I know Shakespeare really wasn’t talking about Lean or Lean Sigma, but he was right about the difficulty of decisions. It’s especially true of organizations that are fully engaged in continuous improvement or operational excellence. What’s the best approach to getting projects done? Large ones or small simple fixes. It’s a question that we often get when we’re consulting or training. Should we “just do it” or deploy a full blown DMAIC project. Over the years we’ve come across some ways to help pick an approach. One size does not fit every problem or process. Here are some thoughts.

Just Do it

We are impatient when it comes to business. We want it done yesterday. There’s lots of appeal for just going after the problem in front of us. Most organizations have subject matter experts that love to problem solve. We can “Just do it” if the new process is easier than the old process and there doesn’t need to be any type of approval. There should not be resistance from peers. Typically, “Just Do Its” fall within the departmental level.

We still have to define success. It has to be obvious when the problem or process is fixed. Another characteristic of a “Just Do It” is that the solution should be simple and known. The reaction should be: “…it was about time we fixed that.”

Finally, the fix shouldn’t change due to an upcoming kaizen or project. We should not jump the gun or have to re-do a fix.


Kaizens can be a beautiful thing. They are ideal if there is a condensed timeline or a sense of urgency with a process or problem that exists. Besides the time or urgency, there are few other key factors that point to Kaizens. The decision makers have to be present. They may not have to be in the room every moment, but they need to be engaged and available. Usually 1-2 departments are involved. The idea is to improve without excess bureaucracy.

Many of the tools like Structured Problem Solving, A3s and 3 and 5 step problem solving are used. Data should be available if it’s crucial for the process improvements. This can be deciding factor alone. If data is necessary and if time is needed to collect it, this can preclude a Kaizen event.

Creativity over capital is the war cry for Kaizens. For good reason. Capital projects should be handled using separate process that most organizations possess. Kaizens are for rapid improvements on the spot, not as justification for Capital.

In Kaizens, the solutions may be known or not. 

DMAIC Process

This is where all the other processes that need to be improved or sticky problems roost. Typically, the scope of the problem will prohibit the Kaizen timeframe. This usually means that there is a high degree of complexity to the problem or process. In these cases, data may need to be collected.

A DMAIC project is warranted if the problem is systematic. The ability of the roadmap and breadth of tools help to identify overarching broken processes. There may not be clear ownership of the problem or it could span several departments making it difficult for timely decisions. Cross functional teams are usually necessary for most projects.

DMAIC projects also can be used to effectively build a case for capital investments. The scientific approach to problem solving create the necessary data for capital justification.

With DMAIC projects the solution shouldn’t be known. Avoid running an easy “fix” through a DMAIC process. The layering of un-necessary tools waste time and money. Likewise, trying to fix a complex systematic problem in a short time without the necessary resources and approach can lead to failure. 

Take the time necessary to define the approach to problems solving and continuous improvement. The right project, with the right people and the right roadmap will give you the right results.

I’ve summarized the key elements below to act as a checklist for picking the approach for problem solving. Hopefully, it will help steer you in the right direction.

Just do it

  • New process is easier than the old process
  • Does not need approval
  • No resistance or concerns from peers
  • We know how to measure success
  • Won’t change from kaizen or project coming in the short-term
  • Usually falls at the department level
  • Solution is known and is simple


  • Condensed timeline or sense of urgency
  • Scheduling conflicts or restrictions
  • Decision makers are present
  • Data is available if crucial
  • Creativity over capital
  • 1-2 (max 3) departments
  • Solutions may be known or unknown

DMAIC project

  • Scope prohibits kaizen timeframe
  • Data needs to be collected
  • Complexity is high
  • Systematic
  • Need to build case for   investment
  • No initial clear ownership
  • 3 or more departments or decision makers
  • Solution not known

If you would like to request a listening session for your business, you can contact me, Al Landers, by email at alanders@sbtimail.com.