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Are You Working On The Right Problem?

Have you ever had that feeling that the change you are trying to make in your business is the wrong one?

There sometimes comes a point, when your improvement just isn't making progress, that this thought crosses your mind.

If you are feeling this way about something that you are working on currently then it might be time to review where you started your change.


Commonly referred to as 'problem definition', it still surprises me how often business will start to make a change in their business without stopping to fully understand what their problem is.

Asking some good questions, to truly define your problem, is key to making sure that you are solving the right puzzle for your business.

One of my favourite examples of this, from my days in Operations Management, is the realisation that I had on a Friday afternoon when the rest of the factory had gone home for the weekend.

We had been desperately trying to work out how we could improve the on time delivery performance of the business. The age old wisdom was to reduce the cycle times through the overall manufacturing process. This is what we had been working on and it wasn't making a tangible difference to our delivery performance.

Anyway, this particular Friday afternoon I chose to re-state the problem and see if I gained any insights. By re-stating the issues we faced it became clear (yes, I got a shot of the blinding obvious) that our capacity planning was seriously lacking. We didn't have a throughput problem, we had an overloading problem.

The short end to that story is that the on time delivery performance of that business rose from about 20% OTIF (On Time In Full) to an average of 98% within 6 months.*

And, if you are wondering what is a good way to re-state the problems in your business it might be worth using the 5W1H structure:

  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • Who
  • How

(Or, you could search the Internet for Rudyard Kipling's Six Honest Serving Men!).

Ask and answer each one of the above questions about your current problems. See what you come up with and see if you can get a different perspective on your current challenges.

Stating the situation that your business has, without judgement and without trying to guess the answer at the same time is a skill that can be developed. Many times if you can properly state / recognise the problem your business really has, then the solution will appear.



Giles Johnston
Author of Business Process Re-Engineering


* There were a few other things we did too of course. For a fuller account please visit this link.

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