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Case studies, problem solving related topics.
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What is Problem Solving?.
Quality Glossary Definition: Problem solving
Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.
- The problem-solving process
- Problem solving resources
Problem Solving Chart
The Problem-Solving Process
In order to effectively manage and run a successful organization, leadership must guide their employees and develop problem-solving techniques. Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below.
1. Define the problem
Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes .
The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps. These steps support the involvement of interested parties, the use of factual information, comparison of expectations to reality, and a focus on root causes of a problem. You should begin by:
- Reviewing and documenting how processes currently work (i.e., who does what, with what information, using what tools, communicating with what organizations and individuals, in what time frame, using what format).
- Evaluating the possible impact of new tools and revised policies in the development of your "what should be" model.
2. Generate alternative solutions
Postpone the selection of one solution until several problem-solving alternatives have been proposed. Considering multiple alternatives can significantly enhance the value of your ideal solution. Once you have decided on the "what should be" model, this target standard becomes the basis for developing a road map for investigating alternatives. Brainstorming and team problem-solving techniques are both useful tools in this stage of problem solving.
Many alternative solutions to the problem should be generated before final evaluation. A common mistake in problem solving is that alternatives are evaluated as they are proposed, so the first acceptable solution is chosen, even if it’s not the best fit. If we focus on trying to get the results we want, we miss the potential for learning something new that will allow for real improvement in the problem-solving process.
3. Evaluate and select an alternative
Skilled problem solvers use a series of considerations when selecting the best alternative. They consider the extent to which:
- A particular alternative will solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems.
- All the individuals involved will accept the alternative.
- Implementation of the alternative is likely.
- The alternative fits within the organizational constraints.
4. Implement and follow up on the solution
Leaders may be called upon to direct others to implement the solution, "sell" the solution, or facilitate the implementation with the help of others. Involving others in the implementation is an effective way to gain buy-in and support and minimize resistance to subsequent changes.
Regardless of how the solution is rolled out, feedback channels should be built into the implementation. This allows for continuous monitoring and testing of actual events against expectations. Problem solving, and the techniques used to gain clarity, are most effective if the solution remains in place and is updated to respond to future changes.
You can also search articles , case studies , and publications for problem solving resources.
Innovative Business Management Using TRIZ
Introduction To 8D Problem Solving: Including Practical Applications and Examples
The Quality Toolbox
Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action
One Good Idea: Some Sage Advice ( Quality Progress ) The person with the problem just wants it to go away quickly, and the problem-solvers also want to resolve it in as little time as possible because they have other responsibilities. Whatever the urgency, effective problem-solvers have the self-discipline to develop a complete description of the problem.
Diagnostic Quality Problem Solving: A Conceptual Framework And Six Strategies ( Quality Management Journal ) This paper contributes a conceptual framework for the generic process of diagnosis in quality problem solving by identifying its activities and how they are related.
Weathering The Storm ( Quality Progress ) Even in the most contentious circumstances, this approach describes how to sustain customer-supplier relationships during high-stakes problem solving situations to actually enhance customer-supplier relationships.
The Right Questions ( Quality Progress ) All problem solving begins with a problem description. Make the most of problem solving by asking effective questions.
Solving the Problem ( Quality Progress ) Brush up on your problem-solving skills and address the primary issues with these seven methods.
Refreshing Louisville Metro’s Problem-Solving System ( Journal for Quality and Participation ) Organization-wide transformation can be tricky, especially when it comes to sustaining any progress made over time. In Louisville Metro, a government organization based in Kentucky, many strategies were used to enact and sustain meaningful transformation.
Quality Improvement Associate Certification--CQIA
Certified Quality Improvement Associate Question Bank
Lean Problem-Solving Tools
Problem Solving Using A3
NEW Root Cause Analysis E-Learning
Making the Connection In this exclusive QP webcast, Jack ReVelle, ASQ Fellow and author, shares how quality tools can be combined to create a powerful problem-solving force.
Adapted from The Executive Guide to Improvement and Change , ASQ Quality Press.
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A Complete Guide to know What is Problem Solving (Updated March 2023)
Everything happening in this world has its problems. This is because no system in this world has 100% efficiency. But this is not a big issue for the people who are prepared to deal with any kind of problem. The field that is heavily affected by the problems in the field of companies and organizations.
This is because a lot of employees are working in different departments under the same name. The problem for one employee or one department can cause issues for others. This is why the employees are given special problem-solving training. Here we will discuss what is problem-solving and some effective steps involved.
What is problem solving?
Problem-solving isa process of solving any kind of problem. This process is acted upon in some steps. These steps start from identifying the problem and determining the cause of the problem. After the problem and its cause are identified, the next step is to select alternatives for the solution and implement the solutions.
All of these steps are collectively known as a problem-solving process.
The basic steps involved in problem-solving.
As the problem-solving process comprises different steps that collectively help in getting id of the problem. So, here we will have a detailed discussion about the steps that are involved in problem-solving.
Defining the problem.
Defining the problem means that you are diagnosing the situation. This helps take the further steps for solving the problem. This is not just as simple as defining the problem. Here you take effective measures to keep track of the situation of the problem. Some of the most effective and easy to implement ways of defining the problem are listed below.
· Flowcharts of the process and the problem init.
· Cause and effect diagram.
With the help of these steps, you can easily identify the root causes of the problem. However, for these ways of defining the problem, you must involve the factual information and then compare the expectations to reality. Apart from this, you also need to stay focused on the root cause of the problem as eradicating this will be your main objective here.
To create a successful deduction for problem-solving in this step, you will first need to review different sectors of your system. Then you will have to evaluate things on the base of how something will affect the system.
Generating the alternatives.
Once you have gone through the first step, the next step will be to get the solution for the problem. It is in our psyche that once we think of an idea or solution, then we keep on thinking that it will be effective. But in reality, this will not happen every time and you will waste a lot of time coming up with another effective solution.
So, here the best thing to do is to come up with more than more solutions at a time. For this, you can do the following things.
· Take ideas from different employees.
· Mold your original idea according to different aspects of the problem.
· Think of other than one effective idea.
When you are going with a set of ideas for the backup, you will be very efficient in solving the problem. This is because if one idea fails, you can implement another one and this can be carried on until you have solved the problem.
Evaluating and selecting alternatives.
So, now you know that you have to come up with more than one idea, but how will you know if the ideas are effective or not. For this, you can easily evaluate the ideas that come up in your mind. This will help in filtering out only the best and the most effective ideas. Here is how this works.
· Will this solution be able to solve the specific problem without causing other problems in the system?
· Will all the people and stakeholders of the system accept the solution?
· Is the solution that I have come up with possible and easy to implement?
· Will the solution and the alternatives be in the constraints of the organization?
When you think of all the ideas and their alternatives, you will be very efficiently filtering out the ideas that do not seem to be working.
Implementing the solutions.
Now you are in the state where you have the ideas, the solutions, and the alternatives of these solutions. The only step left to get the problem solved is to implement the solution. This is also not a very simple step. Here are some things that you must include in this step to increase the efficiency of your solution.
· Involving others.
One of the best things to do is to involve others in the implementation of your solution. This will not only reduce the stress that you will have to bear. But this will also add other innovative ideas that come in their minds. This can be very helpful in making the solution to the problem better.
· Testing and expectations of the solution.
When you are implementing or you have implemented the solution, it is very important to keep constantly monitoring the solution and its working. For this, you can test the solutions’ working at different events. Testing the outcomes and comparing when with the expectations will also give you the idea of how well the solution is performing.
· Feedback system.
When you have implemented the solution, the role that you will play in the future will be lower than the role of other employees. So, you must take feedback after sometime. The feedback system will tell you about the feelings of people about your solution and its working. This will also help in improving the solution.
Some important things to consider in each of the problem-solving steps.
Above in the article, we discussed the significance of each step involved in problem-solving. Here we will discuss some additional things that you must be aware of. This is because they will not only make your problem-solving experience better, but they will also make your problem-solving techniques more efficient.
Knowing your problem in a good way:
If you are thinking about what is problem solving and how important it is to define the problem. Then we will tell you here the importance of defining the problem and some of the best ways to implement it. It is a must for solving any problem that you must know the real cause and the root of the problem.
This is because the smaller problems can be identified and solved easily. But when we are dealing with the problems on the level of different organizations, then it is very important to get rid of the problem from the start. This is because if the problem is not fully identified, then it will never be truly eradicated.
And this will keep on damaging the company in several ways. For the problem identifying methods we mentioned above, the initiative for any of the methods can be taken for different tools. Some of the tools are the 5 W’s, the root cause analysis, and appreciation. This is also very important that you consider each of them carefully from different perspectives.
