April 29, 2007

Let’s Solve a Problem!!!!

By Paul Bieber

Being in any sort of business, or in reality being in life, we all face problems every day. In fact, I feel the mark of a business is how it solves problems, both for itself and it’s customers. If you don’t spend enough resources on problem solving, your problems will bury you. If you spend too much of your resources on problems, you don’t have enough for your core business.

Let’s define a problem. It is an event in your glass business that will cause you to expend unplanned or unbudgeted resources, which are money, your time and your co-workers time. A broken piece of glass in your rack is an inconvenience, it becomes a problem if you cannot complete a scheduled installation. The biggest controllable cost in problem resolution is stress. When you or any of your employees are stressed, dollars start flying out the window. A calm and controlled approach to the solution will always save money. Yes, sometimes it feels good to yell, but that will solve absolutely nothing. No problem is ever solved during the yelling phase.

Let’s take a look at problem solving. First step, define what is a problem for your business. Is a broken piece of glass a problem? NO, if it is an annealed piece of float; YES, if it is a tempered, hi-performance insulating unit. The definition of a problem will be different in every different business, based on the company and the people in it. Through your experience you should have a handle on what is a problem within your scope of work. Teach your new people how to solve problems. Learn from those around you how they solve problems.

When a problem jumps out at you the first step is deciding on the severity of the problem. Do you tackle it right now? Tonight? In the morning when you are fresh? This decision is based on the time related consequences of the problem. Will it cost twice as much to solve tomorrow? You have a crew at the job site with a problem. Will it be cheaper to solve this problem on overtime or send a fresh crew tomorrow? What are the consequences of finishing tomorrow? Are there brownie points for finishing on time? Penalties for not?

I like to look at the high-low cost range of problem solving. The O/T, the work that is already scheduled for tomorrow, maybe a premium cost from a fabricator, a potential time penalty, if scaffolding is scheduled to come down, etc. An old pro may do this in his head, but us young whippersnappers should write out the costs for quick or slow resolution. This is one piece of the puzzle.

Should costs be the only factor in deciding to solve a problem? No, but they sure are a part of the equation. There are times though where you weigh other factors. Your customer pays his bills in 120 days…you are not going to go out of your way as readily as for the customer that pays on time. You established a finish date, but one last mirror in a bathroom does not prevent a building from opening. All the facts have to be weighed to make the go-now, go-later, or don’t go at all decision. Always, ALWAYS, consider the law of unintended consequences. Pulling a crew from job A to fix job B will cause job A to be late…the snowball effect. If you rush to replace a broken unit, will the low-e match? Will the spacer be the same? If you send an inexperienced crew on a special call, will they do more harm than good?

When you have estimated the cost in dollars, the cost in time, and factor in the business decision, now decide if it is a problem to solve or not. If a customer is being unrealistic, but it will take 15 minutes and no cost, the decision point is based on if they are a good current customer. When in doubt, customer service is always better than not.

Once you decide to solve a customer problem, don’t do it with a sour puss face. Don’t tell the customer they are wrong, but for the sake of customer service you will fix the problem. They’ll take the free fix and go somewhere where the vendor doesn’t call them a liar.

There is a lot more to discuss on problem solving, especially creative problem solving…and we will go there next week…to get the creative juices going I am posting a short contest on the USGlass Forum. This fill-in-the-blanks sheet makes you realize that the most common answers are right in front of you.

More on problem solving next week, so have fun in our contest now!