By George Obst, Certified SCORE Mentor

No matter what industry, no matter what business you are engaged in, unresolved problems will fester like an infected sore.  Problems may seem easy to fix, but all too often the symptom may be fixed and the underlying problem is still there.  To effectively solve problems, you need to find their underlying cause. 

Every business, no matter how big or small has processes.  Some may be written as procedures and others may be unwritten but repeated every day.  When something goes wrong with a process, you have a problem.  Generally, unresolved problems lead to poor quality and service, and may lead, ultimately, to the failure of the business.

Let’s take an example of a business process failure.  The delivery of the flowers was late, after the customer’s promised delivery date.  The customer refused to pay.

There are a number of effective problem solving techniques and the one described here is both simple to apply and effective.  It is described, along with other problem solving techniques,  on the Mind Tools, Ltd. web site, an excellent source for management training.

Ask the why question, four or five times to get at the root of the problem.  Why won’t the customer pay for the flowers?  Answer – The flowers were delivered after the promised delivery date.  Why was the delivery late? Answer – An employee was out sick.  Why didn’t another employee fulfill the order?  Answer – The back-up employee needed roses and the roses in stock were not fresh.  Why couldn’t the supplier replace the roses?  Answer – The supplier required a full day to deliver flowers and this order was placed late, as a consequence of the absent employee.

Now, we observe there are two underlying problems, what to do when an employee is absent, and, second, in case of an unexpected event, how can expedited flower delivery in less than a day become an expected outcome.  In today’s competitive world, the businesses that bat near 100% are sure to flourish, while others that give clients excuses for bad service will come in second or maybe even last.

The flower shop initiated a new procedure.  At the start of every business day, all orders will be reassigned immediately if an employee is absent. Secondly, the shop owner researched other suppliers and found one that had an operating policy to fulfill any and all emergency orders within four hours, not a full day.  The flower shop switched to that supplier.

This “why” technique for solving problems was started in the 1930’s by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Motor Company.  It was revolutionary in its day, as most businesses simply lived with mistakes that were repeated time after time.  The premise of the “why” technique is that the answers to most problems come from the people who are working within the process being examined.  Indeed, this was the beginning of problem solving teams. Once the “why” questions are answered, steps can be taken to ensure that the particular problem does not repeat itself.  Businesses that have this problem solving mentality may deal with a myriad of problems over time, but they are different problems.  The old ones have had corrective procedures or processes put in place.

Problem solving businesses have competitive advantage as their products and services are better and more consistent, resulting in more satisfied customers.

If you want to improve your quality and service, contact a SCORE mentor today.  SCORE , a resource partner of the US Small Business Administration, can help you solve your business issues, Or, if you are starting a business, SCORE can help get your business  launched successfully. SCORE has more than 70 certified mentors skilled in most business applications, who will meet with you, at no cost, as often as you feel it is beneficial.  Call 602 745-7250 or click here to make your appointment with a SCORE mentor today.

About the Author:

George Obst is a Certified SCORE mentor with more than 30 years experience profitably managing and growing businesses, including start-ups, purchasing, financing and selling businesses.

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