This is because the cause of the problem could be an unreasonable workload or lack of training but if unidentified, this can be extremely bad.
Knowing about the complexity of the problem.
While you are solving any problem, you must understand that every problem will not have the same scope and the time required for every problem will be different. This is because the complexity of each problem is different. There are a lot of tools and methods to know about the complexity of the problem. Some of them are listed below.
· Affinity diagrams.
· Swim Lane diagram.
· System diagram.
· Flow charts.
· Bottleneck method.
After identifying different factors of the problem, you can implement any of these tools and this will tell you about the complexity of the problem. Sometimes a problem that seems to be a single problem is a collection of different smaller problems.
This is the point where the drill-down technique can be very helpful. It will easily and efficiently breakdown the problem into smaller parts.
Process of solving the problem.
So, there can be a case that the problem is very small, and it can easily be dealt with. But inmost of the cases, the problem is not that simple, and it is a collection of several complex problems related to different departments.
In this case, the head of the problem-solving team must take different members from different departments that will help in solving that problem using the tools, tricks methods, and tips we mentioned above.
With the increasing complexities in different organizations, many people are asking what is problem solving. If you are also uncertain about what is problem solving, then this will be the article that will tell you all about what is problem solving.
This is because it will not only tell you about some of the most effective techniques for solving different problems, but the tips, tools, and methods we mentioned here can also be very helpful for everyone in dealing with complex problems.
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What is problem solving (a definition), why problem solving is important.
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Problem Solving vs Critical Thinking
Problem Solving Theory (in Psychology)
Video: the psychology of problem-solving.
Problem Solving Skills
Video: figure it out - the art of problem solving.
Problem-Solving Process & Steps
- Attempting to identify a problem when it occurs
- Defining a problem
- Attempting to understand the problem
- Setting goals related to the problem
- Generating alternative solutions
- Evaluating and choosing the best alternatives
- Implementing the chosen alternatives
- Evaluating the efficacy of the effort at problem-solving
Examples of Problem Solving
- Solution #1: Tanya decides to tackle the problem head-on and decides to change the tire by herself. She lets her work know she might be late, reads the owner’s manual, and successfully changes the tire on her own.
- Solution #2: Tanya decides she doesn’t feel comfortable changing a tire on the busy highway. She lets her work know that she will miss the morning meeting and calls her brother to come and help her change the tire.
- Solution #1: Yasmin decides to modify her workout to a 15-minute stretch on the days she is sick. This way she sticks to her commitment and allows her body to rest.
- Solution #2: Yasmin decides she really doesn’t feel well enough to get out of bed. She takes care of her body by drinking plenty of water and resting. She resumes her routine as soon as she feels better and doesn't beat herself up about the lapse in routine.
- Solution #1: Kai was prepared for this situation because he has seen how bad the technology in the classroom is. He hands out printed copies of his presentation to the professor and class.
- Solution #2: Kai decides to do an oral presentation instead of using his digital materials. He uses notes he prepared to do the presentation without the aid of his slides.
Problem Solving Strategies
Video: problem solving through perspective change.
Problem Solving Methods
Problem-Solving Games & Activities
- Crossword puzzles
- Escape rooms
- Rubik’s cube
- 20 dry spaghetti noodles
- Roll of masking tape
- Yard of string
- 1 marshmallow
- Each team will need a set of materials listed above.
- Instruct each team they have ten minutes to construct the tallest spaghetti tower capable of supporting a marshmallow on top using only the materials provided.
- Once complete, stick a single marshmallow on top of the tower.
- The team whose tower is the tallest and can support a marshmallow wins.
Video: How to Teach Kids Better Problem Solving
Articles Related to Problem Solving
- Self-Management: Definition, Skills & Strategies
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- Overthinking: Definition, Causes, & How to Stop
Books Related to Problem Solving
- Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything
- Critical thinking, Logic & Problem Solving: The Ultimate Guide to Better Thinking, Systematic Problem Solving and Making Impeccable Decisions with Secret Tips to Detect Logical Fallacies
- Solve It!: The Mindset and Tools of Smart Problem Solvers
- Think Like a Programmer: An Introduction to Creative Problem Solving
Final Thoughts on Problem Solving
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- Dostál, J. (2015). Theory of problem-solving . Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 174, 2798–2805.
- D'Zurilla, T. J., & Goldfried, M. R. (1971). Problem-solving and behavior modification . Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 78(1), 107–126.
- Malouff, J., Thorsteinsson, E., & Schutte, N. (2007). The efficacy of problem-solving therapy in reducing mental and physical health problems: A meta-analysis . Clinical Psychology Review, 27(1), 46–57.
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- Problem Solving
What is Problem Solving? The definition and theory
Problem solving is the process of a problem analysis and resolving it in the best way possible for that situation.
This process contains analysing the problem ( root cause analysis ), defining countermeasures for the problem and implementing the right solution for that situation.
For problem solving, people need critical thinking and analytical skills . Everybody within a organization or company can benefit from having good skills because there are always problems.
There have been lots of scientific and practical studies from a learning point of view. Some of the techniques developed and used in artificial intelligence (AI), computer science, engineering, mathematics, or medicine are related to mental techniques studied in psychology.
What are the most known and used models and methods? What are their success stories and practical tips when you apply these? These posts are all about great tools and methods that can help you to achieve your goal or understand certain aspects that come with problem solving .
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March 15th, 2023
Kepner Tregoe Method explained
TRIZ Method of Problem Solving explained
Conceptual framework explained: definition and theory including an example
March 7th, 2023
What is a Straw Man Proposal? Theory, Example and Template
February 22nd, 2023
Positive Deviance (PD): definition and examples
February 10th, 2023
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Are You Solving the Right Problem?
- Dwayne Spradlin
Most firms aren’t, and that undermines their innovation efforts.
The rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a good solution. Many organizations, however, are not proficient at articulating their problems and identifying which ones are crucial to their strategies.
They may even be trying to solve the wrong problems—missing opportunities and wasting resources in the process. The key is to ask the right questions.
The author describes a process that his firm, InnoCentive, has used to help clients define and articulate business, technical, social, and policy challenges and then present them to an online community of more than 250,000 solvers. The four-step process consists of asking a series of questions and using the answers to create a problem statement that will elicit novel ideas from an array of experts.
- Establish the need for a solution. What is the basic need? Who will benefit from a solution?
- Justify the need. Why should your organization attempt to solve this problem? Is it aligned with your strategy? If a solution is found, who will implement it?
- Contextualize the problem. What have you and others already tried? Are there internal and external constraints to implementing a solution?
- Write the problem statement. What requirements must a solution meet? What language should you use to describe the problem? How will you evaluate solutions and measure success?
EnterpriseWorks/VITA, a nonprofit organization, used this process to find a low-cost, lightweight, and convenient product that expands access to clean drinking water in the developing world.
“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein said.
Those were wise words, but from what I have observed, most organizations don’t heed them when tackling innovation projects. Indeed, when developing new products, processes, or even businesses, most companies aren’t sufficiently rigorous in defining the problems they’re attempting to solve and articulating why those issues are important. Without that rigor, organizations miss opportunities, waste resources, and end up pursuing innovation initiatives that aren’t aligned with their strategies. How many times have you seen a project go down one path only to realize in hindsight that it should have gone down another? How many times have you seen an innovation program deliver a seemingly breakthrough result only to find that it can’t be implemented or it addresses the wrong problem? Many organizations need to become better at asking the right questions so that they tackle the right problems.
I offer here a process for defining problems that any organization can employ on its own. My firm, InnoCentive, has used it to help more than 100 corporations, government agencies, and foundations improve the quality and efficiency of their innovation efforts and, as a result, their overall performance. Through this process, which we call challenge-driven innovation, clients define and articulate their business, technical, social, and policy issues and present them as challenges to a community of more than 250,000 solvers—scientists, engineers, and other experts who hail from 200 countries—on InnoCentive.com, our innovation marketplace. Successful solvers have earned awards of $5,000 to $1 million.
Since our launch, more than 10 years ago, we have managed more than 2,000 problems and solved more than half of them—a much higher proportion than most organizations achieve on their own. Indeed, our success rates have improved dramatically over the years (34% in 2006, 39% in 2009, and 57% in 2011), which is a function of the increasing quality of the questions we pose and of our solver community. Interestingly, even unsolved problems have been tremendously valuable to many clients, allowing them to cancel ill-fated programs much earlier than they otherwise would have and then redeploy their resources.
