Over the last month we have been exploring thoughts around problem solving – tools, mind-sets, and validation. Today I want to talk about having a sense of urgency.
Solving problems with a sense of urgency is key to a company’s competitive position. Faster is important when competition is nipping at your heels to take jobs and profits. When we truly internalize that our performance (on a daily/hourly level) is the “pad lock” to our longevity – urgency becomes the key to unlocking the “pad lock”.
The best companies have people that work with a sense of urgency. Putting off what can be done today for tomorrow, just doesn’t cut it. You cannot do everything in a single moment nor should you try. However, a sense of urgency means focusing on the right thing at the right time in the right cadence. Simple, right? Well, not exactly.
Urgency does not mean chaotic. Creating chaos wastes resources.
Urgency does not mean disruptive. Changing things without intentional thinking wastes resources.
Urgency does mean purposeful. Pick your direction and then move. I believe you are working with a “sense of urgency” if you:
- Know what is important and are driving for sustainable results – every day, every decision, every communication.
- Get it done now, if it has to be done now, You don’t procrastinate. You don’t accept others procrastinating.
- Constantly ask, “what’s next?” Continuous improvement is first and foremost in your motivation.
- Constantly are communicating, almost borderline over-communicating to those around you what the important milestones for success are and what is being done next to achieve them
- Want more than just “good enough”. Meaning, you decide to actively do something about it other than criticize others. Don’t walk around complaining about trash on the floor – pick it up yourself.
- Are “all in” – no marking time on the clock, no doing just enough to stay under your boss’s radar
- Realize your responsibility is to make your team members’ job(s) better by error proofing their tasks. You know that “value added work” is king.
- Are satisfied enough to try again tomorrow to make it just a little bit better.
Recently, someone on our team shared a very profound statement with me: “Just cause the squeaky wheel gets the grease, doesn’t mean the grease fixes the problem”.
The saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is meant for those that want something addressed. Think of it this way:
- I have a problem. (I become the squeaky wheel )
- I decide what I want done to solve my problem. (I want grease )
- I keep pestering people till I get what I want that I think addresses my problem. (I am given grease )
But what if the real problem, the foundational problem, is overlooked because the “grease” hides what’s really wrong, hides what needs to be fixed. Or worse, there is only so much “grease” (i.e., time, money, resources) and they are all used up on the squeaky wheel – and there is nothing left to fix the real problem.
Rather than do the necessary “thought work” needed to apply root cause problem solving tools, we fall prey on those that yell the loudest for our time and attention. Rather than prioritizing our issues and applying resources accordingly, we use up our time and money quieting the squeaky wheel.
Using the tools we have been talking about the last few weeks helps you sort out using grease on the wrong issue. Granted, sometimes the “squeaky wheel” really does need “grease”. Learn to tell the difference.
Suited up for Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) training. Photo Jay Holobach.
I grew up in a generation that “anything was possible”. Man walked on the moon. My husband has even stood on the Mission Control room floor and watched astronauts in the International Space Station. (He can assure you they aren’t faking it.) I can talk to someone half way around the globe from the middle of my street – no wires attached. If you can think it, it can happen.
Really? “Anything”? That idea works great for innovation, for business expansion, or career dreams. Not so much for targeted problem solving. While everything is possible – including potential root causes – not everything is probable. At work, I get asked lots of “what if” questions – to which I respond “that is possible, however the question is how probable.”
In the thick of business decisions aimed at fixing disruption, to attack in-the-minute problems, when timing is critical – focus on the probable. It is the filter that will let you be more right more often. Focusing on the possible will tie you like an anchor to indecision.
So where does the possible come in? Do I ever care? Once a plan is laid in, considering the possible allows you to be quick and nimble with plan b, plan c, and so on – when things go astray you have a backup plan ready to go.
Rule of thumb: Decide based on the probable, have back up plans based on the possible.
Your problem solving bag of tricks size may vary.
One thing companies have in common – regardless of industry, locations, or size – is that there are plenty of problems to solve AND limited resources to do so. Thus, one tool in your “problem solving bag of tricks” must be a filter to prioritize what to go after first.
One tool I use is a Pareto chart. Based on what you deem as important (y-axis), it sorts highest to lowest. By focusing on those at the left, you get a bigger bang for your effort.
