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Sucessful Problem Solving Print
How do you solve problems?
  • Knee-jerk reaction
  • Ignore them and hope they will resolve naturally
Or, do you,
  • Systematically find and implement the best solution...
Well No1 sometimes works, especially if you have years of similar experiences.

No2 can work, but it's not efficient or effective and for sure not the professional project manager's approach.

So we are left with No3 - the systematic approach and this guide will give you all the necessary tools and techniques to do it this way.

Solving problems is not a 5 minute exercise and for sure you cannot do it alone especially if you want your team to accept and implement the  end solution.

How long it takes depends on the size of the problem. How deep to analyze the causes depends on the complexity. And how much effort to expend depends on the seriousness.

Defining the final solution could take hours, or days, or even months.

One Step at a a Time

The following processes need to be completed, in sequence to find the right solution to a problem.

problem solving

 Problem Solving Process

 

Lets take a deeper look into each of these steps.

Identify the Problem

The idea is to get a clear understanding of the problem and to do that you have to involve the people that are experiencing the problem and those that are affected by its outcome.

Brainstorming is the most suitable tool to use at this stage. A brainstoring session needs to be conducted in a relaxed, informal environment and led by an experienced facilitor, preferably not involved in the problem area.

The output of the brainstorming session will be a whole list of ideas, thoughts and statements. These ideas are then grouped into similar themes. 

The output from this step is a number of clear unambiguous problem statements.

A problem statement describes the gap between where we are now and where we want to be and by when. It describes the problem, not the cause of the problem. It includes quantities: how much, how often. It uses exact terms and explains why solving the problem is so important.

Each problem statement is then further analyzed. 

Analyze the Problem

The purpose of this step is to fully understand the problem and to define the current performance gap caused by the problem.

The most important task here is to collect data about the problem.

Who is affected, what is affected, when does the problem occur, how does it happen, how many times it happens. Ask the usual, what, when, how and why type questions. Using the data collected will help to investigate every aspect of the probelm, visualize the problem and help identify the root causes.

The output from this step is a visual description of the present status of the problem, shown using graphs, flow charts and tables.

it is important here to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions. Look at the data from every angle to fully understand the problem 

Determine Causes

The purpose of this step is to find the true cause of the problem. Start by identifying all possible cause using the information collected in the previous step. Maybe group the possible causes into similar themes. Select the most likely causes for further investigation.

The output from this step is the root cause or causes of the problem with evidence and data to back up the conclusion.

Again, avoid jumping to conclusions, keep asking, 'Why?' 'Why? 'Why?' digging deeper and deeper, until exhaustion and then base your decision on facts.

Develop Solutions

The purpose of this step is to develop solutions that are most likely to resolve the identified problem. 

This is a team effort and for sure more than one solution will be identified. Selecting the most suitable solution will be based on various factors including, time, cost and resources needed.

The output from this step is a clearly defined and documented solution.

To make sure the solution fits the problem, compare the original problem statement against the proposed solution. Make sure the solution is practicable and maybe run a trial or pilot scheme before full implementation. 

Make an Action Plan

Yes, you knew it was coming, but it is the only way to make sure nothing is left out during the implementation.

The purpose of this step is to create an agreed plan of actions that will result in the effective and efficient implementation of the agreed solution.

The output from this step is a documented, agreed and widely communicated plan of actions.

Include action point owners and time schedules. Follow it with religous discipline.Make sure all action point owners know what they need to do and how their results affect other activities. Also consider contingency plans and fall-back procedures.

Implement the Plan

Now comes the easy part.

The purpose of this step is to negate the problem or improve the situation to the agreed level by disciplined implementation of the agreed solution.

The output from this step is the completion of the agreed actions, disappearance of the problem and documentation of the progress throughout the implementation phase.

Include in the time schedule review milestones. Be flexible, maybe during the implementation a change to the plan is identified and agreed. Document the changes and communicate the progress.

Evaluate the Outcome

The purpose of this step is to review the progress and compare the current situation with the expected situation.

The output from this step is a written report describing the original problem, the agreed improvement plan and the final results.

Use pictures to show the success (or failure) of the initiative. Consider what could have been done better. Share your experiences. Evaluate team performance as well as the changes made.

 

PROJECTmagazine (c) 2007

 

Next issue we look deeper into the tools and techniques that can be used in identifying the problem.

 

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