Lean can be summarized partly as: 1) find a problem, 2) fix a problem, 3) keep it from coming back, 4) repeat. How can you fix a problem if you don't deal with it or don't understand the situation well enough to even know if there is a problem? "So what?" should be generously applied whenever we assess the current reality.
An Example "So What?" Forum
The daily accountability process, part of a robust lean management system, includes daily tiered meetings. Those brief stand-up meetings typically require, among other things, the review of a handful of key performance metrics as well as issues and barriers that have surfaced over the last 24 hours.
The "so what?" litmus test can be applied to tiered meetings, beginning with the effort to establish the very performance metrics that serve as a critical backdrop for the daily accountability process. We can start the questioning around metric relevancy and move on from there...as in what does it mean to the stakeholders, what is the linkage to the business' strategic imperatives, what does that performance metric graph mean, how do we interpret it, is it actionable, what do those trends mean, are we getting better, getting worse, or staying the same, how are we doing relative to the target...in fact, where is the target!? In other words, "so what?" Implicitly, this is followed by, "now what?" Often, we need to reassess the utility of the performance metrics and retool them so that they drive the right lean thinking and behaviors.
Same goes with the narrative around tiered meetings once they become part of the fabric of daily operation. When an issue is identified, for example, "that's the third time this week that machine X has experienced unplanned downtime," or "the call abandon rate has exceeded the target every Monday for the last three weeks," we can't ignore it. So frequently, we end up reporting the news, collectively agree it's a bad thing, offer some weak commentary, then move onto the next subject. Guess what? That problem is going to come back again unless we drive to the, "so what?"...and then do something about it.
Leadership is a shared responsibility, but if no one else asks, "so what?" the lean leader of the tiered meeting has got to ask it. Unrelentingly...until it comes to a head, until a countermeasure has been identified, with a due date and an accountable person assigned. This is where the daily task accountability board, another part of the daily accountability process, get's its use. The board captures the actionable answers to the "so what?" question and serves as a visual for assigned countermeasures and their status.
"So what?" is not the same sassy question that we threw around in grade school. Rather, it's a thoughtful question that's founded in a bias for action. So, "so what?"