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Improvement - The 7 I's of Kaisen - Identify

He knelt and took a closer look at his front wheel. His car had not held the road quite so well for a couple of weeks and so thought the obvious cause is his tyres. It didn’t take him long to notice the tread had worn down on the inner edge about an inch wide. Yep, they need changing. And of course, they do. But hold on. What caused the tyres to rub in that way? Maybe we need to identify the problem before the problem? Is the steering tracking set correctly to cause that wear?


It is so easy to look on the surface of a problem, at the obvious cause and go with it. However, when we jump to the first conclusion, we risk it going wrong again because we have not sorted out the root problem.


Identifying the problems is the second of seven steps of the improvement technique of Kaisen. 

  • Involve employees

  • Identify Problems

  • Invent a solution

  • Interrogate (test) the solution

  • Investigate the results 

  • Implement (standardise & adopt)

  • Iterate (Repeat the cycle)


So, how do you successfully identify the problem?


Let go of assumptions.

Kaisen has 10 principles and the first one is ‘Let go of assumptions’. There is a wonderful phrase of ‘what happens when we assume?’ . . . It makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. Assuming things means we can miss things that we have not taken a careful look at. Assuming can also mean a bias that we have built up over time that we take into reviewing things. We can make assumptions about people and their responses. We can make assumptions about systems we have used and what will and won’t work in our industry. We can make assumptions about causes for the problem. This is where another Kaisen principle of ‘don’t accept the obvious issue’ can be helpful.


Don't accept the obvious issue

It is so easy to assume the first cause of the problem is the reason. But like the tyre, when we do that the problem reoccurs because we have not dealt with the root cause. Ask yourself the ‘five whys’. 


Let’s take the tyre example. 


Problem - The car is not holding the road?


Why? (What might be causing it?) – the tyre is worn

Why? (What might be causing it?) – the steering tracking is out of alignment 

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) it hit potholes and b) I have not regularly checked the tyre for wear

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) the road is poor and b) I have not arranged regular servicing of the car

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) lots of floods and b) I have not got routine simple car checks & servicing.


What do I do now? Well, if I don’t want this to repeat I arrange a weekly check of the basics eg visual inspection of tyres, oil, brakes, water on the car. I have little influence over the council’s road programme, but I have influence on my regular car checks. 


Now this blog is not a car mechanics course, but from this example you can hopefully see the principle of asking why or what might be causing this? 


Keep asking this will, like roots of a tree, take us deeper and deeper to the source of the problem. If we are looking for a work improvement it is about not accepting the obvious answer.


A work example – we are not getting many bookings for our service.


Why? (What might be causing it?) – people are not hearing about the good work we do

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) we are not encouraging customer referrals and b) marketing isn’t successful.

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) we haven’t asked or incentivised customers and b) our funnel isn’t correct

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) we don’t know what our customers love b) we’re not clear on our ideal customer

Why? (What might be causing it?) – a) we don’t understand our customers and b) we need to know our ideal customer and target them as followers on social media and marketing


What do we do now? Get to know the customers that are important to us and know what would incentivise them. Get clarity on our core focus/product and target customers who want that.


Be proactive about solving problems.

It seems obvious, that if you want to solve problems then you need to be proactive and determined about it. It needs to be a rigorous goal. This is another principle of Kaisen, be proactive about it. Set up systems of review, have it as a regular practice of a) what is working well and b) what needs to improve. Establish a culture of getting team input on the issue and the rigour of the 5 whys. 


Next steps

So, this week, have as your focus the rigour of not accepting the obvious and asking the 5 Whys. It is likely to save a lot of time and frustration when you get to the root of the issue.




If you would like help to improve things, contact us at Everyday Leader. We can empower you to gain clarity with some simple questions to help you understand and manage it better. Give us a call at 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you. 


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