SIRF Roundtables Blog

Do you have Workers or Problem Solvers?

Do you have Workers or Problem Solvers ?

At last month’s SIRF Op Ex Roundtable Pia Wells, BHP Global Lead coach - BOS , presented on “Mining for Diamonds – the many facets of C.I.” . Pia’s excellent presentation gave those who attended a really good overview of BOS - the BHP Operating System.  Pia indicated that BOS was their way of working that makes improvement part of what they do every day, with an ambitious goal of creating 72,000 problem solvers. What a great goal! In effect the aiming to make  of everyone in BHP a problem solver.

It got me thinking what really is required to empower everyone in an organisation to be a capable problem solver?   How do people move from just doing the routine work to

  1. Being able to recognise problems immediately
  2. Be able to do effective Root Cause Analysis
  3. To take effective action to eliminate the underlying Root Cause


While on paper these steps seem easy – things are never as easy as they appear.  Let us take these steps in turn.


  1. Recognise immediately that you have a problem?


You sure won’t fix it if you don’t see it as a problem. This is where standards and clear expectations are key. It is why every activity of a Toyota worker is highly specified as to its content, sequence, location, timing and outcome. If there is any deviation from standard for any of these then it is seen as a problem. As example, if the cycle should have taken 15 secs but took 16 secs – that’s a problem. Most organisations haven’t been on this journey for some 60+ years as Toyota have, having every activity highly specified is very challenging, it can seem daunting that if can be difficult to know where to start. A good suggestion is to start by standardising the activities and processes that are causing you Safety or Quality issues. 


If you don’t have standards and your workers are not aware of them or their role in applying them, then it is likely that the problems you are able to identify are only the problems that are so big that everyone can see there is a problem. Naturally, these problems need to be worked on but what is common that these large problems, like James Reason’s  Swiss cheese safety model, are actually a series of smaller problems unaddressed. If your workers don’t have the standards or training to identify problems when small, then you will be cursed to be only able to fix them when they are big.


  1. Able to do an effective Root Cause Analysis  ( RCA)


It is almost instinctive when faced with a problem to come up with a potential solution straight away, particularly if you have seen and fixed a similar problem before. The challenge is that without applying effective Root Cause Analysis processes, you are not guaranteed to come up with the correct solution. Invariably , you may end up only treating the symptoms rather than the root cause – such that the problem may then recur.  This is particularly true the more complex a problem is. How then to empower workers to be able to do effective RCAs ? For me, there are 3 key elements to this: Training, Coaching and Practice.  Training your workers in the effective RCA techniques that you want them to use is an essential foundation. 


For over 2 decades SIRF with its RCA training has have developed leading problem solving methodologies and software, trusted by hundreds of organisations and thousands of trainees. This exclusive to SIRF RCA training recognises that there is a Problem Solving Continuum based on the Risk ( Probability x Consequence ) and Complexity of the problem faced that defines the problem solving tools that should be used:


o             Intuition -> 5 Why -> 5 Why + A3 -> 12 Steps  - > 12 Steps + 7 Quality tools -> 6 sigma


Teams should be trained in the methods based on the nature of the problems that you want them to solve. All workers benefit with 5 Why + A3 training, as the majority of problems that they face can be addressed using that relatively simple technique. A smaller percentage of workers might be required to tackle more complex problems and need 12 Steps or even the 12 Steps plus the 7 Quality Tools. For extremely complex problems, 6 sigma techniques might also be used but in reality on a small percentage of the workforce needs this training.


Sending someone on a training course is never the end of it. To embed and maintain the problem solving skills , the newly trained need to practice their new found skills , ideally  under the guidance of a coach. Good RCA courses like the SIRF course, have the learners apply the theory from the course on real current problems that the workers are faced to give a  “learn by doing” experience. The real learning comes when faced with the next problem to be solved in their workplace. The coach’s role is not to solve the problem for them but to guide them in the problem solving method that they are using. A good problem solving coach requires the depth of problem solving knowledge and experience and also good facilitation techniques.  Who are the problem solving coaches in your team ?


  1. Taking effective action to eliminate the Root Cause

It is not the root causes that we seek, it is their elimination with effective solutions. Ideally the workers are empowered to take actions to prevent recurrence. This implies that the actions needed is within their control at best or that they know how to and can influence others needed to take the action required.  This is one of the reasons that a team approach to problem solving works. The solution needs to be reasonable for the problem being addressed. You would not spend $100K to solve a problem that only costs $10. Creativity in the solutions process is required for optimal outcomes. Any agreed solutions should be examined for potential side effects that could create other problems or unacceptable situations. The solutions should be tested to confirm that they work. If effective they should be systemised to be part of the new standard way things are done and communicated to all who could benefit. Celebrating problems solved and thanking all involved helps provide incentive and impetus for future problem solving.


The repeated practice of “learn by doing” problem solving under the guidance of a coach is  key.  Real learning comes from problem solving the correct way when faced with the pressure of a real problem to be solved. It analogous to improving your tennis or golf, the goal is to hit the correct shot when it is required. Knowing what to do is only part of the solution. Sufficient practise, ideally with some under the guidance of a coach, is required to embed the skill so that it can be used when it is actually required.


Organisations that have problem solvers and not just workers will have workers that don’t just to do their work but also to improve the work that they do. Just imagine the beneficial impact that can have.


SIRF’s RCA training  courses currently come with free access to the excellent easy to use RCA2Go software that not only guides the user through the appropriate problem solving method , makes it easy to record the RCAs results for future use and monitor the total problem solving program. It can be readily tailored to match an organisations risk matrix.

A free webinar demonstrating its use is available on …... Use this link if you want more details or want to book……..

Brian Niven
SIRF Manager Operational Excellence



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