In an article at the New York Times website, Michelle Maynard tells the story of Akio Toyoda's secret visit to an Ann Arbor, Michigan, car dealership. The grandson of Toyota's founder—and the man who will soon take charge of the company—was there to inspect the undercarriage of a Tundra pickup truck. Why, you ask? Because the model had been quite a bit (uncharacteristically) troublesome, and subject to recalls.

"As Maynard notes," says John Baldoni in a post at Harvard Business Publishing, "what Toyoda was practicing was a time-honored tradition in the Toyota Production System, called 'genchi genbutsu,' translated as 'go to the spot.' That is, find out where the trouble is through first-hand observation."

According to Baldoni, the current recession (with the consequent downtimes businesses are experiencing) offers a chance for some on-the-spot troubleshooting. He recommends asking these questions to address problems that may be plaguing your business:

What is the real problem? "Diagnosing [a] problem requires the discipline of looking for the root cause," Baldoni says. "You do not know until you take the time to investigate." 

How do we fix it? This might be as simple as a process overhaul, or as complicated as a product recall.

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