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Do you wish upon a STAR when you have a problem?

“The problem is not that there are problems.
The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that
having problems is a problem.”

Psychiatrist and author Theodore Isaac Rubin, quoted in the Buffalo News

I ran across this quote and it really struck a chord with me. I was living in a week of problems. In manufacturing, there is always a problem. Why? Because in any complex system…

…where multiple people interact with multiple machines, tools/equipment

…and embrace imperfect systems (designed by imperfect people)

…in an effort to deliver to the customer a perfect part

…there will be a problem or two.

I recently had the privilege of a private tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center where my husband had worked. One of the things I saw was the original Mission Control where they flew all of the Apollo missions. During our discussion I was told  they drill into everyone (Astronauts and Front Control Room Operators) the STAR thought process when presented with a problem: Stop Think Analyze React. That really resonated with me as I was in the middle of writing this post. (More on STAR in a future post.)


STAR in action

Knowing that every day you will have a problem or two is key to having a successful day. You will be either getting into a problem, are currently in a problem or coming out of a problem. For those of us in manufacturing we need to:

  • Design flexibility into our systems.
  • Understand the risks and have back-up plans already in play.
  • Embrace problem solving with a vengeance. It is our best friend.
  • Mitigate potential risks. Not every problem can be solved, however every problem can be assessed for risk.
  • Figure out early if the battle wins the war, and if fighting the battle is worth the resources.
  • Celebrate all wins. Bring humor to the effort. Recharge your teams batteries. Without engaged people, there is nothing.

Be the STAR of your operations environment.

Be intentional

The glass is neither half full nor half empty, maybe it’s just the wrong size.

wrong_sized_glassI am sure you have heard it said there are two kinds of people – those that see the glass half empty and those that see it half full. I have a different definition than “glass half empty/half full”. Rather, I think the two kinds of people that exist are those that believe there is a solution to every problem and those that believe there are problems with no solution. In other words, I tend to think the glass is neither half full or half empty but rather you (team, company, etc) may be using (or are being tempted to use) the wrong sized glass. Think about it.

There was a time when everyone accepted that there were problems with no solution. My mom, now 85, remembers as a child looking at the moon and thinking it was too far away for anyone to ever walk on it. I remember watching the first man walk on the moon and thinking what’s the big deal. I had not lived long enough to be told it could never happen. I am part of a group of people that believes nothing is impossible with enough time, money, sacrifice and tenaciousness.

In the last 50 years, mankind is proving that impossible problems can be solved – we live in an amazing time. Which begs the question: What kind of person are you? At work, do you believe that with enough thought, energy, teamwork, communication, priority and creativity there is no problem that can’t be addressed or do you see a problem and think “we can never fix it”?

I’d rather find a solution and to do that you need to:

  1. Assess which problem really needs immediate attention. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
  2. Ensure you account for all the resources you have – all of them. Dig deep. There is more available than you think. Using what you have differently may help.
  3. Be willing to solve the problem a different way. Keep the end game in mind. Be willing to change how you do something. Be flexible.
  4. While there is always a solution, don’t be misled by short cuts. Keep your integrity. Two wrongs NEVER make a right.
  5. Believe. If you don’t, failure has already happened. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
  6. Keep it simple – the most elegant solutions are usually very simple.

Be Intentional,

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe… it’s a Pareto!

perato_bag of tricks

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.

Be intentional

Discover manufacturing’s secret weapon: “C _ _ a t _ _ i _ y”


Starting a still life painting by blueprinting the shapes.


It comes in many forms. We see it in art, in music, in fashion, in New York Best Sellers, in architecture, in marketing…. Our world is a better place because of creative designs, creative arts, creative solutions.

What about solutions? Is that really a creative outlet? Usually when people talk about creativity they are talking about art and designs.

Manufacturing lives-and-breaths on creativity in solutions: solutions that make us safer, solutions that drive in quality without increasing time or money. You may have heard of “the KIS method” – “Keep It Simple”. Simple solutions don’t mean half-thought-out. Nor do they mean water-down concepts. Simple solutions are hard to find because they are not always obvious. Simple solutions are elegant. They can solve many issues with one action. They can be maintained without significant over-site. It takes more creative energy to find and execute a” simple solution”.

“…keep their eyes not only on present troubles, but also on the lookout for future ones, for which they must prepare with every energy. When problems are foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they have arrived, it is too late to administer the medicine, because the problem has become incurable.”  from The Municipal Machiavelli, Machiavelli’s The Prince Rewritten for Municipal Politicians

In other words, small problems are hard to see but easy to fix when found. Big problems are easy to see, but nearly impossible to fix. Waiting until you see the problem means you might be too late.

As leaders, we need to find ways to let creativity flow as we drive improvements across our span of control. We need to ask questions that get people thinking, questions that inspire creativity. We need to get conversations going: “what if…”; “is it possible…”. We need to clear out the noise of the day, of the week, allowing the team to ponder, consider, explore creative solution sets. We need to be willing to talk through the issues and come out the other side. That takes time, patience and energy.

Manufacturing lives-and-breaths on creative solution sets. As the leader of a team, how are you unlocking their creativity?

kind regards,



Here’s the finished painting… Painting courtesy Jay Holobach, for more visit: