Saturday, October 20, 2007

Seven Steps to Successful Problem Solving

TEC speaker Gerry Faust says most problems are not truly solved because people don't:

1. Clearly define the "real problem" well enough.

2. Get the right people to solve the problem.

3. Use an effective problem-solving process.

In fact, you can simplify problem solving -- and succeed at it -- by following seven logical steps, which were developed by Richard L. Lyles, Ph.D., who co-authored "Responsible Managers Get Results" with Faust.

Success in Seven Steps

Faust distills Lyles' method for success at problem solving as follows:

1. Define the problem.

Identify what is wrong by including both a cause and an effect in the definition.

Questions to answer:
* What is really wrong?

* What is happening, or what isn't?

* What do we find unacceptable?

2. Define the objective(s).

What is the outcome you want to achieve as a result of solving the problem? This is your objective.

3. Generate alternatives.

This is where solutions lie, so be creative in this step.

How many alternatives can you generate? Don't try to judge them until you have come up with as many alternatives as possible.

4. Develop an action plan.

Use detail. Most action plans for tough problems involve taking several steps over a period of time.

Questions to answer:
* Who will do what?

* By what date(s)?

* How will this be accomplished?

5. Troubleshoot.

Don't get so carried away about your solution that you avoid this step.

Questions to answer:
* What could go wrong here?

* What could be the side effects?

* How can we ensure this plan will work?

Answer these questions before you proceed.

6. Communicate.

Getting information to the right people is key for getting the buy-in to make it a success.

Questions to answer:
* Which individuals or groups might affect the success of your action plan?

* Who will be impacted by it, and therefore who needs to be informed about it?

* Who will communicate with affected parties?

7. Implement.

Carry out the plan and monitor its implementation.

Questions to answer:
o Who will monitor the plan?

o Who is accountable for each part of the solution?

o What will be the consequences for failure to meet the plan?

Problem Solving vs. Decision Making

When you are using a systematic approach to sort out issues facing your company, problem solving and decision making can follow nearly the same process.

"In problem solving, the first step is to define the problem. The second step is to set the objectives or define desired outcomes," explains Faust.

"In decision making, the first step is to identify the desired outcomes. A systematic decision-making process is pretty much the same as a systematic problem-solving method."

But TEC speaker Mike Murray reminds us that -- in his view -- they are not the same thing, and should be approached separately.

"The mental processing to create the diversity needed for problem-solving is different from 'deciding,'" he says. "The word 'decide' comes from a root word that means 'to kill.' What you don't want to do is mix problem solving -- which is creating alternatives -- with decision making, which is killing alternatives."

If you are deciding while you are problem solving, you may prematurely eliminate alternatives that are workable.

No comments: