Problem solving is most effective as a vehicle for continuous improvement when it is focused on results or outcomes. When we have gaps between the level of performance achieved and the target we are aiming for, we can use problem solving to find out why these gaps exist and then develop and implement solutions to close them.
Once we have closed a performance gap, and are confident that our solution will maintain the new level of performance established, we can drive continuous improvement by raising our target and then employing a fresh round of problem solving to close the new gap created. This is fundamentally why organisations which have a strong problem solving culture achieve higher levels of performance than their competition.
There are however times where performance gaps are detected but there is no need to conduct a formal problem solving process to close them. This situation arises where the gap has a known cause that can be easily rectified. An example would be where standard practice has been established and has been proven to be effective but is not followed. These types of gaps, which could be avoided if known procedures or principles were simply followed in a disciplined manner, are called deviations. Closing the performance gap is then simply a case of addressing the known cause of the problem.
When a performance gap is detected, one of the first things we should do is to confirm that the gap is real and not the result of an issue with measurement. If the gap is real, the next thing we need to confirm is whether the gap is a problem or a deviation. For the gap to be a problem, it’s cause should be unknown. If the gap is a deviation rather than a problem, it should be quickly rectified by addressing its cause.
In general, deviations result from the inconsistent implementation of solutions, most typically solutions that rely on human intervention. The implementation of approaches such as standard work helps to minimise deviations.
If a performance gap occurs repeatedly and it was originally classified as a deviation, it may be necessary to treat it as a problem, since there is most likely a deeper underlying reason for the gap that is unknown. In this instance, there are most likely unintended consequences arising from the use of standard procedures that are leading to them not being followed or the standard procedures do not deliver the required results.
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