Monday, December 9, 2019

Avoiding the Iceberg of Ignorance


Who in your plant knows the most about the problems that occur: the slow-downs, minor-stoppages, equipment failures, the waste, the inefficiencies, the source of poor quality, the frustrations due to maintenance work not being executed correctly, and so on? Is it you? Is it senior leadership? Is it anyone in management or engineering?

Have you ever heard of “The Iceberg of Ignorance”? Japanese consultant Sidney Yoshida coined the term in a study that he presented at the International Quality Symposium in Mexico City in 1989. It was a popular concept in its day and led to the popularization of suggestion boxes and quality circles, among other things.

According to Yoshida, 100% of an organization’s front-line problems are known by front-line employees. This totally makes sense, right?

However, Yoshida found that when he went up one level in management, to the front-line employees’ supervisors, those supervisors only knew 74% of the front-line problems. After all, people “manage up.” They want to look good in front of their boss. Plus, some supervisors “don’t want to hear it.” And people are busy. They may not have time to tell their supervisors about every problem, large and small. So ... only 74% of the front-line problems are known by front-line supervisors.

Naturally, the pattern continues as you move up within the organization. By the time you get to middle management, according to Yoshida, those managers are aware of only 9% of an organization’s front-line problems.

And top management? They’re only aware of 4% — just the tip of the iceberg!
In short: The higher up someone is in an organization, the less likely that person is to have all the information about front-line problems.

So, what can we be doing to melt the berg in our organization? The words of Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho, “Go see, ask why, show respect” are the way we make it happen.

1.     “Go see” involves (1) viewing the Gemba in order to assess the alignment of the Gemba’s purpose with that of the organization, (2) observing processes to understand whether or not they are designed to support the purpose, and (3) to engage the people to gain their perspectives on whether or not the processes are designed to help them fulfill their roles in achieving the purpose.

2.     “Ask why” can be done from four perspectives, the solution view (which looks for opportunities to employ solutions), the waste view (which tries to identify areas of waste or inefficiency), the problem view (which starts with objectives, confirms design, and asks why the objectives can’t be met), and the Kaizen view (which seeks to examine for improvement at a system level).

3.     “Show respect” is perhaps the most valuable piece, as people are the goal, not simply the means to an end. Objectives are accomplished by people, not processes. Processes ought to be designed to support people in their accomplishment of objectives. Ultimately this means developing people to be who they can be. One tremendous side effect of that development is greatly increased capability in fulfilling their roles, which leads to greater efficiency in accomplishing objectives.

       This isn’t anything new. It is at the heart of TPS and basic lean principles. Performing root cause analysis, making suggestions, and executing the solution is fundamental to how humans work. You need to show some trust and let nature take its course.

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