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Get Out of the Firefight

Angela Leamon is the Director of Operational Excellence and is a manufacturing leadership professional with over 24 years of manufacturing experience, driving continuous improvement opportunities by reducing process variability and cycle time through Six Sigma and Lean methodologies.She is an ASQ certified Black Belt.



Well they call me the fireman, that's my name. Making my rounds all over town…

When I was an engineering intern, I worked in the quality department at Allied Signal Bendix. Several of the engineers, supervisors, and I had a running joke. We sang or hummed those words from a George Strait country tune as we passed each other hurriedly in the aisles or passed through each others' offices, making our way to that next "fire". There was always something that needed our immediate attention.

As my career progressed and I took on additional responsibilities, it became clear that unlike other skills, "firefighting" isn’t necessarily a skill you want to improve. In any industry, fighting daily fires is inevitable, issues and situations that pop up have to be extinguished. The goal, however, is to reduce the amount of time spent fighting those issues over and over and spend the time on solving the problem to eliminate the need to keep fighting it day after day. To reduce the amount of time spent solving the same issues repeatedly, you must focus on building capability in effective problem solving and root cause analysis.

Effective Problem Solving involves a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions. There are many detailed processes for problem-solving and most include the basic steps: selecting the problem to be solved, information gathering, problem definition, identifying and analyzing possible solutions, and developing a plan of action.

Developing innovative solutions requires one to be creative. To increase creativity, mental roadblocks that stifle your thinking have to be identified and removed. There are many brainstorming techniques that can help unleash and stimulate creativity, such as mind mapping or the six thinking hats.

Root Cause Analysis is a method to identify, prioritize, and eliminate the true source causing issues. In simple terms, it focuses on treating what is causing the issue, not the symptoms that have to be managed.


There are many tools that facilitate determining the root cause of an issue. Using the 5 Whys focuses on questioning why a problem happened until an actionable solution to prevent reoccurrence is reached. Another popular tool is the Fishbone/Ishikawa diagram which enables users to highlight potential root causes of issues by identifying sources of process variation and issues divided into the 6 categories shown in the image below.

The 6M’s are the sources of process variation/issues. Focusing on each category can highlight potential root causes of issues.

Although each can be taken independently, they have a great synergy when taken together and can provide more of an impact on the problem-solving activities at your facility. Participants will learn effective techniques and gain hands-on experience using problem-solving, brainstorming, and root cause analysis tools.

My question to you: Firefighting or Problem Solving? Which skill do you want your team to build?

Peak Performance can help you increase the capabilities of your team through two of our Structured Problem Solving courses, Critical Thinking & Root Cause Analysis. Both classes are online, self-paced courses, and can be completed in approximately 3.5 hours each, right in our PEAK Workforce Training Center. Register today through the class links above.



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