In our early years, we focused on highly specific technical problems, but we have since expanded, taking on everything from basic R&D and product development to the health and safety of astronauts to banking services in developing countries. We now know that the rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a suitable solution. But we’ve seen that most organizations are not proficient at articulating their problems clearly and concisely. Many have considerable difficulty even identifying which problems are crucial to their missions and strategies.
In fact, many clients have realized while working with us that they may not be tackling the right issues. Consider a company that engages InnoCentive to find a lubricant for its manufacturing machinery. This exchange ensues:
InnoCentive staffer: “Why do you need the lubricant?”
Client’s engineer: “Because we’re now expecting our machinery to do things it was not designed to do, and it needs a particular lubricant to operate.”
InnoCentive staffer: “Why don’t you replace the machinery?”
Client’s engineer: “Because no one makes equipment that exactly fits our needs.”
This raises a deeper question: Does the company need the lubricant, or does it need a new way to make its product? It could be that rethinking the manufacturing process would give the firm a new basis for competitive advantage. (Asking questions until you get to the root cause of a problem draws from the famous Five Whys problem-solving technique developed at Toyota and employed in Six Sigma.)
The Problem-Definition Process
Establish the need for a solution, what is the.
Who stands to
benefit and why?
Justify the need
Is the effort.
aligned with our strategy?
What are the
desired benefits for the company, and how will we measure them?
How will we
ensure that a solution is implemented?
Contextualize the problem
What approaches have, what have others.
internal and external constraints on implementing a solution?
Write the problem statement
Is the problem.
actually many problems?
What requirements must
a solution meet?
Which problem solvers
should we engage?
What information and
language should the problem statement include?
What do solvers
need to submit?
What incentives do
How will solutions
be evaluated and success measured?
The example is like many we’ve seen: Someone in the bowels of the organization is assigned to fix a very specific, near-term problem. But because the firm doesn’t employ a rigorous process for understanding the dimensions of the problem, leaders miss an opportunity to address underlying strategic issues. The situation is exacerbated by what Stefan Thomke and Donald Reinertsen have identified as the fallacy of “The sooner the project is started, the sooner it will be finished.” (See “Six Myths of Product Development,” HBR May 2012.) Organizational teams speed toward a solution, fearing that if they spend too much time defining the problem, their superiors will punish them for taking so long to get to the starting line.
Ironically, that approach is more likely to waste time and money and reduce the odds of success than one that strives at the outset to achieve an in-depth understanding of the problem and its importance to the firm. With this in mind, we developed a four-step process for defining and articulating problems, which we have honed with our clients. It consists of asking a series of questions and using the answers to create a thorough problem statement. This process is important for two reasons. First, it rallies the organization around a shared understanding of the problem, why the firm should tackle it, and the level of resources it should receive. Firms that don’t engage in this process often allocate too few resources to solving major problems or too many to solving low-priority or wrongly defined ones. It’s useful to assign a value to the solution: An organization will be more willing to devote considerable time and resources to an effort that is shown to represent a $100 million market opportunity than to an initiative whose value is much less or is unclear. Second, the process helps an organization cast the widest possible net for potential solutions, giving internal and external experts in disparate fields the information they need to crack the problem.
This article also appears in:
HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Nonprofits and the Social Sectors
To illustrate how the process works, we’ll describe an initiative to expand access to clean drinking water undertaken by the nonprofit EnterpriseWorks/VITA, a division of Relief International. EWV’s mission is to foster economic growth and raise the standard of living in developing countries by expanding access to technologies and helping entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses.
The organization chose Jon Naugle, its technical director, as the initiative’s “problem champion.” Individuals in this role should have a deep understanding of the field or domain and be capable program administrators. Because problem champions may also be charged with implementing solutions, a proven leader with the authority, responsibility, and resources to see the project through can be invaluable in this role, particularly for a larger and more strategic undertaking. Naugle, an engineer with more than 25 years of agricultural and rural-development experience in East and West Africa and the Caribbean, fit the bill. He was supported by specialists who understood local market conditions, available materials, and other critical issues related to the delivery of drinking water.
Step 1: Establish the Need for a Solution
The purpose of this step is to articulate the problem in the simplest terms possible: “We are looking for X in order to achieve Z as measured by W.” Such a statement, akin to an elevator pitch, is a call to arms that clarifies the importance of the issue and helps secure resources to address it. This initial framing answers three questions:
What is the basic need?
This is the essential problem, stated clearly and concisely. It is important at this stage to focus on the need that’s at the heart of the problem instead of jumping to a solution. Defining the scope is also important. Clearly, looking for lubricant for a piece of machinery is different from seeking a radically new manufacturing process.
The basic need EWV identified was access to clean drinking water for the estimated 1.1 billion people in the world who lack it. This is a pressing issue even in areas that have plenty of rainfall, because the water is not effectively captured, stored, and distributed.
What is the desired outcome?
Answering this question requires understanding the perspectives of customers and other beneficiaries. (The Five Whys approach can be very helpful.) Again, avoid the temptation to favor a particular solution or approach. This question should be addressed qualitatively and quantitatively whenever possible. A high-level but specific goal, such as “improving fuel efficiency to 100 mpg by 2020,” can be helpful at this stage.
In answering this question, Naugle and his team realized that the outcome had to be more than access to water; the access had to be convenient. Women and children in countries such as Uganda often must walk long distances to fetch water from valleys and then carry it uphill to their villages. The desired outcome EWV defined was to provide water for daily family needs without requiring enormous expenditures of time and energy.
Who stands to benefit and why?
Answering this question compels an organization to identify all potential customers and beneficiaries. It is at this stage that you understand whether, say, you are solving a lubricant problem for the engineer or for the head of manufacturing—whose definitions of success may vary considerably.
If the problem you want to solve is industrywide, it’s crucial to understand why the market has failed to address it.
By pondering this question, EWV came to see that the benefits would accrue to individuals and families as well as to regions and countries. Women would spend less time walking to retrieve water, giving them more time for working in the field or in outside employment that would bring their families needed income. Children would be able to attend school. And over the longer term, regions and countries would benefit from the improved education and productivity of the population.
Step 2: Justify the Need
The purpose of answering the questions in this step is to explain why your organization should attempt to solve the problem.
Is the effort aligned with our strategy?
In other words, will satisfying the need serve the organization’s strategic goals? It is not unusual for an organization to be working on problems that are no longer in sync with its strategy or mission. In that case, the effort (and perhaps the whole initiative) should be reconsidered.
In the case of EWV, simply improving access to clean drinking water wouldn’t be enough; to fit the organization’s mission, the solution should generate economic development and opportunities for local businesses. It needed to involve something that people would buy.
In addition, you should consider whether the problem fits with your firm’s priorities. Since EWV’s other projects included providing access to affordable products such as cookstoves and treadle pumps, the drinking water project was appropriate.
What are the desired benefits for the company, and how will we measure them?
In for-profit companies, the desired benefit could be to reach a revenue target, attain a certain market share, or achieve specific cycle-time improvements. EWV hoped to further its goal of being a recognized leader in helping the world’s poor by transferring technology through the private sector. That benefit would be measured by market impact: How many families are paying for the solution? How is it affecting their lives? Are sales and installation creating jobs? Given the potential benefits, EWV deemed the priority to be high.
How will we ensure that a solution is implemented?
Assume that a solution is found. Someone in the organization must be responsible for carrying it out—whether that means installing a new manufacturing technology, launching a new business, or commercializing a product innovation. That person could be the problem champion, but he or she could also be the manager of an existing division, a cross-functional team, or a new department.
At EWV, Jon Naugle was also put in charge of carrying out the solution. In addition to his technical background, Naugle had a track record of successfully implementing similar projects. For instance, he had served as EWV’s country director in Niger, where he oversaw a component of a World Bank pilot project to promote small-scale private irrigation. His part of the project involved getting the private sector to manufacture treadle pumps and manually drill wells.
It is important at this stage to initiate a high-level conversation in the organization about the resources a solution might require. This can seem premature—after all, you’re still defining the problem, and the field of possible solutions could be very large—but it’s actually not too early to begin exploring what resources your organization is willing and able to devote to evaluating solutions and then implementing the best one. Even at the outset, you may have an inkling that implementing a solution will be much more expensive than others in the organization realize. In that case, it’s important to communicate a rough estimate of the money and people that will be required and to make sure that the organization is willing to continue down this path. The result of such a discussion might be that some constraints on resourcing must be built into the problem statement. Early on in its drinking water project, EWV set a cap on how much it would devote to initial research and the testing of possible solutions.
