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10 September 2015

The Stress Free Approach To Problem Solving

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes” so said the famous industrialist Henry Kaiser. A quote I think, sums up perfectly a great attitude to problem solving.  In my 20+ years advising senior business people, I’ve seen time and again how robust problem solving can dramatically improve decision maker’s effectiveness. It can save you time, money and strengthen your confidence.  Ultimately, it drives your business forward every single day.


The IDEAL 5 Step Approach to Problem Solving

When you come up against a problem the temptation is to get caught in its headlights. You can be so consumed by the problem itself that you end up in a vicious circle of fire fighting, instead of nipping it in the bud. Use the simple IDEAL five step approach to problem solving to break this cycle. 

I: Identify the problem

Start with the consequences that are causing the fire fighting. What is it you’re trying to prevent happening. Is it a regular cause of client complaints, a machine persistently breaking down or excessive overtime?

You need to identify where the problem is originating. Gather background information and look for trends and patterns. For example, do the breakdowns occur most frequently on the night shift, are all the overtime hours in one department, or are the customer complaints tending towards a specific product or team member?  Without data you’re fumbling in the dark, and managing on gut feel which end up with a negative blame culture.

D:  Define and Quantify

Now you know what the problem is, you need to get a handle on precisely how, why or where it arises.

Trace all the issues you’ve identified back to the root cause, and continue gathering information to quantify the frequency and magnitude of the problem. This may be the number of complaints, hours of machine downtime and lost production, or how many people working how much overtime. Quantify the financial cost of these causes. Look for trends and patterns over time to help pinpoint the cause.

This may take days, weeks or even months to get to grips with.  You should involve the team in analysing what’s going wrong as you’re more likely to get their buy-in once the root causes begin to emerge.  These may highlight where the team need to change the way they are working, and that can be a daunting prospect.

Detailed data puts you in a stronger position to put the problem in perspective – decide whether it’s a significant issue with high hidden costs, or isn’t having much impact so leave it for now, but monitor the problem as part of your key metrics.  The decision point will be whether the benefits outway the costs in time and resources to find and apply a solution? 

E:  Explore the Options

Once you’ve uncovered the root cause, you can begin to assess possible courses of action.  Involve your team, as the best ideas can come from those closest to the problem, but sometimes employees don’t feel it’s their place to speak out. Everybody has different perspectives.  A fresh set of eyes looking at a problem may see a solution that you might have overlooked or not considered.

Draft a shortlist of options and brainstorm the pros and cons of each.  Identify the steps, money, staff or time you’ll need to allocate to put each possible solution into action.  For example, how viable is it? Will it cost anything? Are there any potential negative outcomes? Could any proposed changes create a problem further down the line?

“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action.

You just have to find it.

When you come to a roadblock, take a detour”

Mary Kay Nash.

If the solution appears relatively risk free it’s always worth running a trial.  Tweak and fine-tune the changes over a short test period, to give a better idea of whether it’s going to work in the long term or not.  You may prefer to prioritise cost over time, or risk over cost.

A:  Act on the plan

Now it’s time to take action.  Use your team. Involving more people opens up a wider range of skillsets to draw from. Decide which individual would be most suited to which task and deploy them accordingly.

Throughout the process, keep your team, clients and other stakeholders up to date on progress. The more transparent you are, the more confident your stakeholders will be to follow your lead. 

L:  Look at the Consequences

Now monitor the ongoing effects and outcomes of the changes you’ve made. If the problem is starting to resolve itself, or at least reduces, then you’ve achieved the objective and should continue doing more of the same.

If the problem persists, loop back to step E of exploring the other options on your solutions list and try alternatives. The more you look into the process the more you’ll be able to avoid the same problem happening again and, if it does, you’ll be able to refine your action plan to address it.

Now that you have found a way to deal with your most pressing problem, review the entire process and the lessons learned.  Debrief your team and foster a culture of “didn’t we do well” – this breaks down barriers for future problem solving initiatives. Encourage even the most junior staff to step up and be confident to suggest new ways of working.

The secret is not to get caught in the problem’s headlights. By taking stock and applying these simple steps you can go a long way to improving the effectiveness of your problem solving.


Your Next Steps to Greater Productivity

Alluxi is here to offer you support, bringing a facts and figures approach to evolve your business and realise your goals.  As a first step towards identifying your current business challenges and evaluating where your future opportunities exist within your business, we invite you to complete the in-depth Alluxi Business Success Scorecard focussing on the 10 key areas of a successful business.

Take 15 minutes to respond to the scorecard and get your results within minutes.  You’ll be invited to book a follow-up 1-2-1 Productivity to Profit Breakthrough Session to find out how you can implement rapid and measurable improvements.

Click here to take the Alluxi Business Success Scorecard now


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