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Friday, April 6, 2012

Lean Quote: Defining the Problem

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"We need to first define the problem. Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions” And I find in most organizations people are running around spending sixty minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter." — Stephen Shapiro

The problem statement is a clear and concise statement that describes the symptoms of the problem to be addressed. Defining the problem statement provides three benefits for the team:
  • creates a sense of ownership for the team
  • focuses the team on an accepted problem
  • describes the symptoms in measurable terms
The following four guidelines are effective in creating a problem statement that is clear and concise:

  • Define the problem - In the problem statement, team members define the problem in specific terms. They present facts such as the product type and the error made.
  • Identify where the problem is appearing - Identifying where the problem is appearing, or manifesting, as specifically as possible helps the team focus its improvement efforts.
  • Describe the size of the problem - The size of the problem is described in measurable terms.
  • Describe the impact the problem is having on the organization - The description of the problem's impact on the organization should be as specific as possible.
The truth of the matter is that the more specific the statement, the better the chance the team has of solving the problem. Accurate problem statements save time and effort by focusing the team on root cause identification.

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  1. Very interesting quote. I'm afraid that I'd need more than a minute even with the best problem statement but I'm not Einstein. We definitely need to spend more time defining the problems before trying to solve them. Most skip the P of PDCA and go straight to Do.....

    Here's a post to that point: http://wp.me/pZiRD-pG

  2. Tim,

    great blog, which I always try and catch. This one in particular reminded me of a quote I first came across some 19 years ago completing my thesis.

    "When you see a situation clearly, I have found, the decision is clear and easy. The facts make the decision for you." Harold S. Geneen, chairman of ITT.

    It's a quote lifted from a Journal of Systems Management article from 1990, entitled
    "...But first, understand the problem."

    At the time (1993) I was casting around for Problem Identification techniques and investigating Kepner Tregoe, Cause and Effect, Russell Ackoff, Kotters Organisational Dynamics, 5 WHYs etc.

    All the above have helped me to define different problems and have their more suitable environments.

    I often find businesses are reluctant to invest in skilling people to "see" the problem or they've heard of "low-hanging fruit" and want to get at them instead of defining what their own problems might be.

    Thanks for writing the blog, look forward to many more.