Lean Leadership: Understanding the Real Root Cause of a Problem (A Material Handling Example)

Lean Leadership: Understanding the Real Root Cause of a Problem (A Material Handling Example)

Automatic warehouse for small parts. Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago in a training class, a warehouse manager proudly explained the system poke-yoke he had put in place in his facility to prevent people from picking material from the wrong locations. Intrigued, I asked him to define the problem for me and then explain the how his solution prevents the problem from occurring in the future.

He began to share, “When our picking crew would receive their pick lists on their hand helds, the more experienced ones would know where most of the items were stocked in the warehouse. If they came across a pick that would take them to the other side of the warehouse they would ignore the location and pick it from the nearest bin location. This caused inventory inaccuracies and often caused a lot of rework for other inexperienced pickers and our inventory accuracy inspectors. Since then we’ve labeled all locations, and make it mandatory for every pick to require a scan of the location before it allows you to move on.”

Still intrigued, I entered into the Socratic lean leader mode and asked a series of tough questions:

“Why did you have a problem with inventory inaccuracies?”

-- “Because our team-members would create their own pick routes rather than following the system.”

“Why did your team members follow their own pick routes?”

-- “Because the pick routes weren’t always optimal, and they knew of other locations that held material.”

“Before the fix did your team members encounter waste of motion in the pick routes?”

-- “Yes,” he replied.

“So your team members would often try to eliminate the waste of motion by re-routing their own pick routes?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“And your 'fix' has prevented the elimination of the waste of motion, by making the sub-optimal pick routes manditory?”

He didn’t respond.

Turns out, the solution was put in place before the problem was truly identified. The solution was not the elimination of the true problem but a prevention of the team member work-around. It turns out, the true problem is now a systematized best-practice, and employees are no longer able to fix it.

The above example is why a lean leader must be certain he or she fully understands the true root cause of a problem rather than immediately jumping to a solution. Often our solutions, while glamorous, expensive, and often IT related, are merely automated work-arounds rather than true solutions to deeply understood problems.

Written by Derek Browning, Lean Deployment Executive at LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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