Home > Knowledge Center> Are You Having Problems with Your Problem-Solving?

Are You Having Problems with Your Problem-Solving?


As I teach problem-solving to companies, I find many common mistakes by people who are learning/using the process. It's easy when you are in the learning process to quickly develop bad habits, and important to recognize them and develop better ones. Here are questions to help you avoid some of the common mistakes people make. 

Does every individual in your organization understand the Purpose of their work? Or, better put, do they understand how their actions in solving their current problem relate to the company KPI's (Key Performance Indicators in terms of Quality, Safety, Productivity, and Cost)? Each individual should ask themselves, “Why am I selecting this problem to solve?” They should understand how this problem is aligned with the Company Business Plan (Hoshin). They should also ask: By solving this how am I contributing to the improvement of the company? Is this a value-added problem?

Is everyone utilizing the power of the GEMBA? Or, is everyone going to see the work/process? I often see teams working together in a conference room trying to solve the problem by using their experiences, hypothetical guesses, assumptions and opinions. I quickly disperse the huddle to "GO-SEE" and visualize with their own eyes, the current situation. You will always improve your ability to describe the current situation when you have talked to the worker and can confirm this with facts. Then you can utilize that information to see where you are related to the standard or ideal situation. The difference between the two would be your gap or problem. So get out from behind your desk and GO-SEE, set the standard as a leader.

Are you digging down to find root cause? Productive problem solving is based on persistently asking "WHY" until you get to root cause. Often times, because we get focused on results, we only get to the symptom level of the problem. This can only produce a short term fix at best, and ensures that the problem is destined to return.This is not a sustainable practice with your problem solving so please ask WHY more than once!!! The 5 -Why is just an expression the Japanese trainers would say to us to create a habit of asking more than once. So please don’t take it literally. Sometimes it takes two whys and sometimes ten or eleven; every why chain is unique to the GEMBA and is designed to gather the facts of the situation. To do this it’s essential to involve, engage and challenge the workers to assist in your investigation.

Are you measuring in specific performance terms? There are two questions that should ALWAYS be asked when you begin problem solving. First, what should be happening? Second, what is actually happening? The next level is to quantify the difference between those two questions. If you do not have a measurable gap, then the A3 or problem solving report will be very difficult to measure on the right side of the A3. How will you know your countermeasure is effectively addressing the root cause unless you have a quantifiable gap on the left side? When coaching A3s I often find the current situation stating that this happens a “few” times a week. When I used subjective words like this my Japanese trainer would always look at me and say, for example, “a few, I do not understand – please explain”.  What he meant by that was to get the data, do not make assumptions.  A “few” could mean various things.

Are you doing this everyday with everything you do? The last common mistake I will talk about in this post is crucial in my opinion. I often see companies "put on" Kaizen weeks, Kaizen Blitzes, Rapid Improvement Events, and so forth. These can be called many different things, and the descriptions give off the impression that problem solving is only done on "special occasions". If a company's desire is to be successful their motto should be: problem solving-Everyday-Everybody. This was a common practice for me during my time at Toyota. It is the biggest difference I see when visiting other organizations—this work is deemed as more "special" than the "everyday" culture. In my travels I’ve started to give a subtle nudge to not call it anything, I believe that is the root of develop habits. As Nike says, “Just do it”. No need for labels, make it a way of business.


Related Content



  • Managing to Learn: The Use of the A3 Management Process
    This workshop introduces the A3 management process and the way of thinking represented in the A3 format that capture the heart of lean management. Participants will be provided an overview of various forms and uses of the A3 format and will have an opportunity to create their own A3. Working in small groups, they will be able to read, discuss, and evaluate each another’s A3s.


  • Cultivating Intuition at the Gemba
    Our trainers conditioned us to water the seed of experience and use it not just to fire-fight but rather be more predictive and value add with our time and how we taught others. We encourage each person to learn to trust their intuition enough to see through the process each day to ensure the purpose and accountability for standards and why we have them is known and bought into, not just a suggestion to do.
  • How Does Asking Questions Create Change?
    Lean is not a sum of processes to acquire and apply which then will make things magically work better. It’s a set of techniques to visualize delivery processes so everyone understands them at a glance, reveal problems to give opportunities for people to exercise their abilities to think, be creative and utilize their strengths to self-actualize in the course of their work.
  • Sensing the Gemba
    The next time you show up at the gemba to do a “go and see,” take a personal assessment of your level of focus, presence and awareness. Choose any one of your senses to focus within first, so you can be 100 percent present to deeply sense what is going on with the people and work processes of the value stream.