Now that you have laid out the need for a solution and its importance to the organization, you must define the problem in detail. This involves applying a rigorous method to ensure that you have captured all the information that someone—including people in fields far removed from your industry—might need to solve the problem.
Step 3: Contextualize the Problem
Examining past efforts to find a solution can save time and resources and generate highly innovative thinking. If the problem is industrywide, it’s crucial to understand why the market has failed to address it.
How Well-Defined Problems Lead to Breakthrough Solutions
The subarctic oil problem.
More than 20 years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, cleanup teams operating in subarctic waters still struggled because oil became so viscous at low temperatures that it was difficult to pump from barges to onshore collection stations.
How the Problem Was Defined
In its search for a solution, the Oil Spill Recovery Institute framed the problem as one of “materials viscosity” rather than “oil cleanup” and used language that was not specific to the petroleum industry. The goal was to attract novel suggestions from many fields.
A chemist in the cement industry was awarded $20,000 for proposing a modification of commercially available construction equipment that would vibrate the frozen oil, keeping it fluid.
The ALS Research Problem
By the late 2000s, researchers trying to develop a cure or treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) had not made much progress. One major obstacle was the inability to detect and track the progression of the disease accurately and quickly. Because researchers could not know precisely what stage ALS sufferers had reached, they greatly increased the pool of participants in clinical trials and lengthened their studies, which drove up costs so much that few treatments were developed and evaluated.
Instead of framing its initiative as a search for a cure, Prize4Life, a nonprofit organization, focused on making ALS research feasible and effective. The solution it sought was a biomarker that would enable faster and more-accurate detection and measurement of the progression of the disease.
In 2011, a researcher from Beth Israel Hospital in Boston was paid $1 million for a noninvasive, painless, and low-cost approach, which detects ALS and assesses its progression by measuring changes in an electrical current traveling through muscle. This biomarker lowers the cost of ALS research by providing accurate and timely data that allow researchers to conduct shorter studies with fewer patients.
The Solar Flare Problem
In 2009 NASA decided it needed a better way to forecast solar flares in order to protect astronauts and satellites in space and power grids on Earth. The model it had been using for the past 30 years predicted whether radiation from a solar flare would reach Earth with only a four-hour lead time and no more than 50% accuracy.
NASA did not ask potential solvers simply to find a better way to predict solar flares; instead, it pitched the problem as a data challenge, calling on experts with analytic backgrounds to use one of the agency’s greatest assets—30 years of space weather data—to develop a forecasting model. This data-driven approach not only invited solvers from various fields but also enabled NASA to provide instant feedback, using its archived data, on the accuracy of proposed models.
A semiretired radio-frequency engineer living in rural New Hampshire used data analysis and original predictive algorithms to develop a forecasting model that provided an eight-hour lead time and 85% accuracy. He was awarded $30,000 for this solution.
What approaches have we tried?
The aim here is to find solutions that might already exist in your organization and identify those that it has disproved. By answering this question, you can avoid reinventing the wheel or going down a dead end.
In previous efforts to expand access to clean water, EWV had offered products and services ranging from manually drilled wells for irrigation to filters for household water treatment. As with all its projects, EWV identified products that low-income consumers could afford and, if possible, that local entrepreneurs could manufacture or service. As Naugle and his team revisited those efforts, they realized that both solutions worked only if a water source, such as surface water or a shallow aquifer, was close to the household. As a result, they decided to focus on rainwater—which falls everywhere in the world to a greater or lesser extent—as a source that could reach many more people. More specifically, the team turned its attention to the concept of rainwater harvesting. “Rainwater is delivered directly to the end user,” Naugle says. “It’s as close as you can get to a piped water system without having a piped water supply.”
What have others tried?
EWV’s investigation of previous attempts at rainwater harvesting involved reviewing research on the topic, conducting five field studies, and surveying 20 countries to ask what technology was being used, what was and was not working, what prevented or encouraged the use of various solutions, how much the solutions cost, and what role government played.
“One of the key things we learned from the surveys,” Naugle says, “was that once you have a hard roof—which many people do—to use as a collection surface, the most expensive thing is storage.”
Here was the problem that needed to be solved. EWV found that existing solutions for storing rainwater, such as concrete tanks, were too expensive for low-income families in developing countries, so households were sharing storage tanks. But because no one took ownership of the communal facilities, they often fell into disrepair. Consequently, Naugle and his team homed in on the concept of a low-cost household rainwater-storage device.
Their research into prior solutions surfaced what seemed initially like a promising approach: storing rainwater in a 525-gallon jar that was almost as tall as an adult and three times as wide. In Thailand, they learned, 5 million of those jars had been deployed over five years. After further investigation, however, they found that the jars were made of cement, which was available in Thailand at a low price. More important, the country’s good roads made it possible to manufacture the jars in one location and transport them in trucks around the country. That solution wouldn’t work in areas that had neither cement nor high-quality roads. Indeed, through interviews with villagers in Uganda, EWV found that even empty polyethylene barrels large enough to hold only 50 gallons of water were difficult to carry along a path. It became clear that a viable storage solution had to be light enough to be carried some distance in areas without roads.
What are the internal and external constraints on implementing a solution?
Now that you have a better idea of what you want to accomplish, it’s time to revisit the issue of resources and organizational commitment: Do you have the necessary support for soliciting and then evaluating possible solutions? Are you sure that you can obtain the money and the people to implement the most promising one?
External constraints are just as important to evaluate: Are there issues concerning patents or intellectual-property rights? Are there laws and regulations to be considered? Answering these questions may require consultation with various stakeholders and experts.
Do you have the necessary support for soliciting and evaluating possible solutions? Do you have the money and the people to implement the most promising one?
EWV’s exploration of possible external constraints included examining government policies regarding rainwater storage. Naugle and his team found that the governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam supported the idea, but the strongest proponent was Uganda’s minister of water and the environment, Maria Mutagamba. Consequently, EWV decided to test the storage solution in Uganda.
Step 4: Write the Problem Statement
Now it’s time to write a full description of the problem you’re seeking to solve and the requirements the solution must meet. The problem statement, which captures all that the organization has learned through answering the questions in the previous steps, helps establish a consensus on what a viable solution would be and what resources would be required to achieve it.
A full, clear description also helps people both inside and outside the organization quickly grasp the issue. This is especially important because solutions to complex problems in an industry or discipline often come from experts in other fields (see “Getting Unusual Suspects to Solve R&D Puzzles,” HBR May 2007). For example, the method for moving viscous oil from spills in Arctic and subarctic waters from collection barges to disposal tanks came from a chemist in the cement industry, who responded to the Oil Spill Recovery Institute’s description of the problem in terms that were precise but not specific to the petroleum industry. Thus the institute was able to solve in a matter of months a challenge that had stumped petroleum engineers for years. (To read the institute’s full problem statement, visit hbr.org/problem-statement1 .)
Here are some questions that can help you develop a thorough problem statement:
Is the problem actually many problems?
The aim here is to drill down to root causes. Complex, seemingly insoluble issues are much more approachable when broken into discrete elements.
For EWV, this meant making it clear that the solution needed to be a storage product that individual households could afford, that was light enough to be easily transported on poor-quality roads or paths, and that could be easily maintained.
What requirements must a solution meet?
EWV conducted extensive on-the-ground surveys with potential customers in Uganda to identify the must-have versus the nice-to-have elements of a solution. (See the sidebar “Elements of a Successful Solution.”) It didn’t matter to EWV whether the solution was a new device or an adaptation of an existing one. Likewise, the solution didn’t need to be one that could be mass-produced. That is, it could be something that local small-scale entrepreneurs could manufacture.
Elements of a Successful Solution
EnterpriseWorks/VITA surveyed potential customers in Uganda to develop a list of must-have and nice-to-have elements for a product that would provide access to clean drinking water. The winning solution, shown here in a Ugandan village, met all the criteria.
1. A price, including installation, of no more than $20
2. Storage capacity of at least 125 gallons
3. A weight light enough for one adult to carry a half mile on rough paths
4. Material that would prevent deterioration of water quality
5. An estimate of the cost of operating and maintaining the device over three years and a clear explanation of how to repair and replace components
6. A means, such as a filter, of removing gross organic matter from the incoming rain stream
7. A means, such as a tap or a pump, of extracting water without contaminating the contents of the unit
8. A method for completely draining the water and cleaning the system
1. An aesthetically pleasing design
2. Additional functionality so that the unit could be used for multiple purposes
3. Features such as a modular design or salvageable parts that would add value to the device after its lifetime
Experts in rainwater harvesting told Naugle and his team that their target price of $20 was unachievable, which meant that subsidies would be required. But a subsidized product was against EWV’s strategy and philosophy.
