Process Improvement Tip #6: Frame the problem you face in business terms

You’ve been framed!

In the lead up to PEX Masters next month, we’re running a series of process improvement tips to help you jump start your initiatives for 2013. This is the sixth of twelve.

In art, the idea of a frame is to help focus a viewer’s attention on a subject, according to that online fountain of knowledge, Wikipedia.

The site says that "a frame serves the double purpose of making a more aesthetically pleasing image and keeping the focus on the framed object(s) – it can also be used as a repoussoir, to direct attention back into the scene. It adds depth to the image, and can add interest to the picture when the frame is thematically related to the object being framed."

Wow – that’s a lot of things that the humble picture frame is helping you to achieve. Mull that one over next time you’re framing your family pictures!

But beyond the art world, the idea of framing is relevant to process practitioners as well. Reality is complex is and we all interpret situations differently (see PI Tip #3: Make sure everyone understands the need for change for more on this).

When we don’t agree what the problems are - or we’re not seeing them the same way – we’re most likely to either be working at cross purposes, become resistant to the changes that are being inflicted on us, or are passively uninterested and unwilling to commit much time and energy to coming up with solutions.

None of these reactions bodes well for process practitioners. So how do you frame the challenge to help focus the attention of your audience on what matters most?

The answer is by concentrating on the impact to the business.

Will the problem cause the business to lose customers? Reduce customer satisfaction (and hence lead to greater customer defection?) Does it lead to increased warranty claims? What is the ultimate cost to the business of not fixing the problem?

These may be difficult questions to quantify. But if you haven’t answered why the problem is important for the business to solve, you haven’t given people a way "in" to see why it’s important.

And if you’ve framed the issue poorly, the likelihood is you’re going to run into communication difficulties and resistance from others who just don’t "get" what you’re banging on about.

So get out your artist’s beret and think about how you frame reality.