What’s the Goal?
A True Story
About a Fictional “Problem”
By Jeff Liker & Karyn Ross
Ask anybody what should be improved and you get
many answers…problems are EVERYWHERE!
Try doing 100
hours of work in
a 60 hour week!
The IT is
& out to
what we do
for them.. sigh
How can we decide which ones to work on so that
we avoid wasting precious improvement energy??
Once upon a time in AnyServiceCompany USA*…
* Look carefully and you’ll find this story in any service company…
The Boss assembled an Improvement Team to work
on what he perceived as a “BIG PROBLEM”
“We have counselors to give our agents in the field live
information to address customer concerns.
The East Coast Division understands the rules and procedures.
But when West Coast Division counselors answer spillover
questions from the East they are inefficient, do not understand
the problems, and give out bad information.
What can we do about this problem?”
The Improvement Team had lots of meetings and
brainstormed lots of ideas for solving the problem...
But they couldn’t agree on a solution
they believed would work… they
didn’t know what to do…
So the Improvement Team facilitator, who had read lots of books,
but had little experience using a systematic, scientific approach to
leading an Improvement Team, asked his friend, an experienced
Toyota Kata Coach, to join the group.
The Coach met with the group and quickly spotted the
reason that the team couldn’t decide on a solution!
No current condition had been figured out…
No target condition set…
They just had a
that there was a problem and LOTS
of ideas for solutions…But no FACTS whatsoever…
First, the coach helped the Improvement Team
understand the current business objective by
looking at specific business and customer needs…
Then the Coach helped the Improvement Team gather
some basic current condition data for the process:
They went to the East Coast and West Coast
counselors’ gemba, investigated the sources of
information used, timed the process, documented the
process steps and looked for similarities and
They even went to talk directly to the CUSTOMERS!
When the Improvement Team looked at REAL DATA
from the process steps & timing…
AND at what the customer SAID they wanted…
They were shocked to learn…
I am a happy
There were no systematic differences in how
cases were processed East and West!
There were no differences in efficiency!
There was no difference in the quality of advice
The customers were equally happy with the
advice from both East and West!
The Improvement Team was surprised and disappointed…
They said: “There really wasn’t a problem…
It was just a lot of effort and we wasted our time.”
But DID they REALLY waste their time???
Not as long as they learned that…
1. We need to know the Challenge (where we WANT to be according to
the current business objectives and specific customer needs) and we need
to get real data AND facts about the Current Condition.
2. We need an experienced Coach to guide
us, so we learn to follow a scientific
improvement pattern step by step.
If we don’t follow a set process for defining the Challenge and the
Current Condition AND don’t have an experienced coach to guide us, we
will get lost in solving the “problem of the day” and lose sight of what
will really affect our customers and our business.
Chasing problems that aren’t really problems is its own waste!
Even educated, intelligent people with process improvement
training can get together and assume they know what the
problem is and then jump to solutions with little or no analysis
Whether in services or manufacturing, the improvement process
is the same and should start with a clear direction based on a
clear goal that matters to the customer and to the business
Starting with a clear goal that matters to the customer
and the business will lead to a definition of the Challenge
The next step is to collect real data (information) and get the
facts (what we observe) to understand the current condition
We do not need to agree on the “right
answer” in advance. We should run
experiments to test our ideas, following
The Path of Discovery is unclear!
Small, rapid experiments advance our knowledge quickly
A Coach helps Learners follow the Improvement Kata, but
provides enough leeway for them to make (and learn from)
Every improvement activity is a learning process!
And learning, after much hard work, that the real “problem” was
that the Improvement Team didn’t start out by defining the
direction, is an invaluable lesson!