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• Bill Greider

Problem Solving 101: Measure Twice Cut Once!!

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”-William Thompson, Lord Kelvin

In my career as a Lean Zealot, I have personally been involved in thousands of A3s. For those of you who know me, I like to turn big problems into lots of small ones, and chip away every day. Like chopping wood.

In the course of helping others though the process, one of the biggest challenges I see is the ability to actually put numbers to problems. Either they are not readily available, or we subconsciously love to go right to a fix, aka "jumping to solutions".

The way I teach A3 is that each box on the sheet represents one part of the scientific method of problem solving, better known as the "DMAIC". The DMAIC is the muscle memory we need to do effective problem solving so the same problems stay solved, and don't re-surface again. The order is define, measure, analyze, improve and control.

The title of the A3 is always a problem statement, not a fix. Define, in A3, is the box where we make sure the scope of the improvement is not too big, as well as explaining, in words, why the problem statement is in fact, a problem worth tackling. The measure box (in A3, it is called the Current Condition) is about measuring (NUMBERS!!!) the impact of the problem on our business. Number of complaints, hours of waiting caused, amount of scrap, etc. I really can't do the "Analyze" well unless I do a good job in measuring. Root cause analysis (5 why or fishbone) becomes a guessing game if the problem is not well defined with numbers!

In fact, the better job I do in measuring, the easier root cause analysis and the clearer the proper countermeasure becomes.When we do our home projects, we will usually spend the time (learned from experience) to "measure twice, cut once". The wood probably costs \$3/foot. Our business process improvements run into hundreds or thousands of dollars......measure thrice cut once!