5.07.2012

Problem Solving and the Lean Journey

Samuel Obara has published a great new book titled Toyota by Toyota: Reflections from the Inside Leaders on the Techniques That Revolutionized the Industry. This book comprises chapters written by former Toyota associates from locations around the world detailing their experiences learning, understanding, and leading Lean culture and methodologies.


Samuel was the main editor and composed a chapter on the problem-solving PDCA (plan-do-check-act) method. I recently asked him: "Why is problem solving so important along the Lean Journey?" Here is his response:


When introducing and implementing Lean techniques, one will certainly face many problems. For example, we cannot connect processes without hitting several problems; we cannot lower inventory levels without unveiling new problems; we cannot adjust to Takt time without encountering all sorts of problems.


With so many new problems being created so fast, solving them in an effective way becomes vital to solidify the success of each step in the Lean journey. Adopting early a methodology that has been proven effective can avoid the frustration of the constant hitting or missing. In today’s competitive environment, the winner is whoever misses the least.


One question that can start an effective discussion is: How well are we using the problem-solving methods that are widely available and have been proven effective? Sometimes the impression is that we overlook the connections between the facts and always end up with the solution we had preconceived way before we started.


Another question is: Why are we so afraid of problems? In many organizations people simply abolished the word problem. This forbidden word has now officially been replaced by opportunities. This attitude tells me people really have great fear of problems. As my colleague and mentor Darril Wilburn always says, "Opportunities are taken, problems must be solved.” He reminds me that problem solving is such a fundamental and intricate element of TPS/Lean that Toyota calls problem solving "the Toyota Business Practice." In reality, the common job description of all associates is problem solver.


Because a Lean journey implies that problems will always be created, we must ensure that we develop problem solvers that truly state the problem and understand the root causes. The better we are the less we fear.

How does problem solving function in your company? Does your company use a specific methodology?

101 comments:

Ari Krause said...

I am grateful that you brought up the fear of problems, and the fear of the word itself. So many leadership teams dislike acknowledging problems and that distate filters down into the rest of the organization. This causes the companies to hit even more problems in their processes and relationships because no one will attend to the initial problem.

I love the idea of replacing the word "problem" with the word "opportunity" in organizations; I will definitely start using that! An opportunity is far more appealing to attack because it feels proactive, rather than attacking a problem which feels reactive.

Anonymous said...

You missed the point.
You are SUPPOSED to use the word problem so that you confront and solve, not euphamize and avoid.

Ari Kause said...

Thank you, I see that now. I understand that not using the word problem implies a fear of the word, however, I have seen the term "opportunity" used with great power because of what I mentioned above. Opportunity is perceived as proactive, a problem as reactive. Regardless of the term, they are the same thing! Using the word "opportunity" rather than "problem" is a tool to get people past the problem or opportunity to creating a solution. It is not about euphamizing and avoiding, it's about encouraging the team to create a solution. Thank you for correcting my mistake!

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