Solutions Are Terrible Things to Waste

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Brian Hughes, Senior VP

March 28, 2018

It’s a common scenario – something serious happens, triggering a root cause analysis.  The team finds an hour or two to complete the RCA.  The meeting concludes with the RCA 80% finished, including a nice list of solutions.  Over the next few days, the Facilitator finalizes the last of the details and gets a report pulled together.  Solutions are assigned to team members to complete, and the RCA concludes.

And then... crickets.  

The easy solutions might get done.  But the harder solutions, those requiring budget, planning, and effort, often get ignored and end up forgotten.  
This happens for a variety of reasons, including:  
  1. The problem went away!  It’s like magic.  Simply doing the RCA seems to sometimes solve the problem.  But we know deep-down this isn’t true.  If we don’t change anything, we are simply left with the same probability of occurrence that existed prior to the event.  Probability is not certainty.  It’s like traveling on a plane full of coughing passengers and not getting sick.  Maybe it’s your super-human immune system, but more likely it’s just the nature of chance.
  2. No time!  In this day of increasing complexity, many of us are faced with increasing number of tricky problems to solve.  The minute we finish with one, another pops up to take its place.   Maybe we live in Quadrant 1 (for you Franklin-Covey fans) where everything is both urgent and important, and if it’s not right up in your face, it’s going to have to wait.  Many organizations became conditioned to operating this way during the recession.  Headcount reductions left the workforce so thin, that only the biggest fires received attention.  We forget that we didn’t have time for the problem the first time around, we certainly won’t have time for it a second or third time.
  3. Lost buy-in from Leadership!  When a problem is in the acute phase, it seems to be the only thing everyone thinks of.  However, once the immediate pain is over, the energy Leadership is willing to expend begins to diminish.  If Leadership is not asking for regular status updates, barriers to implementation, and reports on effectiveness, the chance of successful solution implementation drops dramatically.
  4. No Corrective Action Tracking system!  If there is no single place from which to track actions, it’s easier for them to fall through the cracks.
  5. Sloppy RCA Management!  That’s not a very nice way to put it, but if the shoe fits...  We need to hold ourselves accountable to manage the RCA as a project all the way to completion.  Without someone acting as the project manager for the RCA, no one will be held to account.  Ultimate accountability lies with Leadership, but it flows all the way down.

It’s not only solution implementation, but also validation, that suffers (and that’s being generous).  It’s not enough to simply complete a solution.  The Facilitator also needs to validate that the solution is effective.  Is it working?  If not, what needs to change?  Would it be effective anywhere else?  If so, has it been communicated to those areas?

What to do?

  1. Reduce the number of solutions selected for implementation.  Ideally, in many situations, only one solution is needed.  If you find yourself selecting 15 solutions to implement on your average RCA, do yourself and your colleagues a favor and set a goal to limit it to 3.  By reducing to 3, you are increasing the importance and priority of each solution, and you are reducing everyone’s work load.
  2. Recognize from the outset that RCAs produce actions, and that the RCA is not finished until the actions have been verified and validated.
  3. Weekly Leadership meetings need to address new RCAs opened, in-process RCAs, and closed RCAs along with the status of solutions.
  4. Implement a common corrective action tracking system with appropriate levels of visibility and reporting options that use automated email reminders of overdue solutions/actions.  This also includes auditing for completeness and accuracy.
  5. Hold people accountable to finish what they start.  This includes a commitment from Leadership to use RCA projects that get off track as learning opportunities.
  6. Encourage short, informal recognition for RCA teams that complete all their solutions.  It could be a simple 10 second acknowledgment by the Leader at the monthly staff meeting.

If you take these steps to ensure that RCA-related actions are completed and validate them for effectiveness, you’ll have fewer recurring incidents, a safer workforce, and more time to be proactive.  And who wouldn’t want that?