The industrial version of rock-paper-scissors

Mike Wroblewski
Tags: lean manufacturing

Did you ever play rock-paper-scissors as a kid?

When I was a kid, this was the ultimate decision-maker. Whenever we faced an important decision, like who goes first or who gets to decide what we are going to play next, we played rock-paper-scissors.

Normally, after a count of three, you threw out your hand in the form of either a fist (rock), flat hand (paper) or extending two fingers (scissors). The paper covered the rock, the scissors cut the paper and the rock smashes the scissors. Each had an equal chance of coming out on top, making the decision.

In the grown-up business world, we play a similar game when it comes to making most of our decisions. I call this game opinion-data-perception.

Traditionally, we gather around a table for a meeting and instead of throwing out our hands, we throw our opinions, data and perceptions. The data covers the opinion, the perceptions cut the data and the opinions smash the perceptions. Each has an equal chance of coming out on top, making the decision.

So, how do you win at this game? Better stated, how can we make better decisions?

Well, if you added people to the meeting, you would get more opinions. You know the saying ... everyone has one. But this would complicate the issue and pull us away from making a better decision.

If you provided more data, data would be king. Personally, as a former industrial engineer, I like this one. Data rules! However, I have learned the hard way that perception is too powerful of a force for data alone. That is especially true if the perception is formed at the top of the organizational chart. Besides, adding more data just confuses most people to the point that their eyes start to glaze over and their minds become numb.

So, what is the answer?

It is perception by gemba. To make better decisions, go beyond the data by going to the gemba (the plant floor, the place where the action happens)!

Go to where the work takes place yourself. See the issues with your own eyes, not just what it says on paper in a report or chart. Touch the problem. Hear what the people next to the problem have to say. Use all your senses to develop an improved perception of the problem.

With this knowledge, only then can we make better decisions in our grown-up game of rock-paper-scissors.

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is president of Victory Alliance Technologies, a Greensburg, Ind., firm that specializes in lean implementation. He writes a blog called " Got Boondoggle?" featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Mike can be reached by e-mail at