How do you know when you have problem solving problems?

Most people are taught to jump right into a problem and produce solutions. Root cause analysis is against our human nature. We have a tendency to take short cuts and go for the quick fix. We would rather try and fix the problem right away, than try to understand why the problem began in the first place. Yet, without identifying the root cause(s) of a problem, today’s complex and interconnected problems can not be unwound enough to be effectively solved–we settle for temporarily “effective” countermeasures and the same problem continues to show up again and again. This is when you know you have problem solving problems.

Another way to know you have problem solving problems is that people continue to bring every problem to you (or another guru) before even attempting to solve (or diagnose) it.  If your people aren’t confident enough in their problem solving abilities to even start trying to solve a problem, then it’s time to build an effective problem solving process and train them in how to use it.

TSD can help you discover if your problem solving is less effective than it should be and then be your partner in the development and implementation of a lean problem solving culture.  We have workshops and can provide coaching, assessments, and other resources.  Contact us and we’ll be glad to work with you.

Is there an effective problem solving approach that can be used in any business?

If the approach you are looking for is a recipe — “do it exactly this way every time” — then you will be disappointed.  Problem solving is situation dependent.  You should only do those things that make sense to do and no more.  Busy work and box checking waste time and obscure the purpose of problem solving: solving problems.

So if effective problem solving is not a formula, what is it?  Effective problem solving, as captured in the book Solved! An Approach to Situational Practical Problem Solving consists of five principles to guide problem solvers and the complementary steps that must be completed.

The five fundamental principles of problem solving:

  1. Be objective; think like a scientist.
  2. See for yourself the problem or situation and where it is occurring.
  3. Delay solving the problem until you fully understand it.
  4. Establish a cause-and-effect relationship based on facts rather than opinions.
  5. Continue asking “Why?” until you can address the root cause of the problem.

How do you know if this problem solving approach is right for your business?

This is the problem solving approach that Toyota developed to teach problem solving in North America, but putting aside the originator of Lean for a moment, here is a comparison of this problem solving method and traditional problem solving methods:

Situational Practical Problem SolvingTraditional Problem Solving
1.       Flexible1.       Rigid
2.       Reactions to problems and follow-up decisions are quick and evidenced based2.       Reactions to problems and follow-up decisions are slow to happen and not always evidenced based
3.       Uses few steps but follows a logical sequence3.       Uses many steps to solve a problem
4.       Challenges the status quo and allows for a more competitive organization4.       Allows for and accepts the status quo
5.       Less project-oriented and based more on solving the problem now…not much later5.       Very project-oriented with much time involved
6.       Questions everything6.       Questions some things
7.       Continuously monitors the problem (checkpoint)7.       Short-term monitoring
8.       Problem analysis occurs on the floor, in the area where the problem is being experienced (Gemba)8.       Problem analysis occurs in rooms
9.       Sets aside pre-conceived notions of the problem9.       Generally accepts pre-conceived ideas of the problem
10.    Separates fact from fiction10.    Does not always use facts
11.    Develops future thinking. Looks at things that are not yet problems, but are still not quite right. Left unattended they may develop into serious problems.11.    Reactively addresses problems once they become serious
12.    Doesn’t accept experience until the person has mastered situational practical problem solving. Once situational problem solving is ingrained, then experience is used to more quickly solve the problem.12.    Generally accepts experience first to solve the problem
13.    Little paperwork involved. More oriented toward solving the problem than filling out paperwork.13.    Usually much paperwork involved
14.    Problem solving is done based on what makes sense to do next14.    Problem solving is usually done by memory of the steps to solve the problem or using a job aide (form)
15.    Addresses the actual root cause15.    Often addresses the symptoms and not the root cause

Who needs it?

Everyone encounters problems and needs to learn the skills to solve them.  To that extent, Situational Practical Problem Solving is a resource for anyone and any problem.  In business, there are two types of people that are most interested in the advancement of problem solving within their organizations.  The first are executives and managers.  These high-level leaders understand that there is a pressing need to develop problem solvers within their businesses.  The symptoms that bring this need to the surface can be things like:

  • the realization that the same problems continue to reoccur and are never truly solved, and
  • the constant need for their direct leadership of problem solving activities (or the leadership of problem solving “gurus”) for problems that subordinate managers and team members should be able to solve themselves.

For the development of their subordinates, the long-term benefit of the business, and to recapture whitespace in their daily calendars, executives and managers must have a keen interest in the development of effective problem solving skills in their organizations.

The second type of persons that are most interested in problem solving are practitioners within corporate offices responsible for Lean or Operational Excellence.  The reason businesses have these offices is for the deployment of critical business skills across the organization — top among these skills is problem solving.  A practitioner may want to study problem solving to:

  • Improve their own skills and learn new methods
  • Develop the ability to effectively teach these skills and coach others to be self sufficient

If practitioners are effective in deploying problem solving skills, the business benefits and moves towards a leaner and more efficient culture.

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by Tom Adair

In Solved! An Approach to Situational Practical Problem Solving, Tom carefully walks you through the Toyota-based method for getting to a problem’s root cause, provides step-by-step instructions with real-life examples, explains each principle along the way, and provides a strategy for implementing and sustaining your countermeasures so they become permanent fixes to your most challenging problems.

Check out the TSD blogs on Problem Solving!