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"Do you got a few problems?"
The voice caught my attention. I thought about it, and then said, “Yep. I got a bunch of problems. It's OK. I love problems!”
Without problems, life would be boring. Problems create challenges to overcome. In fact, if there are no problems to solve, we humans will go create problems just to have some uncertainty and variety in our lives. Without problems, we don’t grow.
Do you ever conduct failure analysis? I do. If you are into solving problems, you do failure analysis. After looking at problems in organizations for years, I concluded that there are three categories—i.e., three types of problems. Understanding the category into which your problem falls helps you understand what you must do to solve the problem … or understand what you must do to get someone else to solve it.
Problems are walking, talking problem generators. Everyone has a problem.
Problems are a product of behavior. When behavior changes, sometimes new and unexpected problems appear. When problems go away, they are soon replaced by a fresh set of new and improved problems.
Since many problems start with behavior, let us use behavioral terms to define the three basic categories of problems.
These are common, run-of-the-mill problems. The car is low on gas; fill the tank. We are out of milk; pick some up from the store. The baby poops its diaper; change the diaper. These are everyday events with everyday solutions. They are not complicated problems. They have simple causes and simple, direct solutions: solve the problem, make the problem someone else’s, or wait for the problem to resolve itself.
Now things become more complicated. The car is always low on gas when you get in it. Why? Could be that you never put much gas in it. Could be that your son/daughter/wife/husband never puts gas into it. The milk you bought at the store was sour. Why? Could be that you left it out in the heat. Could be that the store left it out in the heat. Could be you did not check the date on the milk.
Abnormal problems are really exceptions. Something happens that is unexpected and somewhat beyond control. Sometimes they are just careless mistakes. It is important to understand that you don’t fix abnormal problems; they are remedied. To remedy a problem you have to look at the cause, and understand the external conditions that created the problem. If you can, you look for ways to keep that condition from happening again.
Beyond what you do to solve normal problems, rule changes and triage are the paths to solutions.
These are the twisted problems. Something or someone is taking purposeful action that is creating the problem. The word pathological shares its root with the word pathogen, and a pathogen is something that is attacking your body and making you sick.
The car is always low on gas, even if you fill it every day. One night you discover your neighbor is siphoning out the gas. The dairy does not clean out the processing equipment and taints the milk. A grown man dresses like a baby and craps his diaper. A mother makes her children sick to get attention for herself. An employee sabotages a process to retaliate against his employer, or a co-worker.
When a pathogen invades your body, white blood cells and antibodies go and attack the pathogen, working to eliminate the trouble. Doctors administer drugs to treat problems, and when necessary they will cut open the body to remove the trouble. Intervention is the treatment for a pathological problem. With pathological problems, if you do not remove the cause, the problem remains.
Most people attempt to ignore pathological problems in the hope that the person creating the problem will just stop. It never works. Intervention is the only sure solution; you sometimes must remove the person who is creating the problem.
What kind of problems are creating pain for you in your operations today? How are you dealing with the abnormal ones? How many examples of pathological problems are alive in your operations? Are you ready to deal with them?
The Seven Ways to Resolve a Problem