Problem Solving: Sketching it makes Sense

May 16, 2017 9:07 am
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We only retain 7% of what we hear and around 10% of what we read, so when it comes to the other 80% or so we need to make best use of it! Visual aids and learning by teaching someone what you have learned make up a big chunk of the remainder. It’s worth considering this when it comes to problem solving. By engaging your team in utilising this approach you can greatly increase the holistic understanding of the problem, find the root cause or failure mode, and find the best solution to solve it.

It’s very easy today to hold all your tools and information electronically. This ultimately makes your management of data easier, but you can bring the risk of locking the information away and not truly gaining its full benefit.

While having other media such as schematics, user manuals and SCADA screens is extremely helpful, getting the team to pull together a visual of the problem with pen and paper and explaining to each other their knowledge and experiences benefits the situation in several ways:

Understand the working principle. No matter the size of the team carrying out the activity, it is key that they first understand the nature of the problem. Each individual may have different skill sets and levels of knowledge, so a sketch of the scope and what the equipment does will align understanding and focus the problem solving.

Identify wear points. Going through the drawing, identifying the touch points and flow of the product through the machine, forces exerted during the process and parts designed to naturally wear will help begin to narrow the focus to the root of the problem. This can also work when wanting to define standard settings or listing bill of materials for a sub assembly or area. Using this approach can really bring the machine, sub assembly of a piece of equipment or process to life.

Share knowledge through different experience. Whether it be operations, maintenance, hygiene or quality, each will bring a key perspective to the problem, and therefore finding the solution. For example, there could be a design flaw or past modification which operationally looks fine, and can even be accessed for maintenance, but cannot be properly cleaned. This could give key insights into unlocking perspectives normally missed, or past redesigns that have not been fully documented.

Finally, it doesn’t have to be a work of art… Although some of us may aspire to be the next Banksy, your drawings don’t need to be perfect. Basic diagrams will give enough fuel to fire the discussion, unlock shared learning, and provide a ‘live’ visual aid. Let everyone have a go with the pen to explain their perspective of the problem.

In summary, problem solving is essential in driving behavioural change and improving performance. Utilise a cross-functional collaborative approach by sketching the working principle and learning from the team to bring it to life.


Written by Jeff Wilkinson, Coriolis Ltd

The Tactical Engagement Project

May 2, 2017 2:48 pm
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I like a good military adage, as one might expect after 30 years of Army service. A wry smile often creeps across my face when I hear talk of Mission Success and Taking the fight to the enemy in business. However, there are often parallels in how missions, or projects in this case, are approached.

Coriolis recently supported a major CAPEX project in which the initial engagement was a tactical one. We reacted quickly to meet a client capability requirement in a major project that was in dire need of support. The deployment time was hasty with little time for detailed planning.  The team were assembled quickly, using existing resources and deployed in a tactical role with a brief to support and drive the project to completion.

It is easy in a situation like this to assume no planning is required. The framework of the project and the group dynamic is largely set. It would be easy to simply slip into the existing team and go with the flow without disturbing the group dynamic. However, this was a tactical engagement which came about as the result of a project which was starting to show potential for failure.

A few simple tools and techniques allowed the Coriolis team to have immediate impact.

FIND (locate) the problem: Where is it taking place and in what environment am I to operate? Understand who is involved and what part they play in the project. Observe group dynamics between the stakeholders; it is useful in determining whether the issue is with relationships.

FIX (pin down) the problem: I use a simple technique. Measure each task in terms of Importance, Urgency and Growth. Acknowledge those that are important and those that have growth and start planning. Time is often at a premium but this function will lead to a fuller operational level of engagement.

STRIKE: Quick wins often turn the situation quickly. In a project such as this, the more urgent tasks need to be addressed to maintain momentum. Achieve them and then move on to deal with complexity.

EXPLOIT: All teams go through the Bruce Tucker team cycle with both internal and external team members.  It is necessary and serves to address group dynamics. In particular, I found the storming element essential. It is a struggling project and key players within the existing team have played their part in that failure for whatever reason. Strong leadership supported by good people and communication skills are key in this phase; there’s no time for egos. Start more detailed planning to build on success. Use this foothold to buy more time and secure more resources. Push out from the initial scope and react quickly to change.

Having started this project as a reinforcement, the Coriolis Team went on to become a major part of the solution, taking a leading role in both the management and execution of the project. We gained valuable experience, enhanced our credibility, and were able to build upon success, thus moving to a longer term operational and strategic level relationship with our clients.

