What about Problem Solving? Problem solving is one of the main tasks in Lean and Management. Problems always arise regardless of the environment in which we work, whether it’s in production or services. Even though they differ in terms of scale or impact on the organization, the approach to solving them should always be the same. What is that approach? I hope I can answer that below.
The Nature of Problem Solving
Whether they are small, cropping up during the day, or large, building up over a longer period, they all have one common characteristic—they should be solved. But what does “solved” actually mean? Let’s take a leaking pipe as an example. Initially, we may patch it up to prevent a catastrophe, but does that solve our problem? Theoretically, yes, the water stops dripping where it shouldn’t. Do we have assurance that it won’t happen again? Not really, because we don’t know the root cause.
Unveiling the Root Cause
This is where the whole crux of problem solving lies. The root cause, the Holy Grail of an Engineer, Lean practitioner, Manager, or Employee tasked with solving the problem. When we identify the root cause of the problem, we can effectively solve it, ensuring that the risk of it recurring becomes minimal.
Defining the Problem
To begin, we must ponder what the problem truly is. Going back to the example of the leaking pipe, most of us might say that the problem in this case is a flooded bathroom. However, that would be a symptom, something visible, the result of the problem. Following this logic, the actual problem is the cracked, leaking pipe. We define a problem as something deviating from the standard. In this case, the standard is an intact pipe, and its rupture is an obvious deviation.
In organizations, it’s not always as straightforward. Let’s use a production example: when an operator damages a component. The first thing we might think in such a case is that the problem is the operator damaging the parts. But in reality, we should examine the process.
Key Questions to Ask
Has the operator been adequately trained? Is there an instruction for their task? Have they read, understood, and followed it? Are the tools they use in good condition and subject to regular inspections?
The Role of Gemba
More often than not, the human is not to blame; the Gemba (the actual workplace) provides us with information. If the answer to any of the above questions is negative, that’s where we should look for the problem. Let’s say, in this case, there is no instruction, no standard. So, what does the situation deviate from? The problem would be the absence of an instruction as a deviation from the standard of having one, and that’s where we can start taking action.
Digging Deeper with Visualization
Once we’ve identified the problem, we can start, colloquially speaking, digging to find the root cause. Defining these three elements is aided by visualizing them on a tree—yes, you read that right, a tree. This simple method allows us to list the symptoms at the top, name the problem, place it in the trunk, and begin identifying the causes, listing them in the roots. I intentionally use the term “causes” rather than “root causes.” The tree helps us organize information and gives direction for further actions. We see the symptoms, have grasped the problem, and the worst is behind us.
The Quest for the Root Cause
Finding the root cause, as I mentioned, is crucial for achieving an effective solution. It’s not the easiest task, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll find it on the first try. However, it’s worth dedicating the energy and time to this task because it simply pays off. Once we’ve truly found it and found a way to address it, the chances of the problem recurring are minimal. As a result, we won’t have to deal with it again and again… the time and energy saved are known to those who haven’t found the root cause, yes, I know it too.
Fortunately, we can rely on methods that will help us succeed. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so we’ll leave those for the next post. Let me know if you have any specific topics in mind that you’d like to read about. After all, I’m here for you. One more small teaser: soon, on the website, various templates ready for use will start appearing, which I hope will be useful to you. I’ll start with the tree described here, so enjoy!
My name is Magdalena and I have been involved in production since 2010. I started as an Operator, and then developed as a Foreman, Production Planner, and I finally ended up in Lean. In the meantime, I graduated from the Faculty of Management with the specialization of Business Psychology. I did it relatively late, because I focused on practical knowledge, which directed me to this particular field of study. Currently, I am still mainly a Practitioner who is closely related to Lean, process management, as well as the building and managing of teams. I also run workshops and consultations concerning this subject, which is my great passion. As a lady in Lean, I want to show you Lean and Management from a slightly different perspective - lights and shadows, as well as fantastic and absurd features. However, no matter how you look at it, it is, above all, a fascinating path to perfection, which I hope you would like to take with me.