The Kipling method vs the Ohno method

Posted on 17 Nov 2009 by The Manufacturer

Jon Miller: Why ask so many questions? Just ask 'why'...

There is an interesting story told by Toyota veterans who worked directly with Taiichi Ohno. When the great sensei and architect of the Toyota Production System was introduced to the 5W1H questions for problem solving, he said “You don’t need all of those. Just keep asking “why?” until you find the cause.” The 5W1H questions are what is known as the Kipling Method, named after the author Rudyard Kipling who wrote the poem:

I have six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
I call them What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who

The 5W1H questions are what, where, when, who, why and how. Some additional W-H questions include which (variant of what) and how much or how often. These are useful in collecting information to grasp the current situation and correctly define the problem, as in “What is the problem, when and where did it occur, who did it affect, why is it a problem, and how did it occur?” Note that in proper lean or practical problem solving we never ask “Who caused the problem?”

What is interesting about the Ohno Method of asking why until we find the root cause is that it is so simple. Once the problem has been defined, we need to break it down, set targets for improvements toward the ideal condition, and then begin investigation of the root causes. Note that while the “why” in the Kipling Method may be used for “why did it happen?” in fact it should be “why is it a problem?” in lean problem solving. The 5W1H should be used for creating a good problem statement, not asking about causes. That comes later with the Ohno Method of asking why, why, why, why, why, why, why..?

What I like about this story is the fact that Taiichi Ohno takes something that is accepted as given and good, looks it in the eye and rejects it for something simpler and better. He had a keen eye for things such as this and coined many important phrases and concepts that became part of the DNA of the Toyota Production System. This talent for simplification and seeing clearly sets Taiichi Ohno apart as one of the great minds of business in the past century and the father of kaizen.

Reflecting on this, I believe the majority of the world’s troubles, not to mention challenges faced in manufacturing and service organizations, could be effectively addressed through the effective use of only 3 simple “lean tools”: teamwork, visual management, and practical problem solving. So there you have it if you want to know, “What’s the least I need to know about lean management?”

But even this is deceptively simple. Teamwork involves people whose motivations, capacity for thought, and combination of cultural and social interactions make effective teamwork staggeringly challenging when addressed simplistically. Visual management is comprised mostly of communication, controls and scoreboards but these all require clear standards and target conditions, which can quickly get you into the deep mud of a lack of standards, accountability and culture of performance management – explaining in a nutshell why most 5S efforts don’t succeed. And practical problem solving, one of my favorite topics, is something most of us think we do but in fact don’t do. The best of us may solve problems through a standardized process, but most still lack strong, concise problem statements, true root cause analysis, the pursuit of multiple countermeasures, a robust check and learning followed by standardization and sharing. In other words, we flap our lips about PDCA but don’t do it.

Are you a Kipling person, taking the accepted tool or solution as given, or are you an Ohno person, constantly challenging the norms and looking for better ways? How we answer this question has a great bearing on our individual and collective growth and success.

By Jon Miller of Gemba Research and Gemba Panta Rei blog.