It is incredible how enlightening can it be to observe a company/department handling issues. It is a great indicator of the level of maturity in problem solving and team building, which are 2 key skills for Lean. Companies generally must make a journey from a low-developed problem solving culture to a more advanced one, which takes time and needs a lot of management support. These are typical steps in that journey:
– Blaming (“it’s not my fault”): We all are probably programmed to react this way: our DNA is shouting “It was not me!” as a self-defence instrument. It shows lack of trust among team members and no focus at all in what really matters: WHY things happened (and not WHO did them). As a consequence, problems are never solved. Problem solving tools are useless in this case and implementing them is pure waste. What the team needs is to rebuild trust first: without this nothing else will work.
– Justification (“it’s not so important”): Sometimes you find teams who cooperate well, but when they investigate problems, their focus is in proving that the impact was low, the problem was not so important and therefore life can go on without major changes. Although impact evaluation is important to know if the product/service has been affected, this situation is worse than it seems. In many cases problems are hidden when the justification is not obvious. It does not promote a problem solving culture and issues can be seen as “things that happen that nobody can stop”. And with this mindset problems are rarely eliminated so they will come back again and again.
– Cause-hunting (“anything goes”): In some cases, teams are genuinely encouraged to know why things happened. They analyze, investigate and come back with a big list of so-called root causes. These lists generally contain 3 type of causes:
1) what caused the problem
2) what could have mitigated the effect
3) what could have make you discover the problem
Only the first are real root causes. Actions that try to”find out if something bad happened” or “mitigate the effect of problems” are good things to do; however they don’t eliminate the problem, which is the ultimate goal of problem solving. Bad news here: “discovering problems” and “mitigating effects” is generally much easier than “eliminating the problem forever”
– Root cause analysis (“solve the problem forever”): Some might say that this approach is very similar to the previous one. It is not. Many techniques are the same, but the cultural approach is totally different. Working hard to eliminate the problems is the only real path for continuous improvement.
Having problems is not a problem. Doing nothing to solve them is a big one.