“No problem is the problem!”

Posted on August 10, 2012 by


There is an interesting progression of the process when people deal with change. The first stage, as you may have guessed, is known as denial, when we simply do not want to believe or have faith in what has been proposed. Denial takes many forms, but at its root, it is not a bad thing per se. It indicates that individuals are confronted with a change in normal routine, as well as a choice to open one’s perspective to the unknown. Over the years, I have come to view denial as a defense mechanism used to reinforce our comfort and attachment to how things currently are, or an expression of a “fear” of the consequences. This comes from a culture where problems are dings, consequences results, and so problems are to be hidden at all costs.

One of the main goals of lean is to challenge existing mental models of how we both manage and do the work. This is hard work as many leaders have deeply ingrained habits, motives and thought-processes that we have learned and acted on for many years. It takes leadership moments and courage for leaders to own up to the fact that there is plenty of learning (and unlearning) to do. So how do we take a leap of faith in understanding and practicing lean? The best approach is a little bit of both learning fundamentals and practicing. Changing our daily behaviors is a great starting point. Some self-reflection is also helpful. Getting out of the office or cube and into the workplace on a constant basis is one of the best ways for management to actually see operations through a different lense. It goes beyond simply touring, but seeing examples of work unit flow: real problems, waste, and workarounds that staff are faced with every day. Making work visible and actually using visual management makes it safe to discuss problems, and address them before they escalate into train wrecks. When even more skilled in applying learnings and thinking, we can begin to see not only all the ugliness, but envision how a process could run more smoothly, sometimes right in the Aha moment!

Lastly, we can begin to coach, challenge, and train others to see that there are opportunities everywhere, and the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle should never end. So the next time someone sells you on how great a process works, how nothing needs to be improved as is, remember the old adage, “No problem is the problem!”