How to Get What You Want in Four Easy Steps

By Jon Miller Published on April 5th, 2007

About 20 years ago in a catchy pop song Joe Jackson said “You can’t get what you want till you know what you want.” I didn’t think much about those words at the time, but these words seem to contain deeper wisdom as the years go by.
There are two things in my life that I really want right now, have wanted for going on seven years, but have failed to get. After walks on the gemba, discussions with a client and reflecting on how to get them what they want, I have finally realized the answer to “how to get what you want.”
Broken down in four steps, it is basically a problem solving approach I have been using successfully on the shop floor for years (yet to be tested in personal life):
Step 1: Know what you want. Some of you are laughing. That’s okay. This is a lot harder than you think.
Let’s say for example that as a business owner you want more than anything to always deliver to your customer on time. This is a good “what you want” for starters, but if you just tell your organization this is what you want, getting it may result in things you don’t want – e.g. higher costs from inventories, overtime, or outsourcing. So you also need to say what you don’t want.
Step 2: Know what you don’t want. This is easier than the first, but it is not simply stating the opposite of what you want, as in “no late deliveries” in the case above. The trick is to state the other conditions or options that would get you what you want, that you are not willing to consider. You can start by striking out things that are illegal, immoral, or unethical and continue to dirty, difficult, and dangerous if any of these come to mind immediately as easy options.
This frames and constrains how you or your team will get “what you want” by immediately taking some easy “catalog” options off of the table. As Taiichi Ohno said, people’s wits don’t work until they feel the squeeze so defining “what you don’t want” puts the squeeze on your options.
Although Joe Jackson doesn’t sing about how to get what you want, the TPS gives us a basic blueprint to get what we want in terms of operational excellence, continuous improvement and organizational learning. Once you have defined “what you want” the next step is to ask “why don’t I have it?” and ask why again, and again until you get to the root cause. This is the 5 why principle in a nutshell.
Step 3: Ask “Why?” five times or until you get to the root cause of why you can’t get what you want. It may be that you still don’t know what you want, in which case go back to step 1. Cause and effect (fish bone) diagrams can be very useful at this step, in work or life.
Once you know the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, the how should become easier.
Step 4: Think of how to make it possible. This is not a question of inspiration. It is a question of effort. What can you do, today, to move a step closer to your idea, or “what you want”? This may require study, it definitely requires action.
In the case of Lean manufacturing, many have gone before us and left good descriptions of tools to solve problems and paths to follow to get what we want. Try one to see how it works.
As with kaizen, getting what you want is not done in one go. After you have made some progress towards on time delivery, for example, you will find that you “what you want” next is even better performance. Or perhaps progress in on time delivery is not as good as you want. Or perhaps what you want changes. That is okay.
Your “what you want” may be something more narrow and specific like “I want every person in the company to have the same awareness of on time delivery as the people talking to customers every day.”
This will lead you to a different tool or approach. For example take takt time. This is the speed at which work must progress so that you can deliver exactly what the customer wants, when they want it. Meeting takt time is “what you want” as a Lean organization, no matter what you do. It is a fundamental principle.
But even those of us who are nodding our heads in understanding and agreement have probably not visualized and made “what you want” obvious to the people doing the work. We have not given people a successful takt image, in Toyota Production System terms, or some physical or visual way of understanding whether they are meeting takt and getting what they want.
Making the takt, the standard or the “what you want” visual is a way to keep in your mind and in the mind of your entire team. It is not a question of slogan, but a clear “good / not good” definition. It is visual management. The deeper “what you want” is kaizen in response to abnormalities.
The same four steps apply for self-improvement goals and “what you want” items away from work. Why don’t I have the two things I want? Because I stopped asking why after two or three times and went to work fixing things. Why? I’ll need some time to reflect on that.

  1. Ron

    April 5, 2007 - 6:58 am

    Great post Jon. In the past I have used a “100’s list.” This list is simply 100 things you either want to do, be, or have. They can be as simple as “I want to take my kids to the park next weekend.” They can also be more complex like, “I want to be VP in 3 years.” Once you identify these things you then must form a plan for how to make these things happen. My wife loves this tool as she is such a planner.

  2. Kent Schnaith

    April 5, 2007 - 2:03 pm

    Jim & Michele McCarthy have something called Personal Alignment where the steps go something like:
    1. What do you want?
    2. What’s blocking you from getting what you want?
    3. What virtue would help you to remove that block (e.g. Courage, or Integrity, or Self-Care, etc. )
    4. Change what you want to more of the virtue, and work on that.
    See “TheCore” at their site: http://www.mccarthyshow.com/
    — Kent S. ( I want flexibility)

  3. Sonu

    April 9, 2007 - 3:32 am

    I have been given the project of reducing the lead time for one of the parts manufactured by us.
    This part consists of two parts
    a) Nut and
    b) Plate.
    The plate has the following processes
    a) Pressing – done at supplier end
    b) Surface coating -done at supplier end
    Nut has
    a) Machining – done in our plant
    b) Countersinking , drilling and tapping -done at supplier end
    c) Surface coating – done at supplier end
    These are then assembled together.
    What approach should I take to attack this problem?

  4. Chris Nicholls

    April 10, 2007 - 7:21 am

    Hi Andy
    The way to reduce leadtime from the current process you describe would be to collect all the equipment together in one place and make a single piece flow cell. But I guess that’s too easy.
    Jon Thanks for another great post just at the right time to inspire me to looking for a way to formulate our next mid term improvement plan.

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