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What’s the Problem? How to Diagnose Systemic Issues

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Guest blogger Curtiss Quirin provides a framework for identifying problems in organizations and strategies for addressing them.

According to Curtiss:

In all manufacturing companies there are many problems. If you think your company doesn’t have any issues, you’re kidding yourself! The work of leadership is to create an environment that enables and supports problem solving at the lowest level of the organization. Management’s job is to solve big/systemic problems and to allow employees on the shop floor to solve many of the smaller problems that arise daily.

Unfortunately, at most companies managers are working at least one level below their title, trying to solve problems that should be resolved at lower levels. Employees are allowed to push problems up to the next level for resolution. Human behavior shows that once someone has told you about a problem, they feel better and it then becomes your problem to solve.

Manufacturing Shop Floor

© Flickr user TheLeadSa

One of the primary challenges is how you get your team to think, rather than just do their jobs, and more importantly how do you get them thinking about what you want (business problems) them to think about? The best way is to ask them questions, allow them to answer, and give them the resources and responsibility to implement the solution. This is easier said than done, but the positive result of this effort is at the heart of the Toyota Production System, where there are hundreds of problems being identified and solved by hundreds of people each day.

Most companies have limited resources to apply to problem solving both from the perspective of time and capital available to spend fixing them. Therefore, problem identification becomes key. How do you know where the problem is? How do you know which is the right problem to be solved? How do you know which is the right tool or process to fix it?

The best way to start is to create a visual work environment that makes problems very easy to see. This requires: the creation of a standard, making it visible, and then auditing the standard on a regular basis. Being able to monitor what is good, what is bad, abnormal vs. normal condition is the key to improving them. Sometimes there are too many metrics being measured, but in a manufacturing company the most important ones fall into four categories: Quality, Throughput, Cost, and your Business Model.

What can be helpful is a chart (direct link) that can help guide you to identifying a problem and then where to look for potential causes and solutions. Beneath each major attribute is a key indicator (metric). As you begin the diagnosis, it is best to start on the left side and move to the right. Once a problem is identified, the next step is to understand its boundaries and root cause.

Quality - Throughput - Cost - Business Model
Curtiss Quirin

Curtiss Quirin is the Chief Operating Officer of Easter Seals Crossroads Industrial Services. He is a highly motivated leader with years of experience in identifying opportunities for growth and building bottom line results. His emphasis on developing strong relationships with clients as well as external manufacturing partners is a valued business philosophy that resonates throughout the Crossroads organization. With a broad business background in directing a variety of operations on an international scale, Curtiss is an authority on positively managing safety, quality, productivity and inventory while helping clients to reduce lead time and boost revenue. He applies his Six Sigma lean manufacturing knowledge and focus on operational excellence to improve processes and reach target objectives that create growth for both Crossroads and its customers.

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