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.
Think about the most valuable challenges your organization is facing. These are the really tough, messy problems that keep you up at night. If they weren’t so difficult, you most likely would have already solved them! What if it turned out that these problems were not complex, but instead were all surprisingly easy to solve? How would you approach the problems differently?
When you help businesses to solve their operations challenges for a living, you experience all the highs and lows of organizational problem solving culture. For a sampling of the lows, check out our playful tongue-in-cheek infographic below. To learn more about finding the simple, elegant solutions hidden within your operations, join one of our Stop Guessing Workshops.
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.
A waste reduction team I recently worked on achieved 160% of its annualized savings goal yet saw the largest problem reoccur one morning six weeks later. The problem, a product spacing issue, caused a significant percentage of the product to be wasted, but on the other side of the plant from the solution.
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.
Those who have been following know that 2015 has not been a good year for commodity markets. As of August, nearly all hard and soft commodities have dropped in value since January 1, other than a few outliers like canola and cocoa. Perhaps most significantly, oil is trading near a 6-year low, down 50% from just a year ago
It has now been 20 years since John Kotter first published his trendsetting article on leading change entitled: “Why Transformation Efforts Fail”. Since then it has served as the prevailing roadmap to help organizations devise and execute big changes to improve their performance. Among Kotter’s 8 steps we have found that the need to “Plan For and Create Short-Term Wins”, tucked away at number 6, is frequently being neglected and at great peril to these change efforts.