Perspective | Process Improvement

Why do we keep solving problems by adding new components?

why do we keep fixing problems by adding new features
Katarina Tökölyova
By on 11/06/2021

We often consider that “bigger is better.” But does this apply to efficient problem-solving? Recent experiments point out that people are more likely to fix a problem by adding new features to it rather than removing existing ones, even when removing features is more efficient. So, is it true that often “less is more”?

Let’s quickly test your problem-solving skills. Everybody loves to play with LEGO right? Have a look at the LEGO bridge below. Your task is to make both sides of the bridge even. The price of one block is 10 cents. How would you change this structure?  

Lego problem-solving experiment

If your answer is to add a new brick to one side of the bridge, you are not alone. In fact, according to this experiment by Adams et. Al in Nature, most participants chose the solution of adding new bricks, even though it brought an additional cost of 10 cents. At first glance, this might seem to be the most efficient solution.  

However, a simpler and more cost-efficient solution is to simply remove a brick from the longer pillar. Was this your answer all along? Great! Your efficient problem-solving skills are saving you some money! 

Lego problem-solving solution by substracting
Lego problem-solving solution by adding

Newer and bigger does not mean better 

It is not likely that the world will have a deficit of new and great ideas. However, the process of constantly adding new innovative ideas and features to your business might not be the only approach. First you need to look at what your business already has, whether it works smoothly, and what you can do to optimize it. So let me show you how to set up and organize your processes so you don’t systematically overlook subtractive changes when optimizing. 

Efficient problem-solving by focusing on improving what you already have

Let’s take a view on every business’ foundation for success: Building a strong customer base. If you have an existing setup you need to focus on strengthening your current core functions instead of expanding into new ones. Here are a few ways how:

Visualize how all your processes add value

You need to start from the beginning and organize your processes. Make sure that the desired input for one activity is the expected output from another. This will clearly show how each process supports value creation. A well-established process hierarchy optimises your business by:

  1. Managing your levels while linking across.
  2. Understanding the intended outcome or output of your processes.
  3. Showing how processes are connected.

With this in hand, you have a clearer view of how your business operates, where the gaps are and maybe also where waste is happening, where fat can be cut, and how you can improve. You will uncover which processes do not add value and therefore can be subtracted from your business. And this is a great way to efficient problem-solving.

The “five whys” is an iterative interrogative technique used in LEAN to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. But sometimes one why is enough to uncover is something is a wasteful activity. If you cannot argue why you are doing it consider if you should be doing it at all. Consider reading our guide to creating a process hierarchy.

Alright – let’s move on.

Process hierarchy

Take your processes a step further with organized virtual flows

Creating a process hierarchy is of course essential. But what if you could dive deep into visualizing each process just like an assembly line?

A few years back the founder of Ryanair Michael O’Leary needed a new strategy for their passenger flights process. Instead of pouring thousands of euros into adding new features into the flights, he mapped out and reviewed their process and subtracted unnecessary features from it – travel agents, paper tickets, allocated seating, free drinks and snacks. It might have been considered a crazy move back then, but due to the impact, it now defaults for most airlines. And it is definitely an efficient problem-solving example.

Take the time to map out your processes, to uncover both your weak spots, but also your unnecessary activities or/and save money, just like Ryanair did. A process maps consist of activities, decisions and events. To optimize your processes, add standardized work instructions, so every employee knows how the job is done. Follow the 5S methodology and support your work instructions with videos, images, links, templates, and systems needed for the job. This can save a lot of time and unnecessary questions.

Visualized process mapping

Standard work can definitely reduce big company paralysis. We dive into that in or article on how standard work reduces complexity.

Problem-solving by subtraction doesn’t mean that you should stop innovating

Focusing on improving your already existing processes, doesn’t mean that you should give up on innovation and development. This is of course, still extremely important. But remember, you CAN innovate by subtraction!

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