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.
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.
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?