Problem Definition for Beginners

Back in 2006/7 I worked for Goodrich Aerospace as Group Continuous Improvement Manager, within my team I had a gentleman named Tim Holmes. Now Tim is one of those gentleman once met never forgotten, all for good reasons. His passion, intellect is second to none.

We had done a presentation on Standard Work to the Senior Leadership team and after the meeting Tim, Rob (Quality Manager) and myself got to talking. We knew Tim was a poet so we tasked him with creating a poem on Problem Definition something we could use in all of the conference rooms, training rooms, etc.

This was the result. Something I use regularly.

Problem Definition for Beginners

They say a well-defined problem is half way solved,
So if I want to fix an issue I get the right tool involved.
If I’ve got a problem that isn’t well defined
With lots of complex issues that keep racing round my mind
Or when there’s loads of data but I cannot find the proof
I know that there’s a solution there, but I just can’t see the truth.
Whenever I’m finding it difficult to focus my attention,
Or if I need help to understand and gain some comprehension,
I reach for a tool that’s simple to use and helps avoid contention
I break the problem into easy steps and ask myself 6 questions.
What precisely is it that’s wrong? is the first thing you should ask
I try to be exact here as it helps me in my task.
Where is the next one, as in where was it found?
This will help locate the issue and fix it to the ground.
Next up its When – as in what time of day,
I’ll also add the month & year to help me on my way.
Who is question number four, I need to know who found it?
Then I’ll know when I ‘go look see’ or need to talk around it.
The next question is five and the detail is Which? by way of demonstration
I’d like a specific requirement here, ideally a specification
Now finally I ask a How… to quantify the problem.
How many are wrong? Or even How was it found? And now I’m ready solve em.
This process will lend itself to any problem raised,
It will help us relieve that awful stress from out of our days.
‘Cause when you’ve got the all details, once your problems’ defined.
The picture should be much more clear, the solutions more easy to find;
Just work though the detail use logic… then pause,
For sooner or later you’ll find the root cause.
You see the answers to our troubles are never beyond our cognition,
They’re halfway over a little hill called Problem Definition

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The Pareto Principle

(also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few)

Wikipedia: The principle was suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.

This principle tends to be a forgotten technique/tool now.

The 80/20 Rule

It means that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs. As Pareto demonstrated with his research this “rule” holds true, in a very rough sense, to an 80/20 ratio. Examples as follows:

  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
  • 80 percent of the difficulty in achieving something lies in 20 percent of the challenge
  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products

In a business sense, finding the 80/20 ratios is crucial for maximising performance. Find the products or services that generate the most income (the 20 percent) and drop the rest (the 80 percent) that only provide marginal benefits. Spend your time working on the parts of the business that you can improve significantly with your core skills.

Now this can also be applied to our time. Business owners, leaders, managers (you can even apply it to your home life) waste a lot of time working IN the business. Meanwhile, they forgo the activities that earn £1,000 an hour, such as sending the right email to the right person, creating the next marketing sequence, or convincing a client to do more business with them, the time spent working ON your business.

We don’t realise the same 80/20 principle (the adage that 20 percent of customers equal 80 percent of sales) applies to every dimension of business. And that includes time management.

We are extremely prone to rationalise, “I can do it myself.” Then we spend six hours trying to extract a file from an email, fix a projector, doing accounts, generating a spreadsheet, etc. Now we may be competent in doing this, but we come back to the working IN your business instead of the No.1 job in getting and keeping customers, the working ON your business.

So the 80/20 rule can be applied to most things, don’t lose sight of it, keep it in the forefront of your mind when you’re looking to solve the problems around you.

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