“While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things is extraordinary” Matt Bevin


Written by Jim Richardson, Coriolis Ltd

Article by Clive Black: Coriolis’ growing relevance in the deeply foggy political UK economy

May 2, 2017 12:13 pm
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Businesses continually try to explain to politicians that the best thing they can do to create conditions to thrive is deliver economic stability. Such stability rarely comes by chance, reflecting as it does the combination of a sound macro-economic position, calm times, good governance, and a society comfortable in its own skin.

Politicians of course, are both a symptom and outcome of their own policies and the way that they listen to, reflect upon,  engage with, and represent their constituents. For some years now, the listening part has been a serial weakness of the political classes. This has allowed an increasingly divided Britain to emerge where, in the end, frustrated elements of society across these Isles have bitten back. The outcome is anything but clear and stable.

An example of politics and business overlapping is immigration; a delicate subject that requires a calm, balanced and accurate assessment of matters. Arguably, liberal policies under Blair served to keep the supply of labour high, giving many industries an easily accessible pool of highly motivated people helping to deliver sound economic growth in the UK for many years.

Indeed, that migrant workforce, largely from the EU, has often covered the fundamental cracks and deficiencies of the UK’s indigenous labour market. An inconsistent education and training system as well as an unbalanced relationship between welfare benefits and low paid work has encouraged a work shy and unskilled community.

Combined, these forces have also served to deteriorate the UK’s labour productivity, albeit many firms have been very rational in deferring capital expenditure on machinery and automation over manual processes from a profitability perspective. This is something which is too often overlooked by politicians and City economists, who collectively produce very little for the economy themselves.

David Smith, sensible economic commentator at The Sunday Times, recently compared France’s 35-hour week and restrictive labour laws to the UK’s more flexible labour process. Unemployment in France is more than 10% compared to the UK which is less than 5%. Labour productivity is much higher in France than in the UK,  perhaps because businesses automate to avoid employing people. So what do society, politicians and business folks prefer; high productivity or high employment?

Over-liberal immigration has, it turns out, revolutionised British politics. It is a prime factor in why the UK is leaving the EU. The leaving process is very difficult to predict; early signs suggest the EU is unhappy with the UK despite a democratic decision, and is also keen to discourage other departures. As such the probability of no deal between the UK-EU cannot be dismissed, which will pose considerable challenges for business.

Labour processes will be a prime area of focus because British business, individually and collectively, will be competing on changing stages in future years. Some firms will see their domestic position strengthened with import substitution opportunities, others may be challenged by new international competitors from outside the EU that operate on very low cost bases. Some firms may see bridges raised in their EU markets whilst others may seize the pressure and opportunity to seek to access the wider world as the Leave proponents suggested. Many firms, of course, will experience all of the above.

Either way, change will require entrepreneurs to be on the ball to their cost bases and particularly the role of labour and automation to a degree perhaps not seen before; noting that it is clearly the case that most businesses understand their markets, customers and competitors in this respect.

As the UK leaves the EU, new competitors and markets may require additional insight. Assuming competitive products and services whilst another debate rolls on on the knowledge economy, innovation, research and development, UK business folk will need to be well connected to the virtues and vices of international trade. Being noisy to trade association and governments alike as to the supply-side policies that they need in order to meet the claims and calls of politicians that Brexit will be alright on the night.

At the moment, the political economy is distinctly foggy as the political classes awake from their deafness and start dealing with the more direct demands of their electorate; both sides of the Atlantic and the Channel intact too. For UK business, the Scottish Referendum, the EU Referendum, and now another UK General Election represent chaos not stability.

While predicting the future is less straightforward than ever, change and volatility also brings opportunity. If the UK will be facing the wider world more so than the EU in future, businesses need to be thinking about the threats they need to confound and the opportunities that they can seize upon for future profitability. At a strategic and operational level, Coriolis faces into the emerging environment effective, determined and aligned to the needs and wants of its client base because global markets require global perspectives and competitiveness.

Written by Dr. Clive Black, Advisor to Coriolis

Are we losing our own intelligence in favour of Artificial Intelligence?

May 2, 2017 9:54 am
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I grew up thinking that on August 29th 1997, an automated system called “Skynet” would destroy all life on Earth. Whilst the apocalyptic predictions from the movie Terminator may not have happened after all, artificial intelligence certainly has. From the self-driving cars of Tesla, to the algorithms tailoring specific advertisements to your web browser, today’s automated systems are more clever, agile, intuitive (and intrusive) than ever before.

