Tag Archives: problem solving

The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The Problem

I believe the problem is likely not the person pointing out the problem. Now granted I have often been that person. Part of what I have been tasked with doing in various jobs is finding ways to improve the performance of the organization. I was told the managers wanted to hear about problems from someone working there, so I was asked to do so. What it often meant was they wanted someone to fix the problems they thought existed not point out the problem was the systems, not the people forced to deal with the systems.

I have learned managers are a lot happier if I just shut up about all the problems that should be addressed. There are happy if I can fix what I can (though really they seem to care much more about not being negative than any actually improving) and just be quiet about anything else – otherwise you are seen as “negative.”

How to Manage Whining with no Problem Solving

As individuals begin to focus on the negative and don’t engage in problem solving, this behavior is unacceptable

The first time, it is a venting and commonly a subject matter problem. The next time we have a trend occurring, and this is where we need to coach our team player to be constructive process improvement artists. If the whining continues, we may be dealing with a negative attitude which has begun to permeate our colleague.

explore the previous solution’s outcomes; help the individual to be empowered to resolve the issue. If it is absolutely above the teammate authority, offer to help and commit to actions.

I think it is right to focus the effort on problem solving to improve the situation. I fear that far too often though “As individuals begin to focus on the negative and don’t engage in problem solving, this behavior is unacceptable.” turns into ignore problems. Yes, I know that isn’t what the post is suggesting. I am just saying that the easy “solution” that is taken far too often is to focus on the words “negative” and “unacceptable.”

I believe the focus should be on “broken systems are unacceptable.” I would prefer problem solving to address the issues but a culture of ignoring issues and seeing those that don’t as being negative is often the real problem (not the person that points out the problems).

I have discussed this topic in some posts previously: Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged and Bring Me Problems, and Solutions if You Have Them. Once I am given those problems I agree with you completely. Use them as an opportunity to coach effective problem solving and process improvement strategies to improve the situation. And to develop people.

Often the problem is not the person at all. The organization never adopts fixes. People have learned that they can bang their head against the wall and then never get approval for the fix or they can just whine. Blaming them for choosing whining is not useful. I don’t see how Asking 5 whys you get to blaming the employee, except in very rare cases for not problem solving. It seems to me the issue is almost always going to lay with management: for why people are frustrated with system results and are not problem solving.
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Nice Non-technical Control Chart Webcast

This very brief introduction to control charts by PQ Systems provides a very watchable non-technical overview. Getting people to understand variation is important, and not easy. This video is one more quick reminder for those still trying to incorporate an understanding of variation into their view of the world.

The idea is simple. But actually thinking with an understanding of variation people find difficult, it seems to me. It is very easy to continue to revert to special cause thinking (who did it? is often a sign of special cause thinking) – thinking that results are due to a special (unique) cause, instead of as the result of a system (which includes lots of common causes).

The value I see in this video is as a reminder for all those trying to operate with an understanding of variation. It is also a decent introduction, but much, much more would be needed to get people to understand why this matters and what is needed.

Related: Control Charts in Health CareHow to Create a Control Chart for Seasonal or Trending DataMeasurement and Data CollectionSix Sigma and Common SenseEuropean Blackout, not Human Error

Bring Me Solutions Not Problems

My comments on: No Problem Without a Solution [I removed the broken link]

I understand that most managers feel that their employees should not bring them problems. Instead, expressed in the most positive way, employees should fix things or bring possible improvements. However, I think that is poor management.

I understand there may well be more detail than you provide that adds a more sensible (but more complex) reaction that stated in your post about your situation. However, there are many example, of bosses that expect their people not to bring them “bad news” not to bring them “problems” and that attitude is exactly wrong in my opinion.

What they are saying is: if you know of a problem but don’t know of a solution I would rather we continue to have that problem than admit some of my staff don’t know how to fix it (and then have to deal with it myself – maybe then having to accept responsibility for results instead of just blaming you if I am never told and there is a problem later…). I think that is setting exactly the wrong expectations.

Employees should fix things. They should bring solutions to managers to improve things that might be outside of the scope of the employees ability to fix. But if they know of a problem and not a solution and a manager tells the employee they don’t want to be brought problems then I don’t want that manager.

If an employee never learns how to find possible solutions themselves that is not a good sign. But it is much, much better to bring problems to management’s attention than to fail to do so because they know the manager thinks that doing so is weak. It is the attitude that problems are not to be shared that is weak, in my opinion.

Related: Management Training ProgramEuropean Blackout: Human Error or System ErrorHow to ImproveRespect for People (Understanding Psychology)Don’t Empower

New Zealand Creativity

Saving money by thinking creativity and leanly. $10 wok keeps TV station on air [the broken link was removed]:

Why pay $20,000 for a commercial link to run your television station when a $10 kitchen wok from the Warehouse is just as effective? This is exactly how North Otago’s newest television station 45 South is transmitting its signal from its studio to the top of Cape Wanbrow, in a bid to keep costs down.

45 South volunteer Ken Jones designed the wok transmitter in his spare time last year when he wanted to provide wireless broadband to his Ardgowan home. “A group of us wanted to connect our computers to each other and then we worked out a way to get of getting the signal between two points,” he said.

“The $20,000 for a commercial link was just money we didn’t have, so we bought several woks from The Warehouse instead which was convenient and cheap,” he said. Pre-recorded clips at the studio are fed through a computer and beamed to Cape Wanbrow where they are relayed off to television sets around North Otago.

