Even with processes up and running in your business, you will still sometimes run into problems. Perhaps a newsletter did not go out on the date it was supposed to, or a report has missing information. It is impossible to foresee and document every single possibility in your processes.
So, what do you do when you find a gap in the way something needs to be done? You have one of two choices: you can temporarily patch it up, or you can prevent the problem from ever happening again. It pays to take the time to figure out what happened and solve the issue for the future.
Steps to Solving Problems
To quickly and effectively respond to problems in processes, I recommend the following procedure:
1. Fix the problem immediately
First thing’s first, stop the blood flow, do what needs to be done, call whomever you need to call and solve the problem. The people on the receiving end of the issue will probably not want to wait around for a postmortem on what happened. They just want to get the thing solved and move on.
2. Identify the source of the problem
Getting to the root of the mistake is very important. Sometimes the answer that first comes up is superficial and doesn’t get to the crux of the problem. Try to ask questions that will reveal why it happened in the first place. The areas you should review are:
a. The origin: A good technique is the Five Whys approach. Originally developed for the Toyota Company, the approach allows you to get to the true cause of any problem. It works by building a chain that asks why a problem happened, then why that happened, and so on until you get to the fifth why. The Five Whys force you to get to the bottom of the issue.
b. Responsibility: Determine who had ownership of the area. You can ask the following questions: Who is currently responsible? Who should be responsible? A common issue is that no one was responsible in the first place.
c. Timing: The programming of a process can be the source of problems. Ask: When should it have happened? How often should it be done? An example of a timing mistake is that the process did not start soon enough, and there isn’t enough time to finish everything.
Once you have figured out what happened, it is imperative to make sure everybody involved knows why the mistake was made, and how it is going to get fixed. Communication with everybody involved is extremely important for several reasons:
a. It will ensure the problem does not happen again.
b. The feedback on the issue and its proposed implementation are useful to everyone.
c. Communication will emphasize the culture of processes you are building in your company.
4. Implement the changes
After putting out the fire, defining the source of the problem and communicating with the responsible parties, it is time to implement permanent changes in the process. Here are some tips:
a. Document the modification to the process as soon as possible, so the mistake is not repeated.
b. Try to add the new process to a current process that works well.
c. Be explicit but also concise.
d. Verify that the change worked.
Start Fixing Your Business Process Problems Today
Problems will always happen. It is how you and your team react that will make the biggest difference in your company. As you invest more and more in your processes, they will get better, more comprehensive and more adept at responding to the current situation.