Problem Solving: a pain in the a**e (#19)

A couple of days this week were passed with Managers, Supervisors and Team Leaders pareto-ing and then problem solving their, well, problems.

After revealing the magical power of Pareto Analysis to shine a light in the darkest corners we moved on to the Problem Solving bit. My Practical Problem Solving (PPS) funnel is shown below (descended from the Toyota style)

Grasping the current condition’ is rarely well understood and the team received several friendly slaps for trying to focus on a problem which included the word “damage”. I can't begin to describe my dislike for this word. If you mean burrs or splits or cracks or short shots or any other specific fault, just say it. Believe me, your problem solving becomes a lot simpler.

Anyway, I got to thinking about Marco who is, almost as we speak, laying his hands on me to impart his own brand of problem solving magic. Marco is my physio and works to cure my self-inflicted shredded piriformis, a temporary pain in the arse and back. The picture at the head of this blog demonstrates the ailment (not my rear though, I lack that level of pertness)

The injury is a result of layering bad atomic press-up form onto an over-estimation of my core strength. Week in week out, as Marco kneads me with his surprisingly strong and insistent hands I take the chance to root around in his head as, by definition and reputation, he is a master problem solver himself. A decent quid pro quo; I hand him forty pounds, he shows me how to fix myself and I get a little free consulting.

Last week he told me about a mid-forties man who presented to him with serious pain in the left hand side of his lower back. Marco’s questioning took the following path.

He asked him what he did for a living (answer: salesman).

He asked him if he drove a lot (answer: yes, 4-5 hours a day)

He asked to see his wallet (answer: why?) eyebrows suspiciously raised I’d imagine

The man produced a chunky wallet and his answer to the fourth question was;

“Yes, I do keep it in my back pocket”

Root cause reached with a low cost rapid countermeasure (and, bingo: recurrence prevention). Nice work my strong fingered friend.

The point of this story takes us back to problem solving. Apart from using pareto thinking where required and avoiding vague problem framing like “damage”, the point is this:  

Understanding the context in which a problem occurs is critical.

Without the context you can only speculate and then it’s a game of random dice-rolling chance. The 5W1H approach really helps Team Leaders here, especially when answering Andon calls rapidly.

As I tell my clients, the second best time to problem solve is just after the problem has occurred when the ‘crime scene’ is fresh with a body and a smoking gun. The best time to problem solve being to avoid having to do it, where possible, by spotting the abnormality before it becomes a problem.

Abnormality-spotting is where you want to be and Visual Management will help you get there, unless I'm talking out of my damaged a**e.


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