Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, advises companies to make house calls to doctor up an operational problem.

House Rules!

Once in a while, what we do for a living in “real life” is captured perfectly on that small screen that we watch all too much of with our favorite cool beverage in hand and a warm puppy at our feet.
 recently have become hooked on a show called “House” that’s been around for a few years. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Every episode involves in-depth, critical issue troubleshooting. There are no manuals, flow charts or PowerPoint presentations that can bring this message to life. You just have to see it in action.

The show features a grumpy old doctor who inspires others around him to think real hard and way outside the box to cure patients. Often, he throws in suggestions to prod those around him who just aren’t quite getting it. In some cases, he “redirects” their thinking to visualize solutions that are not quite apparent to them. In the end, the problem gets solved, and the patient always lives.

So the question is: Does your “house” need a little “House” inspiration?

So many times we get channeled into chasing a problem the same way we did the last time it occurred.

In the bakery, for instance, we head to the same electrical panel or packaging line thinking the same old problem has the same old solution. However, the easy fixes don’t always work, especially when we end up dealing with something that may look the same on the outside, but is completely different once you get into the problem-solving phase.

When you run into that new challenge, the one that hasn’t surfaced before, how do you handle it? Do you rush in and start guessing, or do you take a small step back and think it through a little bit? The “House” method might be a place to go when you face the nagging issue that doesn’t seem to get fixed with the old school, sleeves up, diving-in approach.

So what is the “House” method? It can be best described as “high-speed brainstorming.” It involves throwing out ideas that spark other thoughts that build upon one another to develop possible solutions.

To put this method into action, you need to be comfortable with gathering people around you who have the ability to toss out a wide variety of suggestions that you can consider for solutions. These people must be able to absorb new ideas and other “redirects” that you throw out to help them see a problem in a different light. If everyone, including you, becomes “knowledge sponges,” you can shake out a solution and set a course of action. This style of problem solving is truly a collaborative effort. You aren’t saving a human life here, but you are dealing with reducing lost time and lowering costs in the processing plant.

However, the tricky part involves coming up with new ideas and filtering a lot of information in a very short time. Those items that stick then have to be “noodled” around to determine if they are actionable or not.

Again, a team effort where everyone is engaged can generate some quick-but-sound solutions. Sure, it’s great having a group around you that has experience in the industry, but getting some different problem-solving concepts from people outside the industry can be valuable as well. A fresh set of eyes often can see the most painfully obvious resolution to a problem.

Nothing beats the combination of sight and sound. As you hear the suggestions, jot them onto a whiteboard or a flip chart so that you can focus on the best ones and eliminate others. Nothing can be more productive than this type of old-fashioned brainstorming.

When you start putting some of your solutions to work, sometimes the first attempt does not solve the issue. As a result, make sure you have the next best idea ready to go. You should have several options to throw at it in an orderly fashion. However, sometimes a so-called solution creates a new problem, and you may find yourself heading back to the brainstorming stage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In most cases, the more you brainstorm to correct a stubborn problem, the more likely you are to solve it for good.

This method can be used not only with mechanical and electrical trouble, but also for developing solutions to formula, quality and even people problems.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your box and make a “House” call to help doctor up what is ailing another group. Encourage everyone to use this high-speed, thought-provoking, throw-it-at-the-wall, problem-solving technique.

Editor’s Note: Go to www.snackandbakery.com to check out Jeff’s online library of problem-solving columns.

Jeff Dearduff