A Business Technology Place

Root cause analysis for team building

Early in my career we used a process that loosely resembled a root cause analysis after a severity 1 production outage. The intent of the process was to determine why the severity outage occurred and then fix the problem so it didn’t happen again. No one liked process and the documents we produced were rarely used to influence process improvement. It was a checkbox and an exercise to fill-in-the-blanks to say we completed it. I always thought the name post-mortem was bit odd as well and we were certainly dead to the process. Looking back, I see post-mortem efforts can be valuable if championed and executed correctly. But there is a better way.

Twenty years later, we are learning to implement root cause analysis (RCA) into our recurring operational procedures. Like a post-mortem exercise, a RCA is typically done after an event has occurred with the intended benefit to prevent problems from recurring. If done correctly, this can reduce waste and downtime.

But a RCA is distinct with its own set of advantages. Our team is using lean A3 problem solving techniques as the backbone for RCAs.  It is apparent to me the RCA process, if supported and executed routinely, can shape a culture of continuous improvement. Here are a few practical ways:

  • The outputs can be used as a proactive measure to predict and prevent future failures. Problem solving focuses on examining why events occur coupled with action items and sustainment activities. This is a great way to identify potential future problems.

In one recent 5-why exercise about a database failure we identified a few weaknesses in a process in addition to the root-cause of a failure. Our corrective action plan addressed multiple weaknesses and has undoubtedly prevented some of the weaknesses from becoming service outages.

  • A systematic approach to RCA involves setting a recurring cadence for problem solving. RCAs require a wide range of knowledge to identify problems, compile documentation, and create sustainment activities. Individuals will struggle, but teams can thrive solving problems like this.

We post our RCAs on our department flow-and-performance board to make them visible, promote discussion, and to keep the process top of mind. Our standard is to perform one RCA per month. This reinforces that RCAs are part of the culture of the team.

  • Done correctly, RCA focuses on resolving process deficiencies instead of blaming people. It’s not always easy but we remind ourselves to focus on behaviors and results over individuals.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/88Kdgw

A note to self

Dear me,

Don’t be quick to discount new ideas. All improvements for humanity and business started with a new idea. Someone saw opportunity and imagined a better result, a stronger product, or a faster way. Someone acted and made their opportunity a reality. They were not afraid of failure. They overcame doubts. They made peace with uncertainty.

Why?

Because their image of a better result made failures look like stepping stones to success.

Because the promise of a stronger product made doubting look like an admission to defeat.

Because the benefits of doing it faster outweighed the results of the status quo.

So give new ideas a chance. Challenge the status quo. Dream a little.

Keep moving onward and upward!

Sincerely,

Me

Learning from customer service experiences

I’m documenting some customer service experiences from the last two weeks. They had an impact on my actions and they serve as a good reminder of reflection for customer service actions that we provide to others. People do notice words, attitudes, and body language.

While on vacation at a location where the number one industry is tourism:

Trolley Driver

My wife and I rode a trolley as a means of public transportation. By chance, we were the only passengers. We used the time to talk to the trolley driver and he provided some valuable information to us. As we were leaving he mentioned that he would like to discuss more with us and to look for him on the return trip. We did find him for the return trip and we were able to ask a few more questions.

The result? We felt appreciated as tourists spending time and money in his area. We left very pleased with our experience and left him a nice tip.

Restaurant Hostess

We entered a restaurant at dinner time near a popular pier. It was the beginning of the dinner rush about 5:30 in the evening. As we entered, another two parties entered just behind us. The hostess on her way to pick up menus mumbled softly (but loud enough to hear), “Oh, here they come, it’s starting.” I can’t portray how it was said audibly, but it was unpleasant enough that my wife and I looked at each other with the same look of astonishment. We were a disruption and inconvenience to her quiet-time.

The result? We walked out. We didn’t want to be in a place that wasn’t happy to receive our business.

Restaurant Waitress

At a different restaurant, our assigned waitress approached our table with smile and friendly greeting. After taking our drink orders she proceeded to answer our questions about their menu including information about serving size and what other guests typically do with the meal. She refilled our drinks without us having to ask and even provided to-go cups for our drinks as we left.

