Mind the gap! Or can’t you be bothered?

20150921-Mind-The-Gap

I like to run, and I am fanatic enough to keep track of my distance, pace and heart rate, on every run. It is like a numbersgame, a competition with myself. But there is this gap between me and breaking my personal best, running the 10k within an hour. How come I am not improving? Probably (well certainly) the lack of proper training, coaching and a schedule are what is missing. So to improve – I need to invest and set some priorities.

What about organisations? How do they get better? Do they invest enough to break records and crossing lines for the greater good? Like reached the lowest level of scrap, reduced the number of recurring problems, achieved an amazing uptime due to a minimum number of interruptions, or an all- time low use of unnecessary spare parts? Recently a client said to me: I have managed all the bottlenecks in the system, now I need to go to the next level. And…there is this gap, in problem solving:

Closing the gap in problem solving would have a moderate to extremely high impact on quality.

Wow! This is the outcome of a study conducted by Deloitte and the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG). It was looking into the future with OEMs and suppliers in the automotive industry. The report, called Quality 2020 showed a shocking result:

Problem-solving capabilities are inadequate, and the main reason is because we are jumping to solutions

How come an industry with many years of experience, that is normally ahead of the game, is still lacking these key capabilities?

Problem solving is important because it impacts the organization’s ability to manage, monitor, and respond to quality-related events; the ability to implement operational efficiencies as well as brand and customer relations.

It is recognized as a key differentiator, so why not invest in that key capability? Problem solving is not like fixing the same problems over and over again. That is just fire fighting. You think you can manage uptime and reliabiilty with that? When root cause is still lacking and people rush from calamity to catastrophe, from disaster to crisis, I am afraid you have some homework to do.

Like running. If I want to improve, I need to get serious. Get training, make it systematic, get a coach and a training schedule. Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all approach will not give the biggest improvement. I should get a “current state” test as well, to make sure the training suits best with my current condition and situation.

Likewise with problem solving. Although a lot of people think when more experienced one will be better at problem solving. Well, just a bit, but you will not be able to make the big jump to break your personal best. There is a jump needed to bridge the gap between solving simple and tough problems. And when becoming confident in solving them, you feel empowered to go beyond and become even more proactive in your approach.

But first things first, and step by step. Think about your priorities. Do you want to improve, do you want to breakthrough the magic barriers? Then it is time to invest.

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Problem Solving – difficult puzzle or kids play?

After a busy year-end, the winter break allowed me a few days at home for a little relaxation and self-indulgence and, as is the tradition in my house, the completion of a 1000 piece puzzle. It is an extremely relaxing activity for body and mind as eyes search and hands reach out for lumpy-edged pieces and the mind wanders and drifts but slowly the picture starts to appear and I reflect upon the parallels between this holiday hobby and the troubleshooting techniques of my working life :

Starting with the boundaries

EdgeUnpacking the box, eager eyes are not distracted by the colours and shapes of the broken image. First task is to seek out the limits and find all the pieces with the straight edges to “scope” the puzzle and set the boundaries. In problem solving this phase is executed with the start of a problem statement: what is the object and its deviation? Then we search for data and organize it in order to construct a clear picture from the outside in.

Constructing the elements to make building blocks

Building blocksWith the limits set, it is always a challenge for where to begin. Expert puzzlers will aim to build around the distinctive features and obvious, almost easy to fit, puzzle pieces. In troubleshooting issues, some facts are easy to find and are immediately brought to the table while others require more perseverance and keen observation; which means that the right conditions help, such as good illumination and enough room to layout the pieces and ensure no evidence is hidden.

In the beginning, there seems an overwhelming amount of these interdependent elements, you almost don’t know where to look to find the pieces that fit. Some can be overlooked through obsessive searching for that specific piece that fixates for the moment, while other times we can stumble across a key item that was not the objective of our search.

So true too in our troubleshooting since we often become fixated upon a possible root cause and seek out the evidence at the risk of missing other key data. Important then to keep an open mind and maintain a rigorous process that builds islands of what we know to be true to bring the big picture into focus; we soon have more solid evidence than spaces in between and there is a final rush of activity to fill in the gaps with what is left.

It is all about close observation and logic

logicWhen the easy bits are done, the most difficult stage starts: the look alike parts. The key capability here in making progress is the ability to observe very closely . A friend was really good at this – staring at the pieces, comparing each carefully against the other, and then all of a sudden taking one piece and just fitting it in the right spot! It is the unique characteristics of the piece that needs to fit the confirmed surroundings that helps you further. “ What is special odd unique or distinct” is the key question to ask. The trial and error approach took definitely much longer and was actually distracting the others around the table.

The problems we face are the ones where  there is a lot at stake. And even then, we come across the trial and error attempts to solve the problem. When actually starting to look closely at the facts, using a logic approach, the group immediately recognizes their attempts were a waste of time. And the question “if this fix is the cause, why it is happening in this range of products and not in that other range of products”? is a simple one, but saving you big time. Unfortunately, a lot of effort, money and parts are already spent, without having a clear path to permanent solution. Taking a step back and focussing on the unique characteristics and the related changes is often the course of action that allows you to make progress. Like in a puzzle, there is only one solution possible.

Problem Solving – is it just a kids play?

Standing back, looking at the completed picture it all seems so right, so obvious.

Is problem solving as easy as finishing a jigsaw puzzle? Of course not! But even so, the frustration levels can be the same, as well the feeling of contentment at another puzzle resolved.

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Happiness is a choice – so what has that to do with root cause analysis?

A true story that happened during my coaching activities.

With a bit of the right focus you will happybecome happy: it will solve your issues!

Problem solving the KT way takes so much time! This is often what we (KT) hear when we challenge people to think first and act later. But a couple of weeks ago I was able to show a client that by just adding focus with the KT problem solving process, progress can be made within an hour and the an incident is instantaneously solvable.

The client had sorted some top priority IT incidents and several teams were scheduled for a “KT-Consult” for about an hour to learn how KT clear thinking could help. I was facilitating the content experts and asking KT questions: what I saw happening was heartbreaking. There was a lot of resistance to taking the time to analyze problems and a tendency to jump to the “obvious” cause.

For example, one incident was reported as follows: Arabic expiration date causing WX generation to fail. I suggested we take a moment and ask what is happening here and what evidence do we have, such as errors, screen shots etc.

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Het veranderende Service Landschap

Doordat steeds meer technische producten gemeengoed worden en productfunctionaliteit nauwelijks meer het verschil maakt, moeten serviceorganisaties zoeken naar een ander onderscheidend vermogen: de wijze van serviceverlening. Het landschap van de servicewereld is aan het veranderen en dat brengt valkuilen met zich mee.

Lees het artikel  (Service Magazine oct 2012 page 22-23) dat ik samen met mijn collega Berrie Schuurhuis heb geschreven en op 12 october 2011 is gepubliceerd in het Service Magazine

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Added value of a systematic approach to regulatory approval

 This article presents a methodology for an efficient decision analysis process, which can serve as a framework for decision making. This may be particularly advantageous in complicated and multi-dimensional matters, with which the regulatory affairs professional is frequently confronted. The most important aspect of this analysis process is that the decision makers are forced to define decision objectives fi rst rather than to start discussing different options. This enables an objective weighing of alternatives against relevant objective criteria. An additional advantage is that the decision analysis process is documented in clear matrices, on the basis of which a risk assessment is performed. The result is a transparent and effective decision making, which can easily be communicated to all parties involved.
Read the full article as published in the Regulatory Rapporteur : The nine steps of rational decision making

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