This post is focused on identifying and prioritizing constraints within an organization as part of the transformation process. It's important as leaders and knowledge workers that you take the problem solving (or as some call it Root Cause) step very seriously and more importantly patiently. After all problem solving is usually the original intent for the majority of transformation efforts. Womack describes four essential Lean management states of mind that must be cultivated for an authentic transformation with problem solving being a large component:
1. The Lean manager eagerly embraces the role of problem solver.
2. The Lean manager realizes that no manager at a higher level can or should solve a problem at a lower level—problems can only be solved where they live, by those living with them.
3. The Lean manager believes that all problem solving is about experimentation by means of Plan-Do-Check-Act.
4. The Lean manager knows that no problem is ever solved forever.
James Womack, “The mind of the Lean manager,” Lean Enterprise Institute Electronic Newsletter, July 30, 2009.
blog post was a summary of the steps which need to be taken in order to start an enterprise transformation by briefly discussing the management components which much be in place for any transformation to begin. This second blog post was written to introduce the idea of thinking about organizations horizontally (value stream). The first steps in an enterprise transformation are slow but are very important. What is often overlooked is most organizations simply don't grasp how much help the average manager needs in learning to see the value stream or how eagerly managers embrace the mind map once they see them. Now if only every manager and every mapping team can achieve and sustain the effort to understand current state.
Without a mind map (or other identifier) of the current state picture defined, your problem identification and consequent solutions will be hard to socialize. Furthermore this activity is likely the first time you or your leaders will have seen your organization in this light. It will be shocking with how large and thorough this map will be, especially considering this isn't an "organizational map".
All this work has not yet provided anything which traditional change programs would be considered a "win". That's just the point, this is not a program. This is a cultural transformation which will take time between when this starts to when you will start to measure improvement. It's important at this point to be patient as this phase in the process sees the problems and must have restraint to not try to solve them as they are identified. Be patient, you will get there.
The mind map is complete, now what? Edward Deming said it right when he said most problems are because of process not people. As a result it's important not to assess blame in these exercises. There is little value in blaming others for the problems as it creates an atmosphere which does not facilitate positive results. It's a good idea at this point to continue involving members of the team who created the mind map(s). No manager at a higher level can or should solve a problem at a lower level. (And one of the worst abuses of lean tools lies in trying to do just this.) Instead, the higher-level manager can assign responsibility to a manager at a lower level to tackle the problem through a continuing dialogue, both vertically with the higher-level manager and horizontally with everyone actually touching the process causing the problem. Womack's lean law of organizational life is that problems can only be solved where they live, in conversation with the people who live with them and whose current actions are contributing to the problem. But this requires support, encouragement, and, yes, relentless pressure from the higher-level manager.
This point is where different methodologies and frameworks will diverge as well. There is no right or wrong way to move forward from here. The many variables of your situation as well as what type of organization you are will dictate the most sensible path. You can use many different methods to determine the size of a problem as well. The suggestion I will give is simply one path of many that can be successful. Once a problem map has been identified you can easily insert it to the method which you find best suits your company (Theory of Constraints, BPR, TPM, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, ETC).
Create a mind map of your issues. What I mean by that is take the original mind map and create a correlating issues map. Don't stop with the first few problems you encounter. Try to make it as thorough as the mind map. This is the map where you will look at activities to improve and/or ignore. We know it's not possible to fix everything now, but with this list you will be able to quickly take issues off the map when they are resolved as well as (and this important to do) add items when they appear. Below is an example of a problem map I facilitated with a Quality Assurance (QA) group in a software development department. You will note there are no solutions or assignment of blame. Simply a map of what the problems are.
Again this map will likely be a first for your company. It's not often a company has a map of their largest issues/complaints. With this map you are now prepared to take a step which can start to deliver measurable results. It's best to have your team who created this map sit on this for a couple days. Have them think over what they have come up with. Then get the group back together to discuss the problems and narrow down where to start.
Take the complete map and start talking about what are the biggest issues. It's likely that the room will already have a consensus on the largest issues. When there is a consensus on what the largest problem is. Use what is known as the "5 Whys". The 5 whys is a proven method to determine how to get to the root cause of a problem. Rather then explain it myself I will borrow from a great book titled "Lean IT" by Steve Bell.
"The Five Whys is the simple method of asking, “Why?” repeatedly until the root cause of a problem is uncovered. Normally the root cause is reached by the time we ask the fifth why. When the team believes it has identified a root cause, it works backward using “Therefore…” to test its logic and ensure it hasn’t missed a step in the sequence. For example, if the team investigating IT service request delays would have used the Five Whys, it might have gone as follows: Had the team performed root cause analysis, it may have discovered that there was a need for improving underlying business processes and developing standard work before considering technology-based solutions (a common theme throughout this book)."
Bell, Steven C. (2012-01-04). Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation (Kindle Locations 4004-4010). Taylor & Francis.
Once you have found what you consider to be the largest problem in the mind map and the problem if fully agreed we will now take that issue and make it our first actionable item which we will focus on for our enterprise transformation. That will be the topic of my next blog post - Value Stream Mapping.
Please let me know if you have any questions. This topic is very broad and I am the first to admit there are many ways to achieve what I've explained .