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Lean Litmus Test Question 4: What's the Problem(s)?

This is the fourth question in a series of five questions I use to do a quick assessment of a company’s progress in its Lean efforts, as well as its receptiveness to it. (Read the third question here.)

The fourth question is

Can frontline leaders name their 3 biggest problems and clearly state their quantitative impact?

This question is intended to gauge the overall focus on continuous improvement within the organization, and the level of sophistication the team uses in managing issues.

The power of this question is that it uncovers quite a few pieces of information in a very short time.

If the person can answer quickly, it tells me that there is a strong focus on problem solving. Most people can think of one idea off the top of their head. There is nearly always something that recently frustrated a person. If they can’t recall a second or third item without thinking about it, it tells me one of two things. It means either that there is no real focus on problem solving, or that, if there is, it is not a regular part of the person’s day and they haven’t worked on problems for a while.

The second part of the question shows two things. First, it indicates whether the organization uses facts and data in its decision making process. If nobody can tell me the impact of a problem, it means it was never measured and tracked. It is virtually impossible to make improvements without hard numbers.

Secondly, it gives me a sense about how well the organization prioritizes. One of the challenges of being a Lean organization is that as eyes are opened to what is waste, the size of the problem list grows significantly. It is ironic that the further you make it on your continuous improvement journey, the further you see that you still have to go. Being able to say which are the most important problems is a valuable skill when resources are limited.

Of all the questions, this one gives me the most information when I ask it. I can see if the frontline has a plan, which generally means they have some understanding of the corporate strategy. I can see if they use a problem solving methodology. I can see the reaction when they try to list their problems. I can see how the teams prioritize. Like all the questions, this one opens up several lines of discussion, but the answer I receive gives me a tremendous insight into what the organization needs to do to improve.

***See the previous article in this series***

***See the next article in this series***


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