Of course, this tool comes into play once you have decided “what set of problems to focus on”.
For example, assume you have determined that machine down time is adversely effecting your business. You could plot which machine has the greatest downtime and focus there. Or you may plot which shift has the greatest downtime and focus there. Or maybe it is electrical vs mechanical vs computer. How do you decide “what” to Pareto? If you pick the wrong category — you could waste a year of resources and have no improvement.
Here are 4 simple questions that help sort that through…
1. Go back to the balance sheet. What is costing you the most money?
2. Assess your resources. Of what costs you the most money, what costs you the least to fix?
3. Timing is everything. Of what costs you the most, are there any quick wins that can fund the next fix or set of fixes?
4. Emotional land minds always exist. What problem does your leadership want solved? Even if it is not on your “most costly”, you will want to spend resources on it.
Heading up I-24 into work, I noticed the guy passing me was on his phone, eating with one hand, drinking coffee with the other and speeding. I thought to myself, all he needs is someone in front of him to tap their brakes a little too hard and his day would change in a blink of an eye not to mention how his actions would impact (literally) those around him. Luckily, I exited before finding out the rest of his story.
Because I was contemplating this post I thought of the analogy between that I-24 driver and how making multiple changes while multi-tasking doesn’t affect just you – but how it impacts those around you. As a leader your first priority should be those you serve.
One of the hardest things in problem solving is taking the time to do it right. You have the pressure of leadership wanting an answer, the voice of the customer wanting progress, and the weight of fixing failures before they happen again.
With all that going on, it is easy to succumb to changing everything at once. It could be x, y or z – so let’s change all three and “save” some time.
There is just one problem with that, ok, actually there are many problems with that. You now have NO idea what “thing” fixed the issue, or if all three changes just made it worse. So much for sleeping tonight as you lay awake in bed pondering a new potential outcome.
Tried and true scientific studies specifically control all things AND they only change one thing at a time. A former boss of mine used to say tongue-in cheek, “We never seem to have enough time to do it right the first time, but we always have plenty of time for rework.”
This works in root cause problem solving on the shop floor too. If not, you may find something that correlates, but is not causal. It appears to be fixed, and sometimes for a while. Then one day the problem is back. That is usually a sign you worked on a correlated issue, not a causal issue.
Patience really is a virtue. Work to one change at a time – especially if you really want to find the causal and fix it once and for all.
One of my favorite book genres are “whodunits”. There are many to choose from and they have been popular for decades. Great crime solvers such as Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe were always willing to pull apart fact from fiction to get to the truth.
Television has given us many additional detectives like James Rockford, Columbo, Jessica Fletcher, Quincy or more recently Monk. Each detective sets out to gain an understanding of the situation, gathers the evidence and finds out “who did it and why.”
In the same vein, I think “manufacturing spills” are like “whodunits”. Something happened that wasn’t intended to happen. There is investigating, questioning and more importantly listening, tediously poring over data, and brilliant insight. Like Abby on NCIS – data is gathered and a picture of what happened falls into place.
My husband’s fishbone on why his NCAA brackets performed poorly.
One tool that helps unravel the complexity of all the inputs is a fish bone diagram. It is a simple tool – you don’t need a fancy software package, or an expensive piece of measuring equipment. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. Heck, write it on the whiteboard, just don’t use a permanent marker.
First identify the main categories that could fail. In manufacturing the “usual suspects” are: man, machine, method, material. These become the main “bones” of your diagram.
Next – based on your investigation (i.e., going to the floor and having conversations with people, uncovering the extant data), you begin identifying what could possible fail for each category. These become the tributaries of the main bones. Then, using your “5 whys”, establish why these failures happen.
Using this data, each path can then be addressed:
- How likely is it?
- Who is a player, who is not?
- What is worth further investigation?
- Is a solution established?
Some of the paths may just be “innocent bystanders” pretending to be the real issue but are not. However until you lay it all out, the complexity of the moment can become an emotionally charged powder keg. Certainly you could yell at each other but who’d win? Nobody. So don’t do that.
Instead, like Columbo, Bones or Jethro Gibbs, gather the clues, pull them apart piece by piece, strip out the emotion and you can get to a focused, causal solution everyone can agree on. Then take action!
The deductive route is not easy and can be painstaking. But the changes are lasting.