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    The importance of words in problem solving      
    How important are words during a problem solving process  

We use a lot of documents in problem solving: project charter, 8D, A3, AMDEC, VSM, … and the words we use contribute a lot to the success or failure of what we undertake



    The French version of this article started with a play on words : Termes for (terms = words) and thermes (for thermal baths in the Greek and roman antic period)

    As everybody knows, in the antic period, thermal baths played a crucial role in the daily life and therefore in problem solving.

    Thermal baths were a place where people met to discuss about everything. So here is the point that interests us in problem solving: communication.

    In the enterprise world, a problem impacts very often not a single person or service, but rather several. Every problem has a collective dimension and that’s why the importance of the wording used is crucial and is often the threshold between success and failure.

    It is common to say that a well-defined problem is already half solved.

    In opposition with the antic world, where communication was mainly verbal and people had time to check other’s understanding, we nowadays have much more medias/means for communicating , and paradoxically, we have less and less time to dedicate to good communication, and therefore to be understood due to the fact that we have to manage /digest so many information and tasks (sometimes contradictory from one day to another) to be accomplished in a very limited period of time.

    That’s why we have to describe problems in a very precise/formalized way to be sure to be understood by others and thus be in a position to drive actions.

    Let’s start by a definition:

    What is a problem?: taking the risk to be very simplistic, a problem is just a gap between something and what it could/should be: expected state being defined by a standard, or our sense of observation or comparison with a competitor or …

    Whatever, a problem is just a gap to something

    Now let’s think about problem description:

    In order to describe a problem well, it is compulsory to precise/mention: what does this gap consists in?; what is the period of time we should take into consideration? , what are the functional or geographical boundaries to be considered? ;what are the consequences/impact of the problem?. As synthesis, be factual in order to a) be better understood and b) do not generate reject due to a poor formulation of the problem.

    I.e.: Suburban trains are often late. Even if it is true, the wording is not precise enough, is too vague to generate actions or will to undertake something.

    A more detailed problem description could be: on the last 4 weeks, 22% of the trains leaving Gare du Nord started late despite an objective of less than 5%. This resulted in an amount of claims of xxx k euro.

    Let’s then continue with a polemic assertion:

    Problems are the best friend of any company, they are a not limited source of improvement. So dear friends let’s consider problems as a god’s gift, let’s bless them and welcome them.

    As an example, I’d like to remind you the example in Ford (if my sources are correct)

    In 2008, Ford, as the 2 others of the Big 3 was losing money and it’s sales were slowly but surely decreasing (only one profitable exercise over 5 or 6, but it doesn’t matter). During a project review meeting with the main project leaders, one of the project leaders dared say that he had troubles and that something was not going well in the project. All the others looked at him thinking: this poor guy will is really going to have a bad time. Then John Mullaly (Ford’s CEO at that time) started to smile and said: FInally I think that someone will be able to tell me how a company where all the projects are going well can lose money in a recurrent manner.

    In synthesis, dear friends of the problem solving army, we are facing an enormous but fascinating mission, we have to:

    a) Patiently and relentlessly learn to others how to describe a problem in a quick, factual and understandable way (similar to the elevator pitch approach)

    b) Ensure that all problems pop up, are foreseen as opportunities and are then categorized, prioritized and treated for the most important ones.

    Once problem solved, we have to integrate the knowledge management part, and here too we have to write/talk/draw in a clear and concise way, will a true will to be understood by all the stakeholders : the ones who are currently doing the job, and the future newcomers.

    As a matter of fact: an A3 format or a 8D or the ppt format synthesis may quickly become unclear if we do not pay attention : acronyms or technical jargon or inconsistency in the way to describe things (cat, small feline, …) in the same document and all that will contribute to get the opposite impact : instead of enhancing understanding, your document will generate reject and negative reactions from the stakeholders.

    Words are important in problem solving, they deserve a lot of attention, but are definitely one of the keys of a successful problem solving session.

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