This may sound unpopular but having seen the approach to problem solving in organisations lately, it strikes me that we have forgotten how to problem solve. Worse case we, as leaders, are the architects for the disempowerment of our employees by the choices we make in either the systems we use (normally ERP) or the choice of problem solving methodology. For example, let take the ERP system. In most cases, a breakdown of more than four hours must be logged in the system with a root cause failure notification, which then triggers an investigation by maintenance engineers. This brings two problems into play from a Lean perspective.
- The onus or responsibility sits with a small community of problem solvers who inevitably are swamped with a mountain of issues to fix..
- The ERP systems rarely follow a problem solving methodology which, of course leads to more repetitive failures as the root cause is not resolved.
ERP systems and Lean requires a few more pages but let’s say, for now, there is a woeful inadequacy in this space where it adds unnecessary burden to the willing few and nothing of value to the people we want to address the problem in the first place. With regard to the methodology, Six Sigma had led to fewer problems being solved in the workplace than ever before. Six Sigma and DMAIC is making problem solving an elitist sport. There is a need to get back to basics and by that I mean both in method and in training. Problems hit the organisation all this time and at all levels within varying complexity. The trick is to have a system that can capture the problem, categorise it in importance and get the right people working on it. This is just as much about empowerment as it is having a system.
Problem solving with velocity
3C Strip and Escalation The simplest and most elegant method is the 3C Strip. It consists of 3 phases:
- Concern – define the problem and its impact.
- Containment – what have we done to stop the concern from hurting our people or affecting our customer?
- Countermeasure – with a containment in place, what can we now do to fix the problem permanently?
Treat it as a piece of paper that anyone can access and use. It works well when posted on the team board for all to see and can then be escalated where necessary. I would rather see a team with a hundred 3Cs posted in the area than nothing at all. At least an action plan could be devised for a hundred problems. This method, using a simple strip of paper, has enabled organisations to enter the coaching space and truly engage in developing people’s problem solving skills. It is a great leveler for leadership in understanding where the organisation’s real capability lies. Velocity Think of the 3C as the first port of call for any concerns with Safety, Quality and Delivery. The moment we see a dip in performance the team can raise a strip and, if necessary, call for help. If the problem proves to be complex in nature it can trigger an A3 Practical Problem Solving (PPS) sheet, which brings a more sophisticated methodology into play. This is common when the Direct Cause of the problem is information. The main thing is, the team can have a go first at trying to resolve the issue before reaching for a more sophisticated tool. If the problem is deemed to be severe enough with little chance of resolution by the supervisor and the team then by all means draft in a Six Sigma Black Belt and get the DMAIC ball rolling. My advice, however, is before reaching for a methodology that tends to bring a 12 week cycle into the process, see what your team are capable of first. The results might surprise you. My experience is that first line supervisors and their teams are capable and enthusiastic about tackling problems in their domain. It’s just that we, as leaders, have allowed systems and methodologies to get in the way of them being able to do so. If you want to chalk up some runs on the board, then I suggest you start with 3Cs and focus on coaching the basics: define the Concern, get a Containment in place and implement a Countermeasure. Be warned, you might have started a mini transformational revolution to problem solving and continuous improvement. Download our A3 report on 3Cs here or contact us for more detail. Mark Radley