Problem-solving is, well, it’s often a problem, itself.
Remember a time when something happened that wasn’t planned.
And it wasn’t good.
You didn’t have extra time to clean up the mess the problem created for you, or for the customers you work so hard to get, and keep.
And yet, what choice did you have?
Much better than getting to that point, of course, is keeping problem-solving skills fresh, and solving problems while they’re still small.
That requires paying attention to the signs that there is a problem - seeking signs of trouble, if you will.
And it means taking a little time now instead of a lot of time later, when the problem and its impact on you and your customers may have grown out of control.
If your problem-solving skills need a tune-up, try these eight steps:
1. Know what it’s about
Generally, what’s the problem?
Who seems to be involved?
Who needs to be involved in designing a solution and implementing it?
What’s the impact of the problem on you and your customers?
2. Know who the solution is really for, and what they want
In the midst of the noise, uncertainty and fear that often surrounds problem-solving – especially if the problem is a big one – you need to find a clear target.
Who is the solution for?
What would they consider success to be, when you’ve solved this problem?
Are there other customers or stakeholders whose needs you need to consider as you create the best solution?
3. Get the facts
You need facts to fully understand the problem you face, and the magnitude of its impact.
What information do you have, or can you get, to help you understand the problem completely?
4. Figure out what’s really causing it
If you miss the real cause of the problem, you may, in fact, create more problems with the solution you plan to put in place.
Using the “five whys” to discover the root cause of the problem.
Ask yourself or your team why something is happening.
Now ask yourselves why that is happening…and why that is happening.
Do this until you discover the real cause of the problem.
It may be that some group or individual needs training to do a job consistently, and up to the customers’ expectations.
Maybe a process is now too complicated, or technology is out of date.
Or perhaps communication isn’t good between different parts of your company, and it’s showing up in problems that get out to the customer.
Whatever it is, the root cause of the problem is what you need to reduce or eliminate.
Until then, you’re largely wasting your time and money, going through the motions of problem-solving, rather than getting the job done.
5. Find the easiest way to make the cause go away
Envision the easiest way to make the cause of the problem go away.
Can you implement that solution, just as you envision it? If not, what’s in the way?
Take those constraints into account and create the solution that works best for your overall situation and resources.
Figure out, too, who needs to be involved in implementing the solution.
Bring them into the problem solution process early enough that they have high ownership of the solution they need to help create.
6. Know how you’ll know if the solution is working
How will you know if your solution is working while you try it out, and before you take the time and bear the expense to implement it fully?
What can you measure or observe that will let you know if the problem is actually going away with this improvement effort?
7. Give your idea a try
The only way you’ll know if your solution works is to try it out.
Pay close attention to signs of success or failure of the test, and get others to pay close attention, too, to what they see.
Evaluate the results that you find, collectively.
8. Celebrate…or try again
If the test worked, capture the process improvement or other changes you’ve made.
Then fully implement the solution throughout your company or organization.
And celebrate, if appropriate, in a valued way.
On the other hand, if the fix didn’t work, go through the process again.
It’s a safe bet that if you don’t, the problem won’t just go away. And it’s likely to grow, faster than you might imagine, affecting things in ways you might not guess.
Your best best:
Solve today’s problem today.