One thing I’ve found over the years when it comes to implementing continuous improvement or problem solving in our companies is that there is only so much you can design or plan for without jumping in and just doing it and learning as you go.
I was reminded of this as my daughter and I worked on installing a very important feature into her room today.
Well… a zipline for her stuffed animals.
OK, originally it was supposed to be a zipline for her dolls… but it evolved.
It was a fun project. We started with some plastic hangers that she got from her flip flops. From there, I created a few harnesses out of electrical wire to attach to the hangers and hold the passengers.
The nice thing is that there are a few hooks already in her ceiling. So our first prototype was going to go from one of the hooks partway across the room.
I couldn’t find string I was looking for so I used some fishing line.
Then we finally had the harness, the line and the first passengers. Her two dolls.
So, we got the dolls into the harnesses and she raised one up to put it on the line.
We broke the line.
No problem. We learned a few things. First, we’d need lighter passengers. Second, we decided to route the zipline differently for a better route.
Second attempt involved a zipline with a slight slope (though not a ton) and a few stuffed animals.
When we placed the first one on, it only went about a third of the way down the line. You could push it but it still just stopped.
So, I cut it off and found a new place to route the line to. Revision 3.
This time, more out of the way than the first two, better angle and lighter passengers. We got a few strapped in and I let my daughter place the first one on the line. It zoomed down the line with flair and we both smiled.
This was it. It took us a few iterations but we got it.
The thing is, we never would have gotten to that point without actually just getting in there and trying things out.
So, if you or your team find yourself stuck on a project or issue this week, be willing to stop planning or meeting or discussing and just try something. There is a momentum that only comes when you jump in and explore.
And often, you save yourself a ton of time because you find something out that changes the whole equation. For us, it was the weight of the dolls. We could have spent so much time customizing our harness and the zipline to be exactly for the dolls and then later found out that they were just too heavy.
Instead, we found out at the beginning and were able to shift our focus.
Hope this helps you and your team this week. And if you’re up for it, look for ways to add a zipline to your office while you’re at it.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode. If you’ve been enjoying these one of the best thing you can do is tell a fellow entrepreneur or business leader. You spreading the word helps me help more people. Thanks so much.
Today we talk about how a game called Bananagrams can be a fun way to help your team exercise their problem-solving muscles.
Check it out.
Then reach out to me on Instagram at @shawnwashburn7 and shoot me a message to let me know what you thought!
I love taking trips with my daughter to our local playground. It’s grown over the years and is a fun place for kids to have fun, explore, build friendships and try new things.
Often, as I sit and watch her and other kids play I see more than just what’s in front of me. I like to think of the playground as a great big collection of life lessons that kids get to work on… all in one special place.
The other night I was thinking about the connection between the playground and one of my favorite work activities – problem solving.
There are almost unlimited opportunities to problem solve at the playground. Sometimes kids will be playing tag and they will scamper up to the top a structure and scatter. And I’ll watch the tagger evaluate all of the different options at their disposal for getting down.
Of course, there is a mix of slow ways, fast ways, safe ways, dangerous ways. They don’t want to think too long because their targets are quickly moving away, but eventually they’ll pick an option that is as close to the safe and fast part of the matrix as possible.
Other times, it might be a toddler staring up at some ominous looking steps that lie between them and the activity and excitement they see at the top. They may start to take on the first step, then maybe one more, but then quickly begin to evaluate where they are and if they’re willing to risk going farther.
Our playground also has a big rope net pyramid where kids can pick a multitude of ways to climb around and up to the peak. My daughter loves to get to the top and slide right down the pole in the middle while others might take a different approach.
And then there is the problem of parents telling kids that it’s time to go. This might be when I see kids get the most creative in their problem solving skills.
When it comes to work, encouraging and growing problem solving skills in your team members is one of the most critical tasks you can undertake. It is those skills that help them make the right decisions when the process breaks down or they have to navigate a customer conversation or trouble shoot a machine or other failure in your system.
And like on the playground, the more opportunities you give your people to think on their own, the more they can take calculated risks and think for themselves. Each opportunity does a little bit more to strengthen those muscles.
Are you giving your people enough chances to think on their own or are they just given a specific path with no room for questions or thinking?
I think you find that the more they’re able to be in those positions and empowered to problem solve, the better your company will be in the long run… as well as your people.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I’d love hear from you about today’s topic or just in general. You can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to shawnwashburn.com/contact and you’ll find links to connect with me on social media as well.
If you want to dig down to the root cause of a problem, try the 5 Whys method mentioned in this episode. And if you want to see what made me say “It’s almost as if…”, you’ll find that today to.
So, one day I had to do some work on a welding robot. This is a robot that you program to weld parts together.
It does a great job as long as everything stays in place correctly.
On that day, somehow the welds it was producing seemed to have shifted off location and I was touching up the program to try to fix it.
I had done this several times before so I jumped into the program, bumped the points a little bit and then ran it through the cycle.
When the turntable swung back around and I grabbed the finished part out I was a little confused because it didn’t seem like my change had done anything.
I took a closer look and put it under some better light just to check it against the previous part.
And sure enough they looked the same.
I was a little puzzled but I had seen this before and so I hopped back into the program, tweaked the points a little bit more and gave it another go.
Certainly, that had to have done it, right?
Well, as it turned out, that was a big NOPE.
The second part came out and… well… it looked exactly like the first one.
Robot welding can be a bit touchy and I’d seen a few times where welds just seemed to want to go a certain direction.
I told myself I’d do one more small adjustment and that should do it.
So I did. Then I sent the part in, the robot welded it… and… drumroll… STILL THE SAME RESULT.
I was like “are you kidding me right now!?”
So I sat down with the family of bad parts in my hand that all shared a striking resemblance of a bad weld.
And this thought came into my head as I struggled to figure it out.
“It’s almost as if…” I started, in my head.
“It’s almost as if… nothing I did affected this program.”
“It’s almost as if….”
Suddenly I jumped up and darted over to the controller. I looked at the part and then back at the screen.
I had been modifying the wrong program.
So, I went in, made the right change and boom… fixed it on the first try.
But the whole thing reminded me of a root cause or troubleshooting concept we have in Lean Manufacturing called the 5 Whys.
Similar to what we talked about in episode 4 on Curiosity, the 5 Whys is an easy way to dig deeper and deeper to find the true source of a problem.
Unfortunately, most times we stop at the first or second answer and assume that is the problem. But it’s just a symptom.
In my case, it might have gone like this.
Q1: “Why is the weld still coming out wrong?”
A1: “Because the robot isn’t welding the correct location”
Q2: “Why isn’t the robot welding the correct location?”
A2: “Because the points must be off”
Q3: “Why are the points still off?” (this is where I made a false assumption in my answer)
A3: “Because I still need to keep moving them.”
And so on.
The key is that each answer is not only analyzed for accuracy but is also followed up with another question that goes one level down… until you arrive at the real cause.
Try that in your own organization this week. The next issue that pops up that you need to solve, keep asking why until you feel like you’ve sufficiently gotten past the easy or surface answers.
Become a detective. Don’t settle. Dig down deep.
Because that is when you’ll be able to really leverage your energy and manpower to get at the root and get things back to where they need to be.
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Thank you so much.