10 Ways to Improve Your Organization’s Ability to Solve Problems

Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Problem solving is a skill that anyone can learn and become more proficient.  As individuals, we constantly solve problems everyday.  But it seems that problems in the workplace are much tougher to solve for a variety of reasons.  Much of this is due to the complexity and technical nature of the problems we encounter at work.  In thinking about this, I’ve identified 10 ways that organizations can help improve their ability to solve problems.

  1. Take enough time to understand the current situation.  Don’t just start throwing solutions at the problem and hope something sticks.  When did the problem start?  Has it always been a problem?  Does the problem only exist with certain customers?  What’s changed in the process?  You may have to take some time to gather the facts and talk to people associated with the problem.
  2. Developed a focused problem statement.  Someone once said that a problem well defined is half solved.  The better problem definition you have, the more focused you can become.  Be careful not to prejudge a potential cause that can lead you down the wrong path and delay your problem solving efforts.
  3. Be data driven.  Don’t rely on hearsay, opinions, or tribal knowledge.  Segment your data in as many ways as you can.  This can help you generate clues as to where you can start your investigation.  Make sure your measurement system is capable and is giving you accurate data.
  4. Provide your employees with a problem solving structure and a basic set of tools.  You’ll be amazed at what they’ll be able to solve and how’ll make huge process improvements.
  5. Establish process owners.  I’m often amazed when I ask who the problem owner is and no one knows!  Processes only get fixed when someone is held accountable for it.  You’ll want to establish key process indicators (KPIs) and establish a baseline for improvement.
  6. Establish an infrastructure to review the team’s status and give updates.  I suggest weekly meetings to my clients so that progress can be made and any roadblocks can be removed.  This meeting allows the teams to provide a short update on where they’re at and allow everyone to ask questions.  By doing it weekly it forces the team to stay focused, be accountable, and continue to make progress.
  7. Ask the right questions.  Asking questions leads to knowledge and a better understanding of processes.  Focus your questions around the problem solving effort.  Questions such as “Are we collecting the right data?”  “Did you ensure the measurement system is adequate?”  “Can you turn the problem on and off?”  “How did you confirm the solution?”  “How did you ensure the problem doesn’t reoccur?”
  8. Provide teams a coach.  No matter how well you train employees there are going to be times when they get stuck and won’t know how to proceed.  This is where a good coach can help them get going again.  Designate someone in the organization to become your “expert” and allow them to coach others.
  9. Conduct internal process audits.  Conducting process audits is a great way to ensure everyone is following the method.  Many problems in organizations are the result of not having a method, or if a method exists, it is not being followed.  A process audit conducted quarterly can provide a means to ensure that the system is working the way you want it to and prevent problems from occurring.
  10. Establish best practices and read-across to other products, departments, etc.  Does it seem like you solve the same problems over and over again?  Having a good process for establishing best practices and a method for disseminating the learnings and solutions to other products and departments  is a great way to prevent future problems.  In most organizations there are pockets of excellence where the supervisors and employees have established best practices.  The trouble is, only they are aware of it and the rest of the organization suffers.  Determine who has the best practice and leverage it as much as you can.

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