Category: Business

Hidden benefits of root cause analysis

Rebecca Hall

Time to read: 3 minutes

 
I recently watched the Movie ‘Christine’ starring Rebecca Hall (illustrated above).  Based on a true story, the movie deals with issues of being a misfit, living up to the expectations that we put on ourselves and coping with it all.
 
 
There are few scenes where we are able to gain an insight into the mind of the protagonist (Christine) as she tries to solve the problems and  dilemmas of life.
 
 
If you plan to watch the movie for yourself I would advise against googling ‘Christine Chubbick’ to avoid any spoilers.
 
 
 
Sock puppets 
Christine regularly visits a children’s hospital, and performs a sock puppet show.  She sometimes finds herself talking through her own problems via the sock puppets.  These are great scenes and its amazing to see how externalising problems helps in clarifying what’s bothering Christine.
 
 
 
The “Yes, but..” exercise
Another scene is where Christine is unknowingly coerced into an TA (Transaction Analysis) meeting. She partners up with a stranger and participates in a “Yes, but..” exercise.
 
You start by stating a problem: ‘My husband won’t paint the house’
 
The person listening would suggest a solution: What if you hired a painter’
If the suggestions isn’t appropriate then you have a chance to object: Yes, but i can’t afford a painter’
Another solution is suggestedWhat if you painted the house’
 
 
The format is repeated until you arrive at a solution that is suitable.  In most* cases solving the problem is completely within your control; we can make a decision or change our attitude without waiting for others to change.
*This statement is not always applicable;  as an example the character Christine suffered from a mental illness.
 
 
 
Root cause analysis
In business the equivalent tool we have is the 5 why’s.  The 5 why’s was developed within Toyota by Sakichi Toyoda.  It was used to advance their manufacturing process.  An example that may come straight out of Toyota:
 
The car wont start.
 
  1. Why =The battery is dead
  2. Why = The interior lights were left on for several days
  3. Why = The door sensor stopped working
  4. etc..
  5. etc..
 
 
 
Ancillary benefits
Further to finding the root cause of a problem or failure there are ancillary benefits of using an iterative process when solving a problem.  We are also able to easily identify and question Assumption and Logical Traps
 
 
Assumptions is something that we are all familiar with, but to use our earlier example,  when Christine used the sock puppets. it helped her to identify and question her own assumptions; the same can be said of the ‘Yes, but..’ exercise.
 
 
On the other hand logical traps are shortcuts that our brains uses in order to make decisions faster.  We do this by identifying patterns, making estimations and trying to make connections all in an effort to reduce the amount of effort that is needed to think.  Logic Traps are very useful and at the same time they can be misleading and inaccurate (hence why we use the 5 why’s)
 
 
 
Other points 
If you are using root cause analysis with a work setting, you may need to go through more than five iterations in order to find the root cause.  Furthermore you may find that there is more than one point of failure.
 
 
 
Conclusion
Self examination is a good exercise to go through and a great to skill to have.  It does take some level of courage to critic yourself and a level of self belief to know that in the end, you will be better for it.  In business prudence is shown when you decide to be proactive and not waiting for the next ‘major incident’ to initiate root cause analysis.
 
 
In both cases problems are easier to handle and solve when they are small and not screaming out at you.
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Information vs Affirmation (& how to distinguish between the two)

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Time to Read: 3 mins
 
A cognitive bias describes a pattern of thinking that deviates from logical and sound reasoning.
 
While completing my degree in 2014, I still remember spending an entire class (3hrs) looking at the cognitive biases and how they effect organisations, management and decision making. It was the first time I had ever come across cognitive biases and I found the topic to be fascinating.  I started to reflect on my past decisions and wondered how much of my thinking was influenced by cognitive biases.
 
 
 
Examples
Cognitive biases was popularised by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman; they dispelled the belief that in business, humans made decisions based on evidence and logic. For their works they Kahneman (illustrated above) was awarded a Nobel prize in 2002.
 
Here are just two of the example to keep in mind as you continue to read:
 
  • Confirmation Bias:  The tendency to find information that only supports or confirms our point of view. And
  • Ingroup Bias: The tendency to to favour those that are in the same group as us.
 
 
 
The dangers of biases
By its very nature cognitive biases are unavoidable; in that, when they occur we are unaware that they are occurring. As we can’t  consciously control cognitive biases from happening, the only thing that we can do is be aware that they exist, and the situation where they are most likely to occur.
 
Having biases within ourselves is one thing.  But having biases in the technology that we use is something that we rarely think about.  Just as human bias is not immediately detectable, neither are the biases that exist it the technology that we use. To make sense of this topic I want to separate technology into two categories:
 
  1. Technology that we control and
  2. those the we don’t.
 
 
 
Technology that we can control 
This category describes technology that we know is accurate and true, in essence it’s technology without any biases.  As an example when we use a tool such as a calculator, a excel worksheet or even a map to get directions on our phones.  

