Four Types of Problems by Art Smalley

Four Problem Solving Types

Four Types of Problems: from reactive troubleshooting to creative innovation by Art Smalley (2018,
 Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. ) is a fascinating book focusing on dividing problem solving and innovation into four major types:

  1. Troubleshooting: A reactive process of rapidly fixing abnormal conditions by returning things to immediately known standards. While beneficial in the immediate term this approach often fails to solve the problem’s root cause.
  2. Gap-from-standard: A structured problem-solving process that aims more at the root cause through problem definition, goal setting, analysis, countermeasure implementation, checks, standards, and follow-up activities.
  3. Target-state: Continuous improvement that goes beyond existing levels of performance to achieve new and better standards or conditions.
  4. Open-ended and Innovation: Unrestricted pursuit through creativity and synthesis of a vision or ideal condition that entail radical improvements and unexpected products, processes, systems, or value for the customer beyond current levels.

Art Smalley is a well known Lean expert, and this book definitely grows out of the wisdom and is a pretty good read. He shares
the strengths and weakness of each problem solving technique providing many points of introspection, such as the questions at the end of each chapter and excellent illustrations.

This book provides s a framework, a mental model, to effectively approach and assess a situation in order to seek and bring the appropriate kind of thinking to calmly, confidently address the problem at hand.

In many ways this book was my favorite quality book of 2018. I think it could serve as a valuable primer and I’m contemplating how to use it for internal training this year.


Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo

Like The Quality Toolbox, this is a book chock-full of usefulness. This book provides a fun approach that makes it possible for collaborative activities to get everyone participating in creative and design-oriented activities. From planning meeting, generating ideas, understanding customers, creating prototypes, or making better decisions, Gamestorming is a way for groups to “work better together.”

Divided into Opening, Exploring and Closing sections, the structure of the book will be familiar to anyone with a facilitation background. I am constantly dipping into this book for activities for team meetings, project kickoffs, development meetings, lessons learned and a whole lot of other meetings.

This book delves into the usage of visual thinking to increase effectiveness and I find dramatically shorten the length of time needed for a group to solve a problem. This book proposes that visual thinking can:

  • Using a simple, shared visual language to increase understanding and information retention;
  • Applying improvisational discovery to keep participants engaged;
  • Mapping the big picture, solving problems and innovating as a team;
  • Creating visual meeting artifacts to drive decisions forward.

What is especially cool is that there is a great webpage dedicated to these games that I hope you will find as useful as I do. It is full of exercises, activities and advice.


The Quality Toolbox

The Quality Toolbox by Nancy Tague is such a useful book that it belongs on everyone’s bookshelf.   Tools are included for generating and organizing ideas, evaluating ideas, analyzing processes, determining root causes, planning, and basic data-handling and statistics. From the seven basic quality tools to a wide variety of more sophisticated tools, this my first go-to when I am trying to figure out the best tool for a task, each  getting a solid write-up that can propel you into use.

The core spine of the book is a matrix that helps find the right tool base don three questions:

  1. What do you want to do with the tool (project planning, idea creation, process analysis, data collection and analysis, cause analysis and decision making)
  2. Where you are in process improvement methodology
  3. Whether you need to expand or focus thinking

Each tool gets a solid treatment, with examples and templates so it can be put into use.

Quality professionals tend to acquire a resources on specific tools. This book serves to easily consolidate tools, help you identify the right tool to use, and will probably also introduce you to a bunch of new tools.

Thinking in Systems

Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows is one of the books that has shaped my thinking as a quality professional, and I consider it one of the top 10 books for folks in the quality profession to read. If I ever try to lend you a copy, consider that a good thing.

The basic premise of system thinking is the notion that any force applied to the system has consequences. A well-designed system can absorb these forces and still maintain system functionality. A poorly designed system cannot absorb external forces, causing the system to collapse. A key take away of the book is that the systems we design do what they are designed to do, both positive and negative.

Ms. Meadows presents systems and models in ecosystem thinking in ways to avoid simplistic approaches and explains system oscillations and overshoots as examples of system instability. The book explains the attributes of systems:

  1.   Resilience – ability for a system to adjust. The opposite of resilience – fragility, causes the system to be unresponsive to change, and exposes the system to potential of collapse.
  2.   Self-Organization – ability of system to adjust to new demands and circumstances. Ability of the system to orient itself and build complex structures from simple building blocks is viewed as key characteristic.
  3. Hierarchy – describe how complex system can be broken into smaller, simpler organization that can function autonomously. The opposite of hierarchy is one complex organism that cannot be productive of parts of it is not performing at the level required for the smooth operation of the system.

The book has a ton of good approaches on how to solve system problems. The identification of a leverage point in the system describes how to affect system behavior in a most effective way.  The list of leverage point includes quantitative things such as numbers, creating of buffers in the system, as well as the introduction of new feedback loops and general system flexibility.

Read this book. Good quality culture understands the systems we build and how they impact the individuals who use them. The tools in this book serve as a good framework, and one I think you will come back to again and again.