Lean Quest: Establishing A Problem Solving Culture

Last year, I attended a 5 day intensive lean course led by the folks at Lean Quest. The course helped cement a lot of my understanding around Lean and here are some of my takeaways from the course:


  • the way we execute is the culture we have
  • culture is how we go about solving problems, the way we do our work every day
  • organisations tend to fix problems by: avoiding and defelcting blame, adding resources, calling in external resources, organisation restructures, adding new technology and adding a new layer of management
  • the foundations are our core values and principles as well as our beliefs and assumptions. We can see and observe the norms and behaviours and artifacts. You need to focus on the bottom and the top will take care of itself
  • “you can only see what you can see, you can’t see what’s inside”
  • leaders doing things different will change the culture, need to create an environment where everyone can be successful
  • catastrophes are made up of little problems that are allowed to slide by – it takes 7 problems to happen simultaneously for a plane to crash
  • lean has 3 core values – customer first (start with the customer and optimise the process for the next process), respect for people (engage and enable people, value people over process) and continuous improvement (a thirst for perfection, fix your own work / area)
  • true north – don’t need to get to perfection, but continually heading there
  • lean principles – standardised work, just in time, problem solving, built in quality, visual techniques, culture
  • break the process – by increasing the measure, will expose more problems

Capability 1: Design and Operate Work to Reveal Problems

  • every problem is an opportunity
  • failure is word that people feel uncomfortable with
  • fail quick and often versus do it right the first time
  • reveal problems for the level you control – need to be able to measure this
  • quality starts with the customer (ask them)
  • add quality to the discussion, add value to the conversation
  • quality check at the end, adds no value to the customer
  • pathways break down with the connections between them
  • cycle time – how long it takes
  • takt time – how quickly the customer demands it
  • S5 – sort, straighten, shine, standardise, sustain (also safety)
  • use visual queues, they are all over the place – red line to get to emergency in a hospital, lines in a carpark
  • work is three categories – value added work (something a customer is prepared to pay for – 3% – 4% on average, if you changing fit, form or function you are adding value), incidental work (needs to be done but the customer does not care) and waste (unnecessary activities in the process)
  • continuous improvement to reduce waste and incidental work in a process
  • 7 wastes – inventory, motion (of the person), material movement (of the product), rework, over processing, waiting, over-production (the worst waste because it hides the other wastes)
  • we want problems to surface so we can see them and fix them

Capability 2: Contain and Solve Problems Close in Person, Place and Time

  • if you reward fire fighters, you get arsonists…
  • we don’t teach people how to solve problems very well
  • everytime you problem solve you are making a little more time for yourself
  • a problem is a gap between the expectation and the current state, the key is to set the standard , if you don’t have a standard you don’t have a gap
  • keep lowering the water level and/or raising the standard
  • start with where you are today and measure variation to the standard
  • PDCA – Plan, Do, Check, Act (Deming wheel)
  • 7 step problem solving process (1. define the problem, 2. grasp the situation, 3. plan, 4. do, 5. check, 6. act, 7. conclusions and lessons learned)
  • A3 – used to document the journey in the most concise form possible
  • project charter – an improvement project that is a break from operations
  • SIPOC+M – process level summary (Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer + Metrics)
  • COPIS – business level summary (multiple processes)
  • a lag indicator could be a lead indicator for another process
  • fishbone – cause and effect diagram – 4M’s (Man, Method,Machine, Material)
  • pareto chart – line / bar chart that distinguishes in descending order the relative importance of problems
  • “say it with charts” – Edward Tufte
  • 5 Why’s – peel away the layers of a problem and reveal the symptoms that often lead to the root cause
  • 3 why’s in sales is considered interrogative
  • SMART targets – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Based

Capability 3: Accumulate and Share Knowledge

  • knowledge is an asset
  • use a SIPOC+M to grasp the situation or to assess the future state, want to create a SIPOC+M for the repeatable steps (there should not be 100’s of these)
  • SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – leverage SIPOC+M and process flow diagrams
  • use a standard A3 format for reading and reviewing efficiency
  • leaders need to understand the job – need to study it and be able to improve it

Capability 4: Leaders Coach and Develop the Previous Capabilities

  • traditional organisations manage people and results, high performing organisations manage processes

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