Category Archives: lean

5 Practical Steps For Drowning Your Problems

There’s an old saying that contains a great deal of wisdom:

When problem solving, don’t just put out the fire – find the guy with the match!

Another saying admonishes us to make sure that we solve problems completely. It simply says:

Hold every problem under water until it drowns!

Learning Effective Problem Solving

Both of these statements are aimed at communicating one thing to those of us who are in the problem solving business – and that is that far too often, problems are never solved because people are addressing the symptoms instead of identifying and killing the real root cause.

My forty plus years of experience as both a technical and business problem solver have taught me some powerful lessons. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned when it comes to effective problem solving.

  1. Most of the time, the root of the problem is deeper than you think. Just like a pesky dandelion in your yard, the flower (symptom) waves in the wind, but the root of the plant (the real cause) is hiding deep in the ground. You can chop the top off all you want, but until you extract or kill the root, the plant (problem) is going to keep coming back.
  2. Be patient. Taking the time to think things through, and being careful not to overreact, is important in the problem solving process. Cool, logical, analytical heads always prevail.
  3. Listen to the process. Every business process has a story to tell if you listen closely. Observations, data collection and analysis, and a healthy dose of common sense can be integrated to create a picture of what is going on. Just as a doctor uses the skill of observation, combined with information in the form of test results, to diagnose what is wrong with a patient, so must you combine all of the information you can gather to understand the problem with which you are dealing.
  4. Test your theories. The ultimate test in solving a problem is not “did it go away.” Where the rubber meets the road is in answering the question, “Can you turn it on and off?” Being able to turn a problem on and off means that you have identified the causative factors that, under the right conditions, allow the problem to manifest itself.
  5. Verify effectiveness of your solutions. When you finally put corrective actions in place, always monitor the process for a period if time to make sure that the problem never rears its ugly head again.

Need help with problem solving? Give us a call at 203.599.1467, or email us at We’re here to help!


©2014 by Gary L. Smith and Optimum Performance Technologies, LLC ( All rights reserved.

Process Improvement

How much of your time spent working in your business is directly related to process improvement? Do you view it as a necessary evil, or do you treat it as a critically necessary and beneficial activity that needs to be part of the lifeblood of your business?

In my experience over the years as a consultant, I have found two things related to most business:

1. They do not fully embrace the need for continuous process improvement. They do not see it as a way to (a) grow and profit now and (b) prepare for rainy days ahead.

2. When difficult economic times occur, what little process improvement is being done within the framework of the organization is curtailed because management feels that they have to tighten their belts and eliminate any unnecessary activities.

Hear me loud and clear when I say that the future growth and profitability of your business will be directly related to the degree to which you relentlessly pursue process improvement. It does not matter if you are factory producing hard goods for sale to your customers, or a legal firm producing contracts for your clients – process improvement must become a hard-wired way of life in your business if you are going to be more competitive in your marketplace and more profitable than others who compete against you.

We live in a dog-eat-dog world of global competition. Only the best will survive. If you want to be the best, both now and into the future, you will learn to make process improvement one of the core values upon which your business is founded.

At Optechs, process improvement is one of our core competencies. We stand ready and able to help train and mentor your people in the continuous and never ending process of improving your business. Email us at, or call us at 203.599.1467 for a FREE consultation.

Systems for Solving Problems

In his book, One Page Management, Riaz Khadem states:

If You Don’t Know What’s Wrong, You Can’t Fix It

This statement is particularly true when it comes to business management, project management, and lean manufacturing and other lean activities.

As if in response to this statement, Bob Lorber, author of Putting The One Minute Manager To Work, suggests the need for organizations to develop five effective systems:

1. Accountability System: Everyone must be clear on what they are being asked to do and be accountable for doing it.

2. Data System: Performance information must be gathered to determine how well people are doing.

3. Feedback System: Once the performance information has been gathered, feedback must be given to people so that they can either continue to perform well or redirect their efforts to get performance back on track.

