Getting Rid of Hot Potatoes

When I was about 12 my Grandfather assigned me to plant a field of potatoes.  He took me out to the field ( I remember it as about 10 acres but in reality it was a small plot beside the barn) and showed me how to cut potatoes leaving a good ”eye” (the stem bud from which the roots of the plant will sprout) and then planting the cut potato with the “eye” up and covering it with a few inches of soil. After a few days work I finished planting the field and, in a few weeks, a whole field of potato plants was flourishing.

In business, some days it can feel as though you are facing a whole field of problems; major obstacles and barriers that are preventing you from realizing your vision. Just like the potato field, all these problems started with a root cause, and unfortunately, the roots are no longer visible.

In my experience working with teams I’ve witnessed hours of lost productivity and wasted resources spent on solving the wrong problem. Only when we dig down to the root cause can we permanently solve the problem and make it go away forever.  Trying to solve a margin problem by tinkering with price, when the root cause is a flawed compensation model, just creates new problems without solving the original issue. Disciplining an employee for a failure caused by a faulty process can create new problems in morale or productivity while the faulty process goes uncorrected.

In EOS we use a problem-solving track called IDS, it stands for Identify, Discuss and Solve. Most teams spend endless hours discussing, never really discovering the root problem and never commiting to a solution. Start by agreeing on the stated problem and then start asking questions to find the root cause. Is it a people problem? A process or technology problem? Ask why repeatedly until the root cause is apparent. Hold each other accountable to find the root cause before you move to discuss solutions. With the real problem identified solutions are much easier implement. You can then decide if the solution is to bake, fry or mash, but whatever you decide, you’ll be rid of that hot potato forever.

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