Dissecting a Problem

How do you solve problems in your business?  For example, if you regularly receive complaints from customers that merchandise arrived late, do you go talk to the head of shipping or delivery?  What does that person do?  Do they talk to the team?  What do they say?  Too many business people simply chastise the staff with no real direction on how to improve the situation.

Problem solving starts with careful analysis of every step of the process.  A great example can be found in the detailed overhall Alaska Airlines undertook in 2007 to improve reliability.  In January, the Wall Street Journal cited their efforts and applauded their results.  Here is that portion of the article:


“The carrier has set internal standards: There are 50 different check points on a timeline for each departure, with data collected on each one. Flight attendants have to be on board 45 minutes before scheduled departure; customer-service agents board the first passenger 40 minutes before departure, and 90% of passengers need to be boarded 10 minutes before departure. What time the fuel truck hooks up and what time it disconnects its hose are measured. When flights arrive, the time the belt-loader pulls up to the plane is tracked. The cargo door is supposed to be opened three minutes after arrival; the first bag needs to be dropped on the carousel before 15 minutes after arrival.

“There are so many moving parts. You just can’t tell people to get the airplane out on time,” said Ben Minicucci, Alaska’s chief operating officer.”

What problem do you need to solve in your business?  Break the process down step by step and identify the bottlenecks.  Do you have a vendor who consistently ships late?   If working with them on improving delivery isn’t effective you will either need to build in more time to your process to allow for their tardiness or find another supplier.  Does a project get stalled on the desk of someone who often works out of the office?  Is there a way to use technology to get their sign-off even remotely?  Do you have team members who need training in order to work more efficiently?

Setting measurable goals for each step of the process is the secret to improving performance.  Improved performance – being able to tout measured consistency –  is a competitive advantage.  It can also improve not only productivity but profitability as well.  Breaking a process down into the various components makes a big problem manageable.


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