Matt's Articles

The Challenges to Solve


Welcome to 2020! Put another decade in the history books; we are about to start anew. I have been hearing about the “2020 business plan” for about the last 5 years. Everyone seemed to have a far-reaching, exciting 2020 plan. So now that we are here, I hope everyone has realized some level of their 2020 plan goals. Now here’s to 2025 plans! And how are we going to get there? I suggest strong metrics that drive the organization to its purpose, initiatives that align human energy toward an outcome, and lots of Kaizen Events along the way!

Last year I wrote about the characteristics that make a working session a Kaizen Event:

  1. “Well Planned” everything from the problem statement to the dynamic of the different personalities of the people participating in the event.
  2. “Multi-Day” persistent problems are persistent because we haven’t made the time to focus on them. We underestimate how long it will take to fix something or we “take what we can get” and end up with a poor or partial solution.
  3. “Cross-Functional” to ensure that all perspectives on the problem, causes, and potential solutions are considered.
  4. “Fact Based” to reveal the unknown truths about the process, to avoid the biasing from the “experts” or simply the loudest people in the organization.
  5. “Results Oriented” because there is a real cost to putting people in a room for 2 to 5 days and the expectation of results drives and focuses the team.

These characteristics enhance problem solving and make us more effective in identifying the solutions. So what are the challenges to problem solving that we face requiring these formal aspects of the Kaizen Event. Well, there are too many to cover in a short article, so I will pick a few here and talk about how to manage them in the Kaizen.

The Challenges to Problem Solving

  • We’ve tried fixing this before.
  • “They” are the ones causing the problem.
  • I want to be the one with the solution.

I will start with “We’ve tried fixing this before.” After writing this down my inclination was to hold off and write an article on this topic. I actually think it could be an entire book. The reason why this is such a challenge is that it is so true. The group you are working with has tried to fix this problem before and the likelihood that you or anyone else is going to come in and catch something they missed is fairly unlikely. So what good is a Kaizen Event in this case? I think two characteristics help here. The multi-day event recognizes that we aren’t going to figure this out in a short meeting. We will likely have to try a few things out. Second, as part of the planning we will explore what has been tried before and why did previous ideas fail? We will discuss what has not been tried before and what has changed in the environment that might make this easier or harder to solve. We will give the problem the time and focus that it deserves.

“They are the ones causing the problem.” At my first job, the office area was referred to as, “Carpetland.” That has to be one of my favorite “us” versus “them” terms. In my experience problems require misalignments from a lot of different people from different functional groups. Breaking down the “us” versus “them” is one of my favorite parts of the Kaizen Event. When I put together people that work for the same company in the same department, but they barely know each other I am always naively surprised. This is the power of the cross-functional component of the Kaizen Event. It’s not as simple as just putting people in a room together. It is first creating a shared goal and a common purpose. By the way, lack of a common purpose is often the gap in the “We’ve tried fixing this before”problem. Second, is forcing people to solve the problem together. I usually start with a small exercise that forces the functional groups to work together. They see each other as humans with a common need.

“I want to be the one with the solution” I don’t see this problem quite as often as I used to. I can remember multiple times when a new manager would take over a new group or department “with all the answers.” Invariably, I would have to wait for those answers to unravel to actually get to solutioning. No one has all the answers. Answers have to be disaggregated to a task level for them to be implemented and make any sense at a working level. Again, the cross-functional nature of the Kaizen Event eliminates this problem. Individual status is left at the door. The problem is solved as a team. The team is responsible for breaking down the solution to a task level. The challenges caused by the individual details of implementation are not ignored due to ego or ignorance. They are grappled by the team over the multi-day event.

These are just a few reasons why the Kaizen Event is the best way of moving the organization to achieve lofty goals. There are many more and I will revisit this topic in future articles.