PART III: Structured SOLVE

A 5-step process for addressing strategic issues

Scope the Opportunity

Step 1: Scope the Opportunity
Define the Problem to be Solved

Purpose and Importance

The Scope step in the process is where we define the problem to be solved. This can be simple or much harder than it seems. It is critical that we 1) work on problems that are important, 2) diagnose the “real” issue(s) at hand, 3) have a good understanding of what “better” means, and 4) attack the problem at the right level of detail. Without this clarity, we can waste time on activities that do not benefit ourselves or our customers.

Relevant Tools

Problem Definition
A 4-question guide for ensuring you have defined the problem precisely
Lean Measures
Metrics that can be used to define current performance and desired performance
Voice of the Customer
Methods to gather customer and employee insights; interviews provide qualitative insights while surveys are used to establish quantitative insights
Boundary Map (SIPOC)
This is the highest level of process map and establishes the major steps, customers, inputs and outputs
Lean Project Scope Sheet
A document that describes the situation, targeted outcomes, success measures, and required resources

Note: This list is not exhaustive. You may wish to apply other tools during this step to identify and prioritize projects.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the situation and why is this opportunity important to your organization?
  • Who is the customer for the process and what is the “pain” they are experiencing?
  • What is the extent of the problem? For how long has it been an issue?
  • Which measure(s) are we trying to improve & what is the current baseline?
  • How does this problem impact the Department’s/Division’s strategic plan?
  • What are the specific outcomes we expect with improvement (that is, what will be different for the organization or customers in the future)?
  • attacking the problem at the right level of detail?

Activity Checklist—Scope the Opportunity

1. The project has been effectively titled using a verb (what we want to do) + noun (what do we want to impact or improve?)
2. The current situation has been described, including the perceived issues
3. The process’ internal and/or external customers have been identified and consulted
4. Process boundaries have been clearly defined
5. Process measurement(s) has (have) been established to visually display current performance trends and track the impact of future improvements
6. The targeted outcomes and deliverables for the project have been defined

Pearls and Pitfalls

Go Slow to Go Fast
Each organization has an abundance of improvement opportunities that can be addressed with a little attention, action, and follow through. However, some require a more structured, comprehensive approach. Use criteria on page 8 of this guide to choose the right path.
Listen to Your Customers
Improving performance requires a strong understanding of what is important to your customer. Every work unit has a combination of internal and external customers (end users). It is the external customers who determine what constitutes value in the process.
Establish Clear Boundaries and Success Measures
Processes that are best improved occur frequently enough to be observed and documented. Change agents should establish clear process boundaries and assure that success is measured (e.g., time savings, quality, speed).

Organize the Resources

Step 2: Organize the Resources
Make a Plan and Engage the Right People

Purpose and Importance

The Organize step identifies the individuals impacted by this process, from the manager to frontline leaders to the customer, and ensures that there is a plan to engage them in the process. Some people will be directly involved in the SOLVE work while others simply must be informed of the effort. Roles and responsibilities are established during this step and it is also the step in which we plan for group problem solving activities.

Relevant Tools

Lean Roles
Clarifies attributes and responsibilities for each of the critical roles
Making the Case for change
Approaches to clearly articulating why change is necessary to affected personnel
Communication Plan
Identifies the audience(s), key message(s), method, timing, frequency and person responsible for communicating
Problem Solving Session
Helps plan how you will engage team members and the logistic requirements for group problem solving

Guiding Questions

  • Who is impacted by this problem and solution?
  • What role and responsibility will they have in solving this problem?
  • How can we best communicate the effort’s purpose to them?
  • Who are key influencers who can impact the outcome and how can you reach them?
  • Who is the operational manager that oversees this area?
  • Is s/he on-board with solving this problem?
  • Has s/he agreed to actively participate or support the implementation of the solution?
  • How will we engage the team in group problem solving efforts?
  • How many sessions and with what objectives and agenda?
  • What pace of involvement moves the project along without causing stress on the organization?

