Every company is full of problems. May be you call them “challenges” or “opportunities” as an attempt to overshadow that negative hue, which the word “problem” may have for someone. And on the other hand, may be you want to support positive understanding of a problem as a chance to improve.

Whatever your dictionary is, problems must be solved and resolved – for which it is necessary to exploit the right tools in co-operation with functional culture.

A3 report, a tool based on PDCA cycle and used especially for problem solving, is quite often one of the victimized methods applied with no cultural support. Paradox is though, that it is the very problem solving, which is so dependent on a culture that enables people to point at problems and resolve them effectively.

And so, if we want to solve the problems in an effective way, not only our tools have to be effective, but also our people, who use them. Professionals at best, who know, what they’re doing, because only through their professional approach can an organization achieve truly admirable results.

I didn’t choose the mentioned A3 report by chance. I am talking about this particular method, because it is a Lean tool for structured record and visualization of a problem-solving process, but mainly because if you strive for Lean culture establishment, the very A3 represents incredible vehicle that can help you get there.

And the more, if you seek to develop problem solving professionals.

During my lectures, I often speak about A3 as an “education program” instead of just a tool. In points below I explain why.

2 tips on how to solve promblems professionally

So, what are my tips about what has to function in order to transforming your people in professional problem solvers? Here are two, which I consider to be the crucial ones:

  1. Abracadabra – culture

Culture, where people are not afraid to search and find problems is being talked about a lot. But that is not where culture should end. Yes, they say that no problem is also a problem, but being overloaded with problems and solving the same problems repeatedly is a problem as well.

That is why it’s essential to learn how to work with problems and to bring unresolved projects to a close. To have permission and resources not only to search and point at problems, but largely also to solve and resolve. By resolving the problem, I mean to describe, analyze, implement, set up and standardize everything so the problem would never ever show up again.

Thing is, that people sometimes don’t want to point at new problems, because they already have their hands full.

In the language of challenges and opportunities – beware being overloaded with unresolved opportunities, because otherwise you may face the challenge of stagnation and a false sense of functional Lean culture.

  1. Use methods of problem solving often – even more than is needed

I often perceive that companies confuse culture for tools. They tend to put their people through training of lots of different methods, let them become “specialists”, whom they’d never really use in many cases and if, then may be once or twice immediately right after the lectures. Then later – who knows when …and who knows if at all.

According to a German psychologist Hremann Ebbinghaus and his “forgetting curve”, the ability to recall newly studied topic, without reviewing it, after just one day reduces by 60%. After a month this percent even reaches a value between 75 and 95.

Ebbinghause’s Forgetting curve

(Herman Ebbinghause’s Forgetting curve)

This means, that after a month when a specialist received training, the specialist only knows as much that he has been at the training – if he won’t review the material of course. But to depend on trained employees, to be studying in their evenings, so they could be utilized one day… just in case… is usually only a utopian dream.

All is being driven by the law of offer and demand. We are being offered a trained specialist and so it is needed to create a demand for his development into a professional – even artificially if necessary.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a paradox of two different worlds, where in each there is a demand for as most efficient performance as possible. These worlds are sport and business.

Practice vs Performance, Athletes and Business

(Graphical depiction of the difference of time dedicated to practice and performance in sport and business.)

The paradox is in the fact, that to reach the highest level of performance possible, athletes dedicate around 90% of their time to training and practice and only in the remaining 10%, they put their skills, knowledge and insights from the training in the competition for medals.

On the other hand, there is a world of business, where the stats are way different. According to Loehr’s and Schwartz’s findings, businesses dedicate only 1% to the training and practice and the rest, that is 99%, then represent the hard labor, where the best possible performance is expected.

As a former member of Czech national team for Sport shooting and present consultant for Lean manufacturing, I have the opportunity to see such results of this paradox firsthand.

Don’t understand the training and practice as lectures in the meeting room in front of data projector, but as a real utilizing of trained methods, work with a coach (or even mentor) and gradual achievement of better results – and all that with the permission to fail and learn from that failure. By mentioning that, we are coming back to the first point, which talks about the culture.

At my A3/PDCA trainings, I tell my students that by attending, they only received a driving license to solve their problems and if they follow the given structure, they will be effective. After that it depends on their organizations whether they allow them to practice and become professionals. Zero training results in zero development that is.

Don’t let your trained specialists cool down and give them mandate to solve problems to the very end. You’ll see yourself that they will start bringing more and more value added if they’d get the permission to practice.