Everyone is a problem solver, and everyone solves problems differently. You get your problem solving skills from mom and dad at home and practicing trial and error solutions. We’ve all been victims of these types of methods; resulting in car repair bills that cost 5 times as much because the self-repair method didn’t work… and the neighbor’s method made it worse.

Here are several ideas that expert problem solvers use to make sure they hit the nail on the head the first time:

1. It is really a problem? Often workers embark on a problem solving quest and can’t figure out why things don’t fit right. They have some data and a process, but it just doesn’t add up. The reason; what they are working on is not a problem.

A true problem has 3 questions that need to be answered.

  • Is there a deviation between what should be happening, and what is actually happening. A piece of equipment that always produces a 1000 parts a day, now is only producing 800. If the answer is yes, ask the next question. If the answer is no – then chances are you are actually trying to make a decision or plan a project.
  • Second question, is cause unknown? If you know what is the cause of why the piece of equipment is only producing 800 parts, then just put a plan in place and fix it. If you don’t know the cause, use the last question.
  • Do you need to know the cause to take effective action right now? If you still have no clue, and you don’t know which way to turn, get the problem solving process moving immediately. If you can do activities, such as contain what is bad, get those in place and then get the problem solving process moving.

2. The problem solving process must be fact-based to be solid. There a so many different ways to attack a problem. Workers have used fishbone diagrams, mind mapping, and deductive reasoning, yet many times the problem persists. The process must have factual data as the eliminator or the process will fail. Fish bones are great at collecting possible causes, but how does it eliminate the causes to the one single factor? It doesn’t. There is only a couple of problem solving techniques that actually, factually find root cause with data. We teach this at Leadership Initiatives and it is the same process NASA used to bring Apollo 13 home. Gathering data and facts are like gathering DNA, and then whatever the true cause is, it will match the DNA.
3. Trying to solve 10 problems with a single solution. The biggest mistake people make is when they get handed a problem, they really are being handed a bunch of problems. And that leads to trying to find a single cause for all of them. Once the worker is finally frustrated with all of this, they just make an assumption, present their findings and the problems continue. In the Leadership Initiatives Problem Solving class, we teach workers to expose all the different problems they are facing and then start with the top priority problem and eliminate it to root cause, put the fix in place, then move to the second. If this is done well, those ugly problems that keep reappearing begin to be eliminated.
Leadership Initiatives’ Problem Solving class is world class learning aimed at making workers expert problem solvers. We follow the Six Sigma DMAIC process, but since 82% of a company’s problems are daily problems, we target solving those instead of long term projects. We teach gathering data and facts that will eliminate the problem and not just throw a band aid at the problem.