Author: Dustin Turner

Problem Solving: Opportunities for Improvement Management Principle

I often say, when you simplify the role of a manager, down to its nuts and bolts, it comes down to problem solving.

When pilots learn to fly, they are taught a principle called “Stop and wind the clock.” The saying comes from back in the day when your Grandmother would be in the kitchen cooking and would wind up a clock timer to set a time to check the oven. This clock would make a sound at every second and when the time was up it would make a loud sound signifying dinner is ready.

As a manager, winding up a clock timer provides us some time to not panic, but rather calm our emotions and run through all processes before making a decision.

The responsibility of a manager is to solve a problem before the problem exists. When there is a complaint, at some level we have failed – and that is to be expected – no one is perfect. But what separates the good managers from the great ones, is how they handle complaints. Anyone can be a good manager when times are good, but it’s how we handle the stressful and unpleasant situations that separates the good from the truly great managers.

Below are some steps we can take when solving issues. Remember not to shoot at the hip when making decisions. Thoroughly and thoughtfully run through these steps before making decisions, and you will be set up for a successful outcome!

Steps to Problem Solving:

I. Identify the Potential Problem – An opportunity for improvement

This can be tricky. To be able to do this, we must always be learning, listening and looking. In the parking industry, we cannot effectively lead and manage an operation sitting in our office. Sometimes I stand in the middle of the parking structure, valet drive, and street (playing Frogger) and let my mind wonder to see if any change is needed or desired. I run through all the possible scenarios in my head and write them down later. Review and document the current processes – the who, what, where, when, and how.

II. Determine the Root Cause
Situations always have a surface level; however, it only came to the surface because it has grown from somewhere else. We must take the time to research and identify where these issues are coming from. When performing a root cause failure analysis, start with the facts you know and begin to work backwards. At times, it’s the ability to ask the right questions that allows us to obtain the right answers.

III. Identify Solutions
There are no simple solutions and no final answers. In order to determine potential solutions, act intentionally by strategically designing processes and new concepts to improve operations. When we put controls in place to detect problems before it occurs, and not after, we become proactive in our approach rather than reactive. Additionally, evaluate possible impacts on the new processes, tools and policies before the implementation begins.

IV. Implement Solutions.
Take risks here. At this point we have analyzed to death and it’s time to act. We must know solutions, even the best ones, need tweaking and revising, so don’t be afraid to tweak! Recently, I have adopted much of the Lean Six Sigma approaches to business. According to their model, they teach us to make small, incremental changes to continuously improve our operations. I have found this approach to be highly successful.

V. Follow Up
This is one of my weaknesses, so I personally know how critical this last step is. I had followed all the processes to this point to a science but was failing to follow up on the progress, and as a result, I found that our staff had dropped the implementation all together. At the end of the day, it was my fault for not reaching back out to them and continuing to motivate them to the finish line. To combat this challenge, I designed processes in my own life such as to do lists and flagging emails to constantly, without micro-managing, keeping the issues at the forefront of my mind.

VI. Make Adjustments
Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Technologies, is quoted saying; “I can’t ever remember being struck by lightning when making a big decision. It’s always about taking in more and more data points and making tack adjustments as you figure it out. I call customers, suppliers, industry analysts and try to get as much information as possible”. Never accept the status quo. Remember even the greatest inventions of our time took several adjustments along the way.

Together we can stop, wind the clock, use cognitive thinking and act accordingly.