The World of Work Project

Problem Solving: An Overview Of How To Get Better

There are many different models for solving problems. They all have merits, but it’s important to think about the overall process of problem solving as well. This includes identifying and prioritizing problems and opportunities and getting the right together to solve them.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Problem Solving: An Overview

All teams have problems they could solve in order to become more effective or efficient at what they do. They also all have processes and ways of working that are not actually problems, but which could be more efficient. To make these improvements, a structured approach to problems solving and improvement really is required.

Solving problems isn’t always a linear process.

Though there are many methods that help teams and individuals solve specific problems or work to take advantage of opportunities, the overall process of problem solving remains fairly similar regardless of which method is used.

In all instances you need to identify problems or opportunities to work on, decide which ones you’ll tackle first, select the right people to work on them, come up with solutions, and finally work to implement the solutions you’ve identified.

1. Identify Problems and Opportunities

It might sound obvious, but the very first step of problem solving is to identify what problems or opportunities to improve things exist for you or your team.

There are many ways to identify things teams can improve and, in most instances, the best people to come up with ideas are not leaders, but those closest to operations. Great ways to find problems and opportunities include team member suggestions, team brainstorming, customer feedback requests, supplier interviews and feedback and, of course, any kind of mandatory change.

Getting people involved in identifying options not only yields better options, but also builds engagement and trust and increases buy in at an early stage, provided leaders really listen to their team members.

How will you find the problems you want to work on?

2. Prioritize your problems and opportunities

Having a list of problems and opportunities that you can work on is great, however, they are not all going to be of equal importance.

You’ll identify some problems or opportunities that are very complex and take a lot of effort, and you’ll identify others that are very simple and easy to implement. Similarly, you’ll identify problems and opportunities that if addressed would yield huge benefits, and those that may only yield minor benefits.

So how do you decide which ones you should work on first? There are many decision making tools to help with this process, but we recommend using an “Ease Benefit Matrix“, which is essentially a simple way to rank your problems by return on effort.

3. Choose the people to solve the problems

Addressing problems and opportunities for improvement should be a group activity, not an individual one. When you bring people together you bring together a wealth of understanding, creativity and challenge that leads to better solutions and outcomes. There is no “right” number of people for solving problems, but the number of people required increases as problems become larger and more complex.

It’s not just a case of getting people together, it’s important to get the right people together. In most instances, leaders are not the right people. Instead, the best people to solve problems, or identify opportunities for improvements, are those that are close to the processes and issues being discussed. These people are normally not in leadership positions, but operational or functional ones. The types of people we’d consider potentially useful for solving problems include: team members, process owners, technical experts, peer groups, delivery project team members and potentially customers and suppliers.

Could these people help you solve a problem?

While it’s important for the individuals supporting the problem or opportunity session understand the problem solving process, this is less important than that they have a great understanding of the situation. They can always be taught the problem solving approach that you choose to use.

The last point we’ll raise here in relation to getting the right people together to solve the problem is that we recommend bringing in a dedicated facilitator for complex problems or opportunities. Facilitators help ensure that conversations and meetings progress effectively and they should help ensure you progress successfully through your methodology to a solution. You can always spend a bit of time and train a member of your team to be a facilitator, if that’s your preferred approach.

4. Solve the problem

Now that you’ve identified you problems, prioritized them, chosen the one you want to work on first and identified the people you are going to work with, you need to actually solve the problem. This process involves working out what your solution to the problem is, but does not include the process of actually making the problem go away.

There are many different methods available for problem solving and it’s worth reviewing them and choosing the one that feels best for you, your team and the problem that you are looking to address.

5. Implementing the solution

Once you’ve completed your problem solving process, you probably have a good idea of what needs to happen next, and you might even have a plan to help you do it.

It might feel like you’ve reached the end of the process, but you’re really just at the start. The process of implementing your solution is hugely important and will not happen without control and leadership.

Things won’t just happen on their own.

To ensure you actually implement your solution, you may wish to assign an overall project manager. This may simply be a named person in your team. They may be responsible for doing some of the required tasks, but more likely they will be a project manager and a coordinator.

One of the most important things to remember when looking to implement a solution like this is time. People need to have time set aside and free of other work to focus on their actions. If they don’t, then your problems won’t actually get solved.

The World of Work Project View

Many individuals and organizations do not use structured approaches to problem solving, and the lose out as a result. We really think that structured approaches improve efficiency and yield better solutions than ad-hoc approaches.

Whatever process you choose to use, it is always important to make sure that you’re solving the right problem and that you have the right people in the room. If you don’t, you’re not only wasting your own time, you’re wasting everyone else’s as well.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

The contents of this post have been based on our own experience in the world of work, so no specific references are provided.


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