Solve Any Problem By Adjusting Target, Team And Frequency

If a project isn't proceeding the way you hoped it would, try asking these three questions to get back on track.

As a leader, you are faced with challenges ranging from small to large, from simple to complex. When in coaching sessions with CEOs, I often hear about the challenges that aren’t going the way the CEO wants them to go and the problems that aren’t getting addressed and are negatively impacting growth or profitability or both.

I usually start with these questions to understand the current reality:

• What is the target and how clear and aligned is the team about it?

• Who is on the team that is addressing this challenge?

• What is the frequency they are meeting to discuss progress toward the solution?

I remember many challenges at Cambridge that needed adjustment to make progress. One such challenge not getting the progress we needed at Cambridge was a component quality issue. We were getting reports of what appeared to be inconsistent failures of a temperature control device inside of the systems. Our service teams were resolving quickly with a replacement item sent, but we couldn’t get a handle on the root cause. The quality team met weekly and made progress on the complex problem, but it wasn’t moving fast enough for the risk level. A single recall incident could tank an otherwise stellar year of growth and impact the brand for years. While we weren’t at that level yet, this problem could get there if not managed well, and I was starting to get concerned with our risk, as were others. Something had to change.

We started by asking the three questions:

• What is the target?

I asked the current team what is the target and listened for how clear it was. We learned that the target was not clear regarding this particular issue. The target for the service team was to address every service issue in the field quickly to ensure that clients were up and running and happy. The target for the quality team was to identify and address the top three quality issues. There was no clear target for this particular issue yet.

• Do we have the right team on it?

When I asked who is on the team addressing the issue, I found a solid cross-functional group of leaders involved at the director, manager, and front line level. We didn’t currently have any executive leadership on the team, typical for quality issues but not for potential recall level issues like this one had the potential to turn into.

• Are we meeting with the right frequency? 

The current team was meeting on a weekly basis about all quality issues and ad hoc on this particular issue. If we wanted to accelerate progress, we could adjust one or all of the three items found in discovery. After discussions with the executive team, we decided to adjust all three. 1. We clarified a target—to develop a full plan within two weeks to resolve the issue for past units sold and current production requirements to avoid a recall. 2. We adjusted the team by adding an executive to lead and including all involved internally. 3. We moved frequency from weekly to daily until we had a clear path forward.

With these changes, the team started to make significant progress and resolved the issue thoroughly and quickly. The resources flowed because the team had the right members, the target was clear, and the meeting Frequency created and maintained momentum. The plan was executed and we not only avoided a recall, but also improved client relationships by being proactive in addressing.

Like the above example, I often find a mismatch of the magnitude of the problem and the team/frequency aimed at the trial. If you are trying to launch a human-crewed mission to the moon within the next month and have a high school team meeting monthly to accomplish such, don’t be surprised when you don’t get off the ground.

Next time your business is stalled, ask three simple questions:

• How clear is the target?

• Do we have the right team on it?

• Are they meeting on the right frequency?

Adjust one or all three and see if you can get back on track.

Marc D Braun has spent the last 13 years growing and building one of the most studied cultures in US manufacturing, CambridgeAir.com. He has recently stepped down there as President and is continuing his work of encouraging other CEO’s and senior business leaders to build growth-based courageous cultures through coaching, writing, and speaking. He is the current Board Chair of The Association for Manufacturing Excellence with the mission to inspire a commitment to enterprise excellence through experiential learning by bringing people together to share, learn and grow.