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The Myth of Silver Bullet Solutions

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on Feb. 1, 2015

"If all you have is a hammer, then everything is a nail." Rebecca Okamoto Twitter icon

If only there was truly a silver bullet solution.

But experienced problem solvers know that even the best solutions can fail when misapplied.

See if this story resonates with you.

A very popular manufacturing philosophy is Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). TPM improves costs through better equipment efficiency. Very simply, a production line running 90% of the time makes more widgets than a line running 50% of the time.

When my operations launched TPM we faithfully followed the process starting with "Autonomous Maintenance," or AM. AM has very prescribed steps for maintaining equipment, and requires precise documentation and extensive training.

AM was supposed to the silver bullet to fix my operation's low output and high costs.

But instead of increasing, output dropped.

I wanted to take a break to assess the situation, but my TPM consultant disagreed, insisting we weren't following the process. So my team and I kept swinging the AM hammer.

Our output dropped so precipitously that we were in danger of jeopardizing our heaviest sales period. Finally I told everyone to stop AM. I put all of my managers, including myself, on shifts and for 4 weeks we personally led the operating teams and regained all the lost production.

While on shifts I could see the issue.

The plant had a practice of using overtime to fill staffing gaps, and in our biggest production period the department's overtime would spike over 30%. That meant on a daily basis 30% of staffing would be randomly staffed from outside the team. If I asked an operator what happened the day before, all I got was a blank stare.

We changed priorities to stabilize staffing and hire new people. I told the plant manager that I would not re-start AM until I maintained full staffing for 3 months. Once we achieved stability, we relaunched our AM program and AM worked as advertised.

It isn't hard to see what caused our problem: we blindly followed a process.

In other words, all we had was an AM hammer, so everything was an AM nail.

But we didn't need a hammer, we needed people.

TPM and AM are excellent tools. But like anything, they can be misapplied. When it comes to problem solving, one size doesn't fit all.

The best problem solvers continuously assess the situation, maintain a tool kit mentality, and are willing to try different solutions.

If the your solution isn't working, stop swinging and step back.

Are you using the right tool?

Looking for more ideas on problem solving and improvement? Take a look at these Evoke posts.

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