 

When using these types of technologies we are confident that the information is real and that because information is in plain sight; you can identify street names and recognise building on a map.  You can see and understand the logic behind a calculator and control the formulas on a excel spreadsheet.

 
 
 
And technology that we don’t
Then we have technology that we don’t control.  Some examples of these technologies are large social media sites, search engines and intelligence assistance like Siri or Alexa.
 
At times (more often than we think) these technology will try to make decision on our behalf, they predict want we want to see and hide what we don’t.  Behind an attractive, simple and user friendly UI is an enormous amount of complexity which is hidden away from us.  Hidden, in the same way as our own cognitive biases.
 
 
 
A design problem?
Cognitive biases is something that we can’t control, but with regards to technology, this is something that we can control. The problem doesn’t lie so much with the technology, but in it’s design and design is something we have conscious control of.
 
Whether we are designers or not, at a minimum we should all be aware that biases do exist in some of the technology that we use and how they could be influencing our thinking and understanding.
 
 
 
Information vs Affirmation
Take some time to think about the two cognitive biases that were mentioned earlier…
 
When we are using tools that we control (i.e. that have no bias) we can be sure that the we are getting Information.
 
When we are using technology where biases exist, we are more likely to be receiving information that confirms our points of view and from sources that reflect a similiar opinions that we hold.  Whether our views are right or wrong, what we are getting is Affirmation.
 
I just think it’s important that we can distinguish between the two…

Understanding Idle Time

Harvey Firestone

Time to read: 3 mins

Some of the hardest goals that we set for ourselves are those that are long term.  Long term goals require consistent action, over an extended period of time.  With long term goals the element of time is unavoidable.  In these scenarios time can be used to learn, grow and mature.

In other circumstances time is avoidable, when you are clear on what you want to achieve and the steps that need to be followed; there is no need to wait or procrastinate.

So what can you do with your idle time while you are:

a. Growing, maturing and learning and
b. Waiting and procrastinating
 
 

Learn, grow and mature
As I mentioned earlier learning, growing and maturing as a person are associated with long term goals. You might be completing a degree or saving for your first home or training for a marathon. Seeing the end is hard, especially when it is so far away. Imagining what it means to achieve your goals may give you enough motivation and momentum to keep yourself going and stay focused. If you have a long term goal in mind, take some time to think about how:

The small steps you take are leading to-> The lifelong habits  you are developing-> How these habit are needed to  ->  Reach long term goals.

 
 
Waiting and procrastination

If we are in the latter (b.) we most likely don’t have clarity on what we have to do (i.e. the next action) and there is a deeper reason why we haven’t taken action (usually around fear), but it hasn’t surfaced.   A combination of the two is used to make up excuses.

The definition of an excuse is: A justification for not doing something; but it’s not a reason, it’s more of a revision of the facts that you use to make yourself feel better.  It’s an alteration of reality.

I recently read The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone and one of my favorite chapters was on excuses.  Everybody has excuses and we all have a few that we employ over and over again.  So rather than ignore them it’s better that you confront right now.

 
 
c. Creativity

There is a third way we spend idle time that hasn’t been mentioned up until now.

We need idle time for our mind to be creative, inventive and find solutions to existing problems.

For most of us, when the words ‘solution’, ‘problem’ and even ‘invention’ is mentioned we naturally try to return to a model, or process that exists within our domain. This is not what I am talking about here. In fact, anytime where we are repeating something that we already know; this is not creative.

In its purest form, creative work has no purpose and no outcome; idle time is used to allow your mind to be silent and do nothing. We just need the time and space to let out minds moodle.  Now, few of us have this luxury, because we live in an environment where results, productivity and outcomes are king.  But think about this…

Who has the greatest value on any organisation? The answer is the person with the ideas.
 
Capital isn’t so important in business, experience isn’t so important, you can get both these things.  What is important is ideas, if you have ideas you have the main assets that you need and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life – Harvey Firestone

Understanding how our idle time is spent helps us to identify where our time is being used and what to do. When we are learning, growing and maturing; reflecting upon your goals will help to keep you motivated and focused.

When our time is being wasted on procrastination, identify the next action and drop the excuses to be more productive.

Finally (although it is less understood) allowing our minds the space and silence provides us with an opportunity to generate original ideas and thinking. This act may have greatest value and impact not only in our own lives but the lives of those around us.

When leading gets risky.. (and why it’s a good thing)

Cynthia Carrol

Time to read: 2 mins

I have been building on the habit of writing daily. Not only to write, but to write with risk.

