Lean: Do You Decide or Determine Your Solutions?

by Jamie Flinchbaugh

There are many ways that lean thinkers explore whether true problem solving has been pursued. These are litmus tests for genuine vs. fake lean efforts.

Some of these are about artifacts, such as “show me your A3,” and some are about language, such as “can you properly categorize the waste?”

The best litmus tests go beyond the surface. When it comes to problem-
solving, one such litmus test is this: Did they decide on a solution or did they determine a solution?

It may not be easy to tell the difference without digging a bit, and hearing how the work was done, which is the point.

What’s the difference? Well, deciding on a solution means that the really important work was done outside of the process. It was your judgment that determined the outcome.

Determining a solution means that the process, the data, and the criteria drove the outcome. It doesn’t mean that it was devoid of intuition or creativity, but at the least, that intuition was validated in the process of work done to solve the problem.

There is a time and a place for deciding, but if you want to reinforce lean problem-solving practices, then you are looking for solutions that have been determined. And in your pursuit of determining the difference, you happen to learn a little more about where people are struggling with the skills of problem-solving, then your effort has already paid off.

Jamie Flinchbaugh is a thought leader on lean principles. He runs JFlinch, a firm that helps teams solve their most challenging problems. Learn more at jflinch.com.