Book Four Types of Problems

Four Types of Problem - Art Smalley

Discover the secrets that one of the first Americans to work at Toyota of Japan learned from the automaker's problem-solving routine.

If the tire on your car goes flat, how do you react to the problem? Changing it is the obvious, and correct, answer. But what if the tire goes flat every week?

Changing the tire one more time is hard to imagine, right? The best thing to do in this situation is to try to find out why.

Going further, you may even decide that you are tired of having to deal with this situation so often and go in search of a better tire. What you may not realize is that even wondering why you don't make tires that work even with a flat tire is also a fair way to deal with the problem.

In this summary of the book "Four Types of Problems", by Art Smalley, you will understand how every company is constantly experiencing problems that call for the four solutions depicted in this hypothetical situation.

The book "Four Types of Problems”

The 234-page book is divided into four main parts, one for each type of problem and how to solve it.

The work is the result of compiling problem-solving practices from the last 100 years, evolving the concepts to give rise to several theories, which allow the reader to situate his company in the chronology and implement the practice that best fits his situation.

In addition, the book "Four Types of Problems: From Reactive Troubleshooting to Creative  Innovation” also provides tactical tools to improve results, all inspired, in large part, by the DNA of Toyota Motor Corporation itself.

The book is a reference, a kind of "user's manual" for problem solvers, whether they are teams or individuals. One of the goals of the book is to accelerate the process of improving problem-solving skills, a vital capability for any company that uses the lean methodology.

Who is Art Smalley? 

Art Smalley, from America, was one of the first people to work at Toyota's plant in Japan who were not from the country. There he started in the late 1980s, and stayed for seven years.

The learnings he gained from some of the masters of problem solving served to transfer the methods of the Toyota Production System to the automaker's western plants, and also to co-lead a major migration to the lean system at Donnelly Corporation, for which he was recognized by Forbes Magazine.

Also an expert in leadership and operational improvement, he has published several books and has won several awards for his contributions to the field of lean manufacturing.

Why read "Four Types of Problems"?

It is ideal reading for anyone who wants to learn about problem solving, in an accessible learning format for beginners in the subject, and which is also useful for those who are already advanced in the practice.

The book is recommended to be a "help when you are stuck", because even the most experienced people in the subject can forget or miss some details.

It also serves as a "team guide", to be kept in the team room or where meetings take place, with each chapter providing questions for you and your colleagues to think about and find the solution on your own.

In addition to these uses, the book itself recommends its use as a "coaching reference" to be more effective in guiding teams, since just asking questions can be essential, but not sufficient in more complicated situations.

What are the main points of "Four Types of Problems"?

  • "A problem is any result that differs from the desired performance at any time";
  • Getting a process standardized should not be a sign that problem solving is complete;
  • Things will never go 100% as planned, restraint is necessary in the day to day life of any company;
  • Any kind of problem solving requires understanding the facts and causality and identifying the desired direction;
  • According to the Lean Transformation Model, the existence of any organization depends on addressing the problems, and achieving the goal depends on the ability to solve them;
  • "A well-defined problem is a problem almost solved".

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What are containment problems and how do you solve them?

Containment problems are the most easily identified, because nobody needs to analyze anything, they usually appear on their own.

This would be the flat tire we talked about in the introduction. In day-to-day work, a flat tire can be translated into customer complaints, information errors, work stoppages, or some other interruption.

We know that solving this kind of problem does not take the company to a higher level, but if they are not solved, the risk of losing the customer is created. And what company can get to the next level without the customer?

Because it touches on emergency points, reactive action needs to be fast and is most often temporary. The focus is on getting the process back to normal conditions. While the cause of the fire is not found, it must be fought.

For containment, the book indicates the framework known as the 4Cs of problem solving: abnormality, cause, immediate action, and verification. The name comes from English, where the words are concern, cause, countermeasure, and check.

Two strengths stand out for this first type of problem solving: the speed of reaction that makes it possible to take care of the process or the customer, be it internal or external, and the flexible nature, since it asks for easy adaptation in several adverse situations on a daily basis.

As there is no type of solution that is without flaws, this one also has two main ones.

The investigation of the real problems that are not on display, and the main causes of these problems is limited, since, again, efforts need to be directed only at fixing them quickly.

Another main deficiency is that even good containment routines do not generate a development in the thinking of the people in the company, nor do they make it possible to learn new solution techniques other than the 4C.

The book brings up some situations that call for containment:

  • Safety problems;
  • Quality problems
  • Delivery problems;
  • Equipment alarms
  • Work stoppages;
  • Other general abnormalities.

What is a standard deviation problem?

Whereas containment solutions deal with emergencies immediately, standard deviation problems need to be dealt with more rigorously through data collection and in-depth study, with interaction between various parts of the company.

Another difference is that the whole process can last from a few hours to periods longer than weeks to understand and resolve the root cause of the problem, while containment is a one-time event that ends when things return to normal.

The first characteristic of this type of approach is that it happens in cycles and repeats itself. The second characteristic is that it is reactive in nature, contributing to stability here, yes, just like the previous type.

