Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Winning metrics for problems

Monty Python’s sketch about a casualty department is a joy to behold. Of course, being Monty Python the casualties are the doctors, nurses and staff. Shutters repeatedly crush fingers, wheelchairs collapse and doors smash against faces. Good old comic slapstick with a laugh out loud twist.

I won’t pretend that this sketch was responsible for me thinking about problems, but it does underline the importance of addressing them. Toyota has gone on record as saying they prefer to see problems surfaced, rather than hidden. Which makes a great deal of sense: a problem is still a problem whether you acknowledge its existence or not. The only difference is that once it is out in the open you can start to think about it, talk to people about it, review it, and solve it. You can also measure how many problems you have, and how long it takes to solve them: big advantages.

Yet there is something in human nature that doesn’t like to admit problems. I will wait until my check-up with the dentist before acknowledging an odd sensation in one of my teeth, even though my teeth would be better for an earlier appointment. I am also guilty of lying awake at night thinking about work problems, instead of writing them down and addressing them properly.

Some of my innovation friends recommend writing down good ideas in a notebook so as not to lose them – a more than sensible idea that I believe counts Richard Branson amongst its supporters. I recommend writing down problems to help tackle them more effectively. This works well for individuals, teams, or divisions and the resulting metrics are well worth the effort. It certainly worked for Toyota. And might help some of those Monty Python patients too!

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