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Creative Corrective Actions

Whether issued by an auditor or a customer, responding to a corrective action is often a chore. Even those who embrace continuous improvement projects dread responding to a corrective action. When it comes to corrective actions, we tend to default to the action that has already been tried and trued, or rely on re-training the people. After all we all get stuck in our ways from time to time. Even if we can see a solution that will poka-yoke the process, it may be too expensive and we fall back on documentation and training. The result? The same issues eventually come back to haunt us.

The answer to this problem is creativity.

“It turns out that creativity isn’t some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few—it’s a natural part of human thinking and behavior. In too many of us it gets blocked. But it can be unblocked. And unblocking that creative spark can have far-reaching implications for yourself, your organization, and your community.”

Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

One of the benefits that years of leading software teams brought was new tools to add to my quality toolkit. Design Thinking is one that intrigued me, so I purchased David and Tom Kelley's book, "Creative Confidence" to learn more. The main idea of this book is that creativity exists in everyone and unleashing it can assist with innovation. Sometimes innovation is just what is needed to solve corrective actions, especially those that keep appearing. Next time you need to respond to a corrective action, brainstorm with a cross-functional team first. There are a few short exercises that I have used over the years to unblock people's creativity, prior to getting into a brainstorming session to solve a problem.

Create from Shapes:

If you have a little time to plan and a printer handy, this is a great exercise to get the creative juices flowing. On a single page in word processing software, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, draw a bunch of circles. The example below has evenly shaped circles that are symmetrically placed on the page, but they can be different sizes and randomly placed. Get creative and have fun with it. For each person in the brainstorming session, print a page of circles. Pass out the pages with gel pens, markers or other writing utensil. Give people 3-5 minutes to create objects using the circles. When the time is up, have everyone share their beautiful creations.

Worst Idea Brainstorming:

The worst idea brainstorming is a great option if there is not enough time to prep with circles. For this exercise, you describe the problem or finding to the team. Then you ask everyone to silently brainstorm the worst ideas to solve the problem. As an engineer, I tend to ask the leader to define the criteria for "worst". If you have people like me in your session, simply tell them that it is part of the brainstorming process to define worst for them. After people have had a chance to brainstorm silently, have people share one idea at a time until all thoughts are shared. If people are inclined, they can define "worst" as they share. The idea is that by thinking the opposite of what is desirable, it will be easier to create solutions that will solve the problem.

Fake Nicknames:

The fake nickname exercise is great for removing title barriers such as operator or manager, which can limit people's confidence to speak their mind. The facilitator in this case creates random nicknames, equal to the number of people in the room. I like to pair an adjective with a name that starts with the same letter, such as Triumphant Tanya. Fold the names and put them into a hat or box. Have each person in the group select the name, but not share. The facilitator can toss an object such as a ball or a stress object to one person. That person will share their name and create a story about how they received that nickname as a child. Then they toss the object to the next person, and so on until all people have shared. If you're up for the challenge, try to call each other by the new names for the remainder of the meeting.

Once you've warmed up the group using one of these exercises, brainstorm together solutions to the corrective action. These activities are not limited to solving corrective actions. At an offsite staff meeting, I used the fake nicknames and circle activities to launch our strategic thinking. During the staff meeting, the team created the idea for one of our most successful products: a one stop search tool that allowed engineers to find all relevant information on a part. Seems like an obvious idea, but it hadn't been done before and it was a big hit.

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