Effective Lean Problem Solving

Solving problems in a business setting is an important part of the Lean methodology. Using Lean strategies, a company can better identify what problems exist, pinpoint the root causes, and come up with the right solutions to get the best results. Learning about how to effectively use Lean problem-solving techniques can help any business to improve and become more efficient.

Lean Problem-Solving Process

When working to make improvements in any business setting, it is important to start by identifying problems or potential problems. Solving existing issues is a great way to eliminate waste and improve efficiency very quickly. For many businesses, this is the ideal with to create a competitive edge that will help you to succeed.

When using the lean problem-solving techniques, you will go through a series of steps to get the results that are needed. The steps in the Lean problem-solving process are as follows:

  • Identify the Problem – The first thing to do is identify what the actual problem is. This should be as specific as possible and include as many details and other information as is available.
  • Break it Down – Breaking the problem down into different steps or parts is critical. This will make it possible to develop the right solutions for each aspect of the problem and help get things running as they should.
  • Establish Targets – It is difficult to solve a problem if you don’t know what a working system should look like. Establishing target goals for the system you are working on will help guide you through the rest of the process.
  • Look for the Root Cause – No problem can be truly solved without knowing what the root cause is. Keep asking questions about the issue at hand until you discover what is truly causing the issues. This can often be done using the ‘Five Whys’ technique, where you keep asking why something is happening until you reach the root cause.
  • Propose Countermeasures – Next, come up with ways that you can address the root cause. This could be one or more different actions that are designed specifically to deal with this issue.
  • Implement Countermeasures – Take the countermeasures that are proposed in the previous step and begin testing them. Ideally this can be done in a small test segment, but if needed it can be done in a full production environment. If a solution seems to work in a small system, expand it out to make sure the results scale up as expected.
  • Test the Results – Analyze the results by comparing the situation where the problem was found against your target results. If you are able to accomplish the goals identified as your target results, the problem-solving countermeasures are successful. If not, move back to proposing additional countermeasures to get the results you need.
  • Standardize – Once you have found a proven way to address the problem at hand, it is time to roll it out to the entire environment. Establishing new processes and procedures that will be followed by everyone in the facility is the last step in the problem-solving process.

Include All Impacted Parties

When going through the Lean problem-solving process it is important to consult with all the parties that are impacted by the problem at hand. It is quite rare that one person will be able to find the best possible solution to a problem, especially if they aren’t the ones who are directly impacted by the issue. Part of the Lean methodology is to work with various teams to come up with the best way of doing things. If you are facing a problem that needs a solution, you will want to include people from various groups such as:

  • Front Line Employees – These are typically the people who will deal with the problem on a regular basis. Nobody will have greater insights into the root cause, and potential solutions, than these employees. Having one or more people from this level helping to solve a problem is critical.
  • Supervisor – A supervisor or department manager will be able to provide additional insights into how the problem is impacting the business. They will also be the ones to help coordinate the implementation of any potential solutions so they should be involved.
  • Appropriate Management – If a problem, or the expected solutions, will require upper level management approval, someone from that team should be included in the process. It is easier to have someone from the leadership partnering with you from the beginning than to try to bring them up to speed for approval down the road.
  • Customers – When appropriate, having a customer available to discuss the problem can be very helpful. Customers are sometimes the ones who have the most information about the symptoms of the problem, which can make them very helpful.

Solving problems using Lean methodologies is a great way to help improve efficiency and eliminate waste in any workplace. Having an established process in place will allow you to quickly identify and solve a wide-range of problems in any environment.

Additional Resources