Related: Why Fix the Escalator?Toyota Shops At Wal-Mart

Reacting to Product Problems

Previously we posted on recalls at Toyota and Sony. Recently Toyota announced another large recall. Investor’s Business Daily writes on the topic in: The Ups And Downs Of Doing Product Recalls – Japan-Style [the broken link was removed]:

Kitayama also said Akio Toyoda, grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, Toyota’s founder, played a key role by opening a direct line to suppliers that had supplied defective car parts. He stressed that quality comes before meeting delivery deadlines.

Interesting. The article also discusses a commitment to zero-defects. I agree with Dr. Deming that this is not the right strategy, but Toyota’s actions around that concept seem reasonable. Many other companies actions around a “zero-defect effort” are not effective in my opinion. See our previous post reacting to Norman Bodek’s post on zero defects. Toyota is doing well but as they say themselves, over and over: Toyota still has plenty of room to improve. The key is to not only say so, but act on it (which I believe they are doing, the recalls give one indication of the continued need to improve).

Related: Quality and InnovationFord and Managing the Supplier RelationshipCease Mass Inspection for QualityCease Dependence on Inspection

Shinji Kitayama, an analyst at Shinko Securities in Tokyo, stressed that one of the biggest problems was that Toyota hired hundreds of less-experienced temporary factory workers to cut production costs at some plants. Toyota’s new quality control head, Shinichi Sasaki, divided factory workers into teams of four to five people and assigned a veteran leader to each team to teach production know-how. The idea was to check closely for small problems before they became bigger, Kitayama says.

The bottom line, in my opinion? You must improve the system to improve the value to the customer (which includes reducing defects). And you must continually monitor your systems and react when you discover weaknesses (or find new ways to improve the system through PDSA).

Common Cause Variation

Every system has variation. Common cause variation is the variation due to the current system. Dr. Deming increased his estimate of variation due to the system (common cause variation) to 97% (earlier in his life he cited figures around 80%). Special cause variation is that due to some special (not part of the system) cause.

The control chart (in addition to other things) helps managers to avoid tampering (taking action on common cause variation as though it were a special cause). In order to take action against the results of common cause variation the performance of the system the system itself must be changed. A systemic improvement approach is needed.

To take action against a special cause, that isolated special cause can be examined. Unfortunately that approach (the one we tend to use almost all the time) is the wrong approach for systemic problems (which Deming estimated at 97% of the problems).

That doesn’t mean it is not possible to improve results by treating all problems as some special event. Examining each failure in isolation is just is not as effective. Instead examine the system that produced those results is the best method. The control chart provides a measurement of the system. The chart will show what the process is capable of producing and how much variation is in the system now.

If you would like to reduce the variation picking the highest data values (within the control limits) and trying to study them to figure out why they are so high is not effective. Instead you should study the whole system and figure out what systemic changes to make. One method to encourage this type of thinking is asking why 5 times. It seeks to find the systemic reasons for individual results.

Related: SPC – HistoryUnderstanding Variation by Tom Nolan and Lloyd Provost (highly recommended) – Deming on Management

Brainstorming Under Attack

Brainstorming under attack: 8 errors in the WSJ [the broken link was removed]. The WSJ has their content behind a wall [the broken link was removed] so their content is not part of the web and so I have not seen their article.

The blog post makes good points about mistaken impressions of brainstorming:

People do better on their own than they do in brainstorming sessions. This is really daft. I like to think of myself as a pretty creative guy, but I am never more creative than when I am a small piece loosely joined with other small pieces in the generative circumstances of a brain storming group.

I think both have their place. You pretty much can come up with your own ideas all day long (though it is true we often are too busy doing something to take any time to think but that is a time management choice). Brainstorming is about creating an opportunity to bring new ideas the forefront.

There are other useful tools such as the affinity diagram which can serve as another option (or can serve as a tool to work with the results of brainstorming).

And Edward DeBono has excellent creativity tools, like his 6 thinking hats. Brainstorming is a useful tool when applied properly but it is only one tool and other tools should be used also.

Leading Lean: Missed Opportunity

Leading Lean: Missed Opportunity [the broken link was removed] by Jamie Flinchbaugh:

Three elements are needed to gain the benefits from using pull production to drive problems out into the open. First, you need strong problem-solving skills. Bringing a problem to the surface is only half of the battle-you still have to correct the problem. Second, you need an infrastructure capable of solving problems. This means persuading employees at all levels to respond to problems in real time. This does not happen overnight. Third, and perhaps most important, you need a culture that values solving problems as prevention, not crisis management, and is willing to step up even if the problems seem small at the moment.

Great points. One of the counter intuitive things with lean is to make problems visible. So often people try to hide problems (which inventory can do – making it difficult to see emerging problems and to diagnose problems once they are finally discovered).

The idea that you then must improve the system as these problems are made visible is fairly obvious but is also worth emphasising since without it the problems increase.

I think the typical perfromance appraisal process adds to the desire to hide problems. As does excess mobility of management (just hide it until you move on). These show my Deming view of management leanings.

Ford and Managing the Supplier Relationship

Topic: Management Improvement

There have a been a number of articles (Ford to slash vendors of key parts [the broken link was removed] – Ford Rethinks Supply Strategy and posts (A “Kinder and Gentler” Lean Supply Base? – Ford Adopts Toyota-style Supplier Strategy [the broken link was removed]) about supplier management, many springing from Ford’s announcement [the broken link was removed].

My first thought on reading the stories about the press release was, didn’t Ford already say they were going to do this in the 1980’s or 1990’s?

John Weiser, Spring 1997 Executive-in-Residence, Graduate School of Management:

When Ford Motor Company embraced the Deming initiative, Ford’s president told his suppliers:

“We are in the process of making a major change when it comes to dealing with our supplying companies. My goal is that this will become a truly partnership effort, rather than the type of arm’s length relationship that has all too often been the way we have worked in the past.”

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