Problem solving in business sounds simple, but it’s hard to do correctly.
There’s normally lots of variables that demand attention of resources across any business:
And the list goes on.
The problem is that identifying issues, finding the root causes and then using effective and consistent problem solving in business is largely hit and miss.
Most companies and managers often look to patch up a problem, by “just getting through it, and doing what needs to be done, this time.”
Hoping that it’ll go away and never return.
Or, some may find the time to stop and try to fix the problem, but often find the wrong root cause.
And the same issues keep coming back, time and time again.
It’s not that managers mean to do this. It’s just what happens a lot of the time.
There’s typically too little time to stop and fix problems; so, most the effort goes on trying to stay afloat, and reacting to issues when they happen.
This constant firefighting leaves not much room for anything else, and often for the business owner and manager, it means every day is a stressful day.
And issues keep mounting up.
It’s a vicious circle, that can eventually consume you. And when it does, problem solving in business is a necessity, but seems so remote, it can feel that you’ll never change the tide.
Think of problems as pebbles. The minute a problem presents itself, it’s normally relatively small. The longer it’s left, the bigger it becomes.
If it isn’t tackled affectively and put to bed, it’ll get bigger.
And eventually, it turns into a boulder-sized problem that’s hard to tackle and overcome.
If your method of problem solving in business is to patch up and move on, then soon enough, you’ll get quite a few boulders.
Keep it up and you’ll get a business which saps your time, energy and money and can quite literally feel irreparable.
How often have you or your managers discussed a problem and instantly gone straight to the root cause?
And when you were there discussing this, how often did you verify that what you thought was the problem, was actually the problem?
I would hazard a guess, rarely…
Rule number 1 – Use both data and theories. Never make a statement based on an opinion alone. It’s a sure-fire way of tackling symptoms of a problem and what people feel is the problem. Not what they know is the problem.
Rule number 2 – When discussing problems, always stop and resist the classic ‘jump-to-the-end’. There’s a journey to be made. A journey of understanding and reflection before things are fixed and the correct root cause is exposed.
You only have a certain number of resources, so time and effort must be spent on the right things.
Otherwise, you’ll find that problems mount up, rather than go away. And time is of short supply.
Edward Deming created the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (later referring to it as the Plan-Do-Study-Adjust) method.
For many, this forms the basis of effective problem solving in business.
By following this PDCA framework, it’ll allow you to tackle a problem and give it the time and understanding it deserves.
Without jumping to assumptions.
For each problem, good thought must go into it, to understand the true cause…
Abd the best plan of attack.
I once had an aching back in between my shoulder blades.
I went to a Chiropractor who checked my posture. He told me that it was ok and that I just needed to loosen up my muscles and the spine.
I went once a week, and got him to crack my back in a few places, which did indeed loosen me up. I also went to a sports massage therapist who de-stressed my muscles.
The problem was that after about a day of feeling loose and pain free, the pain would come back.
After several months of this cycle, I had had enough.
I obviously wasn’t tackling the root cause. What was causing my pain?
The Chiropractor and massage therapist were tackling the symptoms, but because these were not the root causes, the pain kept coming back.
I worked out that my shoulders were too stiff and were not supple enough. Years of slouching had told its tale.
This led to strain around the should blades, and so I spent the next 6 months opening my range of movement and giving them the suppleness they should have.
The pain has gone and the problem is now a memory.
How often does your business get a metaphorical massage, rather than getting to the crux of the problems?
The folk who created the Toyota Production systems (TPS) abide by the rule that all improvements follow the scientific method.
This approach means that each problem is given time to observe, analyse and improve.
Gathering data, seeing the process (or problem) in action and happening in front of you, and getting supporting evidence.
It’s all done before any assumptions are made as to what the root cause is or isn’t.
Once you have understood the problem in greater detail, you can then set an assumption.
And you test to see if it works.
If it does, then you check several times to ensure it works and stays that way.
If it doesn’t work, you’ve learned something new about the problem and you repeat the steps.
This is the essence of the Plan-Do-Check-Act model. And it should be used for all problems.
The only difference is that some deep-rooted ones may take a lot longer to fix than others. And so, you spend more time observing, gathering data and experimenting, compared to other smaller and less complex problems.
But the same structured approach should apply. It should form the basis of what everyone does without even thinking.
From understanding productivity issues…
To improving on time delivery issues.
From lack of staff engagement
To improving cashflow issues…
And from fixing silly repeating errors
To high product failures…
Every problem should follow the same journey: a structured problem solving approach.