What is the real problem?

source: pcmag

I am the new owner of a Fitbit One. For those of you who don’t have experience with Fitbit, Jawbone UP, or Nike Fuel Band, these devices track your activity. They measure how many steps you’ve taken, calories burned and even how well you sleep.

Peter Drucker tells us that “what gets measured gets managed.”

The makers of activity tracking devices have a hypothesis. If you are continually measuring your activity against set goals, over time you have a better chance of living a healthier. more active live then those that don’t us the device.

What would this look like in the context of your life? What would it be like if every activity your performed was tracked? Would it give you a better shot at achieving your goals?

More importantly, does technology solve all our problems? I will admit, I am terrible at tracking my activity. I even made the book below to try and stay on top of what I was doing at work.

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But is technology really the root cause to this problem? Many individuals in the last several hundred years have managed to log their activity.

Will technology make activity tracking easier? Of course it will. But keep asking “what is really the problem?”

In The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, Jeffrey Liker tells a story about a problem that was occurring in the body shop at a Toyota plant. The workers on the line where over tightening the bolts and it was causing small dents in the body.

A new Toyota executive, Gary, had the perfect solution to the problem – buy wrenches that shut off at the proper torque. i.e. upgrade the technology. GM, Ford and others all had these wrenches. Why didn’t Toyota? This answer did not suffice for Toyota management – they sent Gary back into the plant to observe some more and come up with another answer.

Through root cause analysis (see The 5 Whys), Gary was able to determine that the real problems were tool maintenance and training. He instituted a new program that helped to keep the shop tools well maintained. Rather than spending millions of dollars on new drills, his solution was cheap and solved the real problem.

Without question, root cause analysis is hard. Your boss will want “the story” quickly and many companies have short term goals, so quick fixes are preferred to solving the real problem. Think of the patience and wisdom Toyota had by sending Gary back to the plant for another week to try again. How many managers would have been delighted that his or her employee had come up with a solution?

Next time you discover a problem and think you have a solution, think about root causes. You may be solving the wrong problem.

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Stand in this circle

I wanted to share this story I came across during my study of Toyota manufacturing techniques.

Taiichi Ohno would take his pupils to the shop floor, draw a circle on the shop floor and then have them stand in the circle. He would then leave and come back in couple of hours and ask the student what they had observed. If he wasn’t satisfied with the student’s response, he would leave again and have them repeat the two hours.

source: gembapantarei.com

This story speaks to the importance of observing with your own eyes and being connected with the place where the actions happens (see Go to the gemba).

Think about what Ohno and his team could observe standing in the circle that they would have never seen in their offices.

I continue to love the lean way of thinking.

Go to the gemba

Lean thinking sprung forth out of the Japanese automotive industry (specifically Toyota). War torn Japan had to make more with less and lean thinking was the answer.

One of my favorite phrases from lean methods is “gemba.” It means “the real place.” In lean terminology, “going to the gemba” means going to the place where the action happens – the shop floor, the call center, the engineer’s cubicle.

It is important for leaders to see problems with their own eyes. Going to the gemba ties back to empathy and design thinking beautifully. But just like all of these ideas, thoughts, principles, they can be applied to life.

Going to the gemba in your life means engaging with people – talking with your spouse about difficult things, going to your kid’s soccer game, walking along side a co-worker as he or she goes through something trying.

When you go to the gemba in life, you leave the “office” of your life and head down to the “shop floor.”

Go to the gemba.