Tuning Your Problem Solving Approach

Running into problems is inevitable. No organization is perfect 100% of the time, but maintaining an effective framework for problem solving is a key factor in the success of many companies. When you don’t have a solid framework or problem solving process established, companies risk running into issues is that are just not worth it to ignore.

The ability to solve major problems, before and after they occur, is a valuable asset to a company’s bottom line. Many successful businesses understand the importance of this; but many more are operating on a whim without a plan and simply hoping for the best when a problem shows up and needs to be dealt with. It is a mistake for your organization to not have a framework for solving problems, one that can be very costly as more and more issues pile on.

However, when you view problems as potential opportunities, it can be an effective form of process improvement for your business, and a great way to expand your knowledge in how to pinpoint and prevent crises before they occur.

Though there are a number of different problem-solving approaches that your company could choose to utilize; One of the more effective approaches is also one of the most straightforward. When your organization runs into a problem, or is looking to prepare for the next one, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Determine the root cause.
  3. Develop alternatives and strategies for solving the problem.
  4. Choose the best solution and implement it.

With this 4 step approach to solving company issues, any business or team should have no problem (pun intended) when it comes to facing these crises.

Define The Problem

If you don’t know what the problem is, how can you solve it? Before you start devising strategies for tackling the issue, you should define the problem and seek to understand which aspects of the situation should be prioritized. Right off the back, you need to figure out what the central issue is and focus on it. You don’t want to waste your time and efforts with smaller issues that are irrelevant to your larger ones. Keep it simple, narrow and focused.

Once the central problem is identified, your team should measure the potential impact or consequences of what ignoring this problem could be. It is important for a company to know exactly what is the risk and what is at stake in neglecting your biggest issues. You should ask yourself if this is a recurring problem and at what frequency does it keep appearing? During this stage, it can be helpful to utilize visual tools for prioritizing and measuring the frequency of a recurring problem.

Understand why you are trying to devise a solution to this problem. Is it due to a frequent problem that continues to be a source of frustration for your business? Does it have to do with trying to figure out why your not gaining more customers? Or losing too many of them? When identifying your reasons for decision making in the face of major issues, you need to try and eliminate your less important reasons and focus on those that will have the biggest impact on process improvement and problem resolution. Now that you have your central issues identified and your problem defined, the next step is to look into the different aspects of the issue and determine the root cause.

Determine The Root Cause

Problems usually start small, but when ignored can grow into a major disruption in workplace efficiency. Some problems are short-term and easily solvable. Other problems can last a very long time and end up involving either a single person or huge groups of people.

For instance, ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft identified that there was a market opportunity with the increasing amount of people using smartphones in everyday life. In the past, you used to have to call a cab and then tell an operator where you want to go. Then Uber and Lyft devised a more efficient and convenient application-centric way of calling for transportation. They recognized that people wanted a more efficient and streamlined process, and successfully implemented their own solutions to the inefficiencies facing the taxi cab market. They created a long-term solution to a widespread societal inefficiency.

While this example focuses on innovative companies, their approach should be noted. By dissecting the problem and identifying the root causes of why groups of people, or individuals, are unhappy with a concept or service, innovative companies can come up with new and improved solutions to help people overcome these hurdles in their everyday life.

Develop Problem-Solving Strategies

One you identify your reasons for decision making, now is the time to devise a strategy for engaging and addressing these problems when they emerge. While brainstorming your potential strategies, weigh out the pros and cons of each with your team. Your stakeholders should be playing a significant part in this process, especially if the problem is increasingly complex and impacts many different individuals and groups in the organization.

Once you have come up with a few alternatives and have a strategy identified, your team should work on getting a test run going to analyze the impact of the solution. This is a time when you want to review and measure out the results to see how effective your solution is. Gathering feedback from those affected by the problem is important for getting a consensus idea of its potential impact. If it is inadequate for solving the problems facing your company, then you should go back to the drawing board and try or devise another alternative.

Effective problem solving strategies often tie back to effective defining the problem and understanding it’s root cause. If the wrong problem is defined, then the solution and subsequent strategy may not have the same level of effectiveness. Similarly in the problem is correctly defined by the root cause is incorrectly identified, the strategy may not address key issues that need to be resolved.

Choose The Best Solution & Implement It

If your team has adhered to the step-by-step process thus far, then you should have some solid solutions developed by this point, and be ready to decide on the best one to implement. Your ultimate decision should benefit everybody while not leaving anyone feeling alienated or ignored. Upon implementation, keep an eye on the impact it is has on your company over time. Keeping track of your data, measuring the results and re-evaluating your implemented solution on a regular basis is a key component to the success of this problem solving process. Solutions require maintenance over time and may need to change in the future. Getting regular measurements and feedback about the solution is key to being able to either maintain or evolve the strategies in place.

As stated earlier, no company is perfect and it is nearly impossible to run a business without running into major issues. Some of these are bigger than others, and some of them are small but still annoying. One thing is clear. Ignoring these problems will lead to a situation that can end up being a drag on your company’s bottom line, competitive nature and morale. Managing these problems is crucial to the success of your business. Taking an effective problem-solving approach, when done properly, will add a huge amount of value to your company.

Piece Contributed By Brian Glassanos