Teaching Problem Solving
“I want you actively to train your people on how to think for themselves” — Eiji Toyoda [Hino06].
Problem solving is a large part of the job of a manager. However, he shouldn’t solve the problems for workers but help the workers to solve problems by themselves. He has a very important role as teacher. His job is to help people think systematically and teach them to use problem solving techniques and taking action.
One of the easiest problem solving technique was invented by Taiichi Ohno and is called five Why. For every problem, you’ll need to ask why at least five times to discover the actual real root cause of a problem before taking any action. A big part of five why and similar technique is to make sure you deeply understand the problem without jumping to conclusions. This is very difficult for many; especially engineers who seem to have a special talent in creating solutions without understanding the problem.
Systems thinking tools such as cause-effect diagrams can be enormously valuable for exploring causes and why things are the way they are. Tools such as these should not be used in isolation behind a computer but with a group in front of the a whiteboard where people together explore problems and causes. When creating cause-effect diagrams, especially pay attention to time as delay often causes surprising behavior or wrong conclusions.
A3 thinking is a systemic problem solving technique originating from Toyota and based on Deming’s PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act). It is based on the A3 paper format. It contains sections for discovering the real problem and finding multiple causes and following up on actions.
There are many many many more structured problem solving techniques. As managers, you’ll need to help everyone to think systematically and help them to solve their problems. Avoid solving the problems for other people.