As you may have noticed, these solutions come to complement the restraints. In these cases, it is necessary to define goals, establish countermeasures and standards, along with constant monitoring and checks to prevent that situation from happening again.

The definition of goals deserves special attention, so that they are not confused with targets. The target is the desired performance. The author gives the example of an arrow that someone shoots hoping to hit the target, as in sports.

The target, on the other hand, would be how to reach the maximum score on the target, 10 times, in 10 attempts, from 20 meters away, within 1 minute. It refers to the desired performance.

Be careful not to define the goal in a generalized way, such as "solve the problem" or "find the root cause", nor to do it as a set of actions.

Here comes the first acronym to help you in this process: SMART, which means that the goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

The second cycle of type 2 problem solving is 5W1H, which, also in English, stands for what, when, where, who, why, and how, to act on the investigation.

The main one is the "why", it is what you will really ask yourself to find out what has caused the problem. But the other questions are also fundamental, since the "where" points to the root, not the place where the problem appears.

Ask yourself "who" is closest to the pattern deviation, as that person can contribute more to the solution, helping to answer even more precisely "when" and "what" exactly happened. Finally, find out "how much", in detail, the company deviated from the standard.

The last acronym of type 2 is the lean model of the PDCA cycle. To get real learnings from all this experience, one needs, again in English, to plan, do, check, and act.

The examples of situations that call for these solutions, brought by the author are:

  1. Problems that recur;
  2. Anything that has a negative impact on safety, quality, delivery, cost, morale, productivity or any other key performance indicator (KPI) and for which the cause and solution are unknown.

How to solve target condition problems?

The third type, unlike the first two, which serve only to keep operations stable and running, exists not only to bring about the company's survival, but also prosperity.

This type is about removing obstacles to not only reach the set standards, but to surpass them. It is the concept of continuous improvement or kaizen.

To reach this state you need to cut waste, overload and inequality throughout the system. Don't limit yourself, you can use existing methods to get to top performance, no problem.

In this part, think about "creating" a problem that - yet - doesn't exist. Regardless of how well your company is currently doing, there are always openings for improvement.

This is because of a principle that underlies this kind of problem solving: the fact that human beings have an innate ability to be creative.

The lean principle recommended here is ECRS:

  • Eliminate;
  • Combine;
  • Reorganize;
  • Simplify.

But remember: your company cannot rely solely on solving target condition problems; that would be like expecting a soccer team to win by scoring only bicycle goals.

Here there are no set examples for what the category problems might be, since they are usually a list of items to solve, and not just a single setback.

How to define an innovation problem?

The fourth and last type of problem solving can also be called "vision" or "disruption”. Art Smalley even warns that some people do not even consider it as "problem solving".

However, in this structure of the four types, an opening is created to include innovation activities, creative processes, major changes, and everything that can rethink the current system to overcome the limitations between reality and the dreamed.

This type is even related, in a way, to the previous one. Here, perhaps, the goal is to go much further, aiming to completely innovate in processes and products, in a way that is unexpected even for the client.

It is based on creativity, synthesis, and the recognition of opportunities. For this, the indicated methods are the popular Brainstorming, TRIS, which is the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, and the most used, Design Thinking.

Be careful not to ask for more than is necessary. Set a minimum level and a desirable level for the main points. If you reach the minimum level, the result is already acceptable and can be considered a successful practice.

There are two main strengths: first, the potential to create new products, enter other markets, and generate differentiated value for the customer, thanks to the boldness employed. This can be the differentiator to ensure that your company leads the industry for decades to come.

Then there is the adaptation and, at the very least, the continuity in the market that innovations allow, anticipating the uncertain future.

The main problem with type 4 is the fascination that revolutionary ideas can provoke in the people who run the company, leading them to be treated as the only focus for improvement, at the expense of neglecting the other three types of problem solving. Not to mention that they are the most unpredictable and uncertain solutions.

The ideal, even out of respect for the development of all employees' skills, is to use all four types of solutions.

Books on Agile Methodologies

If you want to test your product before delivering it to customers, to capture their perceptions for improvement opportunities and discover possible problems, with the book "SPRINT" you will build a test prototype in five days.

In "Lean Inception" the focus is on how to create a new product or project, from scratch, always using the lean method. The same methodology in a different situation, showing the versatility and breadth of the method.

If your company is "a human institution that creates new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty", then it fits the concept of startup proposed by the author of "The Lean Startup" and, therefore, can obtain valuable lessons from the book.

How can I solve problems effectively with the book "Four Types of Problems"?

  • Break the problem into smaller parts for analytical thinking;
  • Use charts and graphs, not just words, to present the problem and the path to a solution for your company;
  • Don't think that only the experience has taught you something, you need to reflect on it and critically examine what you have learned;
  • Repeat the experiments with the same problem solution, but under other conditions, such as different shifts or during peak hours, as a form of review;
  • Start experimenting early in the development of the innovation, this accelerates learning.

Evaluate the book summary "Four Types of Problems"

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And to have access to diagrams, charts, and detailed real life stories about the application of the techniques taught here, click on the image below and buy the complete book, in Portuguese!

Book Four Types of Problems

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