Which problem solvers should we engage?
The dead end EWV hit in seeking a $20 solution from those experts led the organization to conclude that it needed to enlist as many experts outside the field as possible. That is when EWV decided to engage InnoCentive and its network of 250,000 solvers.
What information and language should the problem statement include?
To engage the largest number of solvers from the widest variety of fields, a problem statement must meet the twin goals of being extremely specific but not unnecessarily technical. It shouldn’t contain industry or discipline jargon or presuppose knowledge of a particular field. It may (and probably should) include a summary of previous solution attempts and detailed requirements.
With those criteria in mind, Naugle and his team crafted a problem statement. (The following is the abstract; for the full problem statement, visit hbr.org/problem-statement2 .) “EnterpriseWorks is seeking design ideas for a low-cost rainwater storage system that can be installed in households in developing countries. The solution is expected to facilitate access to clean water at a household level, addressing a problem that affects millions of people worldwide who are living in impoverished communities or rural areas where access to clean water is limited. Domestic rainwater harvesting is a proven technology that can be a valuable option for accessing and storing water year round. However, the high cost of available rainwater storage systems makes them well beyond the reach of low-income families to install in their homes. A solution to this problem would not only provide convenient and affordable access to scarce water resources but would also allow families, particularly the women and children who are usually tasked with water collection, to spend less time walking distances to collect water and more time on activities that can bring in income and improve the quality of life.”
To engage the largest number of solvers from the widest variety of fields, a problem statement must meet the twin goals of being extremely specific but not unnecessarily technical.
What do solvers need to submit?
What information about the proposed solution does your organization need in order to invest in it? For example, would a well-founded hypothetical approach be sufficient, or is a full-blown prototype needed? EWV decided that a solver had to submit a written explanation of the solution and detailed drawings.
What incentives do solvers need?
The point of asking this question is to ensure that the right people are motivated to address the problem. For internal solvers, incentives can be written into job descriptions or offered as promotions and bonuses. For external solvers, the incentive might be a cash award. EWV offered to pay $15,000 to the solver who provided the best solution through the InnoCentive network.
How will solutions be evaluated and success measured?
Addressing this question forces a company to be explicit about how it will evaluate the solutions it receives. Clarity and transparency are crucial to arriving at viable solutions and to ensuring that the evaluation process is fair and rigorous. In some cases a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach is reasonable—for example, when a company is looking for a new branding strategy. Most of the time, however, it is a sign that earlier steps in the process have not been approached with sufficient rigor.
EWV stipulated that it would evaluate solutions on their ability to meet the criteria of low cost, high storage capacity, low weight, and easy maintenance. It added that it would prefer designs that were modular (so that the unit would be easier to transport) and adaptable or salvageable or had multiple functions (so that owners could reuse the materials after the product’s lifetime or sell them to others for various applications). The overarching goal was to keep costs low and to help poor families justify the purchase.
Ultimately, the solution to EWV’s rainwater-storage problem came from someone outside the field: a German inventor whose company specialized in the design of tourist submarines. The solution he proposed required no elaborate machinery; in fact, it had no pumps or moving parts. It was an established industrial technology that had not been applied to water storage: a plastic bag within a plastic bag with a tube at the top. The outer bag (made of less-expensive, woven polypropylene) provided the structure’s strength, while the inner bag (made of more-expensive, linear low-density polyethylene) was impermeable and could hold 125 gallons of water. The two-bag approach allowed the inner bag to be thinner, reducing the price of the product, while the outer bag was strong enough to contain a ton and a half of water.
The structure folded into a packet the size of a briefcase and weighed about eight pounds. In short, the solution was affordable, commercially viable, could be easily transported to remote areas, and could be sold and installed by local entrepreneurs. (Retailers make from $4 to $8 per unit, depending on the volume they purchase. Installers of the gutters, downspout, and base earn about $6.)
EWV developed an initial version and tested it in Uganda, where the organization asked end users such questions as What do you think of its weight? Does it meet your needs? Even mundane issues like color came into play: The woven outer bags were white, which women pointed out would immediately look dirty. EWV modified the design on the basis of this input: For example, it changed the color of the device to brown, expanded its size to 350 gallons (while keeping the target price of no more than $20 per 125 gallons of water storage), altered its shape to make it more stable, and replaced the original siphon with an outlet tap.
After 14 months of field testing, EWV rolled out the commercial product in Uganda in March 2011. By the end of May 2012, 50 to 60 shops, village sales agents, and cooperatives were selling the product; more than 80 entrepreneurs had been trained to install it; and 1,418 units had been deployed in eight districts in southwestern Uganda.
EWV deems this a success at this stage in the rollout. It hopes to make the units available in 10 countries—and have tens or hundreds of thousands of units installed—within five years. Ultimately, it believes, millions of units will be in use for a variety of applications, including household drinking water, irrigation, and construction. Interestingly, the main obstacle to getting people to buy the device has been skepticism that something that comes in such a small package (the size of a typical five-gallon jerrican) can hold the equivalent of 70 jerricans. Believing that the remedy is to show villagers the installed product, EWV is currently testing various promotion and marketing programs. As the EWV story illustrates, critically analyzing and clearly articulating a problem can yield highly innovative solutions. Organizations that apply these simple concepts and develop the skills and discipline to ask better questions and define their problems with more rigor can create strategic advantage, unlock truly groundbreaking innovation, and drive better business performance. Asking better questions delivers better results.
- DS Dwayne Spradlin is the president and CEO of InnoCentive , an online marketplace that connects organizations with freelance problem solvers in a multitude of fields. He is a coauthor, with Alpheus Bingham, of The Open Innovation Marketplace: Creating Value in the Challenge Driven Enterprise (FT Press, 2011).
The 8 deadly wastes: an overview, process capability analysis: minitab with statistics training, free ebook: guide to the six sigma certifications, 5 lean principles, understanding theory of constraints: overview, uses, and how it helps in lean management, understanding takt time and cycle time vs. lead time, what is six sigma certification and reasons to get six sigma certification, what is six sigma: everything you need to know about it, become an expert in digital supply chain management with the purdue university pg program, implementing the 5s methodology: the first steps toward workplace efficiency, what is problem solving steps, techniques, & best practices explained.
Table of Contents
Problem solving is the art of identifying problems and implementing the best possible solutions. Revisiting your problem-solving skills may be the missing piece to leveraging the performance of your business, achieving Lean success, or unlocking your professional potential.
Ask any colleague if they’re an effective problem-solver and their likely answer will be, “Of course! I solve problems every day.”
Problem solving is part of most job descriptions, sure. But not everyone can do it consistently.
The Problem-Solving Process
Problem solving is the process of defining a problem, identifying its root cause, prioritizing and selecting potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution.
There’s no one-size-fits-all problem-solving process. Often, it’s a unique methodology that aligns your short- and long-term objectives with the resources at your disposal. Nonetheless, many paradigms center problem solving as a pathway for achieving one’s goals faster and smarter.
One example is the Six Sigma framework , which emphasizes eliminating errors and refining the customer experience, thereby improving business outcomes. Developed originally by Motorola, the Six Sigma process identifies problems from the perspective of customer satisfaction and improving product delivery.
Lean management, a similar method, is about streamlining company processes over time so they become “leaner” while producing better outcomes.
Trendy business management lingo aside, both of these frameworks teach us that investing in your problem solving process for personal and professional arenas will bring better productivity.
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How to Solve Problems: 5 Steps
1. precisely identify problems.
As obvious as it seems, identifying the problem is the first step in the problem-solving process. Pinpointing a problem at the beginning of the process will guide your research, collaboration, and solutions in the right direction.
At this stage, your task is to identify the scope and substance of the problem. Ask yourself a series of questions:
- What’s the problem?
- How many subsets of issues are underneath this problem?
- What subject areas, departments of work, or functions of business can best define this problem?
Although some problems are naturally large in scope, precision is key. Write out the problems as statements in planning sheets . Should information or feedback during a later step alter the scope of your problem, revise the statements.
Framing the problem at this stage will help you stay focused if distractions come up in later stages. Furthermore, how you frame a problem will aid your search for a solution. A strategy of building Lean success, for instance, will emphasize identifying and improving upon inefficient systems.
2. Collect Information and Plan
The second step is to collect information and plan the brainstorming process. This is another foundational step to road mapping your problem-solving process. Data, after all, is useful in identifying the scope and substance of your problems.
Collecting information on the exact details of the problem, however, is done to narrow the brainstorming portion to help you evaluate the outcomes later. Don’t overwhelm yourself with unnecessary information — use the problem statements that you identified in step one as a north star in your research process.
