Chicken and Eggs

This doesn’t have anything to do with poultry, but more with the age old question of which comes first.  (Although, if you’d like to talk about actual chickens, let me know.)  When pushing forward a continuous improvement mindset, one of the first obstacles is in understanding where your biggest problems are.  This is often an issue because the structure doesn’t exist to gather, compile, and filter data from the operation.  Using an A3 format as an example, it becomes very difficult to get past the first step if you can’t quantify where you are in relation to your ideal state.  Or, if you can’t quantify the relative impact of potential causes on the outcome you are measuring.

In general, this leaves you with a couple of choices.  Choice A is to go forward with what you have and make changes based on what information you have available.  Choice B is to put the brakes on for a while and focus your improvement efforts on improving the measurement and reporting systems.  Both of these options have upside and downside.

If you follow the path of Choice A, you can start down the path of training people in the methodology and mindset of Lean problem solving.  Those are good things, plus you get the visibility of “implementing Lean”.  The downside of this path is that you really don’t have a good idea of the relative scope of issues and you risk working on something that isn’t that impactful or has to be undone when seen in better context.

Following Choice B, you will most likely end up with a more whole understanding of what you should be working on and why.  However, you run the risk of losing support as others don’t see anything happening and people start to question when the “real work” will start.

So…which comes first…the problem solving or the measurement system?  The short answer that I have come across is this:  It depends.  In theory, an effective measurement system highlights the problems that need to be addressed and is a must to have in place.  In practice, not all organizations are patient enough to build the core of the metrics system without pushing the ‘execution’ phase along quickly.  One of the skills involved in leading Lean (or, really, leading anything), is the understanding of where you may or may not have cultural (or individual) support to be patient or you need to “just do it”, building context of the picture on the fly.  As uncomfortable as it may be, your people, your culture, and your environment trump the textbook roadmap almost every time.

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Posted on August 8, 2012, in Culture, Improvement, Leadership, Problem Solving and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It seems to me that any company has some problems to work on that are very obvious, even without a detailed reporting system. It would seem advantageous to work on some of those items upfront and then work on a reporting system behind the scenes. As the obvious issues are dealt with, one could point out in meetings that improvements have been made using the known metrics – maybe overall output – and then point out that more may have been accomplished but a good reporting system would be needed in order to understand what the additional benefits were.

  2. Basically, always apply theory in the context of your environment. For instance Japanese tend to be more patient and thus are more likely to let you put an effective reporting system in place if there is none whilst Americans and Europeans tend to want results here and now.

    What Dale has said in a nutshell is go for the low hanging fruit/quick wins by implementing/executing whatever can obviously be improved and quickly too.

    In terms of impact, I think you neglect the value of the resulting feeling/motivations that come from these quick wins even for “something that isn’t that impactful”. This is why in his book titled Kaizen, Masaki Imai noted that many organizations initially approve almost all suggestions no matter how small so as to get the team moving in the right direction. It is sort of like a car in that you can’t go from o to 60 without going through 10, 20, 30 etc. You need to build momentum.

  3. Understanding where the culture is at is very important. I remember working at a place where the plant manager wanted the problem that had been around for 40 years solved in a week because I had learned a new problem solving methodology. I had to make an impact quickly but be firm on following the process. Once I demonstrated the process worked and produced results, the plant manager backed off significantly.

  4. Problem Solving should always occur first, in many cases one isn’t aware of the problem with the Measurement System until you begin the problem breakdown.
    On another note: Why only an A or B path? Why not a C Path as well….
    Path C:
    Problem arises, during breakdown of problem the measurement system is found to be faulty. While the Measurement System is being fixed or worked on a Temporary Containment should be done on the existing problem.

  5. Thanks for the great responses.  

    I have to admit that they really highlighted how much my clumsy attempt at description failed.  The fundamental concern is around alienating people who are already frustrated at the lack of prioritization of their work.  Not all businesses have clarity about what is the most important or hottest issues. It may seem unlikely, but it is reality. 

    The concern around the issue is that the folks that are most perceptive about the issues are often the most valuable in terms of process knowledge.  Granted this is only something that happens early in a process but it can be a factor in early adoption. 

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