We work with many organizations who tell us, “We solve our problems!” These organizations are doing well, nipping at world class performance, at least for now. Why are they successful? The conditions are just right for their system, and performance is good. The chances are that they’ve built an efficient system for firefighting: they knock down the symptoms and work around the problem to get to their objective.
What they mean when they say that they’re solving problems is simply this: they contain problems using workarounds. The same problem may come back again tomorrow and often does.
Definitions matter. When they say “problem” what do they mean? Let’s break down what we mean when talking about problems. First, we recognize that a problem occurred when we experience a symptom. In it’s simplest terms, we realize that something happened that shouldn’t have or something didn’t happen that should have.
– Our child has a fever
– I burnt the toast this morning
– There is a scratch on a part that I’m working on
– The part delivered doesn’t fit my model
– The dose on the prescription is different than what the doctor told me
– The patient fell from her bed
– The patient didn’t show up for an appointment
– We dropped a call that was on hold for 3 minutes
– The insurance company denies the claim we prepared
Each thing on this list could be called a problem, but beneath each one is a root cause. Your child has a fever for a reason. Treating the fever is containing the problem, working around it, firefighting it. Finding what is causing the fever – an infection – and treating the infection will solve the problem. Even better: what caused the infection? If you could find the root cause beneath the infection and remove, then your child – and potentially others – would be safe and healthy.
Organizations for years have had successful runs by simply working around their problems. They’ve spent inordinate amounts of money for more staff, more inventory, more debt simply because they see the symptom as the problem. They remove the symptom only to discover that the same “problem” returns. The “solution” is to work around the problem. Unfortunately, in tough economies or when conditions are tight, working around the problem doesn’t do the trick. Eventually, costs stack up and in some cases, strangle the organization. How has this phenomenon of workarounds created bigger problems for you? What are you doing to reverse the effect?0