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  • Writer's pictureDarren Woods

For most things in life there is duct tape and WD40. For everything else - Use Problem Solving

Lean and Operational Excellence are synonymous with process improvement and problem solving. Problem solving can not be left to the chosen few, the “experts”, the engineering, or quality team. Organisations that fail to recognise the critical importance of this vital skill can expect to suffer negative effects including;

1) Lower performance and productivity.

Poor problem-solving skills will lead to operational inefficiencies, such as material waste, inconsistent production performance, and longer manufacturing cycle time. Poor problem-solving skills can also hinder innovation and creativity, and employees will typical accept substandard processes and frustrations. A culture of “It has always been this way” will exist and even the most blatant problems will be accepted as the norm.

2) Increased Costs

In an organisation devoid of problem-solving skills and a proactive approach to problem solving there will inevitably be quality issues, delays, wasted effort, wasted materials and a lack of attention of cost overruns. Creating the time and space for employees to challenge the status quo will deliver cost improvements, issue reduction and prevent losses in profit.

3) Reduced customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Customers want consistency and they need to have confidence in the quality of the goods and services they purchase. Poor problem-solving skills can result in poor quality products and services, customer complaints and dissatisfaction, and lost business opportunities. Poor problem-solving skills will also damage the organisation’s reputation and credibility and erode trust and loyalty with customers.

4) Decreased employee engagement and morale.

All team members want to come to work and do a fair day’s work and feel like they have achieved something worthwhile. Poor problem-solving skills will demotivate employees, as they feel frustrated, helpless, or blamed for problems that are beyond their control or responsibility. Poor problem-solving skills can also create a culture of blame, defensiveness, and avoidance, as employees shy away from discussing or solving problems openly and collaboratively. An endless cycle of firefighting will become the norm and improvement will become extremely difficult due to competing pressures.

5) Limited improvement and innovation.

Poor problem-solving skills can prevent employees from learning new skills, exploring new possibilities, and testing improvement ideas. Poor problem-solving skills can also discourage employees from learning from failures and mistakes, and from improving their processes, products, and services.

Kick starting your problem-solving culture takes time, commitment and leadership buy in. It needs constant focus across the organisation and there needs to be a clearly defined process as to what constitutes a problem, who owns the problem and what is the agreed protocol for solving the problem. The benefits of creating this culture outweigh the effort required to do so and there are several ways teams can move their organisation to a problem-solving one. We recommend the following steps;

1) Make problems visible.

Operational excellence is built on a foundation of visual management and “Making Problems Visible”. We need to develop the critical success factors for the team to know when they are on target and when countermeasures are required. To kick start the problem solving culture we need to communicate to the team when a problem is evident and then we need to request resolution.

2) Focus on maximum improvement for minimum effort.

For most teams, you tend to see the same incident over and over again. By collecting and analysing data on these incidents, you can identify patterns and trends that indicate the most pertinent problems. To start the problem-solving mentality and to not bite off more than the team can chew we can use the 80/20 rule when taking action of problems. Focus valuable time on tackling major issues, remembering that 20% of the issues cause 80% of the impact.

3) Promote a culture of learning and experimentation.

Proactive problem solving requires curiosity, creativity, and openness to new ideas. Organisations can foster these qualities by encouraging employees to learn new skills, explore new possibilities, and test new solutions. Learning from failures and mistakes is also important, as it can help employees identify what works and what doesn’t, and how to improve in the future. Developing a psychologically safe space for employees to attempt new things without fear of failure is critical in developing the environment for performance improvement. Operational Excellence training such as DMAIC, A3 and 8 step problem solving as well as Root Cause Analysis tools provide excellent and standardised approaches to problem resolution. These skills can be used in all areas of the business.

4) Empower employees to make decisions and take actions.

Proactive problem solving also requires autonomy, responsibility, and ownership. Organisations can empower employees by giving them the authority, resources, and support to solve problems on their own or with their teams. Be careful what behaviours you celebrate in the organisation. If you recognise the fire fighters who take a reactive approach to problem solving, you will get more of this behaviour. Employees should be recognized and rewarded for their proactive efforts and achievements, stopping problems before they get the attention of a major issue.

5) Communicate and collaborate across the organisation.

Problem solving should be a team sport. Proactive problem solving is not a solo activity; it involves working with others who have different perspectives, expertise, and experiences. Organisations can facilitate communication and collaboration by creating cross-functional teams, sharing best practices, soliciting feedback, and aligning goals and strategies across the organisation. One organisation I had the pleasure of working with challenged site teams based in Ireland, USA and Mexico to share learnings with each other. Each team had to share at least one improvement or proactive problem solving idea per quarter and the other team had to implement the shared learnings. In Japan they call this practice “Yokoten”. Reward your team for this behaviour.

WD Excellence are a professional services team specialising in Organisational Improvement, Lean Six Sigma, Operational Excellence, Executive Coaching and Psychotherapy.

For more information on how to build your problem solving prowess please feel free to get in touch with us today

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