We talk a lot about problem solving at 100% Effective. To the untrained eye, it can sometimes seem that these steps make problem solving a sterile, logical process; on its own and unrelated to outside factors.

However, that is not the case: While key tools that we recommend can make problem solving easier, there are common problems you encounter. Most of these relate to the fact that problems occur in the workplace and issues are influenced by human emotions, desires and failings.

Strip all of the people away from a problem and it becomes a simple, logical process to solve it. But it is impossible to solve a problem in a silo, so it’s important to understand the issues you can encounter when solving a problem in the real world with real people.

So, we’ve highlighted some of the biggest pitfalls to effective problem solving so that you can be prepared.

Problem solving pitfall 1: Wrong people involved

Often when a problem needs to be solved, a team is quickly pulled together of people who may have done this kind of thing before and those who have the spare capacity. While the logic in this decision making is clear, it doesn’t actually lead to the best teams.

Your best man for the job might be disappearing under work, but if the problem is strategically significant to the business it should be more important to clear his decks than to find someone else.

If the right people are not involved from the start your problem may not be solved as quickly or efficiently as you want, which could make the rest of your employees disengage from the process.

Problem solving pitfall 2: The problem isn’t clear

Sometimes the problem is more a lack of coherence about what actually needs to be done, rather than any direct issues with the ability of the team.

Poor project goals such as solve the sales issue or reduce scrap rates are fine as ultimate goals or outcomes, but they are too vague to actually tackle the problem. Often when problem statements are written in this way the project encounters issues as the person running the project doesn’t know if they are fixing the right problem, they can’t know when they’re finished working on it as they have no yardstick and if they have no clear starting point it will be tough to prevent the issue returning.

Problems need to be articulated clearly to indicate exactly what the issue is so instead of reduce the scrap rates the project should aim to reduce the scrap rate from 30% to 5% by the end of the year.

Problem solving pitfall 3: There’s no data

This brings us nicely to the next pitfall; a lack of data. Imagine you know exactly what the problem is – the sister factory in Germany is producing output with a higher defect rate, or the customer representatives in London are reporting a sharp drop in repeat business – you should be able to get to work identifying the cause and solving the problem.

But the only reason you know this problem exists is through anecdotal evidence – you’ve not collected any hard data on it. If you start to make improvements now, it will be impossible to know when you’ve done enough to achieve an acceptable defect rate, and it won’t be possible to show how much you’ve reduced the defect rate by.

Without hard evidence, it will be challenging to show that any new processes are actually an improvement so it won’t be long before people slide back into old habits.

Problem solving pitfall 4: There’s no time

In other cases, your problem statement and data are ideal. You’ve got all the facts, you know what the problem is and you’re ready to get started. The trouble is that you can’t seem to find the time to actually make any progress.

Unless the Green and Black Belts responsible for improvement, and their team, are given the time they need away from their day jobs to work on the project it will not move forward. The improvement team need the time and resources to meet routinely and toil through the issue methodically and accurately in order to generate a solution that will work, and continue working!

Failing to provide enough time means the improvement project falls down the list of priorities meaning it either never gets done, or isn’t done correctly which can lead to even more trouble.

Problem solving pitfall 5: You tackle the wrong cause

Addressing the wrong cause is a major issue with problem solving in businesses, particularly when teams are not given sufficient time and support to give the issue the attention it needs.

On the surface, it can seem obvious what is causing a problem to occur and take steps to address that cause. However, in many cases this obvious cause is actually just a symptom of the problem so fixing it won’t actually address the real issue – it may just mask it for a while.

With the necessary time, the improvement team can look at all of the data and work to identify the real root cause of the problem in order to fix it for good.

Effective problem solving takes time, commitment and a methodical approach. Businesses can fall into these pitfalls with problem solving if they fail to give the issue at hand the correct level of priority and importance. Remember, for every month this problem continues, your business could be losing out!

If you’d like to learn more about how you can become a problem-solving whizz click here or contact us on 0800 066 3749.

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