In The Workplace

Four out of my five workers don’t meet my daily deadline for submitting production reports, which are compiled manually. The fourth can do the job without any complaint. I wish my small company can afford software to make daily reporting easier. In the meantime, what’s the cure? — Banana Boat.

You should examine all angles of the problem in order not to fall into the trap of what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” Many of us have our own biases and prejudices. We tend to apply certain solutions in solving similar problems because they were effective before.

In your case, it’s easy to conclude that when four out of five workers are having difficulty meeting your production deadline, maybe the problem lies in the system. Or maybe the report form is difficult to accomplish or there is too much data that needing to be tracked.

Maybe the logic behind the requirement to track the data in a daily report is faulty.

The biggest problem of all is when the four workers continue to agonize about their respective challenges. Now, look at it this way. If one worker can meet your daily deadline, then why can’t the majority do it? That’s another angle that you should consider.

Maybe the one exception has some tricks or techniques that help him complete his task. Speak in confidence with your model worker and explain the issue. But first, congratulate him on a good job.

Inform him that you need his input in solving the problem. But be very careful in giving too much credit to Peter as it could antagonize his co-workers.

I teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills. One of the diagnostic tools I use is the Fishbone Diagram, also known as the Ishikawa Diagram or Cause-and-Effect. It’s a practical way for discovering the root cause or causes of a problem. Try it. If you or your team doesn’t know how to use this tool, check the internet.

To ensure a comprehensive analysis, establish a six-point test that includes manpower, machinery, material, method, measurement and milieu to cover either employee morale and mother nature. The usual template typically  excludes either measurement and milieu. For now, let’s consider all factors for a comprehensive analysis.

The more causes workers can identify, the better.

Theoretically, it’s best to use this tool in a group set-up to ensure a consensual decision-making process. This time, however, I’m advising you to request that all five workers work individually on their Fishbone Diagram, with each one listing their top causes, arranged in order of importance. They must not share their work with other workers until their analysis is complete.

As soon as everyone has completed their work, arrange a group meeting to reconcile their inputs. You should act as the facilitator. Your job is to define the one factor cited by all. If two workers cite an identical number one root cause, then that should suffice.

Focus on addressing that root cause with the help of the five workers.

What approach should you take in addressing the root cause behind late production reports? I’m a follower of the Toyota Production System, based on the ideas of Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, who in turn learned from W. Edwards Deming.

From their teachings, I developed a system called the Thinking Production System that incorporates the work of Peter Drucker, the father of modern management. I needed to tweak Toyota’s system to meet the demands of people and organizations outside of the automobile industry.

It’s an eight-step process that you can use for solving this particular issue. Regardless of whether the problem is complex or simple, it’s better to have a systematic approach so you don’t miss anything.

Here are the eight steps:

One, define the problem. If it is not addressed, how much money will you lose every day? If unquantifiable, what are its adverse effects on organizational objectives?

Two, know your goal. Define clearly the target condition using the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) template.

Three, analyze the root cause. Choose the root cause that was most frequently cited by your team.

Four, validate the root cause. Ask Five Whys. Ask as many ‘whys’ as possible until your team has exhausted all possibilities.

Five, generate low-cost, common-sense solutions. Your team must solve this problem using the company’s existing resources.

Six, seek consensus. This is often a formality because the eight-step problem-solving guide requires the active participation of everyone on the team.

Seven, implement the solution. Write a new policy. Standardize the policy. Educate all team members and continue to solicit their feedback.

Last, monitor the system. Find out how to improve the system. Review the solution and adjust accordingly as soon as you discover something.


Bring Rey Elbo’s “Kaizen Problem-Solving Workshop” to your management team. Socialized pricing scheme and result-based consulting is available. E-mail or via