7 Steps to Problem Solving

Author: Vincent Bull in: Management

January 9, 2023

7 Steps to Problem Solving

With the ongoing goal of improved productivity and minimal waste, it helps to have a method that helps you understand and resolve problems that exist in your processes and functions. Of course, as part of Lean, there is the method for continuous improvement.

Kaizen Method and PDCA

 

Finding and solving problems is, in essence, the goal of the Kaizen method. The idea is to continuously improve your processes to solve any problems within them in a virtuous cycle of increasing productivity and efficiency.

However, just saying you know there is a problem that needs solving is only half the battle. The crucial part is understanding the problem. Or even if the problem you think you have is the actual problem.

6 Steps to Problem Determination

Find the Problem

The first step is quite obvious. You have to establish the problem and its context. This can be done with the simple act of asking questions. Things like:

  1. Why is this a problem?
  2. What are we trying to solve?
  3. Are there any constraints to the problem/ solution?
  4. What other processes depend on the problem/ solution?
  5. Are there specific words or logic that can improve the outcome?
  6. Is there an action associated to the problem?
  7. How urgent is the solution?
  8. How precise must the solution be?
  9. Are there ideal conditions for the desired outcome?
  10. What outside forces are impacting the decision?
  11. Can we explore other venues or outcomes?

These are just some examples of questions that can impact your solution to the problem and understanding the problem itself. Once you have a firm grasp of the problem, you will be ready to move more efficiently towards a better solution.

Disassemble the Problem

Once the problem is established and understood, try to break the problem down into smaller, logical, chunks, and then review those chunks to see if they can be broken down again. This allows you a different outlook at a separate issue and helps you understand which team to assign the solution to.

A technique that can often help with the disassembling step is the logic tree.

Prioritize Problem Branches

With the problem divvied up between your team, be sure to understand how important each branch of the tree is and how it will impact the overall outcome.

By adding a priority to the various branches of your logic tree, you can ensure that your team will not spend time arguing about a branch that is minor, has no impact on the urgency, or cannot be changed.

Plan the Work

Leaving the plan entirely to the team can have disastrous consequences. While planning can seem tedious, it is an imperative part of the process that ensures your staff know what you expect of them. There are a few things to watch out for when planning and assigning work to your staff. Your plan of action should be:

  • Inline with the level or precision that the solution calls for
  • Within the allotted time frame
  • With the desired result for the stakeholders
  • Short and quick
  • Aware of team biases, like: anchoring, optimism, sunflower, etc.

You should also be weary of the level of action assigned. Is the proposed solution a surface level fix that will require you to take further action? Is there a more in-depth action that can be taken that will cut down longer term expenses at the cost of the current quarter?

Finally, you should be conscientious of solution-context. That is, be aware of “This solution worked here when this person implemented it and this problem is close enough that it should work too.” Context changes. What worked before, or staff that performed well in a certain area before, may not always engage in the same manner if some conditions have been changed.

Analyze the Process

Now that your team has been assigned work and they know what branch has priority, they can start analyzing and resolving their portion of the puzzle while contributing to the others.

Resolving an issue is rarely a simple thing. Problems come from in all chapes and sizes and often the solution to the core problem is not transparently visible. Here, starting with a method like the 5 Whys can help you and your team think critically about the problem and analyze the possible solution.

5 Whys

 

Summarize the Analysis

With the analysis of the process complete to you and your team’s satisfaction, distill the resulting information down to an easy to understand and easy to digest summary.

Develop the solution

Now that you have both a detailed and a summarized understanding of the problem, you can begin to develop a solution to the problem that will satisfy all stakeholders.

Conclusion

By asking the right questions and planning how your team will engage with the problem, you can improve your problem determination and resolutions in a way that will improve your outcomes and your stakeholder satisfaction.

Agree/ Disagree? Tell us what you think below!

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