Smart people have smart problems


SMART

SMART

This week I was asked to help with a problem solving (RCA – Root Cause Analysis) workshop. From my experience with RCA workshops I know that the workshop will succeed or fail from step 1: the problem definition.

When I got the actual problem(s), I was overwhelmed. It was not clear to me what the exact problem was and how I would get it to fit into the head of the fish bone (Ishikawa diagram).

Even when I applied my task force of six honest serving-men (What, Who, Where, When and How), I couldn’t get the problem sharp.

After talking with the participants, other lean coaches and searching on the Internet I got the problem sharp.

Let’s share some tips and look at the advantages!

Tips

Make your problem SMART: Specific – Measurable – Acceptable – Realistic – Time bound.

Workshop participants cannot disagree with a SMART problem because you have a measurable specific facts.

Try to formulate your problem in an elevator pitch.

If you cannot formulate the problem case in 1 to 2 sentences, it’s probably too complex, too blanket or too vague.

Check in advance with workshop participants if they agree with your problem statement and if not, what they propose.

This way you can avoid (expensive) discussion time during the workshop.

Don’t try to capture root causes hidden as effects in the problem definition.

Use only five of your six honest serving-men (What, Who, Where, When and How) for your problem definition, the sixth (Why) is covered in the RCA workshop.

Focus on the problem and not already on the root causes. These root causes will surface during the workshop.

Agree on the problem with the group before you start looking for the root causes.

Make sure everybody is focused and on the same page.

Hang the problem (formulated in the elevator pitch) on a visible spot during the workshop.

RCA workshop can take some time and it’s helpful to have to problem available to refer to in times of need.

Example 1 – four steps from a bad to a good problem statement

Bad problem statement:

“Our external vendor is delivering bad work”.

Why: too vague, not specific

Bad problem statement:

“Cooperation with our external vendor is going bad.”.

Why: too blanket

Bad problem statement:

“The external vender has delivered software with many defects because is not working like agreed”.

Why: has root cause in it, vague (“like agreed”?)

Bad problem statement:

“The external vendor has delivered software with many defects and the analysis was not on time”.

Why: multiple problems in one statement

Good problem statement:

“Our external vendor delivered software with 67 defects in the database layer for software release X on May 2nd and because of it the cost rose with 10%”.

Why: specific, measurable, factual, no discussion, has effect

Example 2 – two steps from a bad to a good problem statement

Bad problem statement:

“The project documentation is unclear and not up to date, so is not used by new team members”.

Why: multiple problems in one statement

Good problem statement:

“Project documentation in the maintenance team is not sufficient for training new team members which leads to twice longer orientation times”.

Why: specific, factual, no discussion, has effect

Advantages

The advantages to put enough time in the preparation of your problem definition are:

  • Everybody is on the same page. Focus.
  • The problem is a (measurable) fact and no assumptions are made.
  • There’s no discussion about the existence of the problem.
  • Because the problem is a fact, it’s an issue that needs to be resolved.
  • If your problem is defined SMART, you can measure the effectiveness of the solutions you find & apply.

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved” – Charles F. Kettering, US electrical engineer & inventor, Head of research for GM (1876 – 1958)

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One thought on “Smart people have smart problems

  1. […] coach is using assumptions and slander instead of objective […]

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