 

It’s easy enough to first learn about a topic and then write about it, but there is very little risk in that. You know that it won’t fail, because the ideas that you are presenting have worked before (for the previous author). When you are regurgitating ideas that are not your own, chances are no one will say that you are wrong.

 

What’s harder to do is to think and reflect and come up with your own idea, link that to other ideas, examine the reality of the world and then challenge them.

 

To come up with your own conclusions and not look for something that has already been done and proven is a risk… In essence, this is what it means to lead.

 

When we do anything to stand out and introduce something that is different from the norm, we stray from the herd and become vulnerable and an easy target. This is not only true of writing but for any other endeavours that we choose to follow.

 

 

Followers and leaders

When we follow, there is no fear of being rejected or being called a fraud and there is some comfort in that. Leaders, on the other hand, are constantly fighting off the lizard brain. They work along the edge and try to push the boundaries.

 

The boundaries are around what is perceived to be our ‘safety zone’ (i.e. what is good enough’) and our ‘comfort zone’ (what we are willing to do).  Think about that last sentence for a minute before reading on.

 

 

The amazing Cynthia Carroll

I recently finished reading Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception. In the appendix, Seth told the story of Cynthia Carroll, the first female CEO and the first non-South African to head the 100 year old company, Anglo American, a multibillion dollar major mining company that employs over 150,000 staff. As one of her first act as CEO, she visited the Rustenburg mine.

 

Cynthia found out about the dangerous work conditions (where on average 40 employees die a year) and opted to shut down the mine for 9 weeks; a mine that was the most profitable platinum mine in the world. After a multiyear battle with unions, government and other mining companies, a year later, fatalities dropped by half.

 

Cynthia (illustrated above) did something that no other CEO before her had ever done, she shared stats, provided options and made herself vulnerable.  She pushed the boundaries of what is good enough and what she and Anglo America were willing to do.

 

 

When to lead

It’s important to understand that we don’t need to be a leader in every aspect of our lives (nor should you try). But there are times and places when you should:

  • When you have the passion
  • When you have the expertise on a particular subject and
  • When it’s your duty to do so.

 

Leading is risky, it’s sometimes scary and can be painful, but as we have seen in Cynthia’s case, anything that is worthwhile, anything that will make a real difference and anything that creates a lasting change will involve some level of risk (most of the time, it’s on a personal level).

 

But when we have a noble enough cause, trying and failing is not such a big deal and the risks that were once seen as obstacles, after moving forward, are now viewed as trivial.

Thoughts on Leadership

Coach K

Time to read: 5 mins

Last year I had a close friend of mine (Ryan) recommend a book called “Leading from the Heart” by Mike Kryzyewski (illustrated above).  Ryan has completed his MBA and has spent some time as a consultant, he described the book as one of the best he has read on the topic of leadership.

So with such a glowing endorsement I purchased and finished the book late last year.

Unlike some of the other topics that I have written about, leadership has a major element and without it that topic does not exist. That element is other people.  Leadership needs people, without it you are the leader of nothing.

What determines a good leader from a bad or incompetent one is the people that they lead.

With that being said I thought that I’d take some time in identifying the attributes and characteristics of a leader.  You can use these six characteristics to do a self-assessment or an assessment on those that have a leadership role.

And because we are all people, the position or title we hold in the work place is irrelevant.  We should all be able to identify these leadership qualities within ourselves and our co-workers.

 

#1.  A leader uses inclusive language

A leader will use inclusive language, when acknowledging a job well done.  The goals that a leader sets are not his own, or by higher management;  a leader has the ability to create and convey goals so that they become shared goals among each team member.

When things don’t go to plan, a leader won’t single out individuals, instead ‘if one person fails, then we all fail” approach is adopted.  This line of thinking shifts the focus on helping out other team members as opposed to just looking out for themselves.

 

#2.  A leader admits their own mistakes

Leaders can sometimes make the wrong  decision or set the team off in the wrong direction.  In these circumstances a leader should not make excuses or blame others (by the way blaming others is the quickest way to destroy trust).

A leader has the humility to admit mistakes as their own and openly and honestly apologise for them.  Unlike making up their excuses and blaming others which only creates hostility, this vulnerable act builds trust between them and the team and shows that they truly have the best interests of the their team before their own interest.

 

#3.  A leader make time for others 

A leader makes time for others because they understand the importance and value of the people who work for them.  They understand that people are most effective when they are working ‘for someone’ and towards a shared goal.  Connection is important, it’s hard to be engaged with someone you can’t relate to or to something that you don’t believe in.

