Skip to main content

Charles Kettering was quoted as saying that: “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” This quote always reminds me of another witty saying that states: “Beware of the man who knows the answer before he understands the question.” On my lean journey I have learnt that it is important that we allocate enough time to gather the facts about the “problem” and to expose our assumptions about it. Here is how it happened.

Tshepo Thobejane and Mr. Furuhashi in Durban.

Tshepo Thobejane and Mr. Furuhashi in Durban.

My guess is that many people will include direct observation as part of their data gathering activities and as a method to understand the problem. Two separate lessons, under the guidance of two very experienced Sensei’s has shown me just how difficult this seemingly basic activity is.

In the first experience I was assigned to work with Terry O’Donoghue as my Sensei at the Halfway Toyota dealerships. I was placed at a branch which had recently implemented a service offering where customers could bring their cars for servicing and wait for them, as all the work would be completed in one hour including the car wash. I was asked to look at the standard operating procedure for the one hour service for further improvement.

After a week of making observations I met with my Sensei. The first question he asked was: “What did you see?” He listened quietly and made notes as I responded to his question. When I finished talking he asked if I remembered his first question and I sheepishly said “Yes, you asked what I saw.” He then showed me that he made three pages of notes on his notepad from my answer and I mostly said what was missing instead of what I saw. He explained that it showed that I had preconceived ideas about what was supposed to happen and my observations were distorted because I saw the absence of my “solution” instead of the facts of what was. So the summary of my “observations” went something like: “this was supposed to be happening but it was not happening.”

In my second experience I was asked to assist our Japanese Sensei, Mr Furuhashi, as he conducted the Lean Institute Africa 2015 Best Practice Workshop in Durban. At the end of the workshop Mr Furuhashi asked me to capture my learning from the workshop. He came to look at what I had done when I had written over half of the points. As he read each point he asked how I had come up with the points, since each point did not state facts. I had written the points by way of using my interpretation and conclusion from what I heard. He asked me to rewrite the points using the “language of facts”, meaning each point should state “What? When? Who?” He noted also that the points I captured were about what he said in class. He advised me to use my other senses by capturing not only what I heard from him as “the teacher” but to include what I observed in the class. Finally, he asked me to group the points by common themes and show the relationship between the groups. All of sudden the exercise felt like a mountain as it reminded me of my experience at the dealership.

Eventually I finished, and the end result is shown in the picture below.

Tshepo Thobejane - Key Points from the Best Practice Workshop

Tshepo Thobejane – Key Points from the Best Practice Workshop

Reflecting on the exercise with Mr Furuhashi I notice the importance of recording facts without including our interpretation, assumptions and conclusions. The exercise also showed the process of how we can learn effectively. In my first attempt at the exercise I wanted to record my learning (interpretation of the presented facts and my experience) without showing the facts that led to this learning. What I take away from this is that without showing the facts used to reach conclusions, people will not be able to see the assumptions and logic that was followed to reach our proposed “solutions.” The challenge is how to see and record the facts. Do you know of a trick to help you stick to the facts? Please let us know in the comments below!

We are very fortunate at the Lean Institute Africa to have access to experienced teachers and lean practitioners like Terry O’Donoghue and Mr. Furuhashi, and are very grateful for their time in sharing their accumulated knowledge.

Kind regards,

Tshepo Thobejane

P.S. If you’ve started on your lean journey and would you like to strengthen a culture of problem solving in your organisation, register for our Lean Management the A3 Way workshop: 11 – 12 April in Cape Town and 18 – 19 April in Johannesburg. The workshop’s approach is through learning by doing, so come prepared with a problem you would like to see solved in your organisation. You can learn more about the workshop and register on this page.