Born out of a need to satisfy the skills gap left by an ageing and shrinking population, early this year a large Japanese insurance firm announced that it was replacing the functions previously performed by 34 employees with IBM’s revolutionary Watson Explorer AI. It’s an incredible achievement and a giant leap in automated systems that will forever change the industry in perhaps the same way that the autopilot system revolutionised the airline industry. But whilst we continue to be amazed by automation and the opportunities these technologies provide us with, should we be so quick to adopt these systems without considering the broader impacts?

In order to predict how increasingly automated systems will affect our working lives in the future, we need to first learn the lessons of the past. In the 1950’s, Professor James Bright studied the human impact of automation in industry. Despite being heralded as a way of upskilling employees and boosting productivity by removing routine manual tasks, Bright found that automation was actually deskilling and demotivating employees. He concluded that the positions no longer required skilled operators as the “skill” could be built into the machine. As a result, skilled employees became bored and their skill level inevitably withered over time. Evidence is mounting that AI and automated systems are now having the same deskilling effects on the workers of today, including highly trained professionals, managers and specialists.

In 2007, British aviation researcher Dr. Matthew Ebbatson theorised that airline pilots were experiencing “skill fade” as a result of an over-reliance on autopilot. Ebbatson conducted experiments in a Boeing flight simulator where he asked pilots to perform a variety of manoeuvres under different conditions typically performed by the autopilot. The results of the experiments led Ebbatson to conclude that “Flying skills decay quite rapidly without relatively frequent practice”. As the standard industry indicator of an airline pilot’s competence is measured in “hours of flight” rather than “active flight time”, and given that up to 85% of flight time is controlled by the aircraft’s autopilot system, it’s hard to believe that airline pilots are getting “frequent practice” they require.

Minor skill fade in airline pilots can be disastrous. Autopilot-related pilot errors have been implicated in several recent air disasters, including Air France Flight 447 in 2009. The pilot incorrectly responded to system prompts after the autopilot was disengaged due to iced up wind speed sensors, ultimately sending the Airbus A330 into a stall before plunging into the Atlantic.  The conclusions from the investigation of this incident prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a warning that pilots “have become accustomed to watching things happen and reacting, rather than being proactive” and urged pilots to spend more time flying “by hand”.

Whilst the importance of Ebbatson’s findings cannot be overstated, they should not be viewed in isolation to the airline industry. Physicians can miss critical details when they rely heavily on software prompts to guide them through a patient exam (rather than following the patients narrative thread). Architects and designers can lose the aesthetic sensitivity of their craft when they rely heavily on computer aided design over more traditional, tactile methods. Engineers using automated systems can mistakenly allocate resources to the symptom of an asset fault, whereas a trained plant engineer would have first identified the problem through a root cause analysis.

Our skills get sharper when we regularly use them to overcome a diverse range of complex challenges. However, the primary goal of automated systems is to eliminate the need for us to be faced with this complexity, leaving us to complete passive, mundane tasks such as monitoring and data entry. Whilst it all sounds bleak, the choice between improving our skillset and increasing our exposure to automation doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. In his book “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us” Nicolas Carr introduces the concept of “human-centered automation” Where the talents of people take precedence. Systems are designed to keep the human operator in what engineers call “the decision loop”—the continuing process of action, feedback and judgment-making. That keeps workers attentive and engaged and promotes the kind of challenging practice that strengthens skills.

Machine learning algorithms and augmented reality have given birth to a significant development in the human-centred approaches known as adaptive automation (AA). AA monitors people’s physical and mental states and makes decisions to shift tasks and responsibilities between them and the computer. For example, if the system senses that an operator is having difficulty with a procedure, the system intervenes and reduces the workload to allow the operator to focus. When the system senses that the operator is paying less attention or becomes bored, it ramps up the person’s workload to capture their attention and build their skills.

It’s natural to be amazed by the development in automation and the power of machines, but we must also take care not to underestimate our own talents. If we continue to allow our own skills to fade by relying on machines to do our work, we are going to become far less capable and competent, resulting in a world better suited to machines than us.

Written by Sam Byrnes, Coriolis Ltd


Nicolas Carr “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us.”

Wall street journal – Automation makes us dumb

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