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Lean Litmus Test Question 5: Is There Understanding Before Action?

This is the final 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 fourth question here.)

The fifth and final question is

Do people thoroughly understand problems before taking action?

This question gauges the team’s problem solving methodology and the general approach towards continuous improvement. The question itself is a bit vague, so I like to take a look at a few current projects. That review gives me a feel for how quickly the problem solvers jump from identifying that something was an issue to trying to implement a solution.

Specifically, I look for any signs of data collection at process steps rather than just at the results. In the 4th question, the prioritization of issues is done by looking at the impact of the problems. But knowing how big a problem is doesn’t tell you how to solve it.

The data collection is a very obvious ‘tell’ about whether there is a focus on identifying the true root cause of problems or not. The truth is that a frequent cause of failed problem solving attempts is that the efforts are not really problem solving at all. They are symptom solving. If the root causes are still present, when the problem hits the band aid on a symptom, it simply pops out sideways. Problems have a way of finding the path of least resistance to customers.

While seeking the answer to the fifth question, it is also interesting to take a look at the support systems for solving problems in the company. Do managers coach teams? Are there forms that guide problem solvers through a step-by-step methodology? Are problems tracked and reviewed? The way a person approaches a problem is nearly as important as the results they get. When problem solving is looked at as a skill that needs practice and refinement, there is a much better chance that solutions will be effective and will stand the test of time.


Doing a quick review of these five questions is by no means a substitute for a thorough Lean Assessment and series of ‘getting to know each other’ projects, but it does get a mentoring relationship off to a quick start. I encourage you to try these out in your own organization and see if you find any surprises about where your team stands.

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


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