What’s your problem?

I recently had to take a friend to an urgent care facility in town after she broke out in hives and itchy skin, likely an allergic reaction to a food item. After making it into the exam room, the medical technician very efficiently completed the vitals and reconciled medication and past illness history. Next in was a physician’s assistant, who performed a quick assessment and confirmed our suspicions about the food allergy.

But what food? We still weren’t sure, even as the hives were quickly spreading and my friend agreed to a Benadryl shot. Within 20 minutes, the itching was gone with the hives almost disappeared. One crisis averted, one very drowsy friend.

I have prescribed and given Benadryl shots to my patients in the past but this was the first time as a non-physician that I noticed how quickly the drug acts and makes the reaction disappear. It got me thinking about how a lot of the countermeasures many organizations implement to solve a problem act like Benadryl. Symptoms disappear but the root cause remains.

Cause Map
Cause map slide courtesy Peg Pennington

Most people, in fact, aren’t sure what problem they’re trying to solve. For example, if sales go down, marketing goes up. But what if your products are defective? What if customers are getting the wrong product or are waiting too long to receive it? What if a competitor is turning out a better, faster alternative?

You will only be treating the symptoms if you don’t know the:

–          actual problem you are trying to solve

–          root cause of the problem

There are many tools available to get to the root cause of the problem such as the 5Whys and Fishbone diagram.  I recently learned from a colleague a new method, causal mapping, which I prefer because it is visual and loose in structures, allowing for a free flow of ideas until you find the root cause.

My friend, by the way, is on her way to an allergist to nail down the real culprit.

Practicing what we preach

Even if many of the speakers who come before COE members have lean-transformation success stories to share, all of those tales have to start with some gory details about problems at their organizations. In the spirit of quid pro quo, I’d like to share one of ours and fill you in on what we’re doing to make it better. Think of it as the Fisher College version of US Weekly’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!”

Our Dec. 2 seminar featured fantastic and well-received presentations from Cardinal Health Inc. and Starbucks Corp. (don’t believe me? Check out these pics). If you logged in to watch either of these events via a live webcast, however, you got a front-row seat to some technical problems we had in the morning and afternoon. Live audience members in the afternoon were privy to an audio glitch at the start of the Starbucks presentation as well.

Fisher College COE cause mapping
COE joined with the audio and visual teams that helped with the Dec. 2 seminar to dissect some of its glitches.

In a world without lean thinking, we’d hoist the blame on the shoulders of the good folks at Fisher and the Blackwell Hotel who handle audio and video for us and be done with it. Easy? Sure. Fair? Not at all. So in the spirit of lean thinking, we spent a half-day this week creating cause maps with the audio and visual teams that revealed a number of issues that fueled the fire. And like the dutiful lean thinkers we are, we emerged with some proposed changes to our event planning and execution next year that should boost the quality of COE members’ experience and lower our blood pressure readings.

It’s disheartening and even scary to dig beneath the surface and expose the frayed wires in our process but they remain a problem waiting to happen until you do.

Discuss: How has operational excellence influenced the way you or your organization dissects problems after they occur?