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WorkOut is a method of problem-solving developed in General Electric and used extensively in and around their definitive use of Six Sigma. At its simplest, WorkOut is an intensive working session that focuses on solving a particular problem. Making workout work, however, requires more than just getting people together for a good think.

Pre-session activity

Before the WorkOut session begins, there is much work to do. The first step may well be educating managers as to what it all entails, in particular the serious commitment they must make to it. The main action after this is to formulate the problem and to identify the people who need to attend (which may include people from customers and suppliers). As WorkOut is a single intensive session, you cannot run it if, a few minutes in, people start saying ‘Oh, we need to talk with John about this’ and then effectively stop working. You will need all the people with relevant knowledge in the room together possibly also with people who are just good at problem-solving, challenging and asking questions.

Significant work may consequently be needed in getting committed management sponsorship and agreement to take recommendations seriously. A WorkOut session that results in no real action is not a real alternative and it is critical to ensure full and irrevocable commitment beforehand.

The participants in the session also need the knowledge and tools to do the job and problem-solving training may be important as well as giving them information on the problem which enables them to do any research and preparation before the session.

The WorkOut session is best held offsite, away from company distraction and also away from the mental anchors of the workplace which may constrain probing and creative solution development. This may mean significant work in finding and booking a venue and, if needed, setting up accommodation and transport.

In the session

After preliminaries, which may include training as needed, the WorkOut session begins with the senior manager involved describing the problem that needs to be solved (and which they will ultimately own for implementation). This includes any constraints on solutions, particularly around time and budget. The manager then leaves and the work group gets down to two or three days of intensive analysis and solution finding.

This is not something they do on their own and the use of skilled facilitators is an important addition, with at least two facilitators per session. The general division of responsibility is that facilitators own the process whilst the people there own the problem. The facilitators will not only manage the working process, they may also need to manage relationships as emotions can run high in such sessions.

At the end of the session the senior manager returns to hear the recommendations from the group, each of which they will accept, reject or require more information before deciding.

After the session

When the workout is completed, the senior responsible manager takes overall ownership of implementing recommendations and engages other managers as needed in making it all happen. This may be a significant activity and the commitment gained in the initial activities may be tested.

WorkOut is a process, not just an event, and is as much as way of thinking as a methodology. It needs an attitude of intensely focusing and challenging assumptions. Resistance to the process, whether in set up, operation or (particularly) in implementing the recommendations, must treated very seriously and in GE can be a career-limiting move.


Next time: RAID Log


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute


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