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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Avoid These Common Problem Solving Pitfalls

Finding the best solutions to problems is a necessary skill for navigating the changes that are continuously affecting our company. Organization that take a proactive and structured approach to problem solving position themselves to overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities. This approach comes from making a concerted effort to avoid the following five common problem-solving mistakes.

Pitfall 1: Involving the wrong people

Often when a problem needs to be solved, a team is quickly pulled together of people who may have done this kind of thing before and those who have the spare capacity. While the logic in this decision making is clear, it doesn’t actually lead to the best teams.

Your best man for the job might be disappearing under work, but if the problem is strategically significant to the business it should be more important to clear his decks than to find someone else.

If the right people are not involved from the start your problem may not be solved as quickly or efficiently as you want, which could make the rest of your employees disengage from the process.

Pitfall 2: The problem isn’t clear

Sometimes the problem is more a lack of coherence about what actually needs to be done, rather than any direct issues with the ability of the team.

Poor project goals such as solve the sales issue or reduce scrap rates are fine as ultimate goals or outcomes, but they are too vague to actually tackle the problem. Often when problem statements are written in this way the project encounters issues as the person running the project doesn’t know if they are fixing the right problem, they can’t know when they’re finished working on it as they have no yardstick and if they have no clear starting point it will be tough to prevent the issue returning.

Problems need to be articulated clearly to indicate exactly what the issue is so instead of reduce the scrap rates the project should aim to reduce the scrap rate from 30% to 5% by the end of the year.

Pitfall 3: Lack of data

This brings us nicely to the next pitfall; a lack of data. Imagine you know exactly what the problem is – the sister factory in Germany is producing output with a higher defect rate, or the customer representatives in London are reporting a sharp drop in repeat business – you should be able to get to work identifying the cause and solving the problem.

But the only reason you know this problem exists is through anecdotal evidence – you’ve not collected any hard data on it. If you start to make improvements now, it will be impossible to know when you’ve done enough to achieve an acceptable defect rate, and it won’t be possible to show how much you’ve reduced the defect rate by.

Without hard evidence, it will be challenging to show that any new processes are actually an improvement so it won’t be long before people slide back into old habits.

Pitfall 4: Addressing a symptom not root cause

Brainstorming sessions are great for getting ideas flowing, but activity should not be mistaken for achievement. Finding solutions that don’t address the root of the problem only leads to more problems in the long run.

Pitfall 5: No systematic / scientific approach

Rather frequently, companies – notably management – demand swift action when facing a problem. Well, there is nothing wrong with a bias for action but what often results is “cutting corners” in the rank and file. Finding the best solutions starts with having a structured approach to problem solving. Of all things needed to foster a problem solving culture, training is the most important, allowing and expecting associates to be systematic. Socratic questioning works best! The reason is simple: the problem is usually smarter than us and will always win over shortcuts.

Effective problem solving doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time, commitment and a methodical approach. Businesses can fall into these pitfalls with problem solving if they fail to give the issue at hand the correct level of priority and importance. Remember, for every month this problem continues, your business could be losing out!

People love to solve problems. However, people will avoid problem solving situations when they are unsure of how to approach the issue. If we keep in mind the practical rules of problem solving, we shouldn’t shy away from any business puzzle.

Just don’t put the cart before the horse.

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