Brainstorming is a Terrible Way to Start a Team

Improvement Insights Blog

Brainstorming is a Terrible Way to Start a Team

Did your quality instructors teach you to gather a team and brainstorm a problem to solve? That’s terribly bad advice. Use data to pinpoint the problem. Then, and only then do you know who should be on the root cause analysis.

I don’t know about you, but when I first got my quality training they said, “Get a team together and brainstorm a problem to solve and then go start trying to find the data, define the data, measure the data,” or something else. Now that’s the dumbest damn advice I ever got in quality training. I’ve looked at a lot of different training packages over the years and they still have all that same stupid stuff in there.

“Here’s what happens: the team gets together and they want to blame their customers or their suppliers or their boss or their subordinates, and they want to try and fix somebody else. Wrong! You can’t fix somebody else. If you’ve ever tried, you know this is not possible, right? There’s an old joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

“All right, so you can’t change other people unless they want to change. The only thing you can change is what you do. Now here’s what I found works the best – absolutely works the best over time. You take the data, we’re going to start at the high level: the 80-20 Pareto. Then we’re going to take the big bar of the 80-20 and drill it down into what I call Arthur’s 4-50 rule: 4% of what you’re doing is producing half the waste, rework and lost profit. That’s four steps out of 100; one step out of 25. When you narrow it down to that point – and ONLY at that point – do you have any idea who should be on your improvement team.

“It might be a nursing unit, one nursing unit. One nurse told me that they discovered that most of the falls they had were in the orthopedic surgery recovery unit, and it was normally men between the ages of 20 and 40. Now if you get a bunch of nurses together from all over [and from] different units and then you try and figure out what to do, they just start pointing in different directions. But no, if you narrow it down to that “orthopedic recovery [unit], men 20 to 40,” do you think you can come up with countermeasures to prevent that? Of course you can.

“I’ve seen giant packaging lines… well, if one packaging line has 50 percent of the defects, you need people who know something about that packaging line to get on there. Now, you might be able to get some ideas from the other packaging lines, but it’s just that one line, right? Fix the one thing, right? Don’t get a bunch of other people together. People who know something about that one line, and know something about what kind of defect [you’re seeing]; well, folded flaps. Okay, folded flaps. Let’s go fix that.

“This is the essence: If you let the data narrow your focus, you can then tell exactly who should be on your team, and it won’t be a bunch of strangers you pull together just because, or your buddies just because you like them, right? This is stupid. Let the data lead you, narrow your focus, fix that one thing… and do it again, and do it again, and do it again, and do it again until you retire. I mean, that’s what I can tell you, right?

“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s create a hassle free America; hassle-free healthcare. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”