This stage should also include some planning. Ask yourself:
- What parties will ultimately decide a solution?
- Whose voices and ideas should be heard in the brainstorming process?
- What resources are at your disposal for implementing a solution?
Establish a plan and timeline for steps 3-5.
3. Brainstorm Solutions
Brainstorming solutions is the bread and butter of the problem-solving process. At this stage, focus on generating creative ideas. As long as the solution directly addresses the problem statements and achieves your goals, don’t immediately rule it out.
Moreover, solutions are rarely a one-step answer and are more like a roadmap with a set of actions. As you brainstorm ideas, map out these solutions visually and include any relevant factors such as costs involved, action steps, and involved parties.
With Lean success in mind, stay focused on solutions that minimize waste and improve the flow of business ecosystems.
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4. Decide and Implement
The most critical stage is selecting a solution. Easier said than done. Consider the criteria that has arisen in previous steps as you decide on a solution that meets your needs.
Once you select a course of action, implement it.
Practicing due diligence in earlier stages of the process will ensure that your chosen course of action has been evaluated from all angles. Often, efficient implementation requires us to act correctly and successfully the first time, rather than being hurried and sloppy. Further compilations will create more problems, bringing you back to step 1.
Exercise humility and evaluate your solution honestly. Did you achieve the results you hoped for? What would you do differently next time?
As some experts note, formulating feedback channels into your evaluation helps solidify future success. A framework like Lean success, for example, will use certain key performance indicators (KPIs) like quality, delivery success, reducing errors, and more. Establish metrics aligned with company goals to assess your solutions.
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Introduction to Problem Solving Skills
What is problem solving and why is it important.
The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it’s raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk. If you don't want to get wet, you can drive, or take the bus. You might decide to call a friend for a ride, or you might decide to go to the store another day. There is no right way to solve this problem and different people will solve it differently.
Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.
Why is problem solving important? Good problem solving skills empower you not only in your personal life but are critical in your professional life. In the current fast-changing global economy, employers often identify everyday problem solving as crucial to the success of their organizations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions, and to show independence and initiative to employers.
Throughout this case study you will be asked to jot down your thoughts in idea logs. These idea logs are used for reflection on concepts and for answering short questions. When you click on the "Next" button, your responses will be saved for that page. If you happen to close the webpage, you will lose your work on the page you were on, but previous pages will be saved. At the end of the case study, click on the "Finish and Export to PDF" button to acknowledge completion of the case study and receive a PDF document of your idea logs.
What Does Problem Solving Look Like?
The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution. There are two basic types of strategies: algorithmic and heuristic.
Algorithmic strategies are traditional step-by-step guides to solving problems. They are great for solving math problems (in algebra: multiply and divide, then add or subtract) or for helping us remember the correct order of things (a mnemonic such as “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to remember which way the clock changes for daylight saving time, or “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” to remember what direction to turn bolts and screws). Algorithms are best when there is a single path to the correct solution.
But what do you do when there is no single solution for your problem? Heuristic methods are general guides used to identify possible solutions. A popular one that is easy to remember is IDEAL [ Bransford & Stein, 1993 ] :
- I dentify the problem
- D efine the context of the problem
- E xplore possible strategies
- A ct on best solution
IDEAL is just one problem solving strategy. Building a toolbox of problem solving strategies will improve your problem solving skills. With practice, you will be able to recognize and use multiple strategies to solve complex problems.
Watch the video
What is the best way to get a peanut out of a tube that cannot be moved? Watch a chimpanzee solve this problem in the video below [ Geert Stienissen, 2010 ].
Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.
- [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.
Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.
- [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.
Developing Problem Solving Processes
Problem solving is a process that uses steps to solve problems. But what does that really mean? Let's break it down and start building our toolbox of problem solving strategies.
What is the first step of solving any problem? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and identify the right cause of the problem. This may sound obvious, but similar problems can arise from different events, and the real issue may not always be apparent. To really solve the problem, it's important to find out what started it all. This is called identifying the root cause .
Example: You and your classmates have been working long hours on a project in the school's workshop. The next afternoon, you try to use your student ID card to access the workshop, but discover that your magnetic strip has been demagnetized. Since the card was a couple of years old, you chalk it up to wear and tear and get a new ID card. Later that same week you learn that several of your classmates had the same problem! After a little investigation, you discover that a strong magnet was stored underneath a workbench in the workshop. The magnet was the root cause of the demagnetized student ID cards.
The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather information. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution. Ask yourself questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? When was the last time it worked correctly? What has changed since then? Can you diagram the process into separate steps? Where in the process is the problem occurring? Be curious, ask questions, gather facts, and make logical deductions rather than assumptions.
Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters, describe his problem solving process [ ForaTv, 2010 ]. As you watch this section of the video, try to identify the questions he asks and the different strategies he uses.
Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important. Your list may be different from other people in your class—that's ok!
- [Page 3: Developing Problem Solving Processes] Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important.
“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” — Thomas J. Watson , founder of IBM
Voices From the Field: Solving Problems
In manufacturing facilities and machine shops, everyone on the floor is expected to know how to identify problems and find solutions. Today's employers look for the following skills in new employees: to analyze a problem logically, formulate a solution, and effectively communicate with others.
In this video, industry professionals share their own problem solving processes, the problem solving expectations of their employees, and an example of how a problem was solved.
Meet the Partners:
- Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a comprehensive, fully accredited high school with special programs in Health Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Work-Based Learning.
- Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prepares its students with applied manufacturing technical skills, providing hands-on experience at industrial laboratories and manufacturing facilities, and instructing them in current technologies.
- H.C. Starck in Newton, Massachusetts, specializes in processing and manufacturing technology metals, such as tungsten, niobium, and tantalum. In almost 100 years of experience, they hold over 900 patents, and continue to innovate and develop new products.
- Nypro Healthcare in Devens, Massachusetts, specializes in precision injection-molded healthcare products. They are committed to good manufacturing processes including lean manufacturing and process validation.
Now that you have a couple problem solving strategies in your toolbox, let's practice. In this exercise, you are given a scenario and you will be asked to decide what steps you would take to identify and solve the problem.
Scenario: You are a new employee and have just finished your training. As your first project, you have been assigned the milling of several additional components for a regular customer. Together, you and your trainer, Bill, set up for the first run. Checking your paperwork, you gather the tools and materials on the list. As you are mounting the materials on the table, you notice that you didn't grab everything and hurriedly grab a few more items from one of the bins. Once the material is secured on the CNC table, you load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets.
Bill tells you that since this is a rerun of a job several weeks ago, the CAD/CAM model has already been converted to CNC G-code. Bill helps you download the code to the CNC machine. He gives you the go-ahead and leaves to check on another employee. You decide to start your first run.
What problems did you observe in the video?
- [Page 5: Making Decisions] What problems did you observe in the video?
- What do you do next?
- Try to fix it yourself.
- Ask your trainer for help.
As you are cleaning up, you think about what happened and wonder why it happened. You try to create a mental picture of what happened. You are not exactly sure what the end mill hit, but it looked like it might have hit the dowel pin. You wonder if you grabbed the correct dowel pins from the bins earlier.
You can think of two possible next steps. You can recheck the dowel pin length to make sure it is the correct length, or do a dry run using the CNC single step or single block function with the spindle empty to determine what actually happened.
- Check the dowel pins.
- Use the single step/single block function to determine what happened.
You notice that your trainer, Bill, is still on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem to him. Bill asks if you know what the end mill ran into. You explain that you are not sure but you think it was the dowel pin. Bill reminds you that it is important to understand what happened so you can fix the correct problem. He suggests that you start all over again and begin with a dry run using the single step/single block function, with the spindle empty, to determine what it hit. Or, since it happened at the end, he mentions that you can also check the G-code to make sure the Z-axis is raised before returning to the home position.
- Run the single step/single block function.
- Edit the G-code to raise the Z-axis.
You finish cleaning up and check the CNC for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. You check your paperwork and gather the components and materials again. You look at the dowel pins you used earlier, and discover that they are not the right length. As you go to grab the correct dowel pins, you have to search though several bins. For the first time, you are aware of the mess - it looks like the dowel pins and other items have not been put into the correctly labeled bins. You spend 30 minutes straightening up the bins and looking for the correct dowel pins.
Finally finding them, you finish setting up. You load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do a dry run of the part. Everything looks good! You are ready to create your first part. The first component is done, and, as you admire your success, you notice that the part feels hotter than it should.
You wonder why? You go over the steps of the process to mentally figure out what could be causing the residual heat. You wonder if there is a problem with the CNC's coolant system or if the problem is in the G-code.
