Tips for Lean Managers

Management by FACTS!!

By Jon Miller Updated on May 12th, 2017

These are the words staring at me each day while standing or sitting at my desk: FACTS!

Please feel free to hit Print and place this visual reminder for all to see.

Sadly my personal MTBFTFTBF performance (mean time between failures to face the brutal facts) is not improving. Not by fact but by excuse, this is attributable primarily to the axiom “it’s not what you know, it’s what you don’t know.” That is to say, I don’t yet know why. More facts are required. True kaizen should make us voracious (very hungry) for facts.

A fact is something that has been repeatedly observed to be so. If it is a fact, it is the case. A fact is not in dispute. A fact can be disputed, but doing so does not help. It remains a fact. Facts should be respected, because one way or another facts will have their due.

Toyota learned this a long time ago and made it a part of their culture as the 3-gen shugi (三現主義) or “3 gen-ism” or literally “philosophy of the triple fact.” This is sometimes called “management by fact” although this is often confused with “management by data, obtained by others of lower standing, whilst sitting in a comfortable office.”

Toyota places emphasis on facts observable on the gemba through the habit called genchi genbutsu. The third “gen” (which is genjitsu – facts) has been cropped out of the 3-gen discussion in the popular literature and media pieces on Toyota. This is unfortunate, though it does make a better sound byte. It is best understood that genchi genbutsu is a behavior, or a way of getting the facts.

Facts are what they are, but for some reason we fail to face up to them. It’s important to study the role of the human mind in observation, perception and memory. Harvard Psychology dept. Chair and memory researcher Daniel Shacter wrote a book called The Seven Sins of Memory. Not unlike the seven cardinal sins or the seven types of waste, they are absent-mindedness, transience, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias and persistence. In all honesty, I almost didn’t recall reading this book. There were some good points made related to how we perceive and remember facts, but what were they? Perhaps it was another book…

But in all seriousness, suggestibility and bias are probably the left and right Achilles’ heels of management by fact. The confident, successful leader is more likely to put faith in their belief rather than facts. Both neurology and our preference of comforting stories and excuses over brutal facts conspire to weaken our ability to manage by fact. If we are to be honest, most of us have agendas completely unrelated to the facts. Sometimes these are called dreams. As David Byrne sang:

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to

Excuses are wonderful things that allow us to remain sane in the face of facts that erode our sense of confidence, security and well-being. They provide a safe interpretation to an unpleasant reality so that the fact of non-performance does not need to be directly addressed. At best these are what Taiichi Ohno referred to as misconceptions, at worst they are self-delusions.

Who-based leadership can be observed making excuses or making changes in personnel, while why-based leadership can be observed exploring the reasons for process failures, based on fact. It takes a great deal of courage and humility to manage by fact. It is almost religious.

  1. Erik

    November 13, 2007 - 11:00 am

    Sorry Jon, the three “gens” are what? GENchi GENbutsu are two and this means basically the actual defect or actual piece of material correct? And the third is GENjitsu? What is this? Are they normally used together as in genchi genbutsu genjitsu? In short, how does one manage by sangen shugi?

  2. Jon Miller

    November 13, 2007 - 11:12 am

    Apologies if the definition of 3 GEN SHUGI was unclear.
    GENchi = actual place (like gemba)
    GENbutsu = actual item (part, defects, machine, etc.)
    GENjitsu = facts, reality
    Traditionally the three are used together. It makes no sense to me to leave out the third.
    People who have written in English about Toyota recently have consistently used “genchi genbutsu.” The genjitsu is implied.

  3. Mark

    December 4, 2007 - 9:30 am

    Thanks for clearing this up. Recently my office had a conversation on 3 GEN SHUGI and my boss was right the whole time. I actually left the 3rd out in my argument. Oh well, I guess I admit to him I was wrong.

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