When it comes to Process Improvement, Where’s the Problem?
Where’s the problem?
Go see, demonstrate respect, and ask questions.
“Lean managers pose questions to their problem owners about the nature of the problem and the best available counter-measures. Doing this automatically transfers responsibility for the problem…closer to the problem.” ~ Jim Womack
Questions are a high impact Lean leader’s best friend. That’s why there are five chapters in Blue-Collar Kaizen: Leading Lean & Lean Teams that are dedicated to revealing why you should use questions and how you can use questions to leverage your influence and increase buy-in.
“Where’s the problem?” is one of my favorite questions to ask kaizen team members. Most often, they don’t know the answer. Most often, the problem is in the mirror. They are usually the problem. The way they are thinking or the fact that they are not thinking is usually the problem. They just don’t know it.
After a day or two together, the entire team catches on and starts having a little fun calling each other out by asking each other, “Where’s the problem?” and receiving a quick answer from their teammate, “In the mirror.”
Having fun is one of the objectives I discuss when I kick-off an event. And, we always achieve that objective. Having fun is another way to connect with the team members, and it helps them connect with each other.
I also ask, “Where’s the problem?” when the team is attempting to search for the root cause while sitting in an office or looking at a computer. I ask the question because I want them to go to where the problem is happening to figure out the root cause of the problem with those who are closest to the problem.
The question usually leads them out the office door to find the answer. If you want to find out what’s really happening and what’s causing it to happen, you must go to the Gemba, the actual place where the work happens or the problem is occurring.
High impact Lean leaders know the value of going to see. I don’t depend on reports or data in a database because I already know that information is most likely inaccurate. I don’t trust it. I don’t care how many people in the room say it is accurate, or it’s been verified.
Based on my experience, I always learn something when I go see for myself and ask questions while I’m there. The last thing I want to do is be responsible for decisions based on bad information from someone who isn’t responsible. I’m always responsible. I always want to go see. I want to know. I don’t want to think I know.
Whenever I ask questions during a kaizen event, I often follow up after I get the answer with another question, “Do you really know, or do you think you know?” If they answer, “Yes, I know.” I follow up with another question, “How do you know?” It doesn’t take long after asking that question to determine if they really know or if they think they know.
Many of the problems in organizations have the same root cause: people making decisions based on bad information they believe is true because it was in the system or because they were told something by someone who didn’t know but thought they knew.
Trust me. Take the time it takes, so it takes less time. Go to the source. Demonstrate respect. Ask questions.
One of the first things I teach kaizen team members is the Lean meaning of “Why?” I explain the meaning before they start asking the questions at the Gemba because I want the team to teach those at the Gemba the Lean meaning of “Why?” too. What I’m really doing and asking them to do is to declare their intent before asking “Why?” Declaring our intent helps us demonstrate respect.
I teach the why lesson by letting the team teach themselves. How? By asking questions. I ask, “When a boss walks up and asks why you are doing something, what does it usually mean?” Often, someone will say, “It means they think I’m doing it wrong.” Or, someone will say, “It means they think I shouldn’t be doing it.” They are right because in a traditional environment, that is what it means most often.
Then, I ask, “If a young child walks up and asks why you are doing something, what does it usually mean?” Right away, someone will answer, “It means they want to know why you are doing it. They want to learn.” I say, “Exactly!”
Next I ask, “If I ask you why you’re doing something, or if I ask someone working in the plant why they are doing something, why am I asking?” I always get the perfect answer, “Because you want to learn.”
After priming the pump, they are ready and open to being asked why. When I hear them teaching others on the plant floor, I know they learned the lesson and are demonstrating respect. They know my intent because I let them think it through. They know my intention is to learn, not to blame. Questions are powerful.
“Solving complex problems requires an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment one’s way to a fresh solution.” ~ Daniel Pink
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Learn more about the 6 books (available as paperback, eBook, and AudioBook) below that are included in this special offer:
- Blue-Collar Leadership & Teamwork: 30 Traits of High Impact Players
- Blue-Collar Leadership: Leading from the Front Lines
- Blue-Collar Leadership & Supervision: Unleash Your Team’s Potential
- Blue-Collar Kaizen: Leading Lean & Lean Teams
- Change Happens: Leading Yourself and Others through Change
- Defining Influence: Increasing Your Influence Increases Your Options
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