Posts Tagged problem solving

Point of Use Storage and Looking Upstream

During my recent travels, I came upon a somewhat bizarre sight. There was a paper towel dispenser mounted on a stairwell wall!?!

Actually, there were at least two in the stairwell.

Being a (hopefully) typically curious lean thinker, I had to ask one of the managers within the office complex about the origin and purpose of the dispensers.

It seems that some time ago, a manager, who is no longer with the company, had them installed. The said manager would regularly ascend and descend the stairs while holding a cup of coffee.

Actually, the stairwell is next to the complex’ basement level cafeteria, so I’m guessing we’re talking mostly about ascending… with a full cup.

In any event, occasionally, the manager would spill his coffee in the stairwell. Not a safe or clean situation.

A spill in the stairwell requires a means to clean up the stairwell. It’s easier to take care of a spill with a paper towel. So, obviously, we need some point of use paper towels. Right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking a coffee cup lid might have been a more effective countermeasure.

Why not keep the coffee from spilling in the first place?

One lesson. Lean thinkers should, by habit, look upstream of the value stream (in this case the procuring, transporting, and drinking coffee value stream) when assessing improvement opportunities. It’s generally more effective to address problems/potential problems before they happen than after. Or at least when the problems are smaller, easier, and cheaper to deal with.

As for the point of use paper towel dispensers, curiously, there were no point of use trash cans. Nothing like carrying your hot, wet paper towels with you and your partially filled coffee cup up the stairwell…

But, I’m guessing the dispensers get very little use, anyway. Most folks use lids.

Related posts: Lean Space – Some Thoughts and 10 Questions, Point of Use Storage – Sometimes It’s REALLY Important!

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Tiered Meeting = Team Stand-up A3

For some time, I have searched for a metaphor to convey the meaning and delivery of a tiered meeting (a.k.a. huddle, reflection meeting, sunrise meeting, etc.).

I think that I’ve settled upon a decent (sort of) metaphor – “team stand-up A3.”

The simple explanation is that tiered meetings, a critical element of an effective lean management system, are: 1) team-based, 2) conducted in the standing position (to discourage long-winded discourse), and 3) is largely about practicing PDCA (A3 thinking).

The team stand-up A3’s agenda approximates the following. The underlined words represent traditional A3 section titles.

  • Team leader shares the meeting theme (what the team is about to talk about) and provides some background (why they’re talking about it)
  • Team leader facilitates team exploration of the current conditions and target conditions (as represented by the performance metrics on the team’s board, leader standard work insight, etc.) and identification and acknowledgement of the problem(s) (the gap between current and target)
  • Team leader facilitates team problem analysis to identify root causes
  • Team converges on countermeasures (who, what, when) or a plan to do/continue problem-solving at another time after the meeting
  • Team leader facilitates follow-up on prior action items
  • Team leader facilitates “round robin” to seek out any open issues, suggestion, and/or questions
  • Team leader verifies take-aways and closes the meeting

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Animated Cartoon: “What’s the Problem?”, 6 Leadership Habits for Effective Tiered Meetings

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Reading Backwards – Proofreading Causal Relationships

Problem-solving tools are powerful things.

But, not so powerful that they are immune to human error. Few things are.

Analogously, this is one reason why our school teachers strongly encouraged proofreading (clearly, something that I do not do too effectively at Gemba Tales).

You know, critically reading what you just wrote to ensure that it is clear, well-organized, flows logically, without misspelled words…so that no one thinks you’re a total idiot.

Well, the same type of proofreading reasoning applies to problem-solving.

Two tools come to mind. One is 5 Whys and the other cause-effect diagrams (a.k.a. fishbone diagrams or Ishikawa diagrams).

5 Whys

Many folks are familiar with Taiichi Ohno’s “famous” 5 why example. It can be found on page 17 of his classic book, Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, published by Productivity Press.

In response to a downed machine –

  1. Q: Why did the machine stop? A: There was an overload and the fuse blew.
  2. Q: Why was there an overload? A: The bearing was not sufficiently lubricated.
  3. Q: Why was it not lubricated sufficiently? A: The lubrication pump was not pumping sufficiently?
  4. Q: Why was it not pumping sufficiently? A: The shaft was worn and rattling.
  5. Q: Why was the shaft worn out? A: There was no strainer attached and metal scrap got in.

[I must admit, to me it seems like Mr. Ohno’s example should have reflected 6 whys. The fifth answer would have been metal scraps wore the shaft down. The sixth why would have queried why metals scraps ended up contacting the shaft, with an answer pointing to the missing strainer.  But, who am I?]

So, how can you check the 5 Why analysis for soundness?

Read it backwards, with the word “therefore” or “so” between each response. For example (and pardon the run-on sentence), the strainer was missing, therefore metal scraps contacted the shaft, therefore, the shaft wore out, therefore, the pump did not pump sufficiently, therefore…you get the point.

This simple practice will help the problem-solvers identify if they are perhaps missing something and/or if their “train” of causal relationships does not make sense somewhere. The practitioner needs to sufficiently understand the root cause(s) in order to identify effective countermeasures.

Consider it 5 Why proofreading.

Fishbone Diagrams

Fishbone diagrams require a logic check as well. The diagram is an effective means of organizing and displaying theories of potential root causes.

Often the diagram has a number of primary, secondary and tertiary “bones” leading into the “head.” The bones represent (potential) causes and the head represents the effect.

Because the diagram can have a lot visually going on, it makes sense to proofread it – not just at the end of the diagramming, but as it is being constructed as well. This will reinforce the cause and effect discipline of the folks creating the fishbone.

One effective way to proof is to read the diagram from most minor bone(s) to more major bone(s), all the way to the head – for each causal “thread.” Just like the 5 why example above, you can throw the word “therefore” or “so” in between to make sure that it makes sense.

An example, the driver was inattentive, therefore he was tired, therefore, he had the accident. Oops, looks like the most minor bone (secondary bone) and the major bone (primary) are reversed.

(Yes, inattentiveness is probably a major bone, with fatigue, texting, and eating as discrete secondary causes.)

Fishbone diagrams “tell” a story of potential causes. Reading them aloud helps people to hear the story and then see it among the many bones (sometimes a challenge for the newly indoctrinated) and is an excellent way to make sure the causal relationships make sense.

So, while I didn’t quite appreciate my 5th grade English teacher, Ms. Cahill’s request to more rigorously  proofread my own work, I can appreciate it within a lean context. I hope that you do as well.

Related posts: Show Your Work, Animated Cartoon: “What’s the Problem?”, When You Want to Ask Why 5X, Just Because You’re Curious…


When You Want to Ask Why 5X, Just Because You’re Curious…

Absolutely nothing serious here, or long. Just wanted to share this picture of a freshly returned rental car that pulled in next to mine.

Did the driver not notice an abnormality? Maybe did, but didn’t care? Who knows, other than the “operator”?

click to enlarge

I wanted to engage the person in some 5 why’s, but I thought it a bit too forward. Of course, I’m sure me taking a picture while the driver was standing nearby wasn’t too strange. Amateur lean photojournalists are relatively immune to embarrassment.

One lean lesson here? Unasked questions are hard to answer.

Harder still if you were not engaged in direct observation at the gemba when the defect occurred.

This one will haunt me forever…

Related post: Effective Visual Controls Are Self-Explaining