#Kaizen & The Leaky Rowboat

Posted on April 17, 2013 | in Error-Proofing, Kaizen, Maintenance, Small Business | by

You’re in a rowboat that has sprung a leak and is taking in water. You’re rowing your now-leaky rowboat to shore but a couple miles away. What are your options?

– You can keep rowing, continue taking on water until the boat sinks, then start swimming
– You can stop rowing and start bailing water by hand
– You can stop rowing and plug the leak with your hand
– You can stop rowing and fix the leak by other means

Here are the results of those decisions and your means of getting back to shore.

By continuing to row and ignoring the problem, you miiiight make it to your destination but your equipment will be in shambles and potentially forever useless. In addition, resulting equipment loss means you can’t finish without a lot of manual intervention (swimming) and discomfort (I’d rather be dry than wet). If you ever want to row again, you’ll have to replace the boat.

leaky boat paddle rowboat

If you don’t stop to adequately fix the problem, you’re running the risk of doing this.

By stopping to bail water, you work on handling the output of the problem but you don’t move forward. What if more leaks spring up while bailing from the original leak? Now you have to work even harder…just to stay in place and not sink. You might end up bailing out water forever and never get to the end of your journey.

If you stop rowing and plug the leak with your hand as a stopgap, you might have cut your momentum in half because you can only row with one arm. You could move half as fast as before getting to shore and might make it safely, but you also run the risk of rowing in circles. You exert a lot more effort to complete your expedition.

If you stop rowing and work to fix the leak, not only do you stop moving forward during that time but you also probably take on more water for a time. That can be scary, seeing your situation get a little worse and not moving forward, However, by investigating the leak and trying to solve it once and for all (seal with tape for now or plug a big hole with wadded up clothing before getting to shore to nail a new board or weld a seal shut) you’ve invested a little time and security in fixing the issue while also making rowing resources available in full (use of both arms!) to get back to shore.

Aren’t these multiple approaches to addressing problems in processes? You can ignore a problem and just keep grinding out productivity, but it will continue to dwindle as the problem remains and possibly becomes irreparable. You can work on the problem but it will continue to rear its ugly head because it isn’t adequately fixed – a temporary approach until it comes back. You can use manual intervention as a stopgap, where automation is broken we can just throw bodies at manual assembly or handling manual tasks, but you’ve also cut back on your human capital and capacity.

But by investing in a Kaizen event to address big problems, yes, you might lose a little productivity right away because those operators have stepped away from their job function and the problem will exist…temporarily. However, by investing a little time and productivity early means the problem could potentially go away forever if it’s fixed properly and it’s smooth sailing from then on. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This says little about the Kaizen mindset, which would mean process users are addressing problems they see right away and personally convening outside assistance without employing a full-on “Kaizen event” and not necessarily having to stop the process functionality as needed for very long. The Kaizen mindset needs little formality, but at least with a formal Kaizen event you can sacrifice a little now so that the long-term results are better. The Kaizen mindset is ideal, but where a Kaizen event would help solve the problem collectively, make the temporary investment.

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2 Responses to “#Kaizen & The Leaky Rowboat”

  1. Michael Conner says:

    Interesting.

  2. Pingback: Lean | Six Sigma | Kaizen | What Is Lean Six Sigma KaizenLean Blitz – Do it better.

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