Fires! They’re Everywhere!

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As leaders I think we all find our teams besieged by fires at one point in time or another.  Sometimes it seems they’re simply building one atop another and, unless you can do something, you risk being over run…your core mission compromised.

jtpedersen_symptom_core_issuesIn a corporate environment the fires can seem to come at your team from every direction.  The President pulls on your strings, Sales is pulling on Development, Projects demand ECOs (engineering change requests) be done ‘today,’ and then there’re the ground-level things like equipment needing attention.  I’m sure you can add the 35 things that happened to you today, to the list as well.

One thing is clear: If you cannot get fires under control, you mission will be compromised.

So, what do you do about it?  You have likely survived day-to-day by putting out each fire as quickly as possible, as they crop up, one by one.  Most likely, and unfortunately, you are most likely treating the symptoms and not the core problem(s).

A few years ago, I found my team increasingly buried in fire fighting issues.  It reached the point that it impacted out ability to move regular business forward.

I pulled my managers into a room and we started by building a matrix.  Down the left side were the Top 8 issues repetitively causing fires. Horizontally, we ranked each issue based on its impact on things like team resources, frequency, sources of problem,…,finally giving each item an overall ranking.

What we found, the items that seemed most likely to be the biggest violators, weren’t.  It was almost a complete opposite of what we expected—yet made perfect sense as we thought it through.  We started to specifically tackle the main trouble makers, like how engineering change orders (ECOs) were handled, with a goal toward eliminating them.

As I told my team at the time, “…we may not feel we have time to do ‘this’ right now, but if we don’t, we’ll still be in the same mess another 6-8 weeks from now.” (And maybe worse…)

So, I was particularly pleased, having rolled out new processes, to be able to see initial adoption and improvement inside 6-8 weeks, and noticeable overall improvement within ~10 weeks.

The before/after contrast was dramatic enough that I’m sure the lesson was appreciated personally by each manager.

My preference is for simpler whenever possible.  It doesn’t always work out that way of course.  In this case, we were in the midst of what felt like a raging forest fire.  We needed to do a quick, broad assessment, make a decision, and move.

(image credit: Billy Alexander)