4. Recognition System: Good performance must make a difference. A recognition system based on performance is a must in high performance organizations.

5. Training System: If people do not have the skills to perform well, they must be trained. High expectations without skills will only lead to frustration and poor performance.

Developing accountability, gathering solid performance information, providing feedback and recognition, and using training to improve both skills and performance – is there a more powerful formula for success in the world?

Effective Project Management

Are you an effective project manager? When asked a question like this, the perfectly normal human reaction for most of us is to bristle a bit and then answer with a strong, affirmative, “Yes, of course I am!” However, after we’ve had a chance to mull the thought over in our minds, most of us will admit that there areas of project management upon which we could most definitely improve.

What’s that you say? “I’m not a project manager?” Oh, I see. Then you’ve never taken on a project in your life? You see, it’s not necessary to have the title of a project manager to be one. All of us are involved in doing projects every day. Some people build nuclear power plants, others build homes; others are weekend carpenters and electricians doing repairs at home. Some of us like to hike and camp; others manage the household budget. All of these activities require some level of project management skills. Ever make a grocery shopping list? That’s a project plan of sorts.

Let’s use the grocery shopping example to outline some of the basics of project management.

Define the scope of your work. The first step in any project is to define what it is that you are going to accomplish. In project management terminology, this is called a scope of work. In our shopping example, we need to define the scope, or goal, of our shopping. Are we shopping for a day, a week, a month, or several months? For how many people are we shopping? Do we have any company coming for whom we need to plan? Are there sales to be taken advantage of? The list of questions could be longer, but you get the picture.

Define the schedule, resources, and constraints. This is a fancy phrase for defining the limitations with which we are working. Every project can be represented by a triangle. The three sides of the triangle are labeled as (1) scope, (2) time and schedule, and (3) costs and resources. We’ve already discussed that scope is what we are going to accomplish. Time and schedule attempt to answer questions like: How long is this shopping trip going to take? Do I have the time to do it now? If not, when can I schedule it so that I will have enough time? Finally, costs and resources address questions like: Do I have enough money to go shopping according to my schedule? (Maybe I need to wait until payday). Do I need any additional resources? (I might need one of the kids to help me wheel the shopping cart and load and unload the car).

Develop a plan. Once we have defined the project scope and have a handle on resources and constraints, we can develop a project plan. The project plan is nothing more than a detailed, step-by-step list of what we are going to do and when it is going to be done. Using our shopping example, our project plan might span several days, visiting one or two stores a day, with a specific time to visit each one and with a specific list of items we wish to procure at each store.

Execute the plan. Planning is no good without taking some sort of action. We need to take action and start working on accomplishing the plan we have committed to paper. That brings us to a very important point – always…always…always put your project plan in writing! I know people who try to carry project plans in their heads. This almost always winds up in disaster. I can’t go shopping without a shopping list. If I do, I’ll forget something and either wind up going back to the store (wasting time and money) or making someone at home upset.

Monitor your progress. As you execute your project plan, ask yourself a few questions. Am I on schedule? If not, what can I do to get back on schedule? Am I staying within the budget I established? Is what I am doing right now taking me closer to my goal? If not, why am I doing it? As an example – if on my way to the grocery store I stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee and a doughnut, then I may not be staying on schedule and I may be spending money I hadn’t planned to spend.

Take corrective action. As you monitor progress toward the achievement of your project goal, you will sometimes go off track. The important thing to remember when you get off track is to not waste more time punishing yourself. Use it as a learning experience to help you improve. Also, monitoring progress along the way allows you the opportunity to identify potential problems before they become a national disaster.

Close the project. At the end of your shopping trip, take time to review what you did and how effective it was. Did you find what you needed? Did you stay within your budget? Did you allow an adequate amount of time to get the job done? Was the path you planned to most cost effective from both a time and fuel consumption perspective? What did you learn and what can you do to make it better the next time?

Use this simple process to make your projects, both big and small, more successful and enjoyable.

