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.
Have you ever been around a young child who starts what I call the “why game”? They ask a simple question and follow every answer you provide with “why?” until the adult says in frustration, “Cause I said so!” I read somewhere that children do this in all countries and languages because they have found that it keeps adults talking – so they learn about something and learn the language.
One of the tools in “corrective actions” is answering the “5-whys”. It is a wonderful tool to really understand the path that caused the failure.
Here are FIVE ideas that can make this tool even more successful for you…
1. It doesn’t have to be 5. It could be 4, or it could be 10. The number is not the important thing.
2. You ask why until you get to what can be actionable such that the problem is fixed – sustainably
3. If you start with the wrong first why, you will never get to the answer. Sometimes, you have to do the why-path a couple of times to get to a best answer
4. Don’t answer based on your opinion. Rather go ask some questions of the team. Their input will put you on the right path.
5. You should be able to read the whys in order, saying why in-between. If you read them out loud, you can tell easily if they flow correctly.
When you do 5-Whys, do not, EVER decide what your corrective action is and then work backwards. You could be cheating yourself and your team out of the real answer by focusing on a correlated, not causal, action. And WHY would you do that?
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Excerpt From: Hertz, Noreena. “Eyes Wide Open.”
You have heard it said that “you get what you measure”. I have seen this to be very true. However, not always in a good way. I have seen the wrong metrics produce unsustainable balance sheets, or worse, drive companies into the ground. I have seen leaders hold this axiom as the final truth, operating with the thought process of, “Set up the metrics and no steering will be required”.
Pick the right size measuring cup (metric) for the job. One size doesn’t fit all. Image courtesy Jay Holobach.
The issue is that metrics are not created equally. Not everything critical to foundational sustainability can be easily measured. Force fitting a metric, just to have a pretty graph in a powerpoint that doesn’t tell the real story, drives the wrong focus and fails to deliver progress in the end. Worse, we waste time measuring the inconsequential, pulling much needed resources from that which is foundational to success and sustainability. Pick your metrics wisely.
Don’t get me wrong, metrics are necessary – for communication, for helping assess trajectories, for accountability, or for driving improvements. They are critical for a healthy enterprise to stay healthy. They are critical for a team to know if they are making progress and sustaining. But they have to be the right metrics, and they can’t be the end-all. In addition, we must put the same energy on dealing with those things we know are critical, yet can’t be easily measured.
What in your sphere of influence “counts, but can’t be counted”? What are you personally doing to improve “what counts” – even if it has no metric? When we find and improve these things, we will be building a stronger, sustainable culture that we all want to be a part of.