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What Problems Do You See?

by Joshua Rapoza
November 20, 2018

What Problems Do You See?

by Joshua Rapoza
November 20, 2018 | Comments (9)

If you are a lean thinker at any level of experience you probably suffer a common curse: you see problems everywhere. You can't board a plane, go to restaurant, or sit (im)patiently in a waiting room without envisioning a value-stream map or an A3 to sort everything out. Problems everywhere...and yet not all problems can be solved by the same tool.

Take a minute or two think about all the problems you see everyday at your work. That may be just too many to figure out in a Lean Post, so let's limit this to your most frequent problems. Are you using the same tools and tactics for all of them? Are they all the same type of problem? Do you know that there are different types of problems?

Knowing what type of problem you are dealing with makes countermeasures much easier to figure out. Art Smalley's new book, Four Types of Problemssets up a framework to help you classify each problem-solving approach into one of four types, and takes you one step further to show you how to actually solve them.

Now I need to pick your problem-solving brain.

What problems do you see most?

Below are brief descriptions of the four types of problems as noted in Four Types of Problems

4 Types of Problems

Trouble Shooting - Reactive problem-solving based upon quick responses to immediately symptoms. Provides relief and immediate problem mitigation. But may fail to get at the real cause, which can lead to prolonged cycles of firefighting.

Gap from Standard - Structured problem-solving that focuses on problem definition, goal setting, root-cause analysis, countermeasures, checks, standards, and follow-up activities. Its specific aim is to prevent the problem from recurring by eliminating its underlying causes.

Target Condition - Continuous improvement that goes beyond existing performance of a stable process or value stream. It seeks to eliminate waste, overburden, unevenness, or other concerns systemically, to deliver superior value or performance toward a target condition.

Open-Ended - Innovative problem-solving based upon creativity, syntheses and opportunity. It seeks to identify new problems, solutions, and opportunities. It achieves radical improvement, often a new product, process, system, or value for the customer well beyond current levels.

Please reflect on these four--and then please share an example in the comments below. 

Problem Monster

Our friendly Problem Monster is so hungry for problems that she will give away a few free copies of Four Types of Problems for her favorite comments. Please share your problems and your type of approach below. 

Keywords:  A3,  kaizen,  problem solving,  root cause
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Four Types of Problems
By Art Smalley
July 26, 2018 | 1 Comment
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Kevin Cyr November 20, 2018
4 People AGREE with this comment

At my company I feel like we are constantly in firefighting mode. But I feel we are doing so because we aren’t really thinking through what we are doing around target condition problem solving. I guess it’s our company’s strategy and how it has left our front line workers out of the planing leaving a lot of overworked people.

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Sabrina Henry November 20, 2018
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Just yesterday I was having a conversation with my Manager and a colleague about the kinds of problems we are trying to solve. We seem to be focused on fighting fires (troubleshooting) rather than paying more attention to preventing fires (gap from standard). I wonder if we can get to 3 and 4 if all of our attention is placed on troubleshooting.

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Charlie Payne November 21, 2018

We installed a major piece of equipment in our facility last year that has been "disruptive" to the downstream processes while being commissioned.

We are using Problem Follow Sheets to tackle Gap from Standard problems and recurring Trouble Shooting issues. 

Each problem is assigned to a team to address and the collective group meets weekly.  We've borrowed (warped?) some of the Kata methodology during our meetings.  What issue were you tackling, what were the results, what are you doing next based on these results, when will you know the results of your next actions?

It was slow going at first, but as we've identified and resolved problems, momentum is building.  While there are still issues to address, they are becoming less disruptive.

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Dillon Weigel November 21, 2018

At Toyota, problems were typically of the “gap from standard” variety, which I would imagine is a result of the level of organized problem solving culture there. Since many things were well laid-out, it was easy to say, “Why is this supplier only producing x number of units/day when the standard is y? In my current role, I experience much more firefighting or “troubleshooting” type problems. A customer may have a problem with one of our products in the field that requires immediate action to avoid losing business. We need to send a replacement or rework a part right away, and only later do we have the luxury of addressing the root cause as one of the other types of problems. I think the latter is much more common than the former among most companies.

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Carrie Donovan November 26, 2018
1 Person AGREES with this comment

I work in healthcare and we, like many others, spend quite a bit of time with troubleshooting problems (firefighting).  But occasionally when something really bad happens we take the time to do a gap from standard problem solving effort.  We use Root Cause Analysis to do these but often it is still reactive to one probelm once and the solutions are rarely sustained.  I find my self going back and doing RCA's on issues that I did one on just a year or two before.  Clearly we are not getting to the root cause to address the gap from standard problem. 

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Mick L November 26, 2018

I'd be very interested to see how Smalley's book approaches each of the outlined problem types. One thing I'd like to note is that the way in which one approaches a problem is situational, especially when your lean journey is still in it's infancy. As one problem is solved, another inevitably flairs up; thus you begin down the path of extinguishing these fires. Now, that's not to say this is the wrong path, as it is just showing that the foundation of your house is not yet solid. This may become cyclical until your efforts solidify that foundation of standardization. The real problem comes when you transform from a problem-solver who extinguishes the occasional problem, into a firefighter who's facility seems to be engulfed by problems. 

This can be an especially difficult mentality to break; more so when the firefighting has become intrinsic to the culture of the facility. Remember your lean toolbox, and that stopping now to fully analyze a problem will save you time and headache in the long run. 

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Ronnalea Hamman November 26, 2018
2 People AGREE with this comment

I was a lean consultant who recently moved into operational management in a healthcare setting.  I hadn't realized how much managers in my facility get firehosed every day with problems - most of them being the troubleshooting ones.  While many frontline leaders are innovative and creative - they often put in solutions that are immediate, not always well communicated, and not always addressing root cause.  This ultimately adds more kindle to the fires.  My job as manager is to get systems in place to work on closing gaps and getting to root cause.  Easier said than done and is quite eye opening in my journey from consultant to manager.

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Pat Pope November 27, 2018

On my team, we receive work requests through ServiceNow. The way the process works, is that when a request comes in, after I process it and assign it to a consultant, that consultant schedules time to meet with the meeting requestor to review their request and to gain more clarity and/or offer alternate solutions. That consultant will then come back to the team and assign the appropriate resource(s) to the task based upon their discussions with the requestor. However, in talking with a co-worker about how sometimes he still doesn't have sufficient information to fulfill the request, I developed a "Talking Points" template for the consultants to use. What this does is gives the consultants the pertinent questions to ask when meeting with requestors so that we are assured that the right questions are being asked and that we're getting the needed information with which to properly and efficiently fulfill requests. I would ssay this is an example of Target Condition.

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Doug Nordgren November 27, 2018

We are in constant firefighting mode.  What we really have is a gap in our processes.  If we have good excuses we are given a pass.  We seem content to paddle a leaky boat with one hand while bailing with the other.  How do you get leaders to take the time to stop and permanently fix leaks?(Root Cause)

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