Asking the right questions is part of the art of great problem solving. By avoiding question substitution, a dangerous cognitive bias where we subconsciously simplify the questions we answer, we can focus our efforts in the right place and start solving your organisation's hardest problems.
Getting off-track while solving a hard problem is to be expected. Getting back on track quickly is part of the art of great problem solving. Knowing how to spot when you’re going off track, and knowing what to do, can be the difference between rapid results and weeks, months, or years of frustration. Heed these four warning signs and you're more likely to right the ship before you veer too far off course.
When organizations run into problems they don’t know how to solve - really tough problems - the first step is often to call in a subject matter expert. Subject matter experts, be it the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or a local resource, will lean on their experience to try and draw out a solution. If the problem falls outside of their abilities, they’ll often proclaim the problem impossible.
When we’re brought into an organization to help it solve a hard problem, we’re often introduced to the situation like this: “Oh, the solution to this one is easy: we just need to build a whole new second well — or plant — or warehouse.” Then comes the next part of that statement: “And good luck getting capital approval for that.” The translation, to us, is that the people we’re talking to already know this problem can’t be solved, and so we’re either going to have to live with it, or throw a lot of money at it.
You have probably found yourself in this meeting before - the emergency, all-hands-on-deck sit in scheduled to solve the new, big problem. It could be about people, customers, sales, a technical or quality issue--it doesn’t matter. Your group spends the first 10 minutes excitedly proposing solutions to the problem. These solutions are great, creative ideas that have sprung to mind.
In today’s manufacturing world we’ve become focused on collecting and analyzing data - creating pivot charts and paretos, moving data into buckets, rearranging so that it can tell us how our process is performing. Although good for initial prioritization, taking this analysis too far can get us into trouble because it distracts us from getting on the floor and starting the actual problem solving needed to improve.
Most manufacturing and industrial businesses are not solving their toughest problems because common problem solving tools are ineffective at addressing the hardest, most technical problems. By attempting to solve challenging technical problems with ineffective tools organizations create beliefs that hard problems are “impossible” to resolve instead of bringing in the necessary tools and horsepower to overcome them.