By Christoph Goldenstern, Kepner-Tregoe
Problem solving doesn’t only result in operational efficiency, compliance and cost control. It can be a powerful tool to allow your company to compete effectively in the marketplace, achieve sustainable profitability and be agile when responding to new opportunities and threats. Companies that fail to address operational problems not only subject the organization to a significant risk of business disruption, but also make it difficult to implement changes and new initiatives without causing unintended consequences.
Problem management is like managing debt on your balance sheet
The backlog of unresolved problems in your business operations and IT systems is like carrying debt on your balance sheet. It can be a necessary and helpful tool to navigate through short-term situations, but problems don’t disappear on their own. At some point, they must be addressed. If your problem-management backlog remains unmanaged for a significant period of time or increases faster than issues are being resolved, then it can not only slow your current operational performance (like making interest payment on debt), but also impact your ability to capture new opportunities during the future.
Fighting fires prevents planning for the future
A backlog of maintenance-related problems in a manufacturing system is an excellent example. The manufacturer’s operations staff members are constantly worried about machinery failing and spending their time looking for failures instead of optimizing the systems for peak performance. Once the staff moves into a reactive “fire-fighting” mode of operations, it becomes difficult to shift to a proactive planning state. Should the company decide to change the production line to manufacture a new product, in addition to the normal reconfiguration and retooling that would be required, the backlog of maintenance issues would also need to be addressed. This can significantly increase the downtime for the transition, leading to lost productivity and revenue.
Companies experience a similar situation in IT systems, frequently appearing in the form of data-related issues. When problems exist that prevent systems from operating properly, data-integrity issues, incomplete records, processing delays and workflow queuing are often the results, and they could cause impacts throughout your IT environment. Failing to address these problems in a timely manner causes technology-enabled processes to work less efficiently and requires more manual involvement to keep business processes running. When it’s time for a system upgrade or migration, unresolved data problems prevent the clean and efficient migration of data from one system to another – leading to costly data-cleanup projects, increased resource needs for data validation and extended deployment timelines.
Fortunately, these situations can be avoided. Problem management is a critical set of business processes that provide the tools to identify, capture, analyze and resolve problems your business encounters – whether they be technical issues, process issues, data issues or people issues. By implementing a robust and consistent set of problem-management practices, company leaders will have a clear understanding of existing problems, enabling them to make informed decisions about where to allocate resources to resolve issues with the greatest impact and risk to the business.
Why is it so important to maintain control of your problem-management processes?
The modern business environment changes quickly. Technology is constantly evolving. Competitors are bringing new offerings to the market every day. Shareholders are increasingly expecting management to provide greater and more consistent returns on their investments. Competitive advantage isn’t a one-time goal – your company must be able to sustain it during the long-term. Problems in your environment are obstacles that restrict your company’s capability to change and adapt quickly – they slow you, your people and processes and limit your opportunities to gain market share. Good problem- management processes and practices can help keep your environment clean, your processes and systems running smoothly and enable both leaders and operational staff to focus on creating a positive future instead of being mired in past issues.
Protect your organizations from problems before they happen. Read about Proactive Problem Management
Kepner-Tregoe has been the industry leader in problem-solving training and consulting for more than 60 years. Its experts have worked with companies large and small to implement best practices and techniques for solving problems quickly, tracking them consistently and making informed decisions.
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