Every business has internal problems and the best businesses are constantly in a problem solving mode. In this article I will review the correct way of problem solving. Ask your employees what problems they encounter. Once a problem has been identified, what do you do next? Start an action team. It's a Management Tool to continually use in the management of your company.
When companies try to solve problems, they have to figure out how to tap the right information on the problem, how to come up with solution options, and how to implement the selected solution. Action Teams do this--they are a structured way to attack problems. If you truly want to change your company, then really adopt the Action Team concept--it will give you a base to solve problems and improve systems for many years to come.
- An Action Team is created to solve a particular problem. Its focus is to come up with solutions to the problem, and then implement the best solution(s) found.
- The teams normally meet for a four to six-week period, and concentrate on just the problem for which they are assigned. Meetings are held once a week, and should be limited to one hour. At the end of each meeting, if needed, assignments are given to team members to complete before the next meeting. This keeps everyone involved in improving the company.
- Let's address who should be on an Action Team. A team normally consists of four to six people. They should each have some stake in the assigned problem, but it can be peripheral. For example, if the problem happens to deal with inventory, you may have people from Shipping, Manufacturing, Inventory Management, Purchasing, and Accounting since they each deal with the inventory in one way or the other. What you do not want is the team entirely made up of the responsible department, in this case Inventory Management. Team members should be made up from a variety of levels--not just management. During team activities, all team members should be considered as on the same level, rather than their level in the company outside the team. There is no rank on the team.
- There are some particular roles in the Action team that we need to discuss. First is the Team Leader. This is the person that must keep the meetings moving forward on track and that all members are involved. They are not to allow "War Stories" to dominate the meeting. The focus should be to look forward rather than rehashing problems once they are clearly identified. The Team Leader must be ready to step in and hold Action Team members accountable for their performance when required. When selecting the Team Leader, the person should have a history in the company where he or she has shown a higher-than-average effort in doing their jobs in an effective and productive manner.
- The next role in the team that must be defined is the Scribe. This person is responsible for capturing the information that is brought out during the meeting, and in particular, noting the assignments that team members are given during the meeting to accomplish. These written minutes with assignments will be distributed to all on the team within one day so that everyone knows their responsibility for that week. The scribe can be selected from the team at the first team meeting.
- The Action Team should be scheduled as a standard four-week process (But some flexibility may be required, thus the six weeks), that typically goes as follows:
- Week one is a clear definition of the problem and research of the issues and related data. This may include figuring out cost items, and looking at different possibilities.
- Week two is used to review the issues and data, identifying new or modified procedures, and to identify updates or changes required to reporting systems (we want to track how the changes are affecting the business, so we need to establish some kind of measure to monitor).
- Week three is used to finalize the new procedures through group interaction. In other words, starting to set up written procedures on new required actions.
- Week four culminates with the final draft of all procedures and an implementation plan.
On projects that require longer time, the majority of the time will go towards the second and third bullets above.
- To start the Problem Solving Process with an Action Team, select a problem. Carefully word your "Problem to be Improved" so that there is a clear understanding of the expected results of the Action Team.
- When selecting the place for the Action Team meeting, keep in mind that you want the meetings to be of a serious nature. Try to select a place that will not have any distractions and will lend itself to a formal, structured meeting. A place with a marker board is also helpful.
- Team members should be briefed on the importance of their assistance on the Action Team, noting that is just as important, if not more so, than their normal responsibilities. Hold the meetings during working hours so that the employees understand that the company is willing to pay them to do this important task.
- The result should be a new Standard Operating Procedure and training on how to use that new process you created.
Author, entrepreneur and profit improvement expert John Mautner of Cycle of Success Institute can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-371-7929 www.cylceofsuccess.net