Chapter 9
The problems log

In Chapter 8, we have just finally allowed you to represent the entities within which we propose to organize production around. These are village organizations, with an elected board. The members of the board are not responsible for exercising the function of president, director and treasurer, but just to make sure that the organization applies the state of the art rules - this book - concerning the three functions that they represent. We have also seen that each function corresponds to a formalism imposed on the organization. We will not present the accounting associated with the function of treasurer, because it is a very widely mastered subject to which we have no significant change to make.
However, let's now explain why we added two logs, a strategic thinking log for the function of president, and a problems log for the function of director. Why not just one? Why not just an account of collective deliberations and the decisions that flow from them, as in a simple association?

A real organization is subject to different kind of problems: a lot of toddlers, quite some means, and a few big or substantive issues. However, there are individuals who are naturally at ease with the small problems to be dealt with quickly and efficiently: these are action oriented people; and individuals who are naturally at ease with fundamental questions, for which we have time to ask: these are the thinkers. But there are no people who are naturally comfortable with all types of problems, because each type of problem requires a specific organization of life to be comfortable.
So, if we appoint - or elect - a 'chief' of our village organization, he will have a mode of operation which is natural to him, and will favor the treatment of the problems which correspond to it. This is precisely what we are trying to avoid. We want to ensure that we deal reasonably well with the small everyday problems as well as the big substantive issues. For that, we simply created two distinct functions, each with a formalism adapted to frame the type of associated problem.
We have just mentioned 'quie some medium problems', alongside 'a lot of small ones' and 'a few large ones', so why not a function specifically addressing 'medium problems'? Because, according to Montesquieu, “the best is the mortal enemy of the good”. In other words, the best system is a balance between perfection and simplicity. Having two functions is necessary and sufficient to ensure that one will deal with all types of problems.

The problems log, which we will now detail, is the director's tool, and the everyday report on the treatment of multiple small problems. The substantive issues will be addressed in the next chapter, with the strategic thinking log.


The problems log is a register with 4 columns:
First of all, the findings column, which indicates Who, When, What, with What consequences.
Then the Analysis column which aims to establish the single cause or multiple causes of the problem.
Then the column Solution, which aims to propose a solution which very often is only partial, and which people will be involved.
Finally, the Implementation column, which indicates whether the implementation took place, When.

Each person in the organization adds lines to this log, or more exactly fills in the first column as he encounters obstacles in the execution of his mission. Then, other people, in the forefront of which the director, come to speak with him regularly to help him complete the other columns, in ways that we will specify later in this chapter.

Some Lean initiates will have recognized one of their tools.
The problems log is the manager's work tool, much like accounting journal is the treasurer's work tool. A line is added to the log each time a person in the organization notices a problem that hinders the proper execution of his mission.
Incidentally, this log also helps to understand the level of organization of the company. It can therefore also be used by the treasurer to obtain new resources from the banker, and by operational control to assess the level of organizational performance of the company.

Reason for being

Why impose a formalism of the problems log type, that is to say the history of the day-to-day business, while in Chapter 7, we stated that what needed to be strengthened to respond to the Marx updated problem, is the decision making process? It is indeed the strategic thinking log, presented in the next chapter, which represents the direct response to Marx's problem, that is to say an effort to take into account all the consequencies in the long-term. However, experience shows us that it is not enough to define good objectives to be useful socially. It is still necessary to be well organized to carry out everyday the mission that we have set. Put more simply, the two new logs are complementary: the strategic thinking log secures the right choices, and the problems log secures their proper implementation.

