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business, improvement, lean, lean thinking, tps

Stop Jumping to Countermeasures

One of the challenges in teaching people problem-solving is to get them to follow a formal process based on the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle rather than quickly jumping to countermeasures before fully understanding the problem.  Although it’s fairly easy to spot an A3 that started with a countermeasure and backfilled the other information, it’s generally difficult to get the person who wrote it to understand why this is a problem.

There are times when it’s fairly easy to coach a person or team to follow a PDSA-based problem-solving process. For example, when two or more people on a team have different ideas about the countermeasures, or when I have enough technical knowledge to push back on a proposed solution, convincing people to follow a formal process is a relatively easy task.  In other instances, however, I generally use four basic questions to help people understand the importance of following a formal process based on scientific method to thoroughly understand a problem before jumping to countermeasures.

  1. Are You Ever Wrong?

It is perfectly normal for people to have misconceptions.  Misreading a situation, lacking experience, and impatience are just a few of the reasons people are occasionally incorrect.  The problem with this is that we do not know that we are wrong until after the fact.  Following a standard method for problem-solving greatly reduces the chances of misconception.  Jumping to a countermeasure without truly understanding the causes of the problem may work, but it can also have no effect on the problem or actually make things worse.

  1. Where is the Learning?

There is an old proverb that says, the man who is too big to learn will get no bigger.  Problem-solving is as much – or more – about learning as it is about solving the problem.  Even when the initial instincts of the team were correct and the countermeasure they selected was the one they thought would work from the start, following the scientific method will increase team knowledge and help drive future improvements.

  1. How Are You Developing Others?

Those with experience and knowledge about a process have a responsibility to teach others to help less experienced team members develop.  When an experienced person jumps to a countermeasure without following the process, they miss a valuable coaching opportunity.  Rather than telling the team the answer, using the process to teach others is an effective way of increasing the level of knowledge on the team.

  1. Can You Convince Others to Support Your Idea?

When resources or money is needed to implement a countermeasure, you must be able to prove that the idea will effectively address a problem.  This becomes very difficult without a logical presentation that flows from the problem statement to the proposed countermeasure.  The resulting A3, when done correctly, is a perfect way to get others to care about the problem and buy into the proposed actions without a lot of additional work.

  1. How Will You Share Your Ideas with Others?

A valuable outcome of a problem-solving exercise is that the countermeasures can be shared with other areas facing similar problems.  When sharing only the solution, it is unlikely that others will

Understand enough to apply the countermeasure in another area.  Sharing the problem statement, breakdown, and root cause along with the countermeasure greatly increases the chances that others can understand and use all or a modified version of the plan.

As strange as it may seem, one way to get people to correctly follow a PDSA-based problem-solving process is to convince them to forget much of what they know and approach at least the early steps in the process as if they don’t completely understand the situation.  In the end when you get a team to select a countermeasure that they hadn’t considered beforehand, convincing them to continue to use the process becomes much easier.

About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.


3 thoughts on “Stop Jumping to Countermeasures

  1. Hi Gregg, thank you for sharing some of the techniques you use in your coaching. It’s enough of a struggle for me to follow the PDSA process and I’m already convinced that its a good idea! The daily problems are blinking red lights (sometimes literally) that just beg for someone to “just do something”. These are great questions to help remind our teams (and ourselves) of the bigger value to be captured through structured problem solving.


    Posted by jd1ven | April 16, 2017, 12:51 pm
  2. Gregg,

    Thanks for sharing.

    I try to reinforce the concept that “everything is an experiment”. However there is usually a total loss of patience for this perspective when there is a large problem looming. The pressure to have “the answer” invariably begets teams and individuals jumping to countermeasures.

    Managers need to focus on enforcing the ‘A3 thinking’ instead of creating a panic driven and chaotic pursuit of any countermeasure.


    Posted by Kyle | April 24, 2017, 2:08 pm
    • Kyle,
      Your comment is exactly why I believe that those in management must lead kaizens under a coach very early in the transformation. I think most people can’t conceive of how scientific method applies in problem-solving – or lean thinking in general – until they work with a coach on the real issues they face. The coach can help guide their understanding of kaizen through conversations and questioning on what they put in each box on the A3 and why. Until they start to understand that problem-solving is about learning, they will continue to push for quick countermeasures and do a very poor job of leading in a lean thinking environment.

      As always, thanks for your comments.


      Posted by Gregg Stocker | April 25, 2017, 11:01 am

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