Do you have a problem?

Posted on okt 4, 2016 in Continu Verbeteren, English

problem solving“There is a problem with the word problem.” That’s what he said. Without any irony or making it sound like a joke. That sentence has been bugging me ever since.

We were talking about continuous improvement and how to get that going for real. We agree on the fact that it is not done by copying tools that a famous car manufacturer uses to improve their production. We also agree that it is far more interesting to look for what is happening behind the scenes, that eventually lead to the invention and use of those tools. There must be a deliberate and valid for all practice behind it to make it something so sustainably successful. And since it is obviously so hard to copy, it must be something that is not very visible.

That’s when we came to talk about a problem. Since people we encounter often refer to the problems they experience as a reason to implement (read the above again) continuous improvement. So I looked it up, the definition of the word problem. I simply googled “definition of problem”. And this is what I got.
– a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. 
     Synonyms: difficulty, issue, trouble, worry, complication.

Now, there you have the problem with the word “problem”. By all accounts it is something you want solved quickly. It is holding you back, causing you trouble, in many cases with customer dissatisfaction as a direct result. Does that sound like something you want to continuously improve on? Do you have that much time? If the success of sustainable continuous improvement is behind the scenes (we just concluded that, didn’t we?), it implies that it is very unlikely to be a quick fix. Still, that is how continuous improvement it is talked about and, worst of all, sold.

In general, problems need to be solved. Now. Something went wrong, your customer is unhappy, you’re losing money and you need to act. That is not a situation to think “let’s implement continuous improvement and all will be well”.

Of course, that is not what you thought. Because you had the problem not once, but several times over. Now it becomes interesting. Each of those times you had to solve the problem. As quick as you could. At the same time you began to wonder why this kept happening. You started to see a picture of life when it would not happen again. Let’s call that a goal*; by then and then reduce the number of problem X from this many a month to this many a month. That is where you can start to consider continuous improvement. Still not as in copying tools and methods of a completely different company (do you produce cars?). But as a habit of becoming a little bit better every single day. How would you do that? Who are needed for that? What is needed for that? What is the first step you must take to move in the right direction?

*Sure enough, I looked up the definition of goal too;
– the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

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