“No Problem” is a Problem

Most people don’t like problems and will make an effort to avoid them. More importantly, if there is a problem, nobody really enjoys admitting it, especially if that person is directly responsible for it. Managers may feel this way about the processes that they supervise. Managers shouldn’t shun problems. Shunning problems leads problems to be hidden and remain unsolved. It is a false conception that they are better off if there aren’t any problems. In this case, the only problems that are solved are the ones that can’t be hidden, such as machine breakdown or responding to safety incidents. While those two examples are undoubtedly problems, they are preventable. The fact that they were not prevented is the real problem that should be seen.

Lean embraces problems. It searches for problems. Lean techniques are sometimes misused as a means to an end. The “end” being fixing a specific issue. The problem with that is the “end” part. The idea is that there is always a way to improve, this is what is called Kaizen. However, there is a distinguishing factor about what a “problem” is according to Kaizen. The problems it deals with are not necessarily the typical problem such as machine breakdown. Lean focuses on not only solving basic manufacturing issues and sub-par processes, but also on improving aspects of operation that could be considered “good enough.” An example of “good enough” is promising a two week lead time or less and completing the order in 12-13 days every time. That is technically better than promised so there is no problem, right? Wrong. At least it is wrong according to lean principles like Kaizen. Following Kaizen means you choose to make this a problem, for instance. Increase your goal by setting a faster time, such as 7 days. Then your 12-13 day lead time becomes a problem and you work to solve it.

Why would a company want to do this? Well, there are many factors that contribute to why this is a good idea. The most obvious is competition. Every business will have competition. In order to be appealing to new customers a company has to have something better to offer, such as being able to complete the order faster and more reliably.

An additional factor is cost. If a company is requires less time to complete a product, then it is also spending less money on labor and machine maintenance per part. Less cost means higher profit margins or the ability to sell the product for less than competition.

Another factor is culture. Lean is only successful if everyone is involved in an improvement culture. If an employee sees management improving, they are more likely to follow suit and vice versa. It’s easy to be complacent. In fact, it may be human nature to be complacent; we strive to be comfortable with where or who we are, once we reach it, many of us stop. Corporations are often the same way. They work to reach their production capacity, but not to improve them or expand them. Improving production capacity leads to the ability to obtain more customers, which means selling more product and making more profit.

Problems are not necessarily negative, they can be positive too. Problems should be treated as possibilities or blessings in disguise. Utilize them to not only reach initial needs, but to set goals beyond those needs.

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