What is it?
A step by step approach for resolving a problem or issue.
What is its purpose?
It provides a structured and disciplined means for groups to explore and resolve an issue together. An in-depth analysis ensures that groups understand their problem before jumping to solutions.
What is the outcome?
Systematic problem solving results in doable action steps that members of the group take responsibility for implementing. Because the process is systematic, it stops the group from randomly suggesting ideas that never get implemented. Problem solving is also at the heart of improving customer service and continuous improvement.
How does it work?
There are eight steps in Systematic Problem Solving.
Step 1. Name the Problem.
Identify a problem that needs to be solved. Analyze it briefly to ensure that there is a common understanding of the issue. Next write a one or two sentence description of the problem. This is called the problem statement.
Step 2. Identify the goal of the problem-solving exercise.
Answer the following questions individually or as a group. “If this problem were totally solved, how would you describe the ideal situation?” or “How will things look if we solve this problem?” Summarize this in a one to two sentence goal statement.
Step 3. Analyze the problem.
If the problem is fairly technical, do a Fishbone Diagram, otherwise as a series of probing questions to help members think analytically about the problem. Categorize the observations as either ‘causes’ or effects’. The goal is to get to the true root cause of the problem. Some good probing questions include:
- Describe this problem to me in detail. Step by step
- What is taking place? What are the signs and symptoms?
- What are the noticeable signs of it?
- What makes this happen?
- How are people affected?
- What other problems does it cause?
- What are the most damaging aspects?
- What and who stops us from solving it?
- What gets in the way of us solving it?
- How do we contribute to the problem?
- What are the root causes of each symptom?
Step 4. Identify potential solutions.
Brainstorm potential solutions. Use the following guidelines when brainstorming:
- Let the ideas flow, be creative, don't judge.
- All ideas are accepted, even if they're way out.
- Build on the good ideas of others.
When the ideas stop flowing, ask probing questions to encourage members to dig deeper. Some useful probing questions are:
- What if money were no object?
- What if you owned this company?
- What would the customer suggest?
- What if we did the oppostie of the ideas suggest so far?
- What is the most innovative thing we could do?
Step 5. Evaluate solutions.
Step 6. Create an action plan.
Spell out the specific steps needed to implement the best solutions. Use SMART goals. Each action step should have a performance indicator that answers the question, “How will we know we have been successful?” This indicator will help focus the action step and make it easier to measure results later.
Step 7. Troubleshoot the plan.
Use the Troubleshooting worksheet to identify all of the things that could get in the way and then make sure that there are plans in place to deal with them. Use the following questions to help identify trouble spots:
- What are the most difficult, complex, or sensitive aspects of the plan?
- What sudden shifts could take place to change priorities or otherwise change the environment?
- What organizational blocks and barriers could we run into?
- What technical or materials-related problems could stop or delay us?
- Should we be aware of any human resource issues? Which ones?
- In which ways might members of this team not fulfull their commitments?
Step 8. Monitor and evaluate.
Identify how the actions plans will be monitored and when and how the results will be reported.
For a printable version of the Systematic Problem Solving Template, please click here.
Adapted from: Facilitation at a Glance. 1999. AQP / Participative Dynamics / GOAL/QPC