A few weeks back my wife and I decided it was a perfect night for a redbox, while looking at our choices we decided on a movie called Martian. The movie was fantastic it documented an astronaut by the name of Mark Watney. During a mission to Mars Mr. Watney get's left behind when his team has to take off due to some other emergencies. Without giving away to much of the story towards the end Mark says to a group of students " You do the Math, you solve one problem, then you solve the next and if you solve the next problem you get to come home." As I pondered this profound concept for a bit I came to the conclusion that Mark Watney was not only a very intelligent astronaut but also a practitioner of Lean.
Okay don't quote me on that, but you certainly can quote that theoretically in Lean journey that is all we do we solve one problem, then we solve another and pursue perfection by continuously closing gaps within our Organizations. This is a key concept to your strategy, but you can also quote me when I say that at times solving problems may seem a bit overwhelming. For that reason it is much more effective to develop a team of astronauts who don't just solve problems in one world (department) but can solve problems all over the universe (Organizations).
So How do we create that army of problem solvers? Let's take a look at 5 Key concepts that will be very helpful throughout your journey in creating a problem solving universe;
1. Empower your crew to Identify and Solve problems
You've been working hard all morning on a report for another project but 5 people have stopped in and asked for your approval to solve an issue, upon review there suggestion was adequate and you let them all solve the problem they discovered. upon further thought you realize all 5 of those people did not just postpone your work but they had to leave there work and slow down the work of others. Giving people the proper authority to not just identify issues but to solve the appropriate ones too can be very powerful to an Organization. Put a process in place to document, contain and solve problems so that everyone has a clear understanding of where there authority lies in terms of solving problems. After all if Mark Watney had to wait for problems to be solved on Mars what would have happened to him?
2. Are they really problems?
To Often we come across a symptom and start the process of standard question 1."Who" 2. "Who" 3. "Who" Not only does this leave people feeling attacked but it creates a culture of hide and seek. A problem or issue may show up and rather then working together to close the gap it get's hidden. Often times that the issue has gone on for quite some time and upon discovery it has now become what we call an "Opportunity," which is really what all problems are, they are opportunities to Improve quality, make a process more efficient, repurpose resources or build a culture of trust and problem solving. This requires us to ask are these really problems or could it be this is an opportunity?
3. Look at the System/Process not the people!
Early one morning while at a weld shop I was observing a worker turning down some build up on a part. As I watched I noticed the worker suddenly become rather frustrated. Of course wondering why I asked him "what happened?" his response was that the part was now out of tolerance and he could not fix it. Naturally I followed up by asking "Oh how did that happened?" his response again was something I had heard before, "I was just doing what my supervisor showed me." Noticing that he was becoming defensive I placed my hand on his shoulder and assured him we were looking for the process failure not the person failure. I then followed up by asking " Is there a standard operating procedure you normally use?" he responded "no." This answer brought me a little closer to one possible solution. What I was utilizing was a process quite common to many Toyota engineers it is a standard set of questions that are focused on revealing the process failure. Had the worker said "yes" we could have reviewed the SOP and discovered the point that it failed, but given the process of utilizing only Tacit knowledge our first step was to put a process in place. This process based problem solving method makes finding, discovering, preventing and error proofing much easier and believe it or not you will find that focusing on the process will naturally help you shift towards a culture of find, fix, find fix.
4. Teach them the basics
Most of us are quite familiar with different problem solving tools. But although we may be familiar with the tools we don't always know how to utilize these powerful problem solving tools and methods and we may not even have access to them. Having quarterly training on using problem solving tools and methods gives people an opportunity to master, learn and gain experience so that they can be more effective in your problem solving journey. A great place to start is by teaching everyone how to utilize The Seven Basic Tools of Quality.
5. Give them the Opportunity
Last but not least, nobody and I mean nobody will become an effective problem solver if the are to busy just trying to keep up. It's like asking someone to hammer nails and not giving them a hammer; So be conscious that it takes time, support and opportunities to develop as leaders, managers and owners it is your job to give them that and help them to succeed.
One of the most profound qualities I loved about Astronaut Mark Watney in the movie Martian was his ability to laugh, stay calm and solve problems. Which brings me to my last point, ensure that the journey is enjoyed nobody will want to solve problems in a miserable forceful culture and stay there, so as you develop and utilize these 5 tips in your Organization be sure to reward and recognize your army of problem solvers, they are the ones who will ensure your arrive at home safe.