I had the opportunity last week to work in a room with a group of people who have a career in taking a vision of tomorrow and turning it into the reality of today. They spend the majority of their time listening to those grand ideas and inserting them into our lives.
It was inspiring and extremely educational to watch these brilliant minds tackle problems on issues I wouldn’t have known where to start. The amazing thing about it was not the answers they had, it was the simplicity in which they determined a solution. Keep in mind these solutions could not be found in a manual or researched online. These were all answers to a vision that currently does not exist.
The difference between those who achieve unusually high results vs. the average, is the ability to get past these issues permanently. As an industry home building has had little foundational change in the past 30 years. Because of this, experience is a solution for many problems. However the path for Elliott Homes is much different than the norm and it is very important that we don’t confuse new world problems with past solutions.
Symptom = A sign of the existence of something, especially of an undesirable situation.
Root Cause = An initiating cause of either a condition or a casual chain that leads to an outcome or effect of interest. The term denotes the earliest, most basic, deepest, cause for a given behavior; most often a fault. The idea is that you can only see an error by its manifest signs. Those signs can be widespread, multitudinous, and convoluted, whereas the root cause leading to them often is a lot simpler.
People often look at problems symptomatically. It fools them into thinking solutions to symptoms are answers to the problem. This thinking results in a problem not being resolved and popping up again in the future. Even more confusing is it will likely pop up as a different symptom, making us believe it is a completely different problem and needs a different solution. This pattern is a result of not digging deep enough into the symptom to understand the root cause.
I noticed 3 rules that the creative team adhered to while attempting to resolve problems that were extraordinarily outside the traditional realm of home building.
Is to truly understand the problem they are dealing with. Generally at the time a situation happens that signifies a problem, (eg. extended delivery or upset people) we reactively attempt to resolve it. This gives us the false feeling that the problem is fixed but in essence only the symptom is. Instead we should keep digging and look hard upstream for the root cause of that symptom. It is critical to use little to no emotion when looking for root cause so personal perceptions and experience don’t don’t get in the way of honest questions toward a true “why”. When it comes to improvement the only things that gets in the way of success is defending our position, or an inability to be open with team members. This inability comes from the fear of hurting others feelings or ego. The root cause is trust.
Is to stop at every large problem and resolve it immediately. The creative team didn’t table a problem for a future meeting. Instead the other agenda items would push in order to focus on a permanent fix for the issue that was encountered the minute it was found. It sometimes meant postponing other agenda items to another day. However it never meant postponing the problem for another day. So often in meetings we prioritize order (the agenda) over results (removing hurdles) and don’t actually accomplish the things that moves the ball down the field. We become focused on the order of the meeting defining its success, instead of the results. I recently read about a study conducted on German car manufactures that if a problem was tabled to be resolved on another day it took an average of 24 times longer than if it was handled at the time it was found.
Is to break every problem down to 1’s and 0’s. By continuously cutting problems in half, it soon becomes a bunch of small items. While we were working on an automated system that was extremely complex, I found it hard to determine how each action would create a reaction. This was due to the cause and effect being 12-15 levels deep. As they broke it down again, and again and again it soon became 1 effect for each cause making it 1 level deep. It took the form of many small, simple problems instead of 1 hard to understand one. By the end the result was a clear path toward achieving something that has never been done. It was 90 small fixes that added up to the major goal we were trying to attain. The focus while handling these deep issues was break it down to adding and subtracting 1’s and 0’s. If it was not this easy then it had not been broken down enough and needed more thought.
So the next time you have the opportunity to come face to face with a less than desirable situation remember these 3 rules. Following them keeps our perceptions and experience from getting in the way of creative innovation. Which is the path to a brighter world. Not only will it help us think hard about why we’re seeing those symptoms, it will also lead to the single most important aspect of the Elliott Homes culture…… Improvement. Improvement is the single highest form of meaning we can have. The result is increased motivation, energy and confidence to take on more, achieve more and become more.
Why not become more while we’re at it. Stupid not to right?
Have a great week Team. Your energy to learn and improve is contagious.