Thursday, May 24, 2012

Addressing first order problems with third order solutions

The sign shown in this photo is a none too uncommon sight in the restrooms of many places in the world. Necessitated by frequent blockages of the plumbing when coarse paper towels are flushed.
Placing a sign such as this might seem a solution to the problem at hand but does it address the root of the problem? Sure if people stop putting paper towel in the toilet the problem of the plugged toilets should go away, right? But did it consider why people go to the trouble of walking to the toilet with the paper towel to flush it?

When the problem is that people needed to use the towels instead of a more flushable media to "do their business", is this the most elegant solution? No. If the stalls never run out of favorable paper to use for the toilet duty, does that not keep the towels out of the loo?

In my other life as a sheet metal stamping plant process improvement specialist, we faced an issue where during part shipping "surface lows" appeared in some doors we stamped. The quality manager did a detailed study of the issue and narrowed the occurences to situations where the part was lifted from the conveyor in a certain matter. He wrote a SWI (standard work instruction) imploring the rackers to only handle the part in a certain manner to prevent the issue from cropping up. In fact the only way to fix the problem was to address the forming of the parts several operations earlier.

Now consider this applied to professional issues:
  • When quality issues in the plant keep cropping up; do we dim the lights in the inspection area (even dismantle it; yes, that really happened once). Or should we find the root cause? 
  • If warantee costs skyrocket; do we change the terms of our warantees? Or do we improve our product? 
  • When the scuttlebutt in the work place is critical of ones performance; do we ask the staff to limit intra-personnel discussions? Or should we mine the criticism as valuable fodder for improvement or change?
  • If the blank washer is leaving too many particles of "dirt and slivers" on the sheet metal; do we uninstall the blank washers? Or find the source of the impurities that the blank washer imparted to the sheet metal?

Take a look around your place. Are you asking your people to stop flushing the paper towel? Better look to the seat of the problem.

No comments: