Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Problem Solving - For Reals

One of my favorite quotes is a, "A problem well understood, is a problem half solved."

My team and I have been reading through the book the Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker.  One thing that always stands out to me is that Toyota doesn't get hung up on unnecessary tools and processes.  They rely on human persistence and ingenuity and allow technology to enhance those attributes.

This is reflected in their way of solving problems.

When problems come up they seek to understand what is the root cause.  An example that was given in the book is a problem of a puddle of oil on the floor.  A quick inspection might show that a machine is leaking oil, so the solution might be to replace the leaking gasket in the machine.  I think many people would leave it at that, myself included.  However, that isn't getting to the root cause of the problem.  You would need to ask why is that gasket leaking in the first place, and that would lead to an area that many people may not be familiar with.

The 5 Whys

One of the main tools used by Toyota is the 5 Whys.  Or basically you ask Why 5 times to dig into what the root cause may be.  Generally going 5 levels deep is sufficient to understand what the root cause may be.

So to use the book's example again:
Why is there oil on the floor?
 Because the machine is leaking oil
    Because the gasket has deteriorated
        Because we bought gaskets made of inferior material
            Because we got a good deal on those gaskets
                Because the purchasing agent gets evaluated on short-term cost savings

From this example we see that the problem of an oil puddle stems from a much deeper root problem. If we imagine it is a technician who is solving this problem, he/she may not be familiar with the details of the purchasing office, so going this deep will require stepping out of his/her area of expertise.  An uncomfortable prospect for many.

A Culture of Problem Solving

Because of the difficulty of analyzing problems so deeply, this sort of tenacity has to be built into an organization's DNA.  The culture of the organization needs to promote this deep understanding.  It might take extra time to analyze problems, but the organization will need to make sure that is allowed, even praised.  Especially when the pressure is on.  And of course with any culture shift it will take time.  Toyota has been working on it for decades after all.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting read. I'm going to have to look at that book. Would love to work for an organization that worked this way.