What Lean Problem Solving is Really About

By: Michael Burchett

Lean is a buzzword, after all words only become buzzed about if there’s a good reason. There is even a chance that you navigated to this page because somebody, somewhere over you is pushing you to utilize lean in order to improve your metrics, and you need to do some quick-and-dirty research to figure out what you can do to solve this problem. Lean problem solving comes in various shapes, sizes, and forms. A warehouse manager might have been given a book on lean and then asked to “make his warehouse lean,” so he cleans the place up, puts labels on stuff, and there you go, he has implemented 5S. That is now a warehouse that utilizes lean after only an afternoon of hard work. In reality, the implementation has only begun.

One of the main factors that differentiate a lean company from a traditional company is its approach to lean problem solving. Building a culture of continuous improvement and problem solving is the foundation that must be in place for lean implementation can be successful.

Here is what lean problem solving is really about.

It’s Not a One-Size Fits All

Without lean problem solving, there is no lean culture. Why do we implement 5S? Because it solves a problem. We realize that when things are dirty, not labeled, and/or not checked, then things can go missing or accidents can occur. That is a problem, and 5S is the best thing that we currently have to fix it. If you are a newly hired manager, the temptation is to take what worked for you in the past, and copy-paste it into your new role without taking the time to figure out what is really needed. You might say, “it worked before, so it will work here” but the reality is that this is a new environment with new challenges. This is an enemy of problem solving, becausLFC 7e a problem solver will say, “there is a problem, let’s find a solution” whereas the mentality outlined here says, “here are my solutions, let’s find a problem.” As the leader of the lean problem solving process, bring your experience and expertise to the table, but be sure that you are solving real problems.

It’s Time to Stop Raising the Water Level

If a company is really lean then it will not shy away from exposing its problems, which is essentially what “lowering the water level” means. It is typical to apply band-aids to fix problems, and sometimes that is appropriate because, let’s face it, you just need to get through the day, but when those band-aids turn into the normally accepted process then there is something wrong. Lowering the water level means slowly and safely removing the band-aids, in a way that doesn’t impact your customer. Doing this will allow you to see where the issues are, and it ensures that you will not forget about them.

Get to the Root of the Problem

The problem with band-aids is that the problem still persists, it just hides beneath the surface, and it costs resources to bypass it. Maybe the work-around you have created involves spending 10 minutes running a report that would otherwise not be needed if the problem didn’t exist in the first place. That is 10 minutes that you could be spending adding value to your customers. A company that embraces lean problem solving will search for the root-cause in order to find a real solution. What is it that makes that report necessary? Sometimes the end result will be that nothing happens and that you continue running that report because it really is necessary, but it is surprising how often that is not the case.

When asked to take your processes to the next level with the implementation of lean, the temptation is to take the easiest methods to implement and run with them, but these methodologies alone won’t truly make your organization lean. Lean is a modus operandi, not a flavor of the month, but it is something worth pursuing. I challenge you to take the time to build lean problem solving into your organization, and you might be surprised of the changes you will witness.


Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

blog author

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.

LinkedIn Google+



NEW: Resource Center

Lean Logistics and Transportation Management

From carrier management to network design, browse our best content – webinars, articles, videos, podcasts, and more. 

Visit the Transportation Resource Center

Subscribe Now!

Recent Posts

Supply Chain Brief