Ten Steps To Finding The Right Speaker

The selection of a speaker is one of the most important and challenging aspects of when it comes to creating a successful meeting or event. Selecting the right speaker for your meeting can be a daunting task because speakers are available in every fee range and topic specialty.

How do you make sure that you engage the best person for the job and get the highest value for the money you are investing?

1. Determine the needs of your audience. Thorough knowledge of the needs of your group is essential to selecting an appropriate speaker. Who are the members who will be attending? What are they interested in? What are some of the current goals and challenges they have on their minds? Does the meeting require that your audience leave with specific information? Do you need someone to motivate the group to sell? Are you looking for after-dinner entertainment with a message?

2. Establish your date, time, and budget.

a. Start looking for a speaker as soon as the date for your meeting is set. Many speakers book engagements up to a year in advance, so you will want to get on their calendar as soon as possible.
b. Consider how much time you have to fill and where that time falls in your overall program. If your time-slot is flexible, a professional speaker can often tell you the right amount of time for the job. A professional can also make recommendations about the order of topics to be addressed (i.e., it may not be wise to follow a humorist with an educational presentation).
c. Factor in the fee you are willing and able to pay for a speaker. Your search for a speaker can be very narrow or very broad depending on your budget. Fees for professional speakers vary greatly depending on experience, demand, and the particular niche in which they speak. The range for a professional speaker can go from $2,000 to $25,000 or more.

3. Identify the type of speaker who will best match the needs of your audience. A speaker’s expertise in a given field may be a big draw, but a well-known name does not guarantee a professional presentation. High profile does not always equal high quality. Will your audience and the overall program benefit most from a celebrity, and expert in the field, a popular sports personality, or a best selling author?

4. Locate your resources. Personal referrals are a great way to narrow your search. Ask colleagues and friends for their recommendations. Also, speakers bureaus can be a great way to find out those speakers who are available to speak on the topic you are contemplating.

5. Review your options and interview speaking candidates.

a. Expect a professional speaker to be a partner in your meeting process.
b. Make sure that a potential speaker has addressed groups similar to yours and talk to him about his experience.
c. As for a biography, testimonials, and recordings of presentations.
d. Find a speaker who will tailor his presentation for your group, not someone who gives canned speeches.

6. Select your speaker. Hire a professional and your hiring an ally, someone who will invest himself in the success of your meeting. Consider that you are not just paying for the time that the speaker in on the platform, but also for the hours spent researching, creating, and customizing his presentation. Also, be aware that some speakers may negotiate their fees when they are doing more than one program for you or when they are allowed to sell their products or get copies of your audio and video recordings of their presentations. Always ask about options.

7. Get it in writing. You should have a letter of agreement that clearly outlines the expectations of both you and your speaker. Consider:

a. Travel arrangements and transportation
b. Accommodations and meals
c. Fees, reimbursements, and payment terms
d. Whether you will want the speaker to attend social events
e. If the speaker may say product and, if so, how this will be handled
f. An agreement on any audio or videotaping of the presentation
g. Cancellation policies
h. Audio/visual requirements
i. Any legal implication

8. Work with your speaker. Share information about your group or company, such as:

a. Company newsletters, brochures, and annual reports
b. Key challenges your organization may be facing in the near future
c. Key people, buzzwords, and insider news and views
d. A clear outline of what you expect
e. The size and demographics of your audience
f. Other speakers on the program and the subject on which they will be speaking. (This avoids program overlap)

9. Set the stage.

a. Make sure the room is set up for optimum impact. Consider the number of chairs and how they are arranged. Also consider room temperature and lighting.
b. Stay on schedule. Keeping your program on schedule will allow your audience to get the full impact of the program you have created for them.
c. Make sure you get a good introduction bio from your speaker. The introduction should be short, energizing, and create positive expectations.

10. Evaluate the results. Have your audience complete evaluations on the speakers and his presentation. This will allow you to gauge your results and plan for future programs. Send copies of the evaluations to your speaker.