Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Even Subject Matter Experts don’t have all the Answers

indjection molding Don’t underestimate the value of asking questions of the people that operate a process on a daily basis, even if you are a Subject Matter Expert (SME). Countless times I would go out to the factory floor and find technicians and operators violating fundamental rules while trying to keep a process running. The initial reaction is to immediately stop them. In reality, they are keeping the process running daily even while breaking widely understood industry standards and practices.

Before I set to tell them everything they are doing is wrong (I don’t really do that), I ask a lot of questions about the situation:

  • what are they doing?
  • why are they doing it?
  • what symptoms exist at the time that “require” their action?
  • are the symptoms always the same?
  • how often does this happen?
  • do they do the same thing every time to correct the situation?
  • do the other technicians and other shifts do the same thing?
  • are there other industry accepted alternatives?
  • have they been made aware of alternatives and are they comfortable with them?
  • does the “accepted” practice even work?
  • what is the result when the “correct” process is used?

Most of the time they know what they are doing is wrong, at least on some level. Odds are they are doing it because it’s a recurring problem, and the practice keeps production going. It is all to easy for a SME or engineer to say a practice is unacceptable and walk away without working with the front line people to find an acceptable alternative that works both theoretically and under the less-than-ideal real world conditions they are working under.

Often the answers to the questions provide valuable information about the root cause of the problem they are trying to work around. See my related post about Questions Lead – Answers Follow for more information. Theory is great in the classroom, but in the real world there are many other factors that have to be considered to derive the true solution to a long standing problem. Questions are an often overlooked problem solving tool, especially when it must be administered by someone who is supposed to be “the expert”. Don’t let your expertise get in the way of your ability to effectively solve problems. With that different perspective and the help of the regular process “operators”, I have witnessed significant long-term improvements even in areas where I had no prior knowledge or expertise.

No comments:

Post a Comment