I often see a picture of Albert Einstein with a caption saying something like, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Whether Einstein said it is up for debate, yet the pithy quote rings true. Why do some organizations keep removing the symptoms of problems and expecting that they’ll never come back? The answer is complicated. In some cases, as I mentioned in my last post, the success of the organization overshadows the need to dig into root causes and remove them.
I also argue, in many forums, that Westerners have difficulty slowing down enough to get to root cause. There are many differences in mindsets between Eastern and Western cultures. Caricatures of the contrast abound. John Wayne, for example, versus David Carradine’s character in the 70s television series “Kung Fu.” Classic literature shows us the contrast. Clausewitz, in his magnum opus, On War embodies the Western view: finding friction is necessary to advance warfare and catalyze conflict. Conversely, the Eastern view is captured by the Apostle Paul in the Christian Bible, saying, “..if at all possible, as long as it depends on you, seek peace.” The latter sentiment is by far the more difficult path to follow.
Ultimately, one might argue that it is simply human nature to work around problems, finding a means to an end. Whatever the condition for working around problems, the need to find the real cause – the root cause of the problem – remains. Organizations pursuing world class performance (defect free) must have a standardized method for solving problems: finding the root cause of a problem and removing it so that root cause doesn’t cause the same problem again.
The effect of such a problem-solving method is obvious. Rework and scrap are reduced. The cost of rework and scrap – hard cost – is reduced. Arguably, problem solving reduces the highest cost of all: the frustration at the frontline when the same problem recurs day after day. This last cost – the cost to the human system – is often overlooked and can be the most damaging overall. The effect of it is easily measured in turnover, attendance, and other engagement metrics. The other costs may be hidden by good economic conditions and a favorable market. The human cost to the frontline and its management team can’t be overstated: this cost is neutral to favorable economies or growing market share.
The actual process for solving problems has remained mostly unchanged since early quality pioneers like Hitoshi Kume wrote about QC Story. Each minor movement in the Deming Movement has offered its own “true” or “right way” to solve problems. What is consistent in all of these related methods is the quest to find the real cause or the root cause of the problem. What those steps are and how to manage that problem-solving process is a topic for another time. For now, here are three steps to start solving problems:
- Stop the process. It sounds simple but given our Western mindsets for getting things done at all costs; this is a tricky thing to do, but a necessary first step. What would you need to do – what would you need to redesign in your process – to trigger a stop when a problem or a defect is detected? What’s that: you can’t detect defects…?
- Make sure you can detect a problem or a defect. A simple way to define a defect or a problem is “something that I didn’t expect to happened” or “something I expected to happen, didn’t”. Create a way to see the problem as it is occurring.
- Standardize a problem-solving process that demands facts. One of the biggest barriers to solving problems is that we all have our own “way” of doing it and that way is largely based on opinions or assumptions based on our previous knowledge of a process, not what is currently, actually happening in the process.
Start small: focus on a task in a process with which you have trouble. Stop the madness – start solving problems.0