Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Where there is a (performance) gap there is a concern

I had a really good day yesterday working with a client's team.

The team has issues. Plenty of issues. Some are managerial issues, some are people issues and some are production issues.

When I first met the team they didn't know what to do with their issues, so I started by helping them to see more issues.

Issues everywhere, they didn't seem very impressed.

And then we captured the issues as 'concerns' into the tried and tested 'concern cause countermeasure' format and followed the process:

Concerns probed for root causes and root causes converted into countermeasures.
Soon they realised that some of their root causes dealt with numerous concerns and they gained momentum.

Yesterday we pulled another one of their processes apart and identified all of the gaps. The gaps became concerns and we fed them back into the process. Now they have a practical action plan (of countermeasures) to upgrade the process in question.

What do you do with your performance gaps? …

Continuous Improvement and the Five Legged Race

Many improvement projects need the buy in of several people before they can progress. Amongst these people there will be some that have a firm view of what needs to happen and are keen to make progress. Some of the people won't be sure and they will need more time. Other people might not be that interested and have other priorities they want to focus on.

None of this is wrong.

It is an observation of mine and one that I see repeat on a regular basis with the businesses that I come into contact with.

But, if we take the principle from the observation we have an interesting improvement strategy (one that I personally use when I get stuck with my client's improvement projects).

You might have worked out the approach from the title of this blog post, but it is analogous to a three-legged race (or four, five, nine...). If someone in the group moves in the wrong direction and / or at the wrong speed then the whole group falls over.


In the example I gave at the start it is no differe…

Do you have time to prepare (in order to become super productive)?

I had a funny conversation a few weeks ago with a team that was complaining about one of their colleagues spending 'ages' preparing their workstation within their factory. I meet a lot of people that spend too long preparing (and effectively procrastinating) so I was intrigued by their comment. It turns out that this individual didn't spend too long but rather his colleagues dived into their work without thinking through what the best way to work was...

The slower to start gentleman did in fact prepare his work area. He was also able to produce a far greater amount of work in the same time period because he had invested in a smarter way of working than his counterparts. The time spent preparing his working area was valuable and not overdone.

This example reminds us of the importance of the second S in 5S (set in order) and how workstation design is critical if we want to maximise the productivity of our teams. Whether this is a physical work area in a factory, the filing s…