Change the Thinking—Change the Results

Lean operating systems unlock the value in business by changing the way theorganization thinks. Two powerful questions arise from a well-designed operation. What was the cause, and what was the method?

What Was the Cause?
Almost all lean tools are based on the scientific method, which is often characterized as problem, causes, solution, action, and measure. The standards-rich environment created with lean identifies problems that can be well-defined in time and location. The scientific method begins with that problem definition and quickly leads to the most powerful change in the organization’s thought process. What was the cause?

The power in understanding cause is twofold. By first looking for cause, the organization is thinking about process. What about the process created this outcome, as opposed to who created this outcome? The organization thinks about the system elements and how they unfolded, leading to the problem.

By understanding the cause—and I would argue, only by understanding the cause—will you eliminate the problem. We call this solving to the root cause. Get to the root cause, and you can truly solve the problem.

An additional benefit of thinking about cause is not jumping to solutions. Human nature is to know the solution…or at least most people think they do.

Cause also requires investigation. Most good investigation transpires where the problem occurred—in the work environment where the people do the work. Looking for cause drives people to collaborate at the source and Gemba.

What Was the Method?
In a lean environment, results are important. Equally important is how you get the results. What was the method?

Similar to the way a cause investigation helps the organization resist looking for a “who” as the problem, asking about the method helps resist the urge to think sustainable results come from individual brilliance or heroic effort.

Lean’s standards-rich environment allows you to measure results based on an expectation. It is easy to declare you met, exceeded, or fell short of the standard. The thinking for the organization can again refer to the scientific method. What was the hypothesis used to create the standard? Said differently, what method did you think would create the outcome versus what actually happened?

The power in asking about the method is that it promotes learning, which is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or education. That is powerful for improving results. The organization that has learned how to learn can’t help but continue to improve.

Additional benefits of thinking about methods again include avoiding blame. We are all too familiar with a call to the boss to report poor business results, only to be asked, “What are you doing?” or worse, “What is wrong with you?” A simple change in wording changes the whole discussion—“What failed in our current method?” Honestly, most often the reality is that we don’t have a method. But even that is actionable.

Change the way your organization thinks, and you can change the results forever. Follow a good definition of a problem with a deep understanding of cause. Follow your celebration of good results or your disappointment with poor performance by asking about the methods in place. These questions promote learning, and learning is powerful.

There is also a hidden secret in the scientific method—it’s fun!

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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