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Jon Miller  |  11/02/2009

Jon Miller’s picture

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All Kaizen Ideas Are Full of Holes

Skitt’s Law applied to kaizen

I became aware of a truth about lean problem solving and kaizen yesterday while reading an article about 10 internet rules and laws, “Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe,” published on the Daily Telegraph’s web site (www.telegraph.co.uk).

4. Skitt’s Law

 

Expressed as “any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself” or “the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”

 

It is an online version of the proofreading truism Muphry’s Law, also known as Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation: “any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror”.

 

Skitt’s Law applied to kaizen would be “any action to solve a problem will contain at least one problem itself” or “the likelihood of a problem resulting from a proposed solution is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause” to the person who is promoting the particular solution.

Just as all standards should be considered temporary until improved, all improvement ideas should be considered provisional until they are proven not to be ineffective. Too many times people approach problem solving or kaizen as a process of championing a favored solution, only to be blinded by its failings. This results in embarrassment when a solution proves ineffective but the organization has already committed too much time and resource, as well as personal reputations. It is difficult to change course gracefully at that point.

We should keep in mind Skitt’s Law and assume that all kaizen ideas are full of holes, no single countermeasure will solve the problem entirely, and that some countermeasures may solve one problem but cause another. Toyota uses the term “countermeasure” for a reason, rather than “solution,” because they understand problem solving as taking a series of measures to counter root causes of problems, rather than to put so-called solutions in place and move on.

As with anything, kaizen can contain errors. Many times the countermeasures are the result of solution-jumping and shallow or nonexistent root cause analysis. Just as we should run spell check before sending out a piece of writing, we should spell check our problem solving thought process by tracking the solution back through the root cause to the original problem statement using the “therefore” or “so what” test.

The kaizen process must be inherently self-skeptical. While being confident that we can surely solve all problems (the what), we should always be challenging the method or solution itself (the how). The plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle is all about checking and adjusting our plan, learning from the result of the “do” phase. The learning is as important, if not often more important, than the solution that is put in place. Remember Skitt’s Law and check your work. Don’t fall in love with your kaizen ideas, because love will blind you. Keep a healthy skepticism and be prepared to love and nurture all kaizen ideas.

Speaking of healthy skepticism, there were two other laws also worthy of note.

8. DeMyer’s Laws

 

Named for Ken DeMyer, a moderator on Conservapedia.com. There are four: the Zeroth, First, Second, and Third Laws.

 

The Second Law states, “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”


 

And to bolster my argument with another quote from the internet:

7. Pommer’s Law

 

Proposed by Rob Pommer on rationalwiki.com in 2007, this states, “A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”



 

The internet is a dangerous place for a curious mind.

 

Copyright Gemba Research LLC

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About The Author

Jon Miller’s picture

Jon Miller

Jon Miller is co-founder of Gemba Research LLC where he leads development efforts including consulting solutions, training materials, and establishing internal consulting standards. Miller was born in Japan and lived there for 18 years. In 1993 Miller was fortunate to start his career working with consultants who were students of Taiichi Ohno. Since 1998 he has led dozens of lean transformation projects in a wide range of industries. Miller has taught kaizen in 15 countries for more than 15 years. He is a frequent contributor of articles to a variety of publications and written more than 800 articles on lean manufacturing, kaizen, and the Toyota Production System on Gemba’s blog.

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