What’s the Problem? A Lesson from Moneyball


What’s the Problem? A Lesson from Moneyball

In the movie Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays the general manager of a baseball team. He tries to explain the real problem his team is trying to solve—“There are rich teams and there are poor teams, and then there is 50 feet of crap, and then there is us.”

Baseball is an unfair game, he goes on to explain, and that is the problem.

In operations, it is easy to feel like you are buried under 50 feet of problems. And often, it’s true. Climbing out starts by defining the problem.

What Is the Problem?

Defining a problem is a process that starts with looking at the problem—physically looking whenever possible. This may seem obvious, but test your understanding. Can you draw the problem? Can you see what failed in the systems around the problem? Can you recreate the problem?

A priceless chandelier broke into thousands of pieces when it struck the floor after being dropped by the cleaning team trying to remove it from an 18-foot ceiling. The problem was frantically defined to the owner of the house when she came rushing in. This chandelier was installed incorrectly. It should have had a bolt in the attic holding it in place while we take out the bolts in the ceiling.

The owner of the now-broken chandelier defined the problem differently. You didn’t check to see if it had a bolt? You don’t have a good procedure, or you didn’t follow it. Emotions ran high as they often do following a problem.

A little boy came in with a pen and a paper, amused by the scene. He began drawing the two men on their ladders. One of the men in his drawing was unscrewing the bolts in the chandelier, and the other had started to clean some of the crystals. The boy paused for a second, took the drawing to one of the men, and said, “Why do you take the chandelier down?”

Defining the problem as having to remove the chandelier opens new opportunity for thoughts about how to solve the problem. If we can safely clean the chandelier while it is still hanging from the ceiling, we eliminate the problem entirely.

Help your organization pause before defining the problem, and make sure it isn’t defined with someone’s solution built in. Not having standard work is really not the problem—that’s someone’s solution to how he or she sees the problem.

Take a second and try to draw the problem. Think about the systems that surround the problem (i.e., baseball’s financial structure). Finally, determine if you could recreate the problem to ensure you fully understand it.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” now available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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