I recently read a story about how a toothpaste factory solved a perplexing production problem:
Some boxes were coming off the assembly line without having the toothpaste tube inserted—and they were shipping out that way.
There was no way to identify and move the empty boxes off the line before shipping.
The company invested $8 million to analyze the system and develop a viable solution. After an exhausting, six-month process high-tech precision scales were installed on the assembly line. When an underweight box passed the scale, a bell would ring and a flashing light would alert the the production workers, who would then stop the line, remove the empty box, and restart the assembly line.
The scale was tested, and the results were flawless. But the CEO had a suspicion that it was TOO flawless. He went down to see his investment at work. The precision scales were in place, but a few feet before them on the assembly line, he saw a small desk fan propped up and facing the conveyor belt.
Puzzled, he asked one of the workers why a $20 fan was there.
“Oh, that,” the worker replied. “One of the guys put it there to blow the empty boxes off the belt, because he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang.”
There’s a valuable lesson here.
Problem-solving begins at the frontline.
Ask the people who are dealing with the problem day in and day out for their input. You can’t afford to overlook solutions that your frontline workers can see quite clearly. They are your experts.
We’ve carefully developed problem-solving mindset here because we’ve learned that, to solve a problem, you first need to fully understand the cause.
We can’t assume to know every interaction our individual team members have with their customers and each other. We never impose directives based on that limited understanding. So, we build problem-solving teams on an ad-hoc basis, for creative brainstorming (or as we call it, ‘intellectual sparring’) and strategy sessions.
Leave your ego at the door. No titles, please. We are all here to figure out how to make our business better! That can mean better delivery of service to our customers or more effective collaboration with each other. It doesn’t matter. The end result is a higher standard of excellence.
As we strive toward ISO 9001 quality management certification, we are looking at every possible avenue for being the best business, the best team, and the best solutions provider we can be.
Problem-solving is a team sport, and we want to be champions!
How have you gotten creative with your problem solving techniques? Share with us on Twitter @LTronCorp