Find the Mess and the Solution

In the chaos, there is opportunity. Most major career accelerations happen when someone steps into a mess and makes a difference.  I have yet to see or hear about a company or job where there was not something that could be cleaned up or improved. One question I get more and more from early careerists and tenured workers is how can they make an impact and move up in their organization.  

My answer is usually not the one people want to hear because it involves taking initiative, involves risk, lots of hard work and no guarantees.   Those people who are up for the challenge will be rewarded even if they fail, let me explain.  

Every company and every division has a big hairy issue/ problem that everyone has learned to walk around, and turn a blind eye to because either they don’t have the time to fix it, don’t know how to fix it, or believe it’s not their job to fix it.  I recommend taking the initiative and tackling these problems in addition to your current job responsibilities. 

Step One:  Identify the Problem
KPIs are Key Process Indices. What is effecting the team KPI’s and/or the company’s KPI’s?  Every company has KPIs and every department.  Examples include specification of tolerances, delivery times, scrap, downtime, and any other measurement of performance you can think of.  KPIs derive from goals and objectives.  Identify the primary KPIs for your business.  Could the KPIs be improved?  Better efficiency? Redundancy? 

Step Two:  Identify Friction Points
Friction points are significant deviations from your KPIs.  When a deviation is significant, it should trigger a root cause analysis.  You need to define these friction points, but be careful.  Most set their thresholds too low, which triggers more investigations than they are able to adequately complete.  This leads to sub-optimal results.  Be conservative at first, and then tighten thresholds down once you are sure your team has the capability to keep up with the investigations they trigger.  Avoid making targets so far from the current state that success is almost impossible because failure to obtain drastic change will hurt future solutions. 

Step Three:  Perform Root Cause Analysis
identify the cause for the friction point via a uniform RCA process. Everyone needs to speak the same language, the same RCA process needs to be used to ensure consistency. Make a commitment! Evaluate what’s out there and commit to one process.  Use your RCA process to identify causes for the friction points and how to remove and smooth out those issues.

Step Four:  Identify Systemic Risks
This is where the real proactive opportunities are identified and most analyses will lead to systemic causes, but only if they go far enough.  These are causes that are actually part of the system itself and they have been a cause of problems in the past, and will likely be a cause of problems in the future.  Finding and eliminating these causes is truly more preventive and proactive than corrective.   Systemic risks can be found in almost any root cause analysis as the investigator goes far enough and knows what to look for.  Common cause analysis is a great way to identify systemic risks.

Step Five:  Share Observations and Make it a Team Effort
Many companies simply don’t take reports seriously, you must pull some of your incident reports and review them critically.  Do they tell you what the problem was, when it happened, where it happened, and what the significance of the problem was?  Do they tell you the causes of the problem?  Do they contain a detailed cause summary?  Do they provide you with evidence for the causes?  And do they identify solutions that directly impact those causes?  These are just the basics, but if you’ve answered yes to all of them then your company stands apart from most and in the top 1%.  We need to share what we’ve learned so that others can benefit from our efforts.  This leads to true organizational change and effectiveness. 

An employee’s ability to identify a process issue or friction point, evaluate the issue, and develop a solution to that problem they share with the rest of the organization is a powerful employee.  Someone who demonstrates that ability and proactive approach is someone who will get the attention of leadership and be given more opportunities than employees who see friction points as unsolvable or not their problem.