Managers and employees often struggle to solve complex problems when they believe they can “figure it out as they go”. This casual approach may work when tackling a simple problem that can be accomplished over a short period of time. However, corrective actions for more complex, long-term issues should instead be planned out ahead of time by using a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited) gap closure initiative.
Such an initiative allows organizations to fix (close) a complex problem (gap) by setting a series of specific, time-limited, and measurable goals that represent a targeted process toward solving the final, overall issue at hand. The beauty of this method is that it allows managers to evaluate progress at any point in the problem-solving process.
To begin, set an achievable overall goal supported by a particular business strategy: for example, to reduce downtime on a piece of machinery by 10% within 180 days in order to boost operational excellence. Next, establish specific milestones or SMART goals that, upon completion, will reduce downtime by 10%. This way, progress can be assessed not only on day 180, but also on day 60, 150, and so on. The objective should also be quantified or “dollarized” so that the initiative’s bottom line benefit to the organization remains clear throughout the entire process.
The sample Initiative Plan here has space to list each individual milestone as well as start and completion dates. Because it requires signatures from both a submitter and a supervisor, the plan ensures that deadlines and methods for completion remain reasonable. And even if the overall goal is missed, the supervisor can still determine if the steps were taken as agreed upon.
Thus, whereas a casual “figure it out as you go” approach to problem solving does not present a clear path to success and certainly does not allow managers to effectively measure results, the SMART gap closure initiative breaks a big problem into small, achievable bits in an organized manner that allows managers to check for progress every step of the way.