- Look at the G-code.
After thinking about the problem, you decide that maybe there's something wrong with the setup. First, you clean up the damaged materials and remove the broken tool. You check the CNC machine carefully for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. It is time to start over again from the beginning.
You again check your paperwork and gather the tools and materials on the setup sheet. After securing the new materials, you use the CNC single step/single block function with the spindle empty, to do a dry run of the part. You watch carefully to see if you can figure out what happened. It looks to you like the spindle barely misses hitting the dowel pin. You determine that the end mill was broken when it hit the dowel pin while returning to the start position.
After conducting a dry run using the single step/single block function, you determine that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin on its return to the home position. You discuss your options with Bill. Together, you decide the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis before returning to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. You are ready to create your first part. It works. You first part is completed. Only four more to go.
As you are cleaning up, you notice that the components are hotter than you expect and the end mill looks more worn than it should be. It dawns on you that while you were milling the component, the coolant didn't turn on. You wonder if it is a software problem in the G-code or hardware problem with the CNC machine.
It's the end of the day and you decide to finish the rest of the components in the morning.
- You decide to look at the G-code in the morning.
- You leave a note on the machine, just in case.
You decide that the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code.
While editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis, you notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and at the end of the code. The coolant command error caught your attention because your coworker, Mark, mentioned having a similar issue during lunch. You change the coolant command to turn the mist on.
- You decide to talk with your supervisor.
- You discuss what happened with a coworker over lunch.
As you reflect on the residual heat problem, you think about the machining process and the factors that could have caused the issue. You try to think of anything and everything that could be causing the issue. Are you using the correct tool for the specified material? Are you using the specified material? Is it running at the correct speed? Is there enough coolant? Are there chips getting in the way?
Wait, was the coolant turned on? As you replay what happened in your mind, you wonder why the coolant wasn't turned on. You decide to look at the G-code to find out what is going on.
From the milling machine computer, you open the CNC G-code. You notice that there are no coolant commands. You add them in and on the next run, the coolant mist turns on and the residual heat issues is gone. Now, its on to creating the rest of the parts.
Have you ever used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've probably have, even if you didn't realize it.
You notice that your trainer, Bill, is on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem with the end mill breaking, and how you discovered that items are not being returned to the correctly labeled bins. You think this caused you to grab the incorrect length dowel pins on your first run. You have sorted the bins and hope that the mess problem is fixed. You then go on to tell Bill about the residual heat issue with the completed part.
Together, you go to the milling machine. Bill shows you how to check the oil and coolant levels. Everything looks good at the machine level. Next, on the CNC computer, you open the CNC G-code. While looking at the code, Bill points out that there are no coolant commands. Bill adds them in and when you rerun the program, it works.
Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .
Talking with Bill, you discuss the best way to fix the problem. Bill suggests editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to its home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Following the setup sheet, you re-setup the job and use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part. It works. Since you need four of each component, you move on to creating the rest of them before cleaning up and leaving for the day.
It's a new day and you have new components to create. As you are setting up, you go in search of some short dowel pins. You discover that the bins are a mess and components have not been put away in the correctly labeled bins. You wonder if this was the cause of yesterday's problem. As you reorganize the bins and straighten up the mess, you decide to mention the mess issue to Bill in your afternoon meeting.
You describe the bin mess and using the incorrect length dowels to Bill. He is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are not the first person to mention similar issues with tools and parts not being put away correctly. Chances are there is a bigger safety issue here that needs to be addressed in the next staff meeting.
In any workplace, following proper safety and cleanup procedures is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money.
You now know that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin. It seems to you that the easiest thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis position of the spindle before it returns to the home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code, raising the Z-axis. Starting over, you follow the setup sheet and re-setup the job. This time, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part.
At the end of the day, you are reviewing your progress with your trainer, Bill. After you describe the day's events, he reminds you to always think about safety and the importance of following work procedures. He decides to bring the issue up in the next morning meeting as a reminder to everyone.
In any workplace, following proper procedures (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. One tool to improve communication is the morning meeting or huddle.
The next morning, you check the G-code to determine what is wrong with the coolant. You notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and also at the end of the code. This is strange. You change the G-code to turn the coolant on at the beginning of the run and off at the end. This works and you create the rest of the parts.
Throughout the day, you keep wondering what caused the G-code error. At lunch, you mention the G-code error to your coworker, John. John is not surprised. He said that he encountered a similar problem earlier this week. You decide to talk with your supervisor the next time you see him.
You are in luck. You see your supervisor by the door getting ready to leave. You hurry over to talk with him. You start off by telling him about how you asked Bill for help. Then you tell him there was a problem and the end mill was damaged. You describe the coolant problem in the G-code. Oh, and by the way, John has seen a similar problem before.
Your supervisor doesn't seem overly concerned, errors happen. He tells you "Good job, I am glad you were able to fix the issue." You are not sure whether your supervisor understood your explanation of what happened or that it had happened before.
The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor that something is not going well, it is important to remember that timing, preparation, and attitude are extremely important.
It is the end of your shift, but you want to let the next shift know that the coolant didn't turn on. You do not see your trainer or supervisor around. You decide to leave a note for the next shift so they are aware of the possible coolant problem. You write a sticky note and leave it on the monitor of the CNC control system.
How effective do you think this solution was? Did it address the problem?
In this scenario, you discovered several problems with the G-code that need to be addressed. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring and avoid injury to personnel. The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your co-workers or supervisor that there is a problem, it is important to remember that timing and the method of communication are extremely important.
You are able to fix the coolant problem in the G-code. While you are glad that the problem is fixed, you are worried about why it happened in the first place. It is important to remember that if a problem keeps reappearing, you may not be fixing the right problem. You may only be addressing the symptoms.
You decide to talk to your trainer. Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .
Over lunch, you ask your coworkers about the G-code problem and what may be causing the error. Several people mention having similar problems but do not know the cause.
You have now talked to three coworkers who have all experienced similar coolant G-code problems. You make a list of who had the problem, when they had the problem, and what each person told you.
When you see your supervisor later that afternoon, you are ready to talk with him. You describe the problem you had with your component and the damaged bit. You then go on to tell him about talking with Bill and discovering the G-code issue. You show him your notes on your coworkers' coolant issues, and explain that you think there might be a bigger problem.
You supervisor thanks you for your initiative in identifying this problem. It sounds like there is a bigger problem and he will need to investigate the root cause. He decides to call a team huddle to discuss the issue, gather more information, and talk with the team about the importance of communication.
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis ( RCA ) is a method of problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of an issue. Root cause analysis helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. RCA uses clear cut steps in its associated tools, like the "5 Whys Analysis" and the "Cause and Effect Diagram," to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:
- Determine what happened.
- Determine why it happened.
- Fix the problem so it won’t happen again.
RCA works under the idea that systems and events are connected. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it developed into the problem you're now facing. Root cause analysis can prevent problems from recurring, reduce injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money. There are many different RCA techniques available to determine the root cause of a problem. These are just a few:
- Root Cause Analysis Tools
- 5 Whys Analysis
- Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram
- Pareto Analysis
How Huddles Work
Communication is a vital part of any setting where people work together. Effective communication helps employees and managers form efficient teams. It builds trusts between employees and management, and reduces unnecessary competition because each employee knows how their part fits in the larger goal.
One tool that management can use to promote communication in the workplace is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting where everyone is standing in a circle. A daily team huddle ensures that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, reiterated problems and safety issues, and how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.
The most important thing to remember about huddles is that they are short, lasting no more than 10 minutes, and their purpose is to communicate and identify. In essence, a huddle’s purpose is to identify priorities, communicate essential information, and discover roadblocks to productivity.
Who uses huddles? Many industries and companies use daily huddles. At first thought, most people probably think of hospitals and their daily patient update meetings, but lots of managers use daily meetings to engage their employees. Here are a few examples:
- Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk? , uses the daily huddle as an operational tool to take the pulse of his employees and as a motivational tool. Watch a morning huddle meeting .
- Fusion OEM, an outsourced manufacturing and production company. What do employees take away from the daily huddle meeting .
- Biz-Group, a performance consulting group. Tips for a successful huddle .
One tool that can be useful in problem solving is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination . The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually. Like most problem solving techniques, brainstorming is a process.
- Define a clear objective.
- Have an agreed a time limit.
- During the brainstorming session, write down everything that comes to mind, even if the idea sounds crazy.
- If one idea leads to another, write down that idea too.
- Combine and refine ideas into categories of solutions.
- Assess and analyze each idea as a potential solution.
