Our whiteboard is the most creative place in the office. It always seems to be at the centre of the best discussions of what we need to do to get better, and how we’ll go about it.
When it comes to effective problem solving, there are two simple rules:
– Don’t try and do it at your desk
– Don’t try to do it on your own
Working together as a team brings more creativity and better ideas, helps the team learn to work together, and helps with implementation further down the track because everyone is part of the solution.
And what better place to do that than around the whiteboard.
The first step is to identify and describe the problem in detail – what is going wrong, where is it happening, when is it happening, who found it? Up on the whiteboard so its in everyone’s face throughout the exercise.
In most cases its too easy to blame ‘human error’. In our experience people generally try to do their best, but a bad process will beat good people every time. So it’s best to be easy on the people and tough on the process or system, which is usually the cause of the problem.
The second step is to work out exactly what is causing the issue. This is where you have to start channelling your inner four-year-old: ‘5 Why’ questioning to identify the chain of events that led to the situation you’re trying to fix. It’s a simple, well-known approach to get right to the root cause of the problem.
The classic example is from Benjamin’s Franklin’s quote ‘all for want of a nail’:
Problem: The kingdom has fallen
Why?: We lost the final battle
Why?: Not enough cavalrymen in the field
Why?: Not enough horses
Why?: We couldn’t put shoes on them all
Why?: Not enough nails
Why?: We weren’t counting the nails, because it didn’t seem important. (And there you have it.)
Countermeasure: Keep track of inventory, and get more when supplies are low.
As you can see, the root cause and it’s final effect can be very far apart, and often something that never occurred to you before you starting asking.
Again, its best to do this on the whiteboard, so everyone can give their perspective and stay on the same track.
Once you know the root cause, it’s time for some creative thinking to decide a countermeasure, and this is where the whiteboard comes into its own. Get everyone’s suggestions up, and then refine the list and decide which is best. This discussion should be led by a decision maker who can rule things in or out, to make sure the countermeasure is feasible.
Once the best countermeasure has been decided, it’s time to agree who will be in charge of implementing it, and possibly helping come up with an action plan to make it happen. Depending on the problem, the solution may be immediately available, or may require some more in depth analysis to improve the process once and for all.
Once you fall in love with the whiteboard, you might think its time for an upgrade. This beast is definitely on our Christmas list.