4 Types of Problems - Kindle Version Now Available!

I am very happy to announce the publishing of my latest book 4 Types of Problems in conjunction with the Lean Enterprise Institute in the Kindle format. This reduces the price of the work substantially and makes it easier to take along with you on your lean journey. The book contents arose from some discussions I was having with LEI Chairman and President John Shook about the state of lean in general and problem solving in specific.

John and I had each published previous books about our problem solving experiences in Japan. John's book Managing to Lean talked about how an A3 type document actually came to life with an end to end example. Professor Durward Sobek and I wrote a book entitled A3 Thinking about the different types of A3's in Toyota and some general ways they were. 

Both books sold were and were highly reviewed. However as John and I reflected on the situation we both felt we had not really conveyed the full flavor and different ways of problem solving that occurred inside of Toyota. Not everything is necessarily an A3 and as an old Japanese proverb cautions, "A fool knows one way of doing things...". The implied meaning is that an expert should know several. 

So in the 4 Types of Problems books we set out to show how different ways of framing problems occurs inside of Toyota and how they can often be viewed from different angles. Sometimes you have to troubleshoot the problem and fix things quickly. Ideally you get to a root cause but not always right away. Sometimes you just have to fix the flat tire on the car and get to a safer spot. Or put on the house on fire then investigate cause once the immediate situation is under control. This is called 異常処置 ijyou shochi in Japanese and means abnormality management. We call this Type 1 problem solving or troubleshoot like a good first responder does in medical, police, fire, or other fields.  

Type 2 is the more traditional gap from standard style of problem solving that makes up much of most of the literature in problem solving. In reality there are different flavors of Type 2 problem solving in Toyota. The most prevalent is the current 8 step method employed by the company and use of logic based analysis techniques such as 5 Why, Fishbone, Fault Trees, and other techniques. Also however more statistical routines exist dealing with process control capability studies. These can either be one variable at a time (OVAT) or multiple variable at a time (MVAT) in nature. 

Type 3 problems are when you are in a steady state of control and achieving your stated goal. The system is stable and repeating. However even in this case we need to raise the bar from time to time and improve the current process. Technically there is no problem in the traditional gap from standard sense. So no root cause is pursued per se...Instead the situation is looked at holistically and we consider how can it be improved? The emphasis is more on creativity the capital or causal thinking. This is the spirit of Kaizen and the endless pursuit of improvement. 

Type 4 problems are even more open ended in nature and embodied by the concept of innovation. In Type 3 resources are generally constrained and optimization of the current methods is preferred. In Type 4 all angles are open and the end result is ideally breakthrough thinking and an entirely new produce, process, service, or value to the customer. Type 4 can be small or large but the stereotypical examples are product developments. You don't just accidentally create a Lexus out of an existing Corolla for example.

The framework is unfortunately not perfectly MECE (Mutually Exclusive or Collectively Exhaustive). There is some overlap as the real world is not so tidy or simple. Also one can argue certain things like emotional relationship problems, complex problems like poverty in society, and other topics like strategy formation don't fit neatly. However it is not intended in that fashion. This is simple a look at how we frame problems and opportunities inside of Toyota. Every problem can be viewed as a die or a Rubiks cube for example and how you tackle it often depends upon the situation. 

We hope the book is of some value to readers and we intend to follow it up with some related follow up topics. Until then best of luck on your lean journey.