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The BASM team has been reading and discussing the book The Toyota Way for the last several months. We are going to share the lessons we’ve learned with you in this multi-part series. If you didn’t read part one or two, it is available on our website. Interestingly, the reason Toyota is having problems currently is that they didn’t follow their own processes. It’s a tough, but valuable lesson to learn.

Consider these results as you evaluate your continuous business improvement: “One technique that is part of … continuous improvement is to ask why a problem exists five times, going to a deeper level with each ‘Why?’ to get to the root cause of the problem.” The Toyota Way, page 47. Toyota engineer Ichiro Suzuki was entrusted with the task of creating Toyota’s first luxury vehicle which eventually became the Lexus. Suzuki wanted all of the characteristics of a high-end, luxury vehicle without the compromises automotive engineering said were necessary to achieve those characteristics. For example, assumptions of the day indicated that a high speed engine required a higher mass car in order to dampen the engine noise. Suzuki wanted to improve fuel efficiency which required a lower mass car. Using “Five-Why” analysis, Suzuki successfully overcame the engineering challenges of the day to produce a vehicle that sold 2.7 times more than Mercedes-Benz 300E, 420SE, and 560SEL combined in the first year.

Now, let’s get back to our original topic (to read the entire original article on our blog, click here.) 

The Five Why’s – Part Three: Solving the Right Problem
In part one, you identified the root problem. In part two, you identified the underlying cause(s) of the problem. In part three, determine if all the causes should be addressed simultaneously or one at a time.

Typically, there are many threads to a problem. Unless these threads are hopelessly interwoven, it might make sense to develop a phased approach. The threads of a problem might require changing manual processes, equipment investments, employee training, process automation, etc. Attempting to tackle all the threads simultaneously can lead to over-committing resources and over-whelming staff which can lead to failure.

How do you get started? Evaluate the “investment” and “payback” on each part of the solution. Take the solution with the best ratio and implement it. Keep track of what you have left undone and set a time to deal with those issues.

Make sure to publish your findings and your solution to the whole company. You invested a lot of valuable resources. You have two important paybacks here. Not only did you solve a problem, your team has a victory. They can and should savor a good pat on the back. A more subtle payback is the new corporate knowledge; a better understanding of your business and further developed problem solving skills and team work.

Finally, just because you solved one problem, it doesn’t mean you can sit back. Improvement is a continuous event. Keep looking and keep solving. Conditions change. Customer requirements change. Vendors change. Set your goals and keep going after them. Your best days are still ahead.