Tag Archives: continuous improvement

A Thinking Process for Solving Problems

3 Nov

I was asked to develop the problem solving capabilities of a group of staff. The group, like many of us, had members who were zealous about various steps, tools and forms they used somewhere else and now advocated for. The leaders were completely agnostic about the philosophy underlying the methodology. They liked how I helped them solve problems and wanted me to help their teams.

Most problem solving methodologies are limited to the task of cause analysis; a very important task, but not the only task. In the end, I prescribed the framework below – a thinking process – to guide the group through solving problems that honors the existing knowledge of the people involved and allows them to use any tool at their disposal.

**Two ways to apply these steps: (1) deductive – solving repetitious problems (2) inductive – designing the problem / risks out (opportunities in). It’s all cause and effect – either what did cause or what would cause an effect.

1. Awareness: How do we know there’s a problem to be solved? What is the importance / value of intervening?

  • Collect data and relevant information.

2. Team: Who should be involved in solving the problem? Involve Stakeholders (aim for representation from each group that touches or is impacted by problem) to:

  • Build problem solving skills
  • Improve understanding of process and interdependencies
  • Increase support and sustainment of outcomes
  • Transfers ownership to team for thinking and doing.
3. Contain – How can we manage loss while we identify the cause and correct it?
  • Band-aid over a bullet hole or finger in the dam. If we stop here, we’re firefighting and nothing ever gets fixed.
4. Define the Problem: What outcome or effect is problematic?

  • “We want an outcome that is…”
  • “We want an outcome that is not…”
  • Reach agreement of what the problem is. If you can’t agree on the problem, you won’t agree on the cause or solution.
  • Tip:
Say “so what” until everyone on the team cares.

5. Identify cause(s)

cause [kawz]: 1. the producer of an effect.

6, Action Plan: Identify, select and implement best solutions to the problem.

  • Identify countermeasures or corrective actions to prevent and/or control each potential cause.
  • Leverage Lessons Learned: search of all possible locations and resources for information that may be beneficial.
    • have experienced / addressed a similar problem.
    • have consistently avoided the problem.
  • Prioritize Actions
  • Assign accountability for execution.
  • Tip: When something is really important, bring in outsiders to critically analyze the plan.

7. Verify: Each solution on the action plan should have an expected outcome; how will you verify it?

  • Follow-up to determine if corrective action(s) have been effective in resolving problems.
  • Verify that training updates, use of updated standards and accountability audits are occurring.
8. Share: What needs to be communicated? With whom? Why?
  • Communicate results with stakeholders.
  • Scan for opportunities to prevent occurrence of the same or similar problems and leverage learning throughout the organization.

Under-resourced ≠ Lean

25 Feb

In the workplace, Lean is a term most often used in reference to a way of thinking and acting, a management philosophy and process, that maximizes value while reducing waste – usually, paying homage to the Toyota Production System (TPS). However, I’ve observed colleagues from many different organizations state that they lack the resources required to provide value because their organization “runs lean.” Fiscally conservative about adding cost, sure. Lean, no.

Being over-resourced is wasteful, but being under-resourced is often even more wasteful and damaging to creating value while eliminating waste. Each of the forms of waste and flow are negatively impacted by being inappropriately resourced. All the worse, it’s usually stated with a sense a pride, as if good stewardship is being practiced.

If Six Sigma is the management strategy of your organization, being under-resourced is at cross purpose with your goals too. The goal of six sigma is to improve quality through reducing process variability. Being under-resourced most often reduces quality and increases variability.

Lean is an investment strategy. Describing a system that is starved of a needed resource – human, material, or other – as Lean is inaccurate. This is a perversion of the fundamental ideas of Lean and Stewardship.

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