Skip to main content

Are You Working On The Right Problem?

Have you ever had that feeling that the change you are trying to make in your business is the wrong one?

There sometimes comes a point, when your improvement just isn't making progress, that this thought crosses your mind.

If you are feeling this way about something that you are working on currently then it might be time to review where you started your change.


Commonly referred to as 'problem definition', it still surprises me how often business will start to make a change in their business without stopping to fully understand what their problem is.

Asking some good questions, to truly define your problem, is key to making sure that you are solving the right puzzle for your business.

One of my favourite examples of this, from my days in Operations Management, is the realisation that I had on a Friday afternoon when the rest of the factory had gone home for the weekend.

We had been desperately trying to work out how we could improve the on time delivery performance of the business. The age old wisdom was to reduce the cycle times through the overall manufacturing process. This is what we had been working on and it wasn't making a tangible difference to our delivery performance.

Anyway, this particular Friday afternoon I chose to re-state the problem and see if I gained any insights. By re-stating the issues we faced it became clear (yes, I got a shot of the blinding obvious) that our capacity planning was seriously lacking. We didn't have a throughput problem, we had an overloading problem.

The short end to that story is that the on time delivery performance of that business rose from about 20% OTIF (On Time In Full) to an average of 98% within 6 months.*

And, if you are wondering what is a good way to re-state the problems in your business it might be worth using the 5W1H structure:

  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • Who
  • How

(Or, you could search the Internet for Rudyard Kipling's Six Honest Serving Men!).

Ask and answer each one of the above questions about your current problems. See what you come up with and see if you can get a different perspective on your current challenges.

Stating the situation that your business has, without judgement and without trying to guess the answer at the same time is a skill that can be developed. Many times if you can properly state / recognise the problem your business really has, then the solution will appear.



Giles Johnston
Author of Business Process Re-Engineering


* There were a few other things we did too of course. For a fuller account please visit this link.

Popular posts from this blog

The Kaizen Checklist is here!

Do you want to get better results from your Kaizen programme? Improve your business results quickly with my downloadable kit (including guidebook, workbook and templates) for only $39. Are you looking for a sustainable way to identify and implement improvements across your business? Practical improvement strategies The Kaizen Checklist is a downloadable kit that you can use with your management team to develop a system that suits your business and allow you to quickly implement Kaizen effectively at your place of work. This works great if you use it as the centre piece of your own internal workshop. The kit includes a 40 page guidebook, a workbook, four appendices and three templates. All parts of this kit are designed to get you up and running as fast as possible. If you are unfamiliar with Kaizen, let me stress that this is a simple improvement philosophy that is so much more than just  ‘a Japanese word for continuous improvement’. I’ll cover what it rea

Take the pressure off! Using the Y-curve with your Kaizen improvements

Do you feel under pressure when you have to make changes happen in your business? It can be scary when we try something that we have never done before. I remember thinking to myself 'how on Earth am I going to figure this out?' on many occasions. I think the last time was a few weeks ago! Years on from becoming reasonable at the art of change I am still faced with the same dilemma. It is scary and it is clear to me why so many people shy away from making change happen. It is natural to get stuck in this oscillation. On one hand you need to make change happen; the business needs the improvement benefits. On the other hand you don't want to screw up... Last week I was talking to a young engineer that I am mentoring. He was paralysed. Changes were not happening at all. There was always some early promise with his projects and then, as completion (and judgement day) loomed, progress would evaporate. The engineer asked me for my views on this  during a recent conversati

Kamishibai Boards

Available to purchase here. Some tools are incredibly simple to use, and also deliver some amazing results. Kamishibai boards are a great example and are superb when you want some visual control over routine tasks. By the way Kamishibai is pronounced "come-e-she-bye" in case you were wondering! As simple as you could want it, a Kamishibai board is a T-card system that has red cards glued to green cards (so that each T-card has a red side and a green side). The red cards are for the incomplete tasks, where as the green cards symbolise that the work has been done. See the photo below of a board in use. On the red side of the card you write the name of the task that needs to be completed, and if appropriate you can include details of how the task is to be completed. This is not expected to replace standard operating procedures, but can be a good opportunity for an aide memoire. The boards can be organised for daily, weekly and even monthly cycles. They are g