Saihatsu Boshi – Key to Japanese Problem-Solving
Japanese people are well-known throughout the world as perfectionists in
the various aspects of their work. Their attention to detail is
legendary, and non-Japanese who work with them need to be familiar with
one of the key techniques used by them in the pursuit of perfection –
Saihatsu Boshi literally means “the prevention or re-occurrence”.
It may sound simple but it has deep significance for many Japanese.
Everyone agrees that making sure problems don`t happen again is a good
thing but the Japanese have a structured process for doing this and they
get frustrated when working with people from other cultures who don`t
take this approach and have the same problems occurring again.
Saihatsu Boshi in Japan is simply accepted standard behaviour. Anything
else suggests a lack of commitment and unprofessionalism.
The first step in saihatsu boshi is “genin wo mitsukeru”. This means
getting to the root of the problem and/or discovering the root cause.
This process is what Americans might refer to as a detailed post-mortem
analysis. It involves looking at all the possible reasons why something
went wrong, and identifying specifically what factors led to the failure,
mistake, problem, or defect. A vague answer like “human error” or “a
random glitch” are deemed unacceptable.
In many non-Japanese cultures, this root cause analysis is difficult
because individuals are not comfortable being forthright about their
errors that led to a problem. In many cultures, admitting a mistake can
be viewed as a weakness, seen to be embarrassing, or cause one to be the
target of punishment or even dismissal.
In the Japanese environment, however, people are expected to put aside
their pride in the pursuit of perfection and the common good. The
lifetime employment custom also makes it safer for people to be
forthright about instances where their performance was not perfect,
because they won’t fear being let go as a result.
Once the root cause has been identified, the Japanese then implement
“taisaku” – countermeasures. This is true no matter how difficult to
control or rarely-occurring a root cause might be. For example, if you
have identified your root cause as a simple mistake made by someone on
the production line, your countermeasure might involve instituting
double-check procedures, adding additional inspection staff at the end
of the line, or altering the operator’s job so that fatigue or
distractions are reduced.
To the Japanese, any mistake or failure is viewed as a huge negative.
However, if you can produce a good root cause analysis and corresponding
countermeasures, you can often get a second chance. The damage from not
doing this kind of saihatsu boshi can be worse than from the initial
mistake or problem. Japanese people feel that although having a problem
is a bad thing, letting the same problem happen again is even worse.
In this sense, Saihatsu Boshi is all about organizational learning – the
ability for a company to absorb the lessons of its own experience.
Saihatsu Boshi is a way of ensuring that individuals and the entire
organization will learn from things that go wrong, and change its ways
of doing things so that they will never be repeated. The
countermeasures created in the Saihatsu Boshi process usually consist of
improvements in processes and procedures. Saihatsu Boshi is really the
backbone of the vaunted Japanese ability to do kaizen (continuous
So what should you do if something has gone wrong or there is some
problem in the work you have been doing with Japanese. How should you
address this problem using the saihatsu boshi technique?
You should first show your intention to do saihatsu boshi by saying
something like “we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again” or “we
want to be sure to avoid this kind of problem in the future.”
Then, describe in detail the root cause or causes. Even when dealing
with someone of higher rank than you or a client, being honest about the
root causes is extremely important.
They will value your willingness to be forthright, even about your own
mistakes or failures. Then, for each root cause, describe in detail
what countermeasure or countermeasures you plan to adopt.
Finally, finish with a reaffirmation of your commitment to avoiding
having this same problem happen again, and your desire for a continued
good working relationship.