Skitt’s Law Applied to Kaizen

I became aware of a truth about lean problem solving and kaizen yesterday while reading an article about ten internet rules and laws.

4. Skitt’s Law

Expressed as “any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself” or “the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”
It is an online version of the proofreading truism Muphry’s Law, also known as Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation: “any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror”.

Language Log quotes the following example, from Paul Ordoveza’s How Now, Brownpau? blog:

“For too long, we linguistic pedants have cringed, watching this phrase used, misused, and abused, again, and again, and again. ‘This begs the question…’ [we hear], and we must brace ourselves as the ignoramii of modern society literally ask a question after the phrase.”

While Mr Ordoveza’s point is entirely valid (“begging the question” is a logical fallacy, meaning to “beggar the question”, or assume your conclusion in your premise – not to raise the question), the plural of ignoramus is ignoramuses.

It was apparently first stated by G Bryan Lord, referring to a user named Skitt, on Usenet in 1998.

Skitt’s Law applied to kaizen would be “any action to solve a problem will contain at least one problem itself” or “the likelihood of a problem resulting from a proposed solution is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause” to the person who is promotion the particular solution. Just as all standards should be considered temporary until improved, all improvement ideas should be considered provisional until they are not proven to be ineffective. Too many times people approach problem solving or kaizen as a process of championing a favored solution, only to be blinded by its failings. This results in embarrassment when a solution proves ineffective but the organization has already committed too much time and resource, as well as personal reputations, and it is difficult to change course gracefully at that point.

We should keep in mind Skitt’s Law and assume that all kaizen ideas are full of holes, no single countermeasure will solve the problem entirely, and that some countermeasures may solve one problem but cause another. Toyota uses the term “countermeasure” for a reason, rather than “solution” because they understand problem solving to a taking a series of measures to counter root causes of problems, rather than to put so-called solutions in place and moving on.

As with anything, kaizens can contain errors. Many times the countermeasures are the result of solution-jumping and shallow or non-existent root cause analysis. Just like we should run spell check before sending out a piece of writing, we should spell check our problem solving thought process by tracking the solution back through the root cause to the original problem statement using the “therefore” or “so what” test.

The kaizen process must be inherently self-skeptical. While being confident that we can surely solve all problems (the what), we should always be challenging the method or solution itself (the how). The PDCA cycle is all about checking and adjusting our plan, learning from the result of the do phase. The learning is as important, if not often more important, than the solution that is put in place. Remember Skitt’s Law and check your work. Don’t fall in love with your kaizen ideas because love will blind you. Keep a healthy skepticism and be prepared to love and nurture all kaizen ideas.

Speaking of healthy skepticism, there were two other laws also worthy of note:

8. DeMyer’s Laws
Named for Ken DeMyer, a moderator on Conservapedia.com. There are four: the Zeroth, First, Second and Third Laws.
The Second Law states: “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”

And to bolster my argument with another quote from the internet,

7. Pommer’s Law
Proposed by Rob Pommer on rationalwiki.com in 2007, this states: “A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”

The internet is a dangerous place for a curious mind…

1 Comment

  1. Joel Bonnette

    October 28, 2009 - 8:31 am

    I liked the article. One of the principles of continuous improvement is to assume that the way you are doing work is the worst way to do it. So you conduct kaizan to improve the standard work. Once improved, you go back to the idea that the way you are doing is the worst way to do it. So, your article is right on. There’s always a better countermeasure.
    Also, part of the idea of kaizen is experimentation at genba. It’s OK to try improvement ideas and realize they did not work so well. Try again. And again, and keep improving. It’s a continuous journey to pursue perfection, but realize you’ll never attain perfection.
    Thanks for the article.