Lean Problem Solving


This one-day workshop assumes you are familiar with basic lean terms and concepts as described in Lean Thinking by Jim Womack and Dan Jones.  Participants are encouraged to review “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System” (HBR Sept-Oct 1999) by Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen and the other references cited at the bottom of this page in advance.  Participants will get the most benefit if they have some experience implementing lean changes in an organization.


The Toyota Production System creates a “community of scientists.”  Toyota uses a rigorous problem-solving process that is, in effect, an experimental test of any proposed changes.  In this workshop we will explain Toyota’s powerful approach to problem solving and the Four Rules that underlie it.  We will practice using actual case studies and explain what the Four Rules and the problem solving method mean for management systems and behaviour. We will illustrate underlying mental models. Finally, we will discuss infrastructure required to develop and sustain problem solvers, and make explicit the link between problem solving and core lean activities such as strategy deployment, standardized work, visual management and human resources practices.

To create and sustain problem solvers at all levels we need to link problem solving to core management systems and behaviour.  The explicit link between problem solving and lean activities such as policy management, standardized work, visual management, human resources management and “go see” (Gemba) activities are explained.  You will learn how to do this simply and effectively.


Sustaining a lean transformation requires continuous problem solving by everyone in the company.  Success hinges on how well we teach and apply a robust, shared problem solving method at all levels.  Toyota has been called “a community of scientists” continually seeking a better way.  The Toyota Production System is an example of “evolutionary learning” – through problem solving.

Lean Problem Solving is a teachable, scalable approach based on the scientific method, which can solve the vast majority of your problems.  It teaches clear thinking, reinforces lean concepts and engages team members at all levels. When linked to core management systems, it helps to strengthen standards and build your lean management system organically, based on your needs.  It becomes the nervous system of the learning organization.

Course Outline:

In this 1-day, hands-on workshop, you will use interactive case studies and exercises to learn a proven approach to solving problems (PDCA and A3), both production and administrative.  You will also learn how to link problem solving to core management systems in your journey towards a learning culture.

Problem solving has been called the “DNA of the Toyota Production System.”  The world’s most successful companies are those that develop problem solvers at every level.  Specific topics include:

  • The lean problem solving process
  • Four critical questions (of PDCA problem solving) and common pitfalls
  • Use of SQDC check sheets and other data gathering and analysis documents
  • The five levels of management capability
  • PDCA/A3 thinking and use of the problem solving A3 document
  • Infrastructure needed to sustain problem solving
  • Role and activities of the leader
  • Relating problem solving and core lean activities

Who Should Attend:

Those who would benefit from attending this workshop include:

  • Managers, supervisors, technical support personnel and change agents
  • Organizations that want to institute company-wide change
  • Organizations that have experience with value stream mapping, and want to implement lean in production and service and beyond

Learning Objectives:

At the end of this workshop you should be able to:

  • Follow the steps of the lean problem solving process (PDCA)
  • Know how to use different problem solving templates in different circumstances
  • Develop concise problem solving A3s
  • Understand and be able to explain management processes and infrastructure needed to sustain problem solving at all levels

Suggested Reading:

“Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System” (Harvard Business Review Sept-Oct 1999), by Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen

“Learning to Lead at Toyota” (Harvard Business Review May 2004), by Steven Spear

Lean Production Simplified, by Pascal Dennis (Productivity Press 2002)

The Toyota Way (McGraw-Hill New York: 2004) by Jeffrey Liker

Getting the Right Things Doneby Pascal Dennis (Lean Enterprise Institute 2006)