When used during problem solving, brainstorming can offer companies new ways of encouraging staff to think creatively and improve production. Brainstorming relies on team members' diverse experiences, adding to the richness of ideas explored. This means that you often find better solutions to the problems. Team members often welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and can provide buy-in for the solution chosen—after all, they are more likely to be committed to an approach if they were involved in its development. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond.
- Watch Peggy Morgan Collins, a marketing executive at Power Curve Communications discuss How to Stimulate Effective Brainstorming .
- Watch Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, a digital content company, and her team share their top five rules for How to Effectively Generate Ideas .
Importance of Good Communication and Problem Description
Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide when you talk to your supervisor.
Tips for clear communication of an issue:
- Provide a clear summary of your problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
- Avoid including your opinion or personal attacks in your explanation.
- Avoid using words like "always" or "never," which can give the impression that you are exaggerating the problem.
- If this is an ongoing problem and you have collected documentation, give it to your supervisor once you have finished describing the problem.
- Remember to listen to what's said in return; communication is a two-way process.
Not all communication is spoken. Body language is nonverbal communication that includes your posture, your hands and whether you make eye contact. These gestures can be subtle or overt, but most importantly they communicate meaning beyond what is said. When having a conversation, pay attention to how you stand. A stiff position with arms crossed over your chest may imply that you are being defensive even if your words state otherwise. Shoving your hands in your pockets when speaking could imply that you have something to hide. Be wary of using too many hand gestures because this could distract listeners from your message.
The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas or concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor or co-worker about something that is not going well, keep in mind that good timing and good attitude will go a long way toward helping your case.
Like all skills, effective communication needs to be practiced. Toastmasters International is perhaps the best known public speaking organization in the world. Toastmasters is open to anyone who wish to improve their speaking skills and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so. To learn more, visit Toastmasters International .
Methods of Communication
Communication of problems and issues in any workplace is important, particularly when safety is involved. It is therefore crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. As issues and problems arise, they need to be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important skill because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.
There are many different ways to communicate: in person, by phone, via email, or written. There is no single method that fits all communication needs, each one has its time and place.
In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response through their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.
Email: Email has become the communication standard for most businesses. It can be accessed from almost anywhere and is great for things that don’t require an immediate response. Email is a great way to communicate non-urgent items to large amounts of people or just your team members. One thing to remember is that most people's inboxes are flooded with emails every day and unless they are hyper vigilant about checking everything, important items could be missed. For issues that are urgent, especially those around safety, email is not always be the best solution.
Phone: Phone calls are more personal and direct than email. They allow us to communicate in real time with another person, no matter where they are. Not only can talking prevent miscommunication, it promotes a two-way dialogue. You don’t have to worry about your words being altered or the message arriving on time. However, mobile phone use and the workplace don't always mix. In particular, using mobile phones in a manufacturing setting can lead to a variety of problems, cause distractions, and lead to serious injury.
Written: Written communication is appropriate when detailed instructions are required, when something needs to be documented, or when the person is too far away to easily speak with over the phone or in person.
There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for your situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.
Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?
- [Page 6:] Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?
Summary of Strategies
In this exercise, you were given a scenario in which there was a problem with a component you were creating on a CNC machine. You were then asked how you wanted to proceed. Depending on your path through this exercise, you might have found an easy solution and fixed it yourself, asked for help and worked with your trainer, or discovered an ongoing G-code problem that was bigger than you initially thought.
When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. Although, each path in this exercise ended with a description of a problem solving tool for your toolbox, the first step is always to identify the problem and define the context in which it happened.
There are several strategies that can be used to identify the root cause of a problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred. RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the “5 Why Analysis" or the “Cause and Effect Diagram,” to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:
Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue defined, the next step is to explore possible strategies to fix the problem.
If you are not sure how to fix the problem, it is okay to ask for help. Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t have the answer. When you collaborate to solve problems you improve workplace communication and accelerates finding solutions as similar problems arise.
One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually.
Depending on your path through the exercise, you may have discovered that a couple of your coworkers had experienced similar problems. This should have been an indicator that there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed.
In any workplace, communication of problems and issues (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.
One strategy for improving communication is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting with everyone standing in a circle. A daily team huddle is a great way to ensure that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, any problems or safety issues are identified and that team members are aware of how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.
To learn more about different problem solving strategies, choose an option below. These strategies accompany the outcomes of different decision paths in the problem solving exercise.
- View Problem Solving Strategies Select a strategy below... Root Cause Analysis How Huddles Work Brainstorming Importance of Good Problem Description Methods of Communication
Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide during your meeting.
- Provide a clear summary of the problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response in their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.
There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for the situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.
"Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” — Richard Sloma
Problem Solving: An Important Job Skill
Problem solving improves efficiency and communication on the shop floor. It increases a company's efficiency and profitability, so it's one of the top skills employers look for when hiring new employees. Recent industry surveys show that employers consider soft skills, such as problem solving, as critical to their business’s success.
The 2011 survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing ," polled over a thousand manufacturing executives who reported that the number one skill deficiency among their current employees is problem solving, which makes it difficult for their companies to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.
In this video, industry professionals discuss their expectations and present tips for new employees joining the manufacturing workforce.
- [Quick Summary: Question1] What are two things you learned in this case study?
- What question(s) do you still have about the case study?
- [Quick Summary: Question2] What question(s) do you still have about the case study?
- Is there anything you would like to learn more about with respect to this case study?
- [Quick Summary: Question3] Is there anything you would like to learn more about with respect to this case study?
What is problem solving and why is it important
By Wayne Stottler , Kepner-Tregoe
- Problem Solving & Decision Making Over time, developing and refining problem solving skills provides the ability to solve increasingly complex problems Learn More
For over 60 years, Kepner-Tregoe has been helping companies across industries and geographies to develop and mature their problem-solving capabilities through KT’s industry leading approach to training and the implementation of best practice processes. Considering that problem solving is a part of almost every person’s daily life (both at home and in the workplace), it is surprising how often we are asked to explain what problem solving is and why it is important.
Problem solving is at the core of human evolution. It is the methods we use to understand what is happening in our environment, identify things we want to change and then figure out the things that need to be done to create the desired outcome. Problem solving is the source of all new inventions, social and cultural evolution, and the basis for market based economies. It is the basis for continuous improvement, communication and learning.
If this problem-solving thing is so important to daily life, what is it?
Problem-solving is the process of observing what is going on in your environment; identifying things that could be changed or improved; diagnosing why the current state is the way it is and the factors and forces that influence it; developing approaches and alternatives to influence change; making decisions about which alternative to select; taking action to implement the changes; and observing impact of those actions in the environment.
Each step in the problem-solving process employs skills and methods that contribute to the overall effectiveness of influencing change and determine the level of problem complexity that can be addressed. Humans learn how to solve simple problems from a very early age (learning to eat, make coordinated movements and communicate) – and as a person goes through life problem-solving skills are refined, matured and become more sophisticated (enabling them to solve more difficult problems).
Problem-solving is important both to individuals and organizations because it enables us to exert control over our environment.
Fixing things that are broken
Some things wear out and break over time, others are flawed from day-1. Personal and business environments are full of things, activities, interactions and processes that are broken or not operating in the way they are desired to work. Problem-solving gives us a mechanism for identifying these things, figuring out why they are broken and determining a course of action to fix them.
Humans have learned to identify trends and developed an awareness of cause-and-effect relationships in their environment. These skills not only enable us to fix things when they break but also anticipate what may happen in the future (based on past-experience and current events). Problem-solving can be applied to the anticipated future events and used to enable action in the present to influence the likelihood of the event occurring and/or alter the impact if the event does occur.
Individuals and organizations do not exist in isolation in the environment. There is a complex and ever-changing web of relationships that exist and as a result, the actions of one person will often have either a direct impact on others or an indirect impact by changing the environment dynamics. These interdependencies enable humans to work together to solve more complex problems but they also create a force that requires everyone to continuously improve performance to adapt to improvements by others. Problem-solving helps us understand relationships and implement the changes and improvements needed to compete and survive in a continually changing environment.
Problem solving isn’t just about responding to (and fixing) the environment that exists today. It is also about innovating, creating new things and changing the environment to be more desirable. Problem-solving enables us to identify and exploit opportunities in the environment and exert (some level of) control over the future.
Problem solving skills and the problem-solving process are a critical part of daily life both as individuals and organizations. Developing and refining these skills through training, practice and learning can provide the ability to solve problems more effectively and over time address problems with a greater degree of complexity and difficulty. View KT’s Problem Solving workshop known to be the gold standard for over 60 years.
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