The result? A nice experience. We felt like appreciated customers. A favorable review for the restaurant and a nice tip for the waitress.

Hair Stylist

It’s not normal for me to get haircut while on vacation, but I had other travel planned for the week after and didn’t have time to visit my normal hair cutter back home. I showed up as a walk-in at a local place. There were two stylists on duty. They had a queueing system there and it showed two people waiting as “online check-in”. About the time the two stylists finished with their existing customers, both parties in front of me arrived. The first was a single man. The second party was a mom with three children. So I was actually 5th in line.

That’s when it got weird. The two stylists disappeared for about 3-4 minutes without a word to the five of us in the waiting area. Maybe it was a bathroom break, but I wasn’t sure. Then one of them appeared and started with the gentleman who was first. The second stylist was not visible and the first stylist made no mention of his whereabouts. Realizing I had a lengthy wait in front of me, I left to get dinner. As I walked to my car, I spotted the second stylist smoking a cigarette behind the store. It just seemed odd he would take a smoke break with four customers waiting and not even mention that he was stepping out for a quick break.

The result? I left and didn’t return. Neither stylist cared enough to communicate with customers what was happening. The atmosphere was yucky.

While on business travel:

Hotel Cleaning Staff

While traveling on business I returned to my hotel room one evening to find a note from the cleaning staff. The note was cheerful and upbeat and made me smile. Here was someone who enjoyed their job. I realized their motive may have been to receive a tip for their services, but I didn’t take their actions for granted because all the other service providers in my example work from tips. From some research, I found there isn’t consensus with the public about tipping hotel cleaning staff members. I found passionate arguments for and against it. But regardless of the tip, it was nice to feel appreciated as a guest at the hotel. The manager had also written me a welcome letter thanking me for staying at her property.

The result? A great experience. I was told more than once my stay at the property was appreciated. I gave them a good review and would stay there again if I am in the area.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary via creative commons: https://flic.kr/p/4qyEp4

Forced change vs Needed change

A few weeks ago I read a passage from John Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Reader about scurvy. The passage summarizes difficulties in implementing the cure for the prevention of the disease during the time of European exploration of the Americas. Multiple sources knew about the effect of fresh fruit and vegetables, but due to poor communication, stubbornness, and pride of the medical establishment, the change needed to prevent the disease was delayed.

I polled a couple of my colleagues to ask them what they thought is a modern day business scurvy. One of them replied, “This is a good question. Sometimes, forced change can hide needed change, and the two become hard to distinguish for relevancy and value with so much activity happening at once.”

His answer summarizes both the challenge faced by European sailors as well as leaders in our business environment today. I thought about this for a few minutes and then wrote a quick list to try to distinguish between ‘forced change’ and ‘needed change’. I did this quickly so as to record my “gut feel” and then observed the list as a means of reflection and learning.

Forced change

  • Reporting structure reorganization
  • Technology platform adoption
  • Technology platform migration
  • Compliance
  • Outsourcing

Needed change

  • Removing waste from processes
  • Adding value to a customer relationship
  • Cross-department collaboration improvements

When I read the list a few patterns occurred to me:

  1. The items in the ‘forced change’ list concern people, tools, and rules. The items in the ‘needed change’ list are about process, value, and communication.
  2. The items in ‘needed change’ are more impactful and longer lasting to the business.  The items in ‘forced change’ can be tactical tools to help drive needed change if executed for the right reason. For example, some technology adoption is aimed to reduce the process steps in product delivery (remove waste) to the customer. Likewise, some compliance changes will help an organization tighten their processes to be more secure in how they handle data (add value to customer relationship).
  3. The challenge with the items in the ‘forced change’ list is we often implement before there is a common understanding with all the employees about why those changes are enacted. Implementation of forced change truly feels forced. When that happens, the change will either fail outright or fail to achieve the desired results.

So what is our modern day business scurvy? I would answer; it is the failure to align the reasons for needed change in an organization with the tactical implementation of change. With that thought, I see signs of scurvy in my own management and leadership approach. Ouch. It’s time to find some citrus for my business diet.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Pablo Vidosola via Creative Commons – https://flic.kr/p/pGWebT