Saturday, 5 January 2013

Beware of the "Quiet Fixers"

Does your company have a culture of "Quiet Fixers"? This when a problem arises, someone notices, applies some fix or correction and moves on with minimal disruption to anything else.

It does not sound too bad until you think about it for a minute. Mistakes often have side affects that cause another problem else where, or the fix might not be addressing the root problem. The Quiet Fixer could be just sowing the seeds for future reoccurance of the same mistake or a worse one somewhere else.

In a Harvard Business Review interview, former Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe stated, "Hidden problems are the ones that become serious threats eventually. If problems are revealed for everyone to see, I will feel reassured. Because once problems have been visualized, even if our people didn't notice them earlier, they will rack their brains to find solutions to them."

In Toyota, if a problem is noticed, production on the line stops, the entire team comes together to identify the root cause of the problem, to ensure that it does not happen again. This can be noisy and a little heated, but it leads to better quality and productivity in the long term.

I have seen Quiet Fixers in most places I have worked, particularly in software development where a bug is fixed and verified, but the root cause of why a bug was developed in the first place in not addressed. This was often poor business analysis, project management, choice of technologies, almost always nothing to do with the guys writing the actual code. Invariably the problem raised its head again and again in many different projects.

Quiet Fixers can also inhibit learning as we don't get the chance to know about parts of the organisation or process that we are not directly involved in. By going after the root cause of a problem, you will find out things about how you work that will surprise you and hopefully allow you to plug any process or communication gaps that inevitably exist.

So beware of the Quiet Fixers and try to develop a culture of Loud Fixers. It might seem a little disruptive or awkward at the outset, but it can lend itself to better quality, improved learning and more stable productivity in the long term.

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