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Copies of this information leaflet (in English or French) can be obtained from Quality Directorate

What do you do with problems?

They are things that most people don't want to know about, apart from a few of course who make their living by them.
Why don't we like them?

  • They make life difficult
  • Someone might blame us for them
  • They spoil the routine which allows us to live our days in a dream
  • We might try to solve them and fail, which is harmful to our self-image.

So when we catch a glimpse of a problem, we have a strategy to deal with it.

  • ignore or deny it
  • hide it
  • blame it on others
  • initiate action—any action—and declare it solved
  • set up a group to solve it

Which is the correct way? Not necessarily any of these.

Whose job is it to solve problems? TML handed over the infrastructure to ET last December. No one handed over a fully-working system plus a full set of satisfied and loyal customers. We are here for that.

Whose job is it to solve problems? It must be ours. Not just management. Not just staff on the ground. There are problems at every level. Their number is indeterminate. There is no set date when they'll all be solved.

We'd be better off learning to welcome them.

Problems that we have already overcome are fine, a feather in our cap even (mÍme nous pouvons en Ítre fiers). They are like bearskin rugs on the floor, harmless trophies; whereas current unsolved problems are like angry, hungry bears roaming about in our garden, waiting to cause disaster.

Things we'd rather not think about

Problems if left unsolved may indeed cause disaster, but there's a stage short of disaster that we can learn to recognise. We may call it a loss.

Losses occur when problems are not attended to. The difference between a loss and a disaster is not so great. Disasters are merely spectacular losses that cannot be ignored.

There are various categories of loss.

  • anti-customer: something which could put a customer off from using our services
  • anti-safety: something which could threaten the well-being, health or even the life of a customer or member of staff
  • loss of revenue:—deprives ET of revenue which it is entitled to
  • unnecessary expenditure:—either gives no benefit (in relation to ET's objectives) or the benefit could have been obtained at less cost

Is there something that these losses remind you of? They bring to mind ET's objectives, in a negative way. The company wants to attract customers, keep them safe (as well as staff), keep revenue up and costs down.

A loss, then, is simply something which goes against what we're in business for, what we're here for.

So if we're actually here to prevent losses, then we're also here to deal with problems, which are at the root of all losses.

And if problems are something we'd rather not think about, we're in the wrong job!

An ideal day's work

When we start each day's work, or each shift, or perhaps an important meeting, what is our image of the most successful outcome?

For many of us, it's no problems. Our ideal day at work might finish with the following conversation :

"How was it? Any problems?"
"It was fine! No problems."

Or because of our responsibilities we may not be able to expect such an outcome in the foreseeable future. We'd be satisfied with this:

"How was it? Any new problems?"
"Hardly any! And some of the old ones have been solved."

Problems are intimately associated with our sense of well-being.

Human beings are programmed to act in face of problems, otherwise we feel discomfort.

So if we already have more than enough actions planned in our day, any new problems will be unwelcome.

We only feel discomfort in face of the problems we know about. The unknown ones are fine. Once you know something, it's hard not to know it any more!

Even so, some people are prepared to take on such challenging tasks for the sake of their peace of mind.

The two kinds of unsolved problems

There are those we know about (let's call them category 1) and those we don't (category 2). We know how many are in category 1, and they bother us. We don't know—and cannot know—how many are in category 2. We can only assume there are some. But they probably don't keep us awake at nights.

It would seem that our primary urge for comfort is at odds with the interests of ET. We feel better if unsolved problems stay unknown and in category 2. They are more dangerous to the company; but only foolish individuals roam the jungles unarmed at night. They put themselves at risk without being able to save the village.

There is a saying in English : "Grasp the nettle" (empoigner l'ortie brŻlante). By taking hold of the known problems firmly and methodically, you can deprive them of their power to sting—and you can solve them effectively as well.

And you can even set out to drag the unknown and uncounted problems into the light of day—and enjoy it too.

Methodical problem-solving

Having a system for solving problems is rather like having a dishwasher. You don't worry about an accumulation of dirty dishes in the sink. You put them away and shut the door. They're out of sight, end of worry. Of course, you have to follow a simple discipline, to ensure that clean dishes are taken out after a wash cycle, before you put any more dirty dishes in.

With a problem-solving system, you don't need to worry about the clutter of old, unsolved problems that nags you and spoils concentration on the day's tasks, which will no doubt include fresh unsolved problems.

You pop the problems in the system and the problem-solving cycle takes care of them.

Of course, there's no magic machine to do it all for you. Problems are solved by people (and caused by them, too?).

The problem-processing cycle

0   Observe the problem.
1   Feed it into the system.
2   Register it—log, assign, prioritise.
3   Analyse—decide how to solve it, find root causes,   propose solutions, check their feasibility and cost.
4   Act—authorise the corrective action, make resources  available, do the work, check it's complete.
5   Monitor effectiveness—check that the problem has been solved.
6   Close off the problem.

How it works in practice

Steps 0 and 1 can be carried out by anyone in any department. Steps 2 and 3 will be co-ordinated by a dedicated team. Step 4 will be carried out by the appropriate staff at management and working level of the department concerned. Step 5 will be carried out by someone suitably authorised and competent. Step 6 will be performed by the dedicated team responsible for steps 2 and 3.

Where to go from here

The material in this leaflet can be presented as a seminar. See also these other ET publications:

& A Toolkit for Step-by-Step Improvement (leaflet)
& Tracking System Improvements (form + instructions)
& What is ISO9002? (leaflet)
& A Problem-solving Toolkit (a loose-leaf cookbook of   29 ideas, each described on one page)


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