Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why write it down?

Why Write it down?

The longer I pursue Lean, the more I am amazed with its fundamentals. I may write more about this in the near future.

Like the emphasis to write things down. Lean is built on standard work. We write down work instructions. We write down paths for material handlers. We ask associates to write down small improvements. We write down kaizen plans.

Why write? Why not just do?

Last week, we ran into a particularly vexing supplier problem. It almost pushed me into complete disfunctionality; it was all I could think about. I was staring out my office window, stewing over it, and then just started to write in my single notebook (more about that another day). I drew a large outline of major issues and major frustrations. I started to fill in the gaps. Action steps started to emerge as I wrote. I saw separation of the crucial and the trivial, the annoying and the important. I wrote up a series of next actions to take and took them.

Why write?

On Tuesday, one of our supervisors asked me if I could join her team as they struggled to find the root cause of a process concern. “Could you show us how to do 5 Why?” she asked. She didn’t have to ask twice.

We gathered at a large white board near the workplace. I started with the observable problem at the top left of the board and asked why. They answered. I wrote both the statements (“We did X process incorrectly”) and then each Why ("Why did we do X process incorrectly?”). I followed that with another written statement ("We did X process incorrectly because…") and we followed where it led. At Why #3, we desribed three distinct branches of cause and effect. We pursued each branch and came up with 3 root causes and 5 simple, doable, action steps. All in about 30 minutes.

I covered the whiteboard with writing. The team caught what we were doing. Simple questions with clear answers; no trickery involved, no complex story problems about trains leaving Boston. They engaged and owned both the problem and the solution. Three of them wrote extensively as we talked.

And the team will fix this problem. Quickly. We found root cause.

Why write?

I think writing clears out waste in the brain. It forces one to distill random thoughts into cogent drawings or clear sentences. It forces one into useful logic and away from speculative dreaming.

Try writing today. See if it helps.


Curious Cat said...

Right on. In meeting writing down decisions (what is the issue, who is going to do what...) is very helpful. It is very easy for people to think people agree to some somewhat clear statements that are made, and then find out several people had different understandings. Writing it down greatly reduces the chance of miscommunication.

Russell Ackoff also has some great ideas on the importance of documenting decisions - both to serve as guide posts to future action and to serve as documentation that can be examined over time to find historic weaknesses and strengths with decision making in the organization.

Anonymous said...

I have found in my own experience, as well as observing others, that writing it down forces rational serious thought...unless is the activity is about random brainstorming, it is far better to have higher quality discussions with well thought out reasoned input.