Problem solving process

Many times we must deal with problems in our management activity that it is necessary to face in a systematic way, without improvisations, in order to be able to solve them effectively.

3D Problem Solving
3D Problem Solving

3D Problem Solving by StockMonkeys (under CC by 2.0)

During my professional activity I have successfully used many times the following process of 7 steps:

1. Symptom detection.

2. Problem definition

3. Root cause analysis

4. Research of various alternatives of solution

5. Analysis of alternatives

6. Decission taking

7. Action plan.

Now I am going to explain each phase a little bit:

Symptom detection.

Frequently, it is not the root cause of a problem what we notice but some of its consequences, its symptoms. It is important not to take a symptom as the cause of a problem.

Problem definition

Once we have analyzed the symptoms it is important to focus in the real problem. For instance, maybe you have found that you cannot access the intranet of your company but the real problem is that your LDAP services has failed and you cannot also start a session in your file server or navigate using the corporative proxy server. In this phase it is very important to collect as much data as possible about the problem.

Root cause analysis

What is the real reason of the problem? This is probably the most important point. If you fail to identify the root cause of the problem any solution that you may implement will not solve the problem.

There are many methodologies to help you find the root cause of a problem: 5 whys method, fishbone diagrams, pareto charts, brainstorming, …

Research of various alternatives of solution

Once we have identified the root cause of the problem we can start looking for apropriate solutions. it is important not to stop once we have found a feasible solution. That is laziness of thinking. It is necessary to struggle a little bit more and look for some more alternative solutions.

Analysis of alternatives

When we have a group of solutions, it is necessary to study each one. We must look for pros and cons of each solution and decide which one is the best one.

Decission taking

Once we have the best possible solution it is important to review it again from another point of view. We must look for all the possible inconveniences of the solution. One way to do so is to put yourself in the place of your boss or somebody who will have to aprove the final action plan and try to find all the possible weak points in our argumentation.

Action plan

After one of the alternative solutions has been approved it is necessary to implement an action plan to take it into practice. The action plan must have a set of ordered actions with people responsible to carry them on and the final dates to have each one implemented.

Of course, the plan must be communicated apropriately and have the approval and support of at least a member of the organization with enough authority and executive power to ensure it will be implemented as planned.

A final step.

And a final point. It is a must to verify the results of the action plan and review if the problem has been solved. If it has not yet been solved it will be necessary to analyze if the failure has happened because of a bad implementation or because of a bad root cause analysis, and act in consequence going back to point 7 or to point 3 of the method.

What about you? Do you use this methodology to solve problems? What could be improved? Please, share with us any alternative methodologies that you know or use.

Problem solving process


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