 

#4.  A leader shouldn’t have too many rules

Another aspect of leadership is decision making, which is sometimes avoided for multiple reasons, here are a few that come to mind:

  1. It’s time consuming
  2. Requires effort and investigation
  3. Has consequences
  4. Requires someone to take responsibility

Generally when you see someone that implements and advertises a lot of rules, they generally do so to avoid making decisions, which in turns allows them to avoid responsibility and avoid consequences.

Clearly avoiding the decision making process for such reasons does not conjure up images of a modern day Gough Whitlam or Tim Cook.

 

#5.  A leader is always positive and motivates others

A leader has the ability to stay positive. Which is easy enough to do while everything is smooth sailing and going to plan but it can only be demonstrated when things go wayward or when unplanned events occur.

I remember working on a small team as a Business Analyst.  It was a Wednesday and on this day we were planned to do a production environment update for the first time. There was quiet a bit of planning leading to this event.

And so Wednesday morning came and we heard  that the Release Manager (who plans and manages the days proceeding) was sick and would not be coming into the office.  Our immediate reaction was:

‘What are we going to do… Who will manage the deployment… (and finally) We will just have to postpone, there is no other option’

We waited until the project manager came in and to my surprise he took all of the news with a smile and said:

Well, this is a good opportunity to test our contingency plan.  We will have a lot more of these deployment in the future and our Release Manager may not always be available’

 

#6.  A leader treats his team like family

I have left this one till last, because it’s only on the rare occasion that these situations exist and even rarer that you have the opportunity to be a part of.

If this can be achieved it is the pinnacle of any team.  A lot of businesses ‘talk about’ this concept but few will actually ‘be about’ this concept.  So much can be said about the benefits of having a family type environment in the workplace that it deserves to be a topic on its own (maybe for another time).

Leading into my the final thoughts take a moment to think about your own family and the lengths you go to ensure their happiness, well being and safety.  Think about those that have done the same for you, most likely it will be a parent or maybe your partner or sibling.

 

Final Thoughts

I know (like our workplace) we can’t always choose our family but we can choose our behaviour and how we choose to treat others.  Most of the points made in this article (e.g. making time for others, not having too many rules, being positive)  are naturally associated with family.

Adopting such behaviours is what makes family important and something that we want to be a part of, which leads me to think:

Is there any reason why we shouldn’t try to bring the same behaviours into the workplace..?   Or maybe it’s someone else’s job to think about.

A job for a leader perhaps…

 

 

 

 

 

Constraints

 

Jerry Seinfeld

Time to read: 2 mins

When we hear or use the term constraints, we usually associate it with a negative or limiting connotation, which align perfectly with its dictionary definition.

We deal with constraints every day and in all aspects of our lives. They are all around us; they exist in our personal relationships, the sports we play, the entertainment we watch and the video games that we play (yes, I play video games… A LOT)

In some instances constraints are needed, but they don’t necessarily need to be viewed in a negatively light, in fact quite the opposite is true. Constraints can provide a positive benefit.

Let’s look at some examples where constraints are beneficial.

 

Marriage

In marriage the obvious constraints that you remain exclusive to one person. The benefits of this constraint is that you achieve a deeper level of intimacy, caring and understanding of your partner that you otherwise would not be able to achieve with another person.

 

Sports

In sports there are rules (or constraints) that will determine what a player can’t do. As an example in basketball you can’t bounce the ball with two hands, you can’t take more than two steps while holding the ball, etc. With these types of constraints it’s a lot harder to get around opposing players, but by having these rules in place it makes us appreciate the level of skill required to dribble the ball.

Without these constraints moves such as the crossover, behind-the-back and spin move that we as fans find so entertaining to watch would never have been invented.

 

Jerry Seinfeld

Another example is the comedic style of Jerry Seinfeld.   Jerry decided to put a constraint on himself . He would only tell jokes about everyday mundane task that we all perform. A little different to what we normally see in a standup comedy.

When you think about imposing such a constraint like Jerry did, it forced him to be incredibly focused about his subject matter and extremely creative within the boundaries that he set. Even more creative then someone with no constraints. Comedian’s without constraints usually fall back on using crude humor and dropping the F bomb every so often.

 

Time for a new definition?

Businesses today face new types of constraints on a more regular basis as change becomes the only constant.  There is a need to create more with less of everything, whether it is less people, money and/or time.  So how businesses and knowledge workers choose to perceive these constraints makes all the difference.

A constraint can either limit your belief of what is possible and will compromise what we originally set out to achieve to the point where we start to scale back our ambition.

Alternatively constraints can be the catalyst to innovation that will bring about solutions that can provide a tremendous about of benefits.

In the book A Beautiful Constrain (where most of these idea have come from) Adam Morgan and Mark Barden, predicts that a new definition is needed for the term ‘constraint’, the next google search might say something like..

“A limitation or defining parameter, which often is a stimulus for doing things better.”