What's The Key Problem With Problem-Solving?

Posted on March 22, 2012 by


Many managers that you may come across, probably me included to some extent, incorrectly assumes that if a problem is identified then someone, somewhere will solve it. Unfortunately, problems have a nasty of habit of selecting an organisation rather than the other way round, and the magnitude and importance of a problem is usually a product of both the prevalent systems which exist (or don’t exist) and the culture. In this post I’m going to briefly explore where you should focus your problem-solving efforts.

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.
John Foster Dulles
Former Secretary of State

A key question to ask yourself is how many people in your firm can identify these problems and deal with all of them at the same time? I’m going to guess there’s not many. So what’s the solution then?

Generally, firms need to be able to solve many, many more problems, simultaneously than they do now. This will only be achieved by implementing processes that unite people who have the capacity to solve the problem. This is a major omission in the majority of organisations. The result? Root causes may be identified, which may in themselves be correct but the solutions will be ineffective for two reasons:

  1. The corrective action is made to fit the problem (which is usually a symptom of some other issue) and is disconnected from the actual identified root cause. The consequence of this is extra resource is thrown at an already broken process, which results in increased waste. What ultimately results from this approach is that the “solution” fades out after a while.
  2. The corrective action centres on a, “must do better” mentality. Here extra training is rolled-out or even worse incentives are used. People are asked to try harder, with management help. The outcome is that the original problem isn’t eliminated and demotivation and frustration sets in when it recurs.

The one simple rule I always try is to apply Occam’s razor in finding a solution to a problem: when you have opposing solutions, always choose the easiest and/or simplest until evidence is found that indicates that this way forward isn’t the best.

However, the fundamental issue that is often overlooked is not to wait around for a problem present itself but to make processes, cultures and indeed the entire organisation focused on identifying and preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

Learn more about Lean problem solving in the video below:

How well or badly do you solve problems? What are some of your key frustrations? Leave a comment below:

Posted in: Lean, Quality