This past week, we had a convenyor belt tear at work during a busy time in our year. The conveyor was critical to continuing to run our packaging line. Our commitments were such that we desperately needed to keep running.
What happened, when trying to fix it, turned into a fascinating study of how you approach a problem, can determine your probability of success.
Our first attempt to fix it involved calling a handy man mechanic. A mechanic’s world is to find what is wrong and replace the defective part(s). When looking at our torn belt, he came to the conclusion that we needed to buy a new conveyor belt. Sound idea. But the lead time for delivery was 3-4 weeks. This was not an acceptable solution.
The mechanic was not very sensitive to the need to fix the conveyor NOW so that we can keep our packaging line running. Needing to run now was a constraint he chose to ignore.
Next, our production supervisor viewed the broken conveyor as an obstacle. She immediately dismissed the conveyor and its problem of how to fix it. She then started to figure out how to run without it. Her team divised a system of filling smaller boxes with bulk product and hand dumping them so that her packaging line could continue at the same speed.
For her, the obstacle was ignored and removed from her options so that she could more clearly see what could be done to continue. For decision speed, removing the obstacle from a possible solution was quite effective.
A last ditch attempt was to call in someone who had demonstrated in the past the ability to fix things creatively. What I mean by this, is that they accept the challenge of fixing something that appears complex or problematic. The meaning they give to their work was created by succeeding at meeting a difficult challenge. Creative solutions appear when this person works on something because they accept the constraint while making sure it doesn’t stop them.
This person first offered a solution that involved fishing line to sew the conveyor belt together. Just to get us up and running until a new conveyor belt arrived. They spent time on You Tube looking for how conveyor belts get connected. He then had me order some different parts to connect the belt and asked for the opportunity to try to fix it.
Within about 8 hours he had not only connected the belt but we were running our packaging line, once again, with the conveyor running.
The Interesting Observation:
This led me to the interesting observation that how you approach a problem can influence its outcome.
The first mechanic, found a solution ignoring the constraint of needing to run the packaging line NOW. His solution did not fit our immediate need.
The production supervisor, knowing the constraint, removed the conveyor and its issues as to why it did not work from her acceptable options. It was not going to be an obstacle for her. This led her to a totally new solution that kept the packaging line running.
The third creative repairman, embraced the challenge of the constraint that the conveyor needed to be repaired NOW. His challenge was to respect the constraint and simply fix the conveyor belt any way he could NOW. Beating the constraint to get to the solution was the energy that fueled his creativity and ultimately provided him with his joy.
What person are you when it comes to problem solving when constraints are present? Do you choose the challenge, obstacle or simply the need to replace?