Problem Solving: A Problem Well Defined Is Half Solved

Posted by on Dec 3, 2010 in Problem Solving, Process Improvement | 0 comments

Someone once said, “A problem well defined, is half solved.”  Problem definition can have a great impact on how a team starts a project and begins to collect data.  It is very important that they truly understand the current situation.
There are four key steps that experienced problem solvers use to understand and define a problem.  They are the following:
1.     Collect and analyze information and data.
2.     Talk with people familiar with the problem.
3.     If possible, view the problem first hand.
4.     Confirm all findings.
Step 1.  Collect and analyze information and data.
Learn as much as you can about the problem.  Write down everything you can to describe the problem.  Determine what information is missing and what information is erroneous.  The information should be properly organized and analyzed.  I personally like to use the Is – Is Not matrix to do this.  It begs the question, what is different between the Is column and the Is Not column.  I have used it many times with great success.
Use drawings and graphs to get further information.  A simple tool for attribute data is a concentration diagram or pictograph.  Basically, it is a picture or drawing of the product with tick marks showing where defects are located.  This can give you clues and help get to the root cause.  Graphs can be used to display numerical or quantitative data.
Step 2. Talk with people familiar with the problem.
Talk to people that know about the problem and ask everything you can think of about it.  Don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions because this may lead to a better understanding of the current situation.  Get the operators, maintenance people, or office workers involved to discuss the problem in detail.
Step 3.  View the problem first hand.
Don’t rely on other people’s interpretation of the situation.  If possible, go look for yourself.  This is usually an eye-opening experience that can lead to possible clues and root cause of the problem.
Step 4.  Confirm all findings.
Verify all the information you have is correct.  Don’t take anything for granted.  Confirm all important pieces of information.  Distinguish between fact and opinion.  Are all assumptions valid?
Hopefully, by following these four steps, you can get your problem well defined and get off to a good start in finding the root cause and solving it.

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