Standard Problem Solving

A key point of Mike Rother’s book Toyota Kata is that the organization develops a very deep core-competency in problem solving.

In order to develop competency at anything, there must first be a standard to strive for. What I am realizing is the precise method used doesn’t matter nearly as much as having a method (that works) and rigorously striving to follow it.

Why is this important?

Consider the opposite. Let’s say, hypothetically, that we have a team of very good problem solvers and they are trying to tackle a tough problem. However each of these people brings a different method to the table.

As they discuss the problem, each will be trying to frame it in his or her paradigm for how to go about arriving at the root cause and finding a countermeasure. Indeed, even those words (root cause, countermeasure) might be different.

Some of them might not even call it a “problem.” A team member steeped in Theory of Constraints is going to be referring to a “constraint” – what is constraining the system from advancing to the next level of performance.

Someone else will insist on calling it an “opportunity.”

No matter how competent each individual team member, the group is going to expend a lot of time and energy with how to go about even defining the problem. This is time and energy that is not spent actually solving it.

Things get worse if there are weak problem solving skills to begin with. Someone might have heard of “5 Why’s” for example, and try simply asking “Why?” repeatedly, and writing down the answers on the flip chart in a mistaken belief that this effort leads the team to the root cause of the problem. (it doesn’t, as the room is hermetically sealed to information flow).

So if the organization has a structure, a method, for problem solving there are at least steps that should be consistently followed.

Introduce a good facilitator / teacher / mentor into the mix, and they get an opportunity to practice with coaching, and develop skill.

But “without a standard, there can be no improvement” and the same thing applies to problem solving and improvement itself. If you want to get better at it, you need to start with a standard you are striving to achieve, and then study what keeps you from achieving it.

One Reply to “Standard Problem Solving”

  1. Hi Mark

    I agree. The key is the combination of problem solving technics (tools, you can learn) + thinking (attitute and lean understanding) + open communication.

    The more open minded problem solver are involved the better. But even one problem solver and open minded experts on the topic can achieve incredibles results.



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