What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

what problem are you trying to solveThe most frequently asked question we receive at Gemba Academy goes something like this, “What videos should we watch first?

A close second is, “”What lean tools or philosophies should we focus on first?”

How to Respond

Of course we do our very best to give each customer our best answer based on their particular situation… but, in the end, we almost always come back to a simple question – what problem are you trying to solve?

You see, it’s easy for us lean and six sigma practitioners to become enamored with the incredibly powerful tools and techniques of continuous improvement.

But, unless we step back and really understand the problem, or problems, we’re trying to solve we’re likely setting the stage for a difficult improvement journey.

Do you agree?

I’m curious to hear if you agree?

How would you answer someone who asked you how to get started with lean or six sigma?

Would you direct them to a specific tool or technique? Or would you also suggest they step back and first identify the problems they’re facing?

6 Comments

  1. Stephen Lombard

    November 15, 2013 - 10:28 am

    Couldn’t agree more. I attended the AME conference and heard several speakers talking about making sure you knew the purpose and reason for practicing Lean. If you only use tools for the sake of the tools you are missing the point. It is all about solving problems.

    • Jason Stokes

      November 21, 2013 - 11:30 am

      There’s nothing worse than coaching someone, or running a project, where the problem is so nebulous that no one really knows what we’re trying to fix. If someone wants to start using these tools, they must, must know what the problem is, and what they’re trying to solve. Only then can a select, and appropriate, set of tools be used.

      I’m over using tools for the sake of tools. Too many programs and efforts focus so much on using all the right tools that they ignore fixing the problem – or delay the fix for months while people gather and validate data to make no-brainer decisions. Maybe the tools are used as cover to prevent making decisions people won’t like?

      I think the other question to ask, Ron, is what is the goal of Lean, Six Sigma, CIP, whatever you call it? For me, it’s improving the business, and that starts and ends with happier customers.

  2. Todd Lewis

    November 15, 2013 - 5:31 pm

    I do agree that identifying the right problems to work on is important but, really, if someone is just starting I’d encourage them to practice 5S by identifying some problem areas related to safety or productivity and attack them.

    To me, it all starts with 5S. But not 5S for the sake of 5S. Do 5S to solve problems and make your work better and safer. Starting with this cannot fail.

  3. Paula Alves

    November 16, 2013 - 8:10 am

    There is nothing like starting with a VSM. You have to see clearly, with as much data as you can possibly get what are the critic points and where to focus immediately to have a quick return. It’s essential to have people involved and assured that their opinions and cooperation is respected and welcome – this will create a real team.
    The rest will follow, if the focus is maintained by the management on continuous improvement. Having a good starting base and resilience is all it takes to start, and then as the rest of the lean tools will have their turn as the problems are exposed and solved.

  4. Ron Pereira

    November 16, 2013 - 3:36 pm

    Thanks for all the comments, folks!

  5. Nitin Agrawal

    November 18, 2013 - 6:10 am

    Fully agree. We first need to understand the problem. To me Lean is a mindset and everything starts with Customer/consumer. So we need to understand what is the pain for the customer and based on that we can adopt relevant lean principles or six sigma techniques. There is no universal cookbook for this. But yes the first step is always to understand the customer and what he/she is willing to pay for. Rest is all waste that needs to be eliminated.