January 18, 2022

Working With a Problem Rated “Two”

By Paul Bieber

A couple of weeks back, the conversation about solving problems started. We worked on issues that were a “three,” or not the most serious problems you could have. This week, let’s work on solving a problem you rated on your problems worksheet as a “two.” This is a problem that is a medium-level nuisance in your day; one that, when solved, will improve a distinct part of your company.

You made a master list of your problems. Now is the time to transfer all the “twos” to a separate sheet and pick the one to work on. Pick an easy one. Be proud when you solve it by working with your team. The next one may be harder to solve, but your team will be locked on the participation.

As an example, let’s take a problem that affects many companies–getting the day started on time. Depending on the shift, our plant was supposed to start at 7 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. We were always 5-10 minutes late when I started working there. I was told that was the standard that had been set. I lived with it for a month and then called my foremen to discuss how we could recapture that production time. There were at least ten different answers why we couldn’t, from men (at the time we had no women in the crew, that later changed) going to the bathroom or the coffee pot wasn’t working, or it was snowing out and what did I expect?

Ouch. Just saying to our foremen, “make it happen” wouldn’t have worked. We needed a defined plan to solve the problem. Still, knowing this was not an emergency program, I would have classified this as a “two-level” event.

To solve a “two,” answer/address the following: 1. What is the root cause of the problem? 2. What are the possible solutions? 3. Which solution(s) do you implement and how? 4. Do the implementation. 5. Follow up to make sure they work.

Well, after a day or two of thinking, the root cause of this problem was not any of the reasons that our fore people had given me. It was the leaders themselves. They let it happen to not create problems with the workforce. Ouch.

In working with the department heads, they understood this and then it was easy. We added two more time clocks to the plant so men could clock in closer to their work station. We changed the payroll system so that clocking in after 7:01 was considered late, not the previous program of 7:05. We gave a two-week window for the men to get used to this; we improved the locker rooms, so there was more room for the men to change their work clothes, and we put more coffee and tea set-ups in the break room. The men realized we were trying to help them avoid the penalty of punching in late, and they went along with the program. We asked them to leave early on snow days, and most would. A few had to stay home later until the school bus arrived, and we allowed for that.

The problem was solved with a half-dozen little things. The problem resulted from leadership and not the men.

Look at the root cause of the problem. That is the key step.

If you can’t find the root cause on your own or need other suggestions, use the internet and search “how to get work crews started on time,” and you will find pages of answers.

This is just one problem and the problem you choose will be different. Follow the trail to what is the root cause and you will be 95% closer to a solution.