Part 1 – Planning

Having determined there is a problem that needs solving, the first step is to plan to solve it.  For a start, that means being clear what the problem is.  Identify what is happening vs. what should be happening (or not happening) – don’t jump to reasons or causal factors as that will undermine the whole process and will probably lead to sub-optimal solutions.

For example (and a simplistic one): my car has stopped.  It’s probably run out of fuel but that may be the cause; of course, that may be caused by me not filling up earlier but that may be due to me noticing a depleting fuel gauge, or the gauge being faulty.  It could also be due to a blocked fuel line or a number of mechanical factors – not all relating to fuel.  Jumping straight to causes is tempting.  In a simple case, it’s probably not too much of a problem as we can quickly back-track but not so easy if we’ve already committed significant resources to the wrong thread.

Knowing the problem (or, more correctly at this stage, its signs and symptoms) we can think about the resources needed to address it.  Resources come in two forms: personnel and materiel (to use a military term – not totally inappropriate if we’re going to wage war on the problem).

Personnel: This refers to the team we will need.  It’s necessary to consider both the skills to understand and solve the problem, and the authority needed to get it done.  It’s not uncommon to address the former and arrive at the right answer but to lack the authority to get it implemented – particularly as a permanent solution.  How this is done will depend on the particular situation and organisation but having senior management engagement will pay dividends in the long run.  Think only of the people needed here – the cost of their time is a separate issue.

Materiel: In military usage, this means the equipment needed but, in this case, it’s better to think of it as the project budget – the budget that will pay for any equipment and materials needed, plus the time spent by the personnel.

Juran’s “Breakthrough” starts with justifying the need.  Along with identifying that there is a problem to solve, it’s necessary to justify the need to solve it.  My car breaking down on a journey is probably straightforward if it’s likely to be something that can be readily fixed (such as refilling the fuel tank or unblocking a fuel line) but an old car needing a new engine that will cost more than the car is worth is not so straightforward.  So, other than simple cases (where a quick fix works) it’s necessary to identify the cost of the problem and the cost of fixing it – all part of planning.   In fact, Juran considered the planning phase so important it’s expanded to the first three steps of his process.

(Referenced from a blog 18th July 2017)