So we have been conditioned since our youth that pizza normally comes by the slice, of course if we make our own we bake it then slice it, right? Perhaps you can describe this as tribal knowledge or a learned trait. I think many are familiar with that and have. In the world of Lean thinking or doing business with the focus on adding value and respect for our people, we need to put problem solving methodology into that same category as well.
There is a misnomer out there that when we problem solve (using PDCA) that we must take on world-hunger level problems. Some, that are experienced in A3, tend to think putting a largely scoped problem into that format will help them solve it faster. Or should I say for some who may have minimal time, allow us to jump to countermeasures faster. Even at my time at Toyota TMMK, I caught myself being pulled into this vortex. We often need the problem fixed or the results to change so taking it all on a once seems like a faster process. When you lower the water to see the rocks is it really faster? You can do the cost translation to your KPI's.
When I first was introduced to problem solving I will admit we often went from a larger measurable gap (difference between the current state and the standard) to asking why, usually a fish-bone diagram. This process often reared us many root causes, more than we should change at one time to be honest. Many times we found ourselves outside of the Gemba trying to make the best selection based on assumptions, opinions and past experiences. This sounds good, especially if we have tenure in an area, but it's not a sustainable process - lucky at best as my trainers would remind me. As we all know when we trying to implement too many countermeasures at once it's very difficult to measure which one actually fixed it, and how do we know? So it's great if we can avoid rework and non value-added time if possible. As John Wooden as said, "If you don't have time to do it right the first time when will you have time to do it over?"
When I was introduced 12 years ago, when I was an internal trainer for Toyota, to a new way to approach problem solving that developed an additional step in the process - the light-bulb came on for me. Imagine for a moment, a process that encouraged you to take the large gap you have after defining a problem, and breaking that down into manageable pieces. In essence you would slice the gap up into weighted (based on data) contributors to the overall gap. Similar to a pareto chart where the sum of the bars equalled the total amount of the problem. A tree diagram often works well visualizing the "funneling" of the gap into one slice. Similar to pizza.
If we tried to eat this pizza in one setting without it being sliced it would be difficult for us on many levels. There may be a few that can accomplish the task, but it's not a preferred style of eating. Often times we would feel terrible afterwards, similar to the frustration commonly felt when we don't put problems to bed using true root cause analysis. If we just take a slice at a time as we have been conditioned to do eating, we should get down to a portion of the gap that takes you to a process level.
This process level allows you to be around 1-3 root causes maximum. If you find yourself with 5 or more root causes at an individual slice it should be a red flag indicator to lessen the size of the problem we are tackling. PDCA will talk to you if you use the process correctly and listen. Only when we try to take shortcuts and by pass people or the Gemba we fall in a potential state of frustration and band-aid fixes. Then the A3 gets blamed for being a terrible tool. Folks will say, "This doesn't work, why are we using it?"
A mock example I use of breaking down a complex problem is below. It shows how taking a world hunger level problem and getting it down to a manageable "slice" which is a process I can influence and go see. Not just manufacturing but service industry and material and information flow style processes as well.
So you can see the highlighted path down to one slice, which we can say is 40 of the 500 defects. This is a mock example so just allowing you to put some number to see the slice. In our real world problem solving we would attach values to each of these so they track back upward to the gap. It not only illustrates our path of thinking but shows there was Gemba visits to differentiate facts from our beloved opinions and assumptions. This process shows how many slices of pizza are remaining that contributes to the whole gap! It seems like a lot of time, it can be if you aren't an organization that track / measures very well. But this gives you the entire picture. It shows to you as a leader how many stakeholders I potentially need to involved and how many "city level" A3's I can disperse as training and development opportunities for a team or department. I think many feel they have to take everything on themselves. Another misnomer, we are only as good as we let our extraordinary people think for us each day. We have to foster that and find ways to manage all the gaps that are out there. It does come easier with having standards in place, either way you will get to improving a process. That is where the "extra cheese" lies.
So next time you consider tackling a world hunger problem just remember we need to feed the cities first, just as you would prefer a slice of pizza at a time.
Until next time
Tracey and Ernie Richardson
Teaching Lean Inc.