The art of solving problems

Our basic nature is always trying to keep us away from trouble. In fact, life plans can be seen as the [failed?] try of avoiding problems, until one final problem puts an end to the whole process. Kaizen philosophy teaches us that it’s impossible –and absurd– to pretend to live without problems of any kind. Instead of building utopias, Kaizen helps us to deal with trouble little by little every day, rather than pressing the panic button when everything collapses. Just like Harvey Keitel’s character “Winston Wolfe”, in Pulp Fiction, you can learn how to become a fixer for your supply chain management daily trouble by keeping the calm and learning some basic principles of Kaizen’s art of solving problems.

Let’s start saying that the basic premise for problem solving is to understand the process as a chain. Some problems are so complex that you simply can’t find a quick solution. After analyzing and identifying the problem, you think of a plan, then you do, then you check if the problem is solved and keep acting in the same way. That’s the basics. Let’s see it deeply.

Define the problem in question

Magician_Winston Wolfe is the fixer_david kiger_solving problems
Image courtesy of Billy Ray Stephens at

That’s the half of the solution actually. It sounds pretty obvious, but you just watch people in problematic situations and you will see how they try to fix something they don’t understand… and they keep trying to solve it in the same way several times (with the same results, of course) and they get stuck until they call the expert (if there’s one). How can you define a problem? In systems theory, problems (or conflicts) are defined as initially small systems that feed from the continuous impossibility of a bigger system of performing its natural functions: input, processing and output. They could be breaches between the current problematic situation and the expected situation. They could be an irregular process, different from the standard function. According to this, the simple solution is to cut the “supply chain” that feeds the system we call trouble. No matter what kind of problem, try to define it in simple words. That’s the start.

Dissect the problem

When problems have grown like mushrooms in the cracks of your system, they usually create sub-problems that interact with each other like a living organism. Thus, if you have defined the big problem in your supply chain (for example, an inventory management issue), you can proceed by dissecting it into smaller problems: their inputs and outputs. Then you can think of priorities and a plan.

Select and focus

Try to solve one thing at the time. According to the priorities you have set, select one of the problems you need to solve urgently and don’t start with the next one until you finish. You can organize a schedule for solving all the problems that have become an obstacle for the right and efficient development of your enterprise. When it comes to priorities, be systematic: never forget to define who need that problem solved, how much resources do you need for solving it, how much time it requires to be solved and set a due date for each small problem.

Cut the supply chain of each problem

Once you have treated the symptoms, attack the root of the cancer; otherwise, all your efforts will be vane. Sometimes problem feed from different and simultaneous sources, so you should spend enough time on this step. Maybe you will have to re-structure several processes of your supply chain and your company itself. A tip: don’t do this alone. Work with a team for identifying the roots of all problems, hire an expert, compare perspectives. You can easily get used to the common problems of your supply chain and you need an external view.

Put your plan into action

When you know what to do, then do it. Develop all the countermeasures you need for solving all the problems in your supply chain and implement them by seeing them through timely. It’s a well-known fact that theory will never correspond practice 100%. Sometimes you will need more time and resources than previously expected for solving a single problem (you thought it was easy to solve). Sometimes you will commit mistakes that will feed the initial problems. Don’t look back and try to keep your energies up, because you will need a big amount of resistance here.

Check and standardize

It does not matter how good it looks: a problem is not fixed until you check (and others check) that it is actually solved. Time will say so. Then, when the problems that let you stuck in the middle of the road are solved and understood, standardize your solutions as usual measures in case of trouble. Train your crew, write them in a manual and don’t repeat the same mistakes by ignoring history.

Good luck with that.


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