The project management department of one of our manufacturing clients had been working on lean improvements for about 14 months and had implemented a visual accountability board on which project managers posted problems. When they had projects that went on hold for any reason the managers recorded the problem in the barrier section of the accountability board where it remained until the problem was resolved. The board was exposing barriers to completing projects on time – Good! However, once the problem situation was resolved and the project released from hold status, no action was taken to address the barriers to prevent the same problem from recurring. When we asked the department manager what happened to the list of barriers, she told us she was saving them and that “eventually” she would get around to reviewing them. As you may have guessed “eventually” never came.
One day as we Gemba walked the department with the director of project management we asked him about problem solving. He motioned around the department, saying, “Everyone here is a problem solver!” As we talked with him, we observed that the same kinds of problems occurred over and over. The project managers did a good job of insulating the customers from the impact of the problems, but they never addressed the root cause.
Later that month we conducted a Gemba walk of the project management area with the senior management team. On these walks, we distributed the Lean Management standard for root cause problem solving. During the Gemba walk the executives complimented and reinforced the manager’s and director’s use of the boards, but also asked what happened to the list of barriers recorded on the board once the immediate problem was resolved and the projects released from hold. As you may have guessed the response was the same as when we asked the question.
In a conversation with Vice President of the project management group we suggested that the director and manager of the department develop Pareto charts of the problems and review the charts at their weekly accountability meetings and assign them for root cause analysis and corrective action. Our recommendation was implemented and many of the recurring barriers were eliminated.
Making problems visible is great, but it isn’t the only step. Root cause analysis of the problems or barriers need to be resolved and corrective action implemented to prevent the problems from rearing their ugly heads over and over.
Willie Carter, author of Process Improvement for Administrative Departments | The Key to Internal Customer Satisfaction, has nearly four decades of continuous improvement experience, which have enabled him to be a good listener, teacher, coach and leader as he helps organizations do more with less to transform creative thought into organizational agility and excellence. In addition to his consulting practice, he is on the adjunct faculty at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL.