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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Five “Why?” Not Five “Who?” – start pointing fingers and engagement is over

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Interestingly I just spoke to a Canadian manufacturing company today that supplies Toyota and has several years of experience implementing TPS. He said his biggest disappointment was the the culture still does not support surfacing problems.  People are afraid they will be blamed and they hide problems.  So this seems to be a generic problem across manufacturing and service.  When I interviewed the first head of human resources for the Georgetown, Kentucky plant (Japanese) he said what was most startling to him when he first came to America was that Americans did not like to say they had a problem.  The very word “problem” suggested blamed.  Fujio Cho said his biggest problem was getting Americans to pull the andon chord.  I asked what he did and he said he had to go to the shop floor every day (as president) and encourage them to please pull the chord even if it stops the line.  He said eventually they felt comfortable.

The implication is that it is a generic problem.  I believe it has to do with fear and a feeling that exposing a problem suggests we are not competent.  The challenge is to convince people that there are always problems and a problem is an opportunity to improve the system, not point fingers at individuals.  This takes years of very consistent behavior.  Start pointing the finger and it is over.  It also helps to have clear agreements on what should be happening and then highlighting deviations from the plan objectively.

The point of visual management is to clearly highlight problems, as is the kanban system, and the metric boards.   In all cases we should judge the quality of the lean system by asking:  Is the standard clearly defined and visible?  When there is a deviation from the standard is it immediately clear and visible–ideally at the moment it occurs.  Do we check every day for deviations, prioritize them, and work at solving them?  When someone highlights a problem do we immediately go to work to understand the root cause and take corrective action?

In my experience the answer to these questions is usually no.  In some types of service work it is more challenging to see the problems.  Then we are left to focus on schedules, cost, and generally performance relative to targets on key performance indicators.  The obeya (big room management) used for product development at Toyota has become a powerful tool in service organizations to track progress versus target by function.  People need to be responsible and accountable for performance.  That is different from blame.   Accountable means they highlight problems, take responsibility for seeing the problems are solved, and show a sincere desire to improve, including themselves, when they understand what happened.-++

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