XXX workshop”, call it “The 52 Minute XXX Challenge”.

Habit Tip #2 – As the sponsor outlines the ‘Big 3’ issues, write them up on a flipchart as they say them. It gets people quickly used to the workshop dynamic you will be using. I’ve often found if you can list out 3 key areas that would address the issue a lot of the other stuff can be addressed in another 52 minute session if needed. But the big hitters will be addressed first. This will ensure you stick to the scope of what you are being tasked to fix.

Habit Tip #3 – You are lucky in life if you come across someone who truly knows what it means to be a sponsor. If you have one, well done! If not, you may well need to coach your sponsor in what you expect of them.

Habit Tip #4. It’s key that you work with the sponsor to find a challenging, but achievable issue. Too large and you won’t get results in 52 minutes. Too small and you risk not making a large enough impact. To borrow from the old joke, Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bit at a time. If the issue is so large, try to chunk down the problem into a number of manageable issues to go at. You may need a number of workshops. Once the team are used to the approach they will start sailing through.

  1. Identify and Recruit your Team. Meet with each person individually before the meeting and give each person homework. Yes, homework. Give them a task to do to come prepared to address one part of the challenge. If people absolutely cannot be there, get them on the phone (this should be a last resort though as it can take extra time to explain what’s happening in the room on the phone).

Habit Tip #5 – You need to get each member of your team fired up and come ready to focus on fixing the issue. I have found the best way to do this is to ask each person to come ready to propose how they would improve the process. Get the team to do the work, individually, outside the room. I guarantee not everyone will be have a solution for everything, but will likely have parts of the solution. So, when they come together, they will already be in the improvement game-zone.

Habit Tip #6 – Go through the ground rules and timing of the meeting in the individual meetings. Set expectations that this will be unlike any meeting they will have been to before, but will be incredibly exciting, high energy and help the sponsor with a challenge. People always talk about the WIIFMs (What’s in it for me’s?). For this one time, ditch them – appeal to the collective ego of the challenge. i.e. can the team rise to the challenge of fixing this as one team?

Habit Tip #7 – Set expectations that you may call on one person to present the new solution back to the sponsor and that the team will chip in with support. Say that as facilitator you will make the call on who that is – at the point when the sponsor comes in. This will keep people sharp and engaged.

  1. Set the Stage. Get the room ready for action. Invest in a big roll of brown paper and get a toolbox of post it notes, sharpie pens, blu tack and spray mount. Put the brown paper up on the wall, have your post it notes and pens ready.

Habit Tip #8 – I can’t stress how important it is to find a good location. It’s got to be fit for purpose. Check with your facilities people to see if you can use blu/white tack.   If you can’t stick paper up, invest in a “magic whiteboard“.

Habit Tip #9 – Put a sign up outside the room saying that this room is for the challenge. Invest a bit of time making the sign look interesting but professional. This will make your team feel special to be part of the event and people walking past will naturally feel curious, planting seeds for future events.

  1. Own the room. As the facilitator you need to really command and control the room to get the team over the finish line within 52 minutes. They need to feel that you know what you are doing and they can feel confident that you will guide and support them to get the job done.

Habit Tip #10 – Facilitation is an art. It just takes practice to keep honing it to get it right. Here’s what works for me: smile, make people feel good, energise them!, ask questions like “Why isn’t it working now?”, “What could be causing this to happen?”. Use positive reinforcement. Challenge them to do their very best.

Habit Tip #11 – Avoid technical jargon and theories at all costs. Just leave all that stuff at the door. Don’t say things like “The next phase of the Plan Do Check Act cycle is…” etc.  You will immediately turn people off and are at risk of lecturing people. So my advice is to be pragmatic and keep the energy high. I heard a story recently of someone running a workshop  taking textbooks and course books into their workshop and leafing through the pages to check what they needed to do next. You don’t want to be that person. So even if you feel like you are a swan paddling like mad under the water, you need to be serene and confident on the surface. So, leave all the theory and books at the desk!

  1. Jump Straight to the ‘To-Be’ (i.e. the new) Solution. Sacrilege I hear you scream! But this is key. If you have lined up your team to understand what are the issues today that need fixing, you are giving them a fantastic opportunity to go straight past GO and collect £200. To do this, start with the end in mind and start creating the solution with the final step. In each step write three things: “What is happening?”, “Who Does it?” and “When Do they Do it?”

Habit Tip #12 – Don’t dawdle, get on with it. Slap up a post it note on the brown paper and challenge the team with this question “What will be the final step in our solution?” Working with the end in mind will get the team motoring.

Habit Tip #13 – Once the team have completed the first pass of the process, encourage them to do another ‘fly past’ of the process. While you do this, check back to the ‘Big 3’ Issues on the flipchart. Are these being covered?

  1. Sponsor Playback. The team have created the new solution and you have the solution mapped out on the wall. Get ready for show-time! Choose a member of the team and ask if they would be comfortable to run the playback. If you’ve coached everyone in the individual meeting everyone should be comfortable for this.

The Go/No Go is critical. Don’t let your sponsor say “they need to sleep on it” or go and check in with a committee. They need to be able to make a call – there and then. If they try to, nudge them back to the decision. Remind them at the start of this segment what you are asking them to do.

If it’s “Go”. Take an action to work with the team on another 52 minute session on a robust improvement plan. (To be covered in a future habit). This needs to happen quickly to maintain momentum.

If it’s a “No Go”, which is entirely possible, all is not lost. Ask the sponsor what it is that is making them uncomfortable and then give them a pen and ask them to quickly sketch out what they would change. You may need to organise another 52 minute session to re-work the solution – but the investment will be worth it. The difference with the second session is that the sponsor will have input their ideas into the final solution. If it really is No-Go after this part, end the meeting and meet the sponsor separately to understand where they want to go next – don’t back them into a corner if they are uncomfortable.

Habit Tip #14 – Do not let anyone leave the room unless a clear decision has been made – either “Go”, “No Go” or “Re-Work”.

  1. Finally – make it fun! I’ve found the more buzz and energy you can inject into the session the better. People should be focused on the task and if you can make it a enjoyable and positive experience it will pay dividends outside the room.

Habit Tip #15 – Avoid being cheesy or you will lose people! Avoid radios/music to distract people. No food. Don’t make people feel silly or stupid. You need clear heads. Make them feel good and that their work is going to make a big difference to the business. Remember – this is all about them! 🙂

Habit Clock watch. Here’s the breakdown of the 52 minutes improvement challenge. Assume everyone is in the room for the start – don’t wait for people, start on time.

12.00 – 12:05       Sponsor sets the scene then leaves

12:05 – 12:35      Work backwards through the new ‘To-Be’ (i.e. new solution)

12:35 – 12:40      Review and amend the approach.

12:40 – 12:50      Sponsor returns and listens to playback from the team

12:50 – 12:52      Sponsor gives feedback – Go / No Go / Re-Work

Here is an Info-graphic of the key stages of the High Intensity Improvement Challenge. Click the link below for a downloadable PDF.
Here is an Info-graphic of the key stages of the 52 Minute Change Pit Stop. Click the link below for a downloadable PDF.

>>> Click this link for a downloadable PDF of the 52 Minute Change Pit Stop <<<

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