Get the Big Picture

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[tweetmeme]The Toyota Way Fieldbook is an interesting read for Lean thinkers looking to sharpen their sword.  Chapter 14 is titled Develop a Thorough Understanding and states that if we fail to look at a problem in the larger context we may limit the possible solutions and impact.  On the other hand, examining a problem in the larger context will provide 3 distinct advantages:

  •  Capturing the most significant opportunity allows you to achieve the best results with the least effort.  More bang for the buck!
  • Examining the issue from the larger view opens the possibility of solving the real issue by correcting root causes other than the ones originally identified.  You have a better chance of solving the real problem.
  • In some cases, the lower level issue may be very difficult to solve.  Examining the bigger picture will open the door to solving larger issues which in some cases have easier solutions.  You have a greater chance of success.

To illustrate this point, authors Jeffrey Liker and David Meier share a real life example from a Toyota manufacturing plant.  A Toyota sensei (teacher) is talking with an engineer about the issues on his line.  The Engineer insists that his biggest issue is a robot that shuts down.  He even has the data to prove it.  The sensei is asking questions to explore the issue from a higher level, the big picture.  The  teacher is trying to convince the engineer that the real issue is that they cannot meet the customers’ needs without overtime.

The Sensei takes the Engineer to an observation platform where they can watch the entire line.  After some time, the line is stopped to allow for rotation of the line workers from one station to another.  The line is shut down for four to five minutes  every half-hour to allow for this rotation – nearly 20% of the scheduled run time.  While the rotation alleviates some safety (ergonomic) concerns, the downtime involved represents the biggest opportunity to reduce the overtime required to meet the customers’ needs.  Here is the low hanging fruit.

This is a great example of bigger thinking.  You can’t expect to get to the biggest issue through one discussion and one observation of a production line every time though.  Data collection and the Pareto Principle along with going to the gemba are great tools to help you get the most bang for the buck.

[tweetmeme]Looking at your issues from the larger context can help you get more bang for your Continuous Improvement buck.  It also gives you a better chance of solving the real problem and increases your change of success.

Have you seen your team trying to solve complex issues when there was a big picture solution?  Do you have examples of low hanging fruit that resolved the big picture issues?  What issues do you face that you should look at from the larger context view?


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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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2 Responses to Get the Big Picture

  1. Christian:
    Failing to look at issues through the Big Picture prism definitely affect other, more remote areas of an organization. The advantages to broader thinking that you list are right on the mark.

    • Terry,

      Excellent point! While the focus of this post is on improved problem solving methodology, you suggest another benefit. One reduces the chance of unintended & negative consequences when looking at the bigger picture. Thank you for your comments.


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