Activity Checklist—Organize the Resources

1. Executive Sponsor identified and coached regarding resource requirements and their role
2. Project Leader identified and coached regarding implementation ownership, metric definition, and project team requirements
3. Core Team Members selected that, together, have complete knowledge of the process and issues
4. Extended Members selected and are available to provide expertise, data and insights during the project
5. Lean Champion/Facilitator identified who has sufficient knowledge and experience for the scale of the project
6. Project Scope Sheet finalized, now including the name of all team members and a plan for all group activities (core team and, if required, steering committee)
7. Communication Plan created and messages drafted, notifying the organization of the project and the participants of the expectations and timing

Pearls and Pitfalls

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate:
Take the time to define the “why” before you explain the “what”. Deliver a consistent message through multiple communication channels (e.g., meetings, newsletters), creating opportunity for dialogue rather than just information sharing.
Engage those that Can, Care, and Know:
Lean is unique in its egalitarian views.
Members from all levels of the organization, representing differing functions and departments come together to give experience and expertise in attacking the opportunity.
Employ Influencers:
There are people whose titles do not reflect their stature in the organization. Identify these people and enlist their support for the effort. Others may look to these “informal leaders” for information, so make sure they have it.
Plan Group Work Carefully:
Balance the pace of group sessions. Multi-day sessions advance concepts quickly, but they can also cause stress on the operation and don’t always provide for in-process engagement of others in the workplace. Several shorter sessions may be preferred.

Lean It!

Step 3: Lean It!
Apply Lean Tools to Identify Potential Solutions

Purpose and Importance

The Lean It! step is the point in the SOLVE method where employee teams use Lean tools to identify and address waste. One or more group sessions are typically held to gain a common understanding of the process, raise awareness of the issues, and define potential solutions.

More important than any one particular Lean tool is that the team zeros in on the root causes of issues and identifies solutions that, together, make an impact on the problem (core success measures).

Relevant Tools

Process Map
A graphical representation of the steps in the process; can be enriched with data to clarify the impact of current design on core measures
The 8 wastes described in WASTEFUL help teams and individuals acknowledge ways to eliminate or reduce activities that don’t add value
Root Cause Analysis
Methods for sorting through symptoms to get to the true cause of issues and errors
Check Sheet
Helps plan how you will engage team members and the logistic requirements for group problem solving
Pareto Analysis
A graphical way to view the occurrence of certain factors, like errors, to understand which are crucial
A process for workplace organization, removing unnecessary items and setting up the workplace for success

Note: This list is not exhaustive. You may wish to apply other tools during this step.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the process steps and who executes them?
  • What does the customer think is valuable?
  • What waste exists and how will you address it?
  • What is the root cause we are trying to solve?
  • Which improvement(s) does (do) the team believe will make the difference?

Activity Checklist—Lean it!

1. Customer-defined value has been identified and discussed
2. Process steps and activities have been discussed, documented, and measured
3. Process waste, complexity, and ambiguity have been identified and discussed
4. Root cause determination has been discussed and deliberated
5. Solution ideas that address waste and root cause have been generated
6. Solution ideas have been evaluated (sized) and prioritized
7. Appropriate Lean tools have been used
8. Improvement strategies, tactics, and measures have been discussed and documented to prepare for testing (next step)

Pearls and Pitfalls

Pursue Root Cause:
Using Lean tools to address the symptoms of the problem will not “solve” the problem; you must address the root cause.
Don’t Let Perfect Get in the Way of Better:
The team may identify solutions that are technically better but are not accepted or agreed upon. Reach consensus to test of tools, it is a way of thinking but don’t stop there. Recognize that our goal is to certain improvements. Eighty percent (80%) of the value today is better than 100% sometime!
Lean Tools ≠ Lean Organization:
A Lean organization is more than a set – a cultural change. Tools raise awareness continually make things better for our customers and employees, so keep people engaged and look for opportunities for the next round of improvement.

Verify the Impact

Step4: Verify the Impact
Test to Make Sure Our Fixes Work

Purpose and Importance

Verify the Impact is the step in the SOLVE process where we measure the impact of our proposed solutions. Our goal is to validate that the solutions work as planned and/or learn what we must do to ensure that they do. This step is your opportunity to engage people in refining the solutions, to broaden your audience and engage people in making the effort a success. You may encounter resistance, but don’t stop or avoid it. Resistance is usually just an unmet need, so engage to learn the root cause of resistance and work to overcome it.

