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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

6 Mistakes to Avoid When Problem Solving

Every day we face challenges and problems in life, both big and small, and so it’s very important to be good at tackling them. However, that can be easier said than done, and if we make one of these mistakes when trying to solve a problem, we might make the situation worse instead.

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 six common problem-solving mistakes.

Mistake 1: Not Involving the Right People

When the right people are excluded from the problem-solving process, the proposed solutions can be one-sided or limited. Different perspectives help to better understand the problem at hand. Resist the trap of allowing busy schedules and a desire for quick resolution to allow people to be excluded. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be involved. Progress may be slower when too many people participate. The most effective problem solving teams include representatives from various levels in the firm who share their perspective and insights.

Mistake 2: Lack of Alignment

Certain people may agree that a problem exists, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same problem in mind. People often have different expectations, opinions on issues and goals, and potential solutions. Effective problem solving requires getting everyone on the same page. When this doesn’t happen, there is a risk of running in different directions – this means that everyone may cross a finish line, but no one wins the race. Take the time to define and document issues and get alignment before attempting to solve a problem. The result will be better solutions.

Mistake 3: Looking for Blame Instead of Prevention

People don’t wake up intending to create problems during their work day. Errors do occur at work, but the overwhelming majority is unintentional. “Blame” is sometimes confused with “accountability,” and accountability within an organization has come to refer to disciplinary action. Accountability actually means taking responsibility for actions and instigating specific steps so the problem is less likely to occur again—and it does not require punishment. The blame-and-punish approach teaches others in an organization that, if they make a mistake, they should make sure no one finds out.

Mistake 4: Lack of Clarity

Many times, a problem solving team is assembled and they immediately discuss possible causes or solutions. Team members may have different information or a different understanding of the problem. Discussions are confusing, disjointed and inefficient. We do not have a common purpose. Rushing into analysis with a vague problem statement is a clear formula for long hours and frustrated customers.

Create a clear problem statement devoid of an unnecessary or distracting description. A clear problem statement contains an OBJECT (the thing which has the problem) and the DEFECT (undesirable condition or defect). The famous inventor, Charles Kettering, stated, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” Once we have this statement, we can start asking “why” questions to dig deeper into the causes, and all team members have a common focus and understanding.

Mistake 5: Assuming There is A Singular Cause

Most incorrectly believe that root-cause analysis ultimately finds one cause. When asked to define a root cause, they typically say, “It’s the one thing that caused the problem to happen.” A longer explanation might go as follows: “Root cause is the fundamental cause that, if removed or controlled, prevents the problem from occurring.” More significant than just a “cause,” they say, the root cause, if eliminated, prevents the problem from occurring. This seems reasonable, but in reality it’s just not accurate.

Mistake 6: Lack of a Problem Solving Method

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.

Root cause analysis is a fact-based methodology. Many of the problem solving tools are similar. 5Whys, Ishikawa Fish-bones, 8Ds for automotive, A3 for Lean, PDCA, DMAIC for Six sigma….All “logically” based fact systems and follow how the basic "instinctive" brain works, you set a goal, brain storm ideas, evaluate it, you do it, and see whether it works. The difference is the level of complexity. This is why PDCA is a cycle, in every turn you can understand different parts of the problem. The more complicated the problem or the improvement, the more you need to repeat the cycle.

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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