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“By the time problems became statistics, it’s a crisis.”

“By the time problems became statistics, it’s a crisis.”

One of my coach's quotes.

His message is, why are we waiting for the statistics to initiate “Problem-Solving”?

What action was taken on the first problem?

Many places will show their “Problem-solving” activities when we take the plant tour. They will present some graphs and charts. Then, they will say, “This is the biggest problem. Therefore, we worked on this.” Or “These are the top three (or whatever number) issues we worked on.”

Typically, my coach will jump in here and ask, “Why?”

And the team will be puzzled.

“Why are you starting the problem-solving based on statistics?”

“Why not take action (problem-solving) on the first problem?”

The question is about the initiation or the trigger of problem-solving.

There is this comedy (Rakugo) in Japan.

There was a kid. The mother asked the kid to “keep an eye on the fish” and left. A few hours later, when the mother returned, the fish was gone.

“What happened to the fish?”

“The cat took it.”


“I kept an eye on the fish as you told me.”

The comedy is funny but not amusing. Why did the kid not act when the cat came by the fish? The attitude is the problem. And we see this kind of attitude a lot in our operations.

The data is essential.

Yes, this is true. But what data? We see a lot of data: “How many fish we lost.” Yet, this data came from “preparing the fish the same way the first fish disappeared.” If something has changed, then the assumption of data has changed. Therefore, we “kept an eye on the fish during the data collection time.” One hour, One shift, One day, One week, One month, One year. Whatever the length of time, we kept watching. To some degree, we are doing worse than the kid. We know we are losing the fish, but we prepared similarly.

The importance is to take action on the first problem, not making the data.

Here, I am not saying that data is not essential. Taking action on the first problem will generate different kinds of data.

The first change is the complexity of the problem.

The typical data is generated based on “no action taken.” The problem with this approach is that the highest frequency issues are not necessarily complex problems. Very often, when we go to the shop floor, the cause is apparent. The “cat” took the fish. By preventing the “cat” from coming close to the fish, we can eliminate the problem. If an observation generates countermeasures, this means that if we were aware to take action on the first problem, we could have avoided all the mess. Since the data highlights low-complex issues, managers don’t get serious.

As we act on the first problem, we generate different data. Those issues that could not be solved at first sight will happen again. That means the complex cases will happen more. Simple issues will disappear on the first occurrence. The data will tell you what problems are complex. Such data is much more helpful for the management to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Those are the issues that they need to focus on.

The second change is that you get the data on how.

By fighting against the cat, you learn how they penetrate toward the fish. We will learn different “Failure modes” that lead to the loss of the fish. Or there might be something else like a crow took the fish. (And don’t leave the crow as a minor issue. If you leave it as a minor issue, you will regret it next time.) Then, you organize these actions into an “Ishikawa diagram” (or the Fishbone diagram.🤣): Man, Machine, Material, Method. This will inform us of how our actions are potentially biased. Let’s say we have many actions on Man. Then we need to think about “Is our training system sufficient?” Or “Are our process over-relying on Man?” Never blame the kid. Otherwise, our system will not become better.

“By the time problems became statistics, it’s a crisis.”

Collecting data on problems without action is a management crisis. Data with actions will generate far more critical messages for the management. We need more doers than the watchers.

Last, this comedy (Rakugo) was made before the Fridge was popular in Japan.

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