Five simple steps to problem-solving

“…where troubles melt like lemon drops, way above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me…”

Johannesburg, 27 Sep 2023
Understand the nature of your problems – and how to solve them.
Understand the nature of your problems – and how to solve them.

In an ideal world, problems would melt away. But this side of the rainbow, we’re left to solve them on our own. Fortunately, problem-solving skills are not difficult to attain once we know how to organise them into steps. Follow our five-step plan that incorporates proven management techniques to understand the nature of your problems – and how to solve them.

What’s the problem?

Any unwelcome obstacle that impedes us in achieving our goals and deadlines, or a poor outcome, constitutes a problem, and finding the source of the difficulty is the place to begin resolving it. And while the problem-solving cycle is portrayed in a sequential process, in real life, things seldom occur in a linear fashion. In other words, be open to going back and forth in the steps, and be flexible in trying different remedies. There’s no one way to solve a problem – but certainly one way to start solving it:

1. Identify it – while seemingly obvious, many people will mistake a symptom of a problem for the source or react to what they think the problem is. For example, is your business problem that you are constantly in the red? Are your production numbers falling off, or is disorganisation costing you business? Also, make sure there is a problem – you may just be realising you want to improve a situation that is not meeting your expectations.

2. Define it – Six Sigma management techniques can help improve business processes by trying to reduce the probability of an error before it happens. The first step in both Six Sigma methodologies (DMAIC and DMADV) involve defining the problem and/or the project goals. Ask yourself what is happening that indicates there’s a problem; where, how, when and why it is happening; and who it involves to get to the root of situation. Be careful to avoid blaming people until the facts are clear, focusing on solving the problem is often more important than assigning blame.

3. Analyse and strategise to form a resolution – data can provide the purely objective information you need to create a solution. What are the facts around the problem? What is the roadblock or weak part of the process that can be remedied? With this insight, you can begin to brainstorm remedies to improve the method around what you are trying to accomplish. If this involves making big changes, develop an interim solution while working on the long-term system correction. Also, before you go off reinventing the solution wheel – do some research to see if others have been in a similar predicament.

4. Choose the best approach and allocate resources – it’s decision time, which is what business problem-solving is all about. Before you choose your approach, consider what the ideal outcome looks like; what course gets you there; and what resources – people, money, time, etc – are required. Draw up an actual action plan with steps and assign jobs with a timetable.

5. Monitor the plan execution and evaluate your success – the last thing you need is a plan that’s either not working or generating more problems. Don’t assume that since you have a plan on paper, all’s well that ends well. Continually check in for progress and get feedback from others: is the problem solved, or just “not as bad?” If it’s the latter, go back to the steps to see what went awry. If you are satisfied the difficulty has been removed, create some kind of system or documentation to make sure it or something similar doesn’t happen again.

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