Relevant Tools

Option Evaluation
A practical method to determine which of your potential solutions has the best likelihood of success
Pilot (or Test) Plan
A small-scale, short-term experiment to test the improvements work prior to a full deployment
Implementation Plan
Identifies the tasks/steps needed to implement the solution including who is responsible and by when
Resistance Management
Proactively identifies and mitigates potential causes of resistance where possible and includes a plan to respond to expected or unforeseen barriers

Guiding Questions

  • Which solution options are you going to pilot or test?
  • What data will you gather to measure the impact? How?
  • Who is going to monitor the measurement and results?
  • Have you updated your communication plan to prepare people for the pilot? Are there new audiences or messages?
  • Based on what you learned during the pilot:
  • Who is going to do what to implement your solution (the implementation plan)?
  • What are additional improvements you can make before deploying?
  • Have you identified and mitigated potential resistance?

Activity Checklist—Verify the Impact

1. A pilot (test) plan has been built with clear ownership of data collection and monitoring
2. The communication plan has been updated and completed to alert personnel of the test plan and their role
3. A resistance management plan exists and actions have been taken to mitigate and respond to resistance
4. The pilot has been executed and small changes made; observation and analysis confirm process is stable
5. When compared to baseline performance, key process measures have improved (time spent, quality, speed, customer satisfaction)
6. Tested improvements have eliminated the root cause of the problems

Pearls and Pitfalls

Beware the Conference Room Solution:

Some things look good on paper but don’t translate to the real work environment.

Be humble in your testing -process adjustments plan, making sure that you build in time to make in required to fine tune the solution.

Communicate, Again:

Make sure to update your communication plan to Improvements have been implemented with effective Lean Project Leader oversight and according to milestones help prepare impacted people in the workplace for the pilot effort.

Test for comprehension through dialogue.

The success of your solution may depend upon them following the plan, so invest time to ensure they are well prepared.

Anticipate Push Back:

Failure to address the people side of the change will result in resistance to the adoption and use of the improvement.

Instead, engage to understand the nature of the resistance. You may be able to accommodate feedback into an even better solution.

Be Realistic:
Develop an implementation plan that acknowledges other priorities in the workplace. Gain project leader and sponsor approval to test and implement solutions to avoid uncertainty and frustration.

Ensure Sustainment

Step 5: Ensure Sustainment
Make it Stick

Purpose and Importance

The Ensure Sustainment step is where we act to maintain the gains made during the first 4 steps of the SOLVE process. Without cementing the improvements, all the effort of the project may be wasted. You must have split vision, though, in that this is also the time when we capture our lessons learned and set the stage for the next round of improvements.

Relevant Tools

Visual Management
Presenting information in a way that allows at-a-glance understanding
Standard Work
Foundation of Lean that uses a lot of visuals (vs. text) to establish the best method and sequence for a process
Short Interval Management
Physical or electronic displays that present a visible snapshot of process performance, gather data on issues, and identify opportunities for improvement
Sustainment Checklist
A document that ensures implementation is complete and monitoring continues post implementation
After Action Review (AAR)
A 4-question process that provides a high-level gap analysis of what was expected to happen and what actually occurred, and leverages what is working as well as identifies what can be improved

Guiding Questions

  • What actions are needed, and who needs to be involved, to sustain the improvement(s)?
  • How often will we review data to ensure continued performance?
  • Who will tour the workplace to engage with staff and learn additional ways we could improve?
  • How did the outcomes of the project compare with what you predicted going in?
  • What value does your project bring to your operation and your customers?
  • What lessons did you learn during this project?
  • How can you continue to improve?

Activity Checklist—Ensure Sustainment

1. Standard work materials are kept up to date and reflect best known methods
2. Process measurements are current and confirm ongoing improvement, and issues are identified and addressed
3. Performance boards, if created, are kept up to date and used at short intervals (daily or weekly) by both the staff and managers involved in the process
4. Resistance to change has been effectively mitigated and the improvements are working
5. Lessons learned have been captured via an After Action Review and acted upon
6. Plans for ongoing improvement refinement and next steps have been discussed and determined

Pearls and Pitfalls

Practical Standard Work:
Standard work is not like traditional, dense procedure manuals. Strive for simple, visual instructions that address 80% of the need and can be improved as the process evolves.
Make Performance Visible:
Consider building a performance board with measures taken on intervals short enough to “course correct” before we disappoint a customer.
Be careful, though:
if time is spent creating a performance board but no one uses it, frustration and failure may ensue.
Waste Walk:
Walk the process with a “trust but verify” mindset. Observe the work being performed to ensure individuals are using the new process or improvements. In addition, you’ve lost a valuable opportunity to identify future improvements.
Learn Your Lessons:
Capture lessons learned, including your mistakes and failures, so that your future projects run more smoothly and as a way of advancing your culture of continuous improvement.