Managers Are Crucial to Problem Solving Success

One of the fundamental differences in a lean company versus a traditional company is how they go about problem solving.  In a traditional management company, problems are hidden and managers want the problem “solved” and move on.  This usually leads to problems having band-aides being put into place.  Later the same problem surfaces again and another band-aide is put on again.

In a lean management company, problems are looked as a way to get better and are not hidden.  Managers want the root cause of the problem found so the issue doesn’t arise again.

In both traditional and lean mindsets, I do believe that managers want the issue resolved so that is never arises again.  It is there behaviors that truly dictate whether a band-aide is put on the problem or if the root cause is found.

A traditional mindset manager continually asks, “Is it solved yet?” or “When will it be solved?” or something very similar.  They are pushing for action to be taken without understanding anything about the problem.  It is a ‘just solve it and lets move on’ mentality.  Hurry up!

A lean mindset manager asks questions also, but more to get an understanding of how your process is coming along and driving to complete the next step of the process.  Questions might be something like, “What have you discovered about the problem?” or “What have you learned?”.  The manager understands there will be a lot of time spent in the discovery mode investigating the problem.  The manager supports the process and helps the person through the process.

An example from my personal experience.  I was working on an issue that had been around for 40 years.  Everyday my manager asked, “When are you going to have that solved?”  Finally, I said “The problem has been around for 40 years and no one has solved it.  I think I get 3 months not a week.”  Not the smartest thing to say to your manager but in this case it gave me some room to find the root cause, which the team did.

Later that year there was another issue that we had to work 16 hour days to solve but we followed the process and we nailed it.

After that extremely hot issue, my manager saw the benefit of following the process.  He then would ask, “Where are you on that problem?  Are there roadblocks I can help with?”

It really changed the environment to problem solve.  In fact, the problem solving process started moving faster and he ended up getting the results he wanted faster.

The lesson was the manager’s mindset, attitude and support around problem solving creates the type of results gotten.

What is your mindset towards problem solving and supporting your employees?

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Posted on July 18, 2013, in Leadership, People, Problem Solving and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Totally agree. Traditional management often focuses on the outcomes, rather than contributing to the improvement of the processes/system that inevitably lead to those outcomes. In my experience, true lean leaders remove impediments and develop the critical skills of others through systematic problem solving, socratic questioning, and models.
    Since I’m designing solutions around Toyota’s A3 Thinking management process (A3 Thinker for Android went live today!), I’d be curious to learn the nature of the critical problems you addressed actually (no need to share sensitive information, of course) 🙂

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