Is Your Solution Just Another Problem?

If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem. I recently came across this Robert Anthony quote and thought it offered excellent insight into the practice of improving process.

In any context, solutions are only solutions if you have properly assessed and understood the problem. Applying a solution to a troubled situation can create new problems if you do not understand the nature of the original problem.

In practical terms of insurance operations, understanding your process helps you see where the problems are. Knowing where the problems are helps you find the right solution. You must start with a deep assessment of workflows and processes to shine lights on inefficiencies.

Applying the wrong solutions—even temporary solutions—to your troubled process will create more problems. For example, adopting a new agency management system that promises to streamline your operations can only create a greater need for training. At the same time, this software may not address the original inefficiencies particular to your organization. Now you have old and new problems to solve.

The Six Sigma “Five Whys” method provides an excellent method for getting to the core of problems. Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda (founder of Toyota), the Five Whys is essentially an iterative question process to elucidate the sources of a problem and how they are connected.

The Five Whys procedure is dead simple. You identify the specific problem and ask why it is occurring. You then ask “why” of the answer to your first “why,” and so on until you have asked “why” at least five times. You repeat this process as many times as you need to reach the clear source of the problem and identify a solution.

Though very complex problems may require a more detailed analysis, the Five Whys are a great place to start. Before you sink precious dollars into a so-called operations “solution”—such a popular buzzword these days—ensure you know what problem they are addressing. If you don’t, that solution may very well become your next problem.