Posted by: JC Gatlin | September 20, 2009

First Step in PDCA is Problem Consciousness (& the elusive Bigfoot)

Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons

Have you ever seen the late ‘80’s movie, Harry and the Hendersons? In it, the Henderson Family had never seen a Bigfoot till their car smashes into one deep in the Washington forest. Then, at the end of the film when they return Harry – the elusive Bigfoot – to the wild, they find there were Bigfoots all around them in that forest. The Hendersons just had never been able to see them before.

Now, if you apply that analogy to problem awareness in our communities, you’ll find that we’re kind of like the Henderson Family. And the problems we’re conscious of might as well be as elusive as bigfoot. Sure, we can identify a big, hairy problem when we smash into one. But for the most part, we’re pretty unaware of our own environment.

Don’t believe me? Just take a random look at some of the PDCAs presented at this month’s Ganmi web conference. Ask yourself, how long have some of these workarounds been festering, and why did it take the problem coming to a head to make someone finally start a PDCA?

Today, we’re falling into several traps that are preventing us from mastering problem consciousness in our own environment. These traps are blinders really, keeping us from seeing the waste and damage created by allowing recurring problems time and time again, or worse, accepting workarounds to supersede the system. Arguably, the Number 1 trap is not knowing and truly understanding waste.

There’s seven types of waste. If you can’t name them off the top of your head – and more importantly give real world examples of each – then your problem solving skills will remain largely ineffective. You’re not seeking out and eliminating waste; you’re sitting back waiting for big, hairy problems to smash into you. And when they do, human tendency is react to it and jump to a solution. We don’t have time to PDCA – we’ve got a fire to put out!

Because we don’t have time, we generally accept recurring problems as part of the job — which is trap #2. Saying, “I’ll get to it later! I don’t have time to do this right now,” or, worse, “this workaround is getting the job done” does far more damage – though it might appear quiet and subtle – than hitting the pause button. Sometimes you have to stop production so that production never stops.  If an occurrence happens twice, it will happen again. If a problem can potentially arise, it will. If a problem occurs in your community or on your home site, it’s happening in others. Don’t accept recurring problems and don’t accept workarounds as a solution to a recurring problem.

Sometimes workarounds are tricky: they disguise themselves as “the way it’s always been done,” a.k.a trap #3. Sometimes, even if we know something isn’t right, we’ll accept it because that’s the way we did it last week, or that’s the way it’s always been done in this community, or that’s the way I was “trained” to do it. If a process doesn’t seem right to you or its creating waste, question it. It’s okay to question why you do something a particular way. But, again, to see it and then question it, you must first understand the waste and recognize it’s occurring.

The first step to true problem consciousness is becoming aware of your environment. Buy a note book dedicated to problem identification.  On the first page, list the seven types of waste and their definitions. Then begin looking for real world examples in your community – be it at the model home, home sites under construction, vacant lots, the building process, the route to local Realtor offices, etc. Keep a log of the waste you see. Pick a specific type of waste and keep your eyes open for it. Take a trip to another community to visit other model homes and jobsites. Sometimes it’s easier to spot waste in someone else’s environment, rather than your own. Then, take that list back to your own community and compare. Today you may only see one or two items to log. If you keep the log daily and write down everything you see, you’ll find your daily list growing exponentially. And, no, you may not realistically be able to PDCA every waste you identify. Simply concern yourself with opening your eyes and making yourself aware.

There’s waste all around us, like those elusive Bigfoots in the Washington forest. You’ve just got to know what you’re looking for.

© September 2009 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.



  1. Good point. After all this time, why do we still “find time” to not solve problems. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. I am as guilty of this as anyone. How can I/we get in the habit of taking time from our day to reflect, analyze, and attack problems? Our ganmi’s should have a 3 week backlog. How can we get there? Any ideas?

  2. Hi JC,

    I like the statement on being effective at problem solving.
    “There’s seven types of waste. If you can’t name them off the top of your head – and more importantly give real world examples of each – then your problem solving skills will remain largely ineffective”

    I’ve just shared this with my team. Great explanation JC !

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