Lean : Autonomous Problem Solving

Autonomous Problem Solving WS


Lets see if you recognize this story.  We at company X do many projects.  We have Engineering and IT departments, which help us improve our efficiency in communication, data handling and production.  So why would we need Lean?  What else can we do that we are not doing already? 


In day-to-day business, managers often overlook that customer value is created on the shop floor.  Whether it is in a call centre, a retail office, a production line, your employees and operators either do the things your customers value, or they don’t. In general, people like to feel that they add value, i.e. that their work matters. So why is it then that we focus all our energy on making operators work a maximum of the time, without asking them what they think about the way we do things?  Truth is that employees and operators have a tremendous view about what goes well (=adds value) and what can improve. Only if we do not ask them, if we do not recognise their opinion, we cannot expect them to tell us.  Over the years I have noted that many employees and operators may have all sorts of leadership roles in their private time, as trainer of a football club, president of a non-profit organisation, but when they come to work they seem to switch off their brain.  Why is that?


The answer is simple.  If you are a boss and you are proud of your expertise, problem solving capability and intelligence, for many years you have probably wanted to determine the direction of your organisation. Not only in terms of strategy but also in the details and daily operations.  The consequence unfortunately is that you have not tapped into the creativity and problem solving capability of your people.  Lean is about mobilising every employee and operator every day in solving the problems that they encounter.


If everybody starts problem solving, it is then important to structure it and define who addresses what problems. To do so, we identify 3 types of problem solving:


  1. Daily problem solving: This is the type of problems operators can resolve themselves as they hold all the cards in hand to do so. All they need is to learn the problem solving methodology and a little help to open their creative mind. Daily problem solving is about resolving daily operational issues.
  2. Structural problem solving: Middle management addresses structural issues. These are problems operators cannot resolve because they have a structural aspect. For example, a problem that affects many production lines or departments.
  3. Strategic problem solving: By letting middle management, employees and operators take care of problem solving at their own level, management can and should focus on strategic problem solving and look outwards to the market and to their customers.


Next week we’ll talk about: Productive Meeting Rooms

By Christof Frenay, Managing Partner at Improof Solutions