Magazine article Industrial Management

Discovering Methods to Help Break the Fire-Fighting Cycle

Magazine article Industrial Management

Discovering Methods to Help Break the Fire-Fighting Cycle

Article excerpt

That is a good idea, but I haven't got time." "I'm too busy." How many times have you heard managers make these statements?

How often have you made them yourself? Is it because you are in a crisis management or fire-fighting cycle? That is, are you so buried with operational details or problems that you do not have time to manage, to improve, to plan to control?

If you are caught in the fire-fighting cycle, the cycle can be broken. The time pressure can be reduced. Using a systematic approach, the crisis management or fire fighting cycle can be stopped. This systematic approach has been used successfully a number of times. The most striking was with the president of a small tire sales and service company. His working time was cut from an average of over 60 hours a week to less than 30 hours a week. Incidentally, during this time his sales doubled and profit tripled. Not all of the gain was due to the technique. He employed other principles.


To break the fire-fighting cycle the manager must engage in two different types of behaviors. First, the number of problems demanding the manager's immediate attention must be reduced. Second, the problem-solving approach of the manager should be changed. The tire company president mentioned earlier accomplished this transition in about nine months with the guidance of a consultant.

To reduce the number of immediate problems, the following step by step process has been successful:


The manager should identify the problems most frequently demanding time. Note, this is the most frequently occurring problem, not the problem requiring the most managerial time. The reason for choosing the most frequently occurring problem is dual. First, when the frequency of the occurrence of the problem is reduced, the manager will note a reduction in pressure. The manager will feel fewer demands, and will feel, therefore, that the approach is working. Second, interruptions are a double waste of time. The interruption itself costs time. It also takes additional time to reorientate the mind set to the original activity and to review where you were in that activity.

After the most frequently occurring problem has been identified, the manager should either:

* Prevent the problem from occurring;

* Significantly reduce the frequency of the problem;

* Routinize the solution to the problems (develop a policy or procedure) so it can be delegated; or

* Simplify the problem or its solution so it can be delegated to a subordinate to handle.

When the most frequently occurring problem has been prevented, simplified or routinized, and a solution found, the manager may test the solution for a period of time to gain confidence in the solution. Once the solution has become a part of the expectations the second step should begin.


Identify the problem most frequently demanding time. This second step is a repeat of the first step. It has been identified separately because experience has indicated that the second step is extremely important and a simple direction to repeat the first step is not strong enough to indicate its importance.

It may be advisable to repeat the frequent problem identification and solution a third or fourth time, but that determination should be made by the manager depending on the severity of the disruptive influences.


Identify the most time-consuming activity in which the manager engages. This is probably the most time-effective step to break the cycle. However, it is placed third in the sequence because had it been placed first it probably would not work as well, and if it did work well, the successful manager would feel so relieved they would not complete the entire process. This step alone will not break the fire-fighting cycle.

After the most time-consuming activity has been identified, the manager should properly analyze the problem and causes, develop possible solutions and complete the problem solving process. …

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