How do successful manufacturers solve problems? Toyota gives a fascinating window into problem-solving. The system the company uses and advocates is called A3 problem solving.
This problem-solving method focuses on identifying the root cause of the problem before even getting close to proposing a solution. Under this model, if a manufacturer needs to ramp up production it shouldn’t follow its gut instinct and add more line workers. Instead, the manufacturer should first clarify the problem, break it down, set a target, analyze the root cause, and so on until the most effective solution is finally implemented.
A think-first mentality can save manufacturers millions of dollars and massive headaches. This same mentality is critical when developing a technology solution for your manufacturing firm. Because if you want to succeed, you need your technology provider to be a detective.
To help clients get to the heart of their problems digital partners need to be detectives. While many might admire the technical or problem-solving skills of a detective, the chief skill of a master detective is investigation and communication. The same goes for digital partners as the first step to any project is getting a complete picture of what the need is.
What’s involved in getting this complete picture? It means involving as many people as needed, with as many disciplines as possible. This helps overcome the figurative silo that most employees work in. Because of departmental leaders’ focus, it’s easy to lose touch with how changes can affect the organization as a whole. Getting everyone in the same room helps solve that problem.
Once everyone is in the room, it’s critical to dig deep and find the root issue. Since the root issue is not typically on the surface, partners have to peel back a few layers to get to the cause. Like a detective, this requires strong communication and using processes similar to the Five Whys to dig deeper.
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. ”
In a large organization, it’s likely that in the discovery process, multiple problems will be uncovered. All of which will vary in importance to different department leaders. This creates a new challenge for companies: Unifying your team on the problems the company should focus on first.
Without consensus, it’s difficult to gain enough traction and momentum for a successful project. Leaders need to get consensus on which problems will have the most impact on the organization as a whole. The key is to unify the team by focusing on the organization as a whole and not on individual departments.
To help companies to get to the heart of their problems and develop solutions that support the long-term vision, partners need strong processes. A process we use at Design Center to help clients do just that is called Envisioning.
Envisioning is a set of processes designed to help clients get to the heart of the need and fully understand it before trying to craft a solution. Envisioning is part of the discovery process, where we dig deep to identify the root of the problem. It also includes user research and setting business ROI objectives. This helps set expectations and give context to how what we’re doing is related to the larger vision.
The envisioning workshop helps Design Center to define the long-range vision of what success looks like and break that vision into digestible chunks and make actionable plans to get it done. From there, we’re able to optimize, add more functionality, learn, and repeat. The tactics may change, but when companies define a long-term vision they stay on track even when they have to adjust their roadmap.
Establishing the vision is just the start. What happens once you’ve identified the problem and developed the solution? How will you know you’re headed in the right direction?
When you’re faced with the need for a technology solution, don’t just scratch the surface. The best manufacturers dig deeper and work with partners who are experts at identifying the root cause of a problem and propose the most transformative solution.