Problem Solving: Take People Out To Keep Them In

Hindsight Bias
Hindsight Bias (Photo credit: mason bryant)

Hindsight

If only I knew then what I know now, things would be different and, as the expression goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”. The problem? Very few leaders and teams take advantage of “hindsight” to discover the valuable lessons that can be learned from both successes and failures.

Following an event, it is important to take the time to reflect and understand what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and what can be improved – even if the event was a success. Of course, the implication here is that a plan exists.

To facilitate this process, I highly encourage using a tool that I have come to know as “After Action Reviews” or AAR‘s. One of the primary aspects of the review is to identify what did or didn’t work as opportunities to improve.

Problem Solving to Improve

The word “improve” implies that we are attempting to achieve something already envisioned to be better. When reviewing things gone right and things gone wrong”, it is best to phrase statements that are aligned accordingly. Even if someone did something in error, their intentions may have been in focus and aligned with the overall goal.

For example, if someone says something out of turn or makes a commitment beyond the scope of their immediate authority during a meeting with a customer or other colleagues, the after action review may suggest a better communication strategy: who is leading the meeting and who has the authority for making commitments.

The Blame Game

I recall a situation several years ago where a customer was having problems installing a part. After meeting with the customer we returned to the plant to investigate further – to find out how and why the part was not only shipped but produced in the first place.

My engineer returned with his findings that began with, “The operator didn’t check the parts properly.” I asked him to dig deeper to determine the real root cause and suggested using the 5 Why approach for problem solving. Typically, the root cause can be systemic, or process, or both.

We met with the operator and determined that the instructions for checking the part were unclear and the checking fixture was void of any means of inspection for the area of concern. Essentially, we determined that no one could adequately assess the quality of the part unless they were “in the know”.

Standard Operating Procedure

Cadets at BRNC participate in a team problem-s...
Cadets at BRNC participate in a team problem-solving exercise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The operator was very concerned about his job as people in years past were dismissed for producing “bad” parts. It was my intent to demonstrate that we are first concerned with providing the tools (system or process) that, if followed, would ensure a successful outcome.

It is important to note that this approach reinforces the need for – and the requirement to follow – standard operating procedures or standardized work. The operator in this case was assured that following instructions was not cause for discipline.

Our “best practice” standard operating procedure required everyone to phrase problems, mistakes, errors, or concerns in such a way that we simply state the undesirable condition or behavior.

I never accepted a corrective action where the problem statement, root cause, or investigation included the term: “Operator Error”. This does not mean that people can’t be held accountable for “things gone wrong.” However, it is more important to understand the aspects leading up to the failure, to dig deeper, and to find out why to avoid repeating mistakes by making improvements.

People Are The Solution

When people fear repercussions, their ability to participate in real problem solving is significantly hindered. Taking people out of the problem statement will keep them in the problem solving process to find an effective solution. It is important to note that people are accountable for their actions, however, our intentions are to identify and present improvements objectively.

As leaders, we are continually challenged to surround ourselves with the best. This includes efforts to improve our hiring and orientation process to ensure every candidate we bring into the organization has the aptitude and skills we require. Furthermore, we are challenged to provide our teams with the proper tools and training that ensure their greatest chance of success.

Opportunities and solutions are as unique as the talents, skills, and abilities that our team members bring to the table. This is one of the reasons we believe there is always a better way and more than one solution. We encourage the use of After Action Reviews (AAR’s) to seize every opportunity to be the best that we can be for our customers, our stakeholders, and for ourselves.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

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