Too often, the following scenario is repeated in current businesses and administrations: a person addresses his supervisor to report a problem that prevents him from performing his job properly, and the supervisor responds with a dodge. Depending on the supervisor character, or possibly his instant state of mind, dodging can take very diverse forms. It can be compassionate “I understand your problem, and I agree that it is not normal, but we do not have a budget to improve the situation: it depends on the bureaucrats of the general direction on which unfortunately I have no power”. It may be a more disapproving rejection of the type “You can always contact the general management”. It can also be a demeaning “You will find a solution!” Or even a moralizer “We are a society of "winners". I expect my employees to show initiative”. The initial dodge can possibly be supplemented, a little later, by some derogatory remarks, or the assignment of a more or less vexatious task, to make it clear that the problems should no longer be escalated. Anyone who is normally constituted quickly understands the lesson. If the superior is of a domineering temperament, he can push the vice up to asking every morning “Hello Dupont, is everything okay today?” until the expected “Yes sir” is recieved. This yes sir, it is the exact equivalent of the grin that the rhesus macaque addresses when a monkey of higher social rank approaches it in the documentary Caribbean Primates which we evoked in chapter 2, and which marks the acceptance of the position of inferiority in the social hierarchy.
What these behaviors reveal is that the corporate hierarchy is above all a matter of social rank, as Parkinson had revealed, and that the skill which makes it possible to climb the hierarchical levels is very largely a myth, or more exactly a facade, which is revealed by the investigations of the book The Stupidity Paradox (1) that we mentioned in chapter 3. We also find at this level the two alternatives represented by Chester and Tony in the television report Primates of the Caribbean. On the one hand, the manager who tries to establish his social ascent on the basis of benevolent exchanges, and who will rather choose compassionate dodging for example. He will also gladly give speeches on the concept of a winning team and its concern to be close to its employees. On the other hand, the manager who tries to establish his social ascent on the basis of fear, who will rather choose to dodge employees who must show initiative. This one will also favor speeches on the notion of competition for example. What is important at this level is to understand that again, the problem is not so much the alternative chosen by the manager in terms of his strategy of conquering power, as the fact that this conquest is done in all cases on the basis of the game of alliances, and therefore that it induces generalized nepotism and a significant level of stress in all individuals.

In Chapter 4, we saw the current decision-making procedures, that is to say the downward flow in organizations from management to operational staff. What we are seeing now is the upward flow of operatives to management, which is a flow of problems. What we see is that the management's objective is that there be no upward flow, and that is quite logical. Since we saw in Chapter 4 that the decision-making mechanism is generally ineffective, it is quite logical that decision-makers are not interested in learning the actual consequences of their decisions. On the contrary, all they expect is that there be nothing to contradict the discourse they are having for sure regarding the quality of their past decisions. Any upward flow is therefore a source of cognitive dissonance for them, and the preferred means of stopping it is terror.
In other words, the objective of those who have been able to progress significantly in the social hierarchy is to make decisions without having to assume the consequences, and the surest way to do so is to attack anyone who commits the imprudence to persist in escalating problems. In reality, the vice does not stop there: since inept decisions are said to be superior, because based on the latest fashionable managerial myths, management expects them to translate into a satisfactory operating result. So not only does it make inept decisions, not only does it not want feedback of problems on the field, but in addition it demands, for good measure, high operational performance, with always, as privileged means, the threat on all intermediate hierarchical stages. So that a top-down chain of pressure and threats is established in parallel with the top-down chain of decisions.
From there, we understand the raison d'être of the problems log / strategic thinking log couple, which is to reverse the loop: the problems log organizes the feedback, and the strategic thinking log organizes the downway solutions. Let us repeat, the challenge is twofold: on the one hand, to limit the game of alliances for access to positions of power, and therefore stress at all levels. On the other hand, allow rational decisions, therefore allow to effectively face the ecological challenge for example, instead of pretending.

If we now focus exclusively on the problems log, its main function is to provoke a change in nature in the exchanges between employees. More specifically, the objective is to switch the majority of these exchanges from the game of alliances to feeding the virtuous circle of treatment of the difficulties encountered by the organization in the exercise of its raison d'être.
It also has a significant effect on cognitive dissonance. Since as we will see, it becomes socially recommended to go and meet other collaborators to discuss their problems log, one gradually acquires knowledge of a large mass of precise facts concerning the organization, so one comes out of the fear the unknown and of the the projection of stereotypical representations of the functioning of the other services in the organization.
Not knowing is the tool of choice for lying to oneself, so resort more or less subtly to coercion in the end, without having to admit it. So circulating to all employees precise and objective information on the functioning of the organization in every corner is a powerful means of fostering consensus. Indeed, once we know (in terms of cognitive dissonance: once we can no longer deny the reality of the problems), that we no longer operate in a vacuum with our social group (in terms of dissonance cognitive: that we no longer receives massive social support linked to certain myths of our particular social class), it becomes mentally less easy to oppose a solution that satisfies the general interest.

The second major characteristic of the problems log is its educational dimension. It is completed by an exchange between two collaborators: one seeks and the other asks questions. These exchanges are an opportunity for each employee to progress in contact with more experienced employees, and therefore to acquire knowledge that will be doubly useful to him. On the one hand, he becomes more independent in his work. On the other hand, the training in analysis and the search for a solution makes him progressively more efficient in terms of the strategic analyzes which will be entrusted to it, thus enabling it to improve its strategic rating and the associated social prestige.
In other words, filling in a problems log is a powerful way of reducing the number of problems actually encountered, on the one hand by the solutions which will be found and implemented to limit the problems, and on the other hand by the the fact that certain situations will cease to be problematic, due to the gain in autonomy linked to the associated learning.


