illustration of businesswoman in a fireman's hat., with words 'My job is to put out fires'.

Symptoms vs Problems
What’s the difference?

By Larry Chester
Computer Systems , Internal Controls , Inventory Management , Reporting and Metrics 0 comment Like

“We can’t print packing slips, but let’s not worry about that now, just get that skid into the truck!”

Business owners are constantly putting out fires. They know the underlying issues, and understand that they haven’t resolved them for a variety of reasons. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • There’s no money to throw at the problem.
  • We don’t have the knowledgeable staff to resolve the issue.
  • It’ll take too much time to fix it. We need to keep the business moving.
  • OK, I really don’t know HOW to resolve it. Just keep working.

So, here’s the question. Are you trying to solve a symptom or the real problem?

It’s easy to know whether you’re facing a symptom or a problem when it’s a personal matter. When your nose runs, it’s a symptom of your problem – a cold. When you open your fridge and there’s nothing inside, it’s a symptom of your problem – you haven’t gone shopping.

But when your business is facing issues, how do you know if you need a piece of tissue or an antibiotic? The question is this – Does the issue keep repeating itself?

  • Symptom: You try to buy something on credit, and they turn you down.
    Problem: You don’t have a good credit rating.
  • Symptom: The detailed report on your inventory doesn’t match your general ledger.
    Problem: Company operations are improperly receiving or relieving inventory at the right value or quantity.
  • Symptom: Your production variance account this month is positive $25,000. Last month it was negative $27,000. Every month it swings up and down.
    Problem: Your production software or operation procedures aren’t accurately processing production orders, calculating standard costs, or adjusting for changes in production.

When an issue keeps repeating itself, that’s a symptom. It keeps repeating because there’s a problem that needs to be resolved. If you decide to ignore the symptom, you ARE paying a price – every time it occurs. The correct solution is to dive in and get the help you need to resolve the problem.

Your company will operate more smoothly, and you will save money each time the problem doesn’t repeat itself, to say nothing about your not having to deal with putting out that fire ever again.

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