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Problems are generally looked at as a situation in which the current condition does not match the ‘should be’ state.

In the traditional sense, the ‘should be’ state means that something is going wrong. It can occur when customer expectations rise, or when performance slips, but in either case, there is a risk of losing something you already have.

Opportunities, similarly, are a gap in expectations, but in this case the span is between the actual state and the ‘could be’ state. Missing an opportunity will be unlikely to send you backward, at least in the short term, but there is a benefit that is not being captured.

But in the long term, what first presents as an opportunity, often eventually turns into a requirement. If not acted upon, the optional opportunity becomes a mandatory problem that you have to deal with.

Opportunities are dealt with in much the same was as a traditional problem. The problem is defined, measured, and analyzed. Possible solutions are then brainstormed to come up with potential ways to seize the opportunity. And, of course, the improvement must actually be implemented and acted upon.

But much harder than those problem solving steps is actually recognizing the opportunity in the first place. For example, consider a company that has been producing with batches for years, and has a stable customer base and is profitable. They may never see the opportunity in switching to one piece flow.

Or think about how many companies fail to track the voice of the customer data that will tell them when customers need something new. And if they are not tracking available data, it is unlikely that they are actually asking if there is anything new that the customers would like to have.

In order to find the most opportunities to improve, consider the following actions:

  • Read. Watch. Learn. Spend some time doing a little research every day. It can be overwhelming to try to cram when there is a need, but exposing yourself to something new on a consistent basis will get your gray matter churning. And working out your brain often leads to great ideas.
  • Benchmark and Tour. Find other companies you can walk through to see how they perform. Plus, you will often see some great ideas you can add to your own operation. And don’t limit your tours to companies in your industry. Many ideas and processes are universal. More exposure means more uncovered opportunities.
  • Get a mentor. I am a teacher at heart. I like sharing my knowledge. Many people are like me, and are willing to help you find opportunities. Ask around. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to share their time with you.
  • Ask your customers. If you aren’t regularly asking your customers what they want, you are missing out on a great way to find opportunities. Don’t just ask what you should do, though. Try to find their problems. Ask where they waste their time. Find out what frustrates them. Be creative in how you pick their brains, and you’ll get some great information.

  • Don’t guess about opportunities. Test out your theory before making big changes. Many times what looks like an opportunity is really a mirage.
  • Don’t pass on opportunities because of limited resources. Find a way to get the resources to capitalize on them. Hire temps. Bring in a contractor. Get some part time help. Work overtime. The point is that when there is a payoff, it makes sense to invest in it.


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