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Getting Religious About Problem Solving

by Lean Leaper
July 19, 2017

Getting Religious About Problem Solving

by Lean Leaper
July 19, 2017 | Comments (3)

At the Lifeway Christian Resources distribution center (DC) in Lebanon, Tenn., lean practice has in many ways aligned with other core beliefs of the company and its employees. As this case study on the company’s lean effort reveals, lean practitioners have found guidance in their lean work from what might best be described as orthodoxy.

When developing its lean training materials, the LifeWay DC in Lebanon, Tenn., uses stories from scripture. “It really drives the points home with our employees,” says Nicole Hudson, manager of continuous improvement. “It helps show them that God’s teachings still apply today just like they did back then, if not even more.”

Here’s an edited example showing how the problem-solving training developed by LifeWay’s continuous improvement department draws on the book of Nehemiah for inspiration.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

The first step in the Bible teaching about resolving issues is to identify the problem. Nehemiah inquired into the condition of Jerusalem and the Jews there. He discovered that, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire” (Jeremiah 1:2, 3).

When you and I approach a situation, we can ask questions such as, “What is wrong? What are the symptoms/conditions? What should the situation be like? Who is affected? We should get as many facts as possible, then weigh them carefully. The clearer we define the problem, the better our solution.

Step 2: Prayer is Needed

Nehemiah wrote that he, “sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). Surely, in faith we must approach God for wisdom, direction, and strength (cf. James 1:5-6). In our humility, we need to capture God’s perspective.

Step 3: Identify the Causes

The Bible teaching about making good decisions reveals that Nehemiah identified several causes of Jerusalem’s plight. They were spiritual (1:6-9), discouraged, leaderless people, lack of resources, and local opposition (1:3; 2:7-10).

You and I can seek answers to questions like, "What are the causes of the problem? When did the problem happen? Where did it happen? How did it occur? Who was involved? What result came from what activity?" Continually ask who, what, where, why, when, and how questions.

Step 4: Identify Several Possible Solutions  

In the Bible Nehemiah had several options. He could have done nothing, appointed a group to go try to get the local Jews moving, or make a deal with Sanballat and Tobiah, the local leaders who opposed the Jews. However, he carefully considered before God what to do.

In the first steps of problem solving, brainstorming is critical. You must keep your mind open to any and all the information and ideas you can gather. Consider all the interest groups involved and their legitimate interests. Think of ways to make it a win-win situation for all the players, be creative, and come up with as many solutions as you can.

Step 5: Pick the Best Solution

Sooner or later, you must choose what you think is the best solution. First, evaluate each proposed solution. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each position. Combine the best features of several solutions to come up with new approaches. As you evaluate each solution, ask, “If I choose this solution, what is it I am going to get that I don’t want, and can I live with it?”

Nehemiah chose to approach the king and secure the resources and permission to fix the problem in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:4, 5). He took action and made a decision.

Step 6: Devise and Implement a Plan

In this step you must determine a definite goal and identify the specific steps to reach the goal. Answer the questions such as, “What are the actions to take? How and where will the action take place? Who will be involved? How can the chosen solution best be translated into action? How can I get the resources? What is the time schedule?”

From Nehemiah 2:6 and onward, you can study the story of how Nehemiah carefully put together a plan, overcame challenges, made modifications, and achieved his goal. We must plan our work, and work our plan, just like he did.

Step 7: Evaluate

How will we ever know if the problem is solved if we do not investigate? Regular, periodic inspections or checkpoints need to be placed into your problem-solving plan. There needs to be a final evaluation to determine what worked, and what can be improved the next time around.

We can detect Nehemiah’s careful eye to detail in his problem solving and evaluation, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days” (Nehemiah 6:15).

Source of Nehemiah bible teaching: Newman International.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  musings,  problem solving
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
Claire Everett July 19, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Thanks for the interesting perspective on problem solving.  It's great to see people using examples that are meaningful for their audience rather than only using examples from books (not that examples from books are a bad thing).

I did notice a couple of things I would change in step 2.

a) "In the first steps of problem solving, brainstorming is critical."  I don't agree, brainstorming is really only effective when the number of possible causes is small.  It's very effective with simple and some moderate complexity problems but as soon as you come across a complex problem brainstorming is little more than a waste of time becasue there are too many options.

b) "come up with as many solutions as you can."  Again I don't agree this is always, or even mostly, the best way to go about finding solutions.  While it can be useful and allow a team to come up with less obvious solutions it can also waste time, if an easy to implement mistake proof level 1 solution has already been discovered continuing is not value add.

Regards Claire

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Andrew Parris July 19, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Thanks for sharing some biblical parallels with problem solving. I have found that the parallels between Lean and a Biblical understanding of things go even deeper. For example:

* Customer determines value not us - if we consider God as our ultimate "customer", the one whom we are to please, then we should "find out what pleases God." (Ephesians 5:10)

* Respect people - when Jesus was asked questions, he mainly responded with questions. Furthermore, Jesus involved and empowered his disciples (and all believers) to do what he ded - preaching Good News and doing good works and making peace (2 Corinthians 5:20, Ephesians 2:10)

* Eliminate waste - waste hinders value creation, and so we read, "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (in Hebrews 12:1)

* Good/bad processes get good/bad results - "every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." (Matthew 7:17)

While working at World Vision, I drafted a series of Bible studies that explore these and numerous other parallels.

Cheers. -Andrew

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Bruce August 17, 2017

In my teaching on the importance of effective communication to Lean Teams, I use the illustration of what God did to defeat the people who were endeavoring to build a tower to heaven at Babel.

He could have employed any number of major calamities such as an earthquake, fire from heaven, a disastrous plague, etc...

However he had only to do one simple thing. Take away their ability to communicate with one another!

(Genesis 11:7-8)

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