Problem roll over – issues that don’t go away

Understandably, in the current economic climate organisations are striving to become leaner. Many have implemented one or more of the various approaches to support this endeavour. Lean Six Sigma for example, has established itself as the firm favourite methodology for reducing costs by improving efficiencies in manufacturing and internal processes and there are now a plentiful and growing number of Six Sigma specialists.

Commendable indeed but are these organisations missing a trick?

There is another area of business that if improved would without doubt deliver results that are even potentially greater. An area that is often talked about but little understood and rarely focussed on or ‘managed’ in a way that will ensure that it delivers maximum benefits. An area where we rarely see any effective processes in place or proven tools used to ensure that it is capitalised upon.

The area I am talking about is how we go about generating high volumes of good ideas on demand, how we create quality solutions to problems (including those that occur when delivering projects, the bigger scale longer term problems or simply the day-to-day problems that we encounter) and how we go about the task of implementing good quality solutions to ensure that we (and/or our customers) realise the benefits as quickly as possible.

We often work with clients who have been attempting to find solutions to serious issues of varying nature and discover that a number of these issues have been around for many years. Often they look outside their own organisation for assistance in finding an ideal solution only to find that the same or similar ideas and approaches and similar technologies are offered up, none of them really getting to the heart of the matter and solving the issue once and for all. What they end up with is what we term as ‘problem roll over’, year after year.

The price of this can be enormous in terms of financial costs, resources and time.

A recent experience was an excellent example of this. One of our clients had a particularly perplexing technical challenge and to solve it had gathered a team of six of their best engineers to find a solution. Six months later with each of the six having given up on average a third of their working time they had invested heavily and were absolutely no further forward in arriving at a solution.

So what was holding them back? It transpired that whilst incredibly bright and at the ‘top of their game’ they lacked any dedicated systematic tools and processes to support their efforts and they were relying on ‘traditional thinking’ and brainstorming approaches that all too often fail to deliver.

We introduced them to some powerful thinking tools and applied a proven process and the same six engineers arrived at three workable solutions just three hours in to a facilitated workshop. Using further proven techniques one of these solutions was selected and then ‘worked up’ to a deliverable solution and successfully implemented. This not only prevented problem roll over but solved the issue for good and at the same time created a multi million pound new market for the client!

How many more man hours would the client had to have invested to arrive at a solution on their own? Potentially an infinite number, it is conceivable that the problem would have never gone away and would have become a subject on their agenda year after year.

Problem roll over is a major issue for many organisations and there are many contributing factors that fuel its existence. Surely though, if idea generation, the search for quality solutions and innovation is key to a companies success and can contribute significantly to the bottom line why is not more emphasis placed on the tools and processes that enable it? In our experience it is a widely neglected area and yet one that is relatively easy to resolve.

If problem roll over is an issue for you organisation, here are some tips which may help you break the cycle:

  1. Ensure that you have defined the problem thoroughly and correctly in the first place (are you trying to solve the right problem?).
  2. Examine you existing processes and approaches for ‘managing’ idea generation, solution development and innovation.
  3. Find ways to improve your current processes and approaches so that they are effective at developing ideas and delivering solutions quickly.
  4. Introduce systematic thinking tools and processes to stimulate thinking, break psychological inertia and encourage lateral thinking.
  5. Put in place excellent facilitation practices when managing group thinking.
  6. Manage the behavioural aspects that inhibit effective individual and group thinking so that it is as productive and enjoyable as possible.
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