The role of the first column in the problem log is therefore to identify problems, and to identify only practical problems, not resentments or personal ambitions.
We therefore understand better the role assigned to the director in Chapter 8: ensuring the proper functioning of the problems log. He is the guarantor of the feeding this effective flow of objective problems and not someone who makes decisions and seeks to avoid the escalation of problems as is too often the case today.

The second column, the analysis, aims to elucidate the real cause or causes of the problem. Often when the problem arises we find an obvious cause. But by thinking better, we can discover that the obvious cause is not necessarily the right one, and especially not the one over which we have the most control on. To fill this box, one has to be two in facts. One is the one who registered the problem, the other can be the director or any other collaborator. The role of the director or the collaborator is to question whoever wrote down the problem, that is to say to practice no more and no less than Socrates' maieutics.

The third column aims to find a solution to the problem, which in many cases will only be partial. It must also specify who will be involved in the implementation of the solution. One should not rush towards this box at the risk of stepping over the second. The solutions that will prove to be ineffective are generally those where we have moved too quickly from box one to box three.
At the level of this solution box, we once again appeal to the Stoic precepts that we will see in chapter 22. In the case of problem solving, the starting point is the precept of Epictetus. The most classic way to leave this box blank is to assume that since we are not the best people to solve the problem, we have nothing to do. Now Epictetus invites us to start by differentiating between what depends on us and what does not depend on us, and then focuses exclusively and intensely on what depends on us.
This third box has several possible outcomes. The simplest case is that the two protagonists agree on the solution to be adopted, that is to say that the one who questioned is of the same opinion as the one who had encountered the initial problem, and therefore had the role of the one seeking the solution. Otherwise, if the one who questions is more experienced on the subject than the one who is looking for, he can simply choose to let implement the solution which seems to him a little naive, just to encourage initiative in his collaborator, or because the solution seems unusual to him but not necessarily significantly worse. He can also regain control, and explain why his solution is preferable.

Link with the general organization

We can now more precisely specify the mission of the director at the level of the problems log.
First, he is responsible for ensuring that each employee regularly fills the problems log. The way to do this is quite simple: first go to the employee, and consult with him the list of problems he has recently identified. If there is none, the director's role is to re-explain the purpose of the log. If there are some, the director chooses one, and animates the exchange to advance an analysis box or a solution development box. In no case does it seek to get all of the boxes filled. Then, the manager asks the employee which colleague he visited to help him fill in at least one box in the problems log. If necessary, the director explains the value of this approach. Finally, the director ensures that there are not too many lines stopped in the solution box, that is to say for which the implementation has not taken place. Possibly, he calls out the various people concerned by a solution box awaiting implementation, to redefine and note with them when they will carry out the implementation.

We now understand better why we chose (chapter 8) organizations of a hundred people in which we seek to have a single hierarchical level. Due to the implementation of the problems log, educational exchanges take place very regularly, so employees are empowered, which reduces the need for supervision. In other words, with this log, the resources allocated to management are reduced in favor of resources allocated to teaching, which is expressed by exchanges between employees.

Some advices

In this last part, we will discuss some classic obstacles that any organization inevitably encounters in terms of the functioning of the problems log, and suggest ways to overcome them.

The first problem, and the most frequent at the beginning, is the obstruction: "I don't have time, I already have too much work". This is why the function of director is a hierarchical function which makes it possible to impose purely and simply on any collaborator to assign a part of his time to the treatment of the problems log, both filling and reflection assisted by a third party, and finally assistance to others reflection. However, what must take precedence is the fingering, that is to say, be clear that a zero time is not acceptable and not accepted, but then accept a gradual increase once that the first positive results are felt, and therefore that confidence in the system progresses.

Then, there are more difficult problems for which we come up against the filling of the analysis box or the partial solution box. In this case, the solution may be to report the problem to the strategic thinking log, which will make it possible to assign more substantial means of analysis to it, possibly using skills external to the organization.

In some cases, the solution proposed by the person who noticed the problem is rejected by people involved in the implementation of the solution. There is therefore disagreement on the solution to be implemented in the end. Here again, we carry over to the strategic thinking log, the solution of which will have the value of an arbiter.

There are too many entries in the problems log, we can no longer deal with everything!
It is the sign of a fundamental work which has just started. It can be perfectly normal for it to take several years before obtaining a process under control, that is to say with a limited number of problems. At the beginning, we are content to choose pragmatically the problems for which the ratio gain of quality (both at the level of the quality of the product or service rendered, and at working comfort level) on effort of implementation is the best.


The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work by Mats Alvesson and André Spicer, chapter 5, paragraph "Faith in the system"