Deciding When to Dig [[From the Archives]]

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 04-22-19

Originally Posted: by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 09-29-09

If lean is about anything, it is about solving problems both large and small. Becoming a world-class problem-solving organization takes time. It requires learning new skills and developing the culture to truly invest in problem-solving as a daily practice. But as you begin this journey, you can’t stop and solve every problem at a root level with engagement and skill. So how do you handle the tension between today’s firefighting and investing in deeper problem-solving?

I recommend that organizations learn to use structured, criteria-based decisions about when to go into structured problem-solving methods (whether A3s or 5 Whys or kaizen events, etc.) and when to simply stop at firefighting and installing Band-Aids on the problem. I know that it sounds awkward to accept. We don’t want to decide to just apply a Band-Aid, but in reality, you are doing this already. The difficulty is that you aren’t calling it what it is. By calling solutions a Band-Aid (or choose the analogous term that works for you), you create clarity about what you are really doing. This clarity helps elevate the process of making the decision “do I dig or not” to a formal or conscious decision instead of a habitual or unconscious one. This, in turn, enables the organization to develop high agreement about when they will dig deeper into a problem and how they will do it. With that high agreement, you will reduce frustration and increase the overall practice of structured problem-solving.

A key to success is developing that high agreement of what and how around problem-solving. Having the skill is one thing. Using it as an organization in a consistent way is completely different.

How have you managed this challenge?