What is Problem Solving?
At a first glance, this topic sounds quiet obvious. But trust us: almost nobody knows what Problem Solving is, and it is one of the most important habits or practices you’ll ever need both for your professional career and your personal life.
Problem Solving is the art of identifying and properly describing problems, Solving them by means of logical and repeatable processes.
It still sounds obvious, isn’t it?
Since there are literally infinite amounts of problems everywhere, impossible to categorize; let’s focus exclusively on “professional issues”
Think about this: How do you usually solve any problem at your work or Business?
Probably, you never thought about it, but 90% of the times, the different problems found in every business or company are “just solved” without following any procedure, definition or particular process.
This gives as result: Unsolved problems that last “forever”, problems that disappear and appear later or simply problems that are deeply buried until someone find them in the future.
It is essential to establish procedures, definitions and actions to take place when a certain problem is identified since otherwise in the best scenario, the one that you were able to solve a problem, you wouldn’t know how to solve it again in the future since you didn’t record how did you solved it.
In the previous section “Success through organization“, we explained how to start organizing every task you make and how can you drastically improve your results by just doing so.
Now we’ll focus on the “Problem Solving” issue, since both topics together; Organization and Problem Solving represent the basic two pillars for every Operational Planning.
Problem Solving in 5 Steps
We can approach any Business Issue (or a personal life one) by just 5 simple easy Steps we are about to explain:
- 1. Problem Definition.
- 2. Frequency.
- 3. Root Cause.
- 4. Initial Containment Action
- 5. Permanent Containment Action
* Within the “Planning Templates” section, you’ll find an open Excel sheet with a simple but effective “Problem Solving” Template with all the Steps we are about to explain.
1. Problem Definition
Basic, essential, absolutely mandatory and it is rarely done correctly.
When tacking any problem you should make sure that it is perfectly defined by being sure:
- When it happens.
- What time.
- Which days.
- Under which circumstances it happens.
- Which worker suffered most from this issue.
- The activity that was taking place when this problem appeared.
- What this problem implies.
- Is it a serious problem?
- Should have it priority?
Of course depending on the problem and the overall activity that is taking place, these factors may vary significantly, but what you must remember is to define as much as you can, all the problems you find.
Sometimes, by just defining a problem, we find the possible root cause and hence the solution that may solve it.
As simple as it seems: how much a certain problem is being repeated per day.
Why not counting it within the problem definition?
Because they are different things: you can have one problem that in case it happens once you’re dead and other problem that may take place several times a day and nobody would notice.
- Within the Issue definition (previous point) we must highlight the importance of this issue.
- Hence, we’ll group them by they importance.
- Within these “importance” groups, we’ll rank them by how often they take place.
By doing so, we’ll be able to start prioritizing by their importance and frequency.
3. Root Cause
By now, we have just described the Issues found; what is a huge step compared to doing nothing, but don’t tell us “anything new” about how solving them.
Finding a Problem’s Root Cause is the very first step for solving it.
Once again, although it sounds extremely obvious, it is not: think about how many times have you solved an issue by error-proof, but you were not a 100% sure about what caused it to appear?
By finding any problem’s Root Cause you ensure that you’ll be able to control it or at least predict its appearance, in the future.
4. Initial Containment Action
Now it starts getting interesting.
When you find any solution for a certain problem, you don’t probably think about it again.
- You assume it is solved and start worry about other things.
You do it this way, because it is how we naturally are: we all tend to move on fast in order to keep moving.
- That is why we “step twice into the same river”.
Once you have found out which is your problem’s Root Cause you have to adopt an Initial Containment Action preventing this Issue to take place again, or at least controlling its presence not letting it to get to the final customer.
- This Initial Containment Action (ICA) must not be assumed to be the Permanent one.
This final statement is very important and makes the difference between a good Problem Solving and a bad one:
- The ICA is a temporary action.
- Its main purpose is giving us time to design a proper permanent action that will solve the problem “forever”.
Usually, when people find any problem, they tend to assume it is completely solved once the have contained it whichever the measure taken.
By regarding the Initial Solution as a temporary solution, we’ll have now time and control to design the definitive action: the PCA.
5. Permanent Containment Action
It is the definitive action that will solve the problem “forever”.
This action must be:
- Properly taken, designed and implemented.
- Even if it takes several days, weeks or even months.
- It must be a solid measure (like a design change).
- Well recorded.
- In order not to have this issue again in other future.
Moreover, al the dates must be perfectly traced after its implementation, in case the diagnosis was wrong.
You’d never imagine how many Business “catastrophes” have we seen due to assuming a Temporary Containment action as the Permanent one.
When time passes, nobody remembers the measures taken, the problem they had and how important it was.
We have mentioned it when explaining the Permanent Containment Actions although it is equally important in all the Steps mentioned.
If you don’t keep the traceability of all the measures taken as well as the Root Causes or the problems’ definitions, you’ll be blind when taking any action.
- Moreover, when recording all the past Problems and the measures taken for each one of them, you’ll be able to solve similar situations you may have in the future.
A good traceability system allows:
- Identifying the best and more effective Containment actions taken.
- Assess a certain problem’s evolution over time.
- Keep the record of past issues.
The worst and more sterile thing you can do is working hard in solving a problem and not recording all the conclusion and measures you have made.
* If you have not visited yet the “Success through Organization” page within this same section, we encourage you to do so right now. There is not a single “Problem Solving” system that properly works without the right organization principles.
Having a system to detect, define and finally solve all the problems/issues you may find in your Business or Job is vital to move forward not making the same mistakes again and again.
In order to guarantee a proper Problem Solving process you must ensure the next 5 steps:
- 1. Problem Definition.
- A perfect description of the problems found as well as their importance.
- 2. Daily Issues.
- The frequency of the problems found.
- 3. Root Cause.
- What is really causing each problem found?
- 4. Initial Containment Action (ICA).
- Take an action that will initially contain the issue.
- 5. Permanent Containment Action (PCA).
- A careful designed final action that will solve the problem.
Also, as important as these 5 steps is keeping a proper Traceability of all the measures taken and the problems’ descriptions found.