Problem-solving: Everybody's Doing It

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

In Stephen Covey's book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the author points out that we must be proactive rather than reactive. We must take control of our own destiny and not simply react to the world around us. While Covey was speaking of individuals, his advice is equally applicable to organizations--they should be proactive, not reactive.

There are many companies that teach us problem-solving skills. Each has its favorite method, but they all have the same basic need, they need a problem. You cannot solve a problem until you have a problem to solve. This is reactive behavior. What would a proactive organization do?

In a general sense, quality in an organization can be approached in three different ways. Some organizations use combinations of these methods. There is a hierarchy to the methods, however. The three approaches are:

        Detection ===> Prevention ===> Continual Improvement

As we go from left to right, each approach is more effective and is more proactive.

Problem-solving is primarily the result of "Detection." Most of the organization's time is spent detecting problems then solving them. Far too many organizations operate in this mode. By their very nature, problems are accompanied by crises and by stress. Problem-solving and crisis management go hand-in-hand. An organization that focuses on problem-solving is usually plagued by high costs due to scrap and rework.

The next step to greater proactivity is that of "Prevention." Organizations operating in this mode have a strong focus on preventing problems before they occur. They monitor their processes closely, usually with SPC, and have to suffer far fewer crises than organizations that focus on solving problems. Management in this mode has less stress and better products.

An organization using continual improvement is not satisfied with prevention of problems. Instead, they ask how the product can be made better--even beyond the requirements of the present customer. By doing this, they are preparing to satisfy tomorrow's customer as well and are assuring themselves a strong market position.

Proactivity is interwoven with the quality approaches that have been found most useful as this century draws to a close.