This month we’ll be diving deeper into the Problem Solving Process that we teach our clients.
When you’re faced with a problem, how many times do you just find a workaround? Figuring out a way to minimize the problem just enough so that you can keep moving. But never actually solving it. The goal of the Problem Solving Process is to solve problems the first time. To make sure that you are effectively addressing issues as they arise and making them go away forever so that they don’t rear their ugly heads again.
The key to doing that lies in solving the root cause of the problem. Our Problem Solving Process focuses on making sure that you understand exactly what the root cause of the problem is before you try and solve it. That way you’re really digging in and getting to the seed of the issue and not just solving superficial symptoms.
It is a three-step process 1. Prioritize 2. Frame 3. Solve.
Step one: Prioritize.
Before you begin solving problems you need to prioritize the top three problems that are most important to solve in this meeting. That way you know that you’re solving the biggest problem first and not just the problem that happens to be at the top of the list. Some weeks, you’ll get through seven. Some weeks you’ll get through one. The number doesn’t matter. The importance of the problem does.
Step two: Frame.
This step makes sure that everyone is on the same page about what exactly the problem is. This is where that root cause analysis comes in. We use two main tools to help you dig to the root of the problem.
The first is the 27 Challenges. It is a list of 27 different challenges that cover every issue a company faces.
Based on the study of 650 different small businesses, every single problem a company runs into can be related back to one of these 27 Challenges. Using this list helps you better identify the root cause of the problem. It acts as a reference point. You can point to one of the 27 and say, I think this problem relates to hiring quality staff. Someone else might think it relates to new hire orientation. Then it becomes about having that discussion to truly understand what is at the root of the problem.
Another tool we use is People, Process, or Profit.
This is simply three lenses through which you can view every problem. It’s about understanding: is it a people related issue? A process related issue? Or a profit related issue?
People problems mean that there is an individual at the root cause of the issue. Maybe they don’t have the training or the support that they need. Or maybe they haven’t been given the tools they need. It could come down to the fact that they are the wrong person for that seat, or for the company. They’re just not in the right role for them.
Process problems are about understanding if the process is broken. Has the way that you work changed? Does this process now slow you down rather than speed you up? And do you need to revisit that?
Profit problems are mostly related to capacity. When you don’t have the capital you need. Or the sales you need. Maybe your product isn’t selling well or you’re not marketing it well. It’s also the resources that you have available to get the tools that you need, the equipment that you need in order to do your job. Do you have enough profit to fund efficient workstations? Is it time to upgrade your software programs? Do you need a new piece of equipment?
We use these three lenses to understand where the root cause of the problem lies.
Often, we jump to assuming that it is a people issue. It’s easy to point to the person who did the task wrong and leave the blame there. But sometimes it’s the process that they followed. They may have followed the process perfectly, but the process is broken. Or maybe they didn’t have the right tool to complete the job well. Maybe the software they are using is prone to glitches. Either way, you must make sure that you’re getting to the root cause. And not just jumping to the easiest conclusion.
In addition to root cause analysis, we also use the Frame step to define the parameters for a solution. What would be the ideal outcome of the solution? What needs absolutely have to be met?
Step three: Solve.
Now that you have properly framed the problem; you know what the issue is, you know what the root cause of the problem is, and you know what an ideal solution would look like. You can move to solving that problem. Here we use another tool. It’s called the GROW Model.
G – Goal. We’ve already covered this to a certain extent in framing the problem. What is the goal or outcome that you’re looking for? What is the ideal solution to this problem? Take time to define what you want to get out of solving this problem.
R – Reality. This is about taking a step back and listing out where you are. What’s happened? How did it happen? What solutions have you already tried? What is your current reality in relation to this problem? You need to be realistic and objective about what’s been going on.
O – Options. You list out all of the potential options. No idea is a bad idea here. It’s just brainstorming and getting everything out on the table. Then from those options, keeping in mind your current reality, and in relation to your end goal, what’s the best way forward?
W – Way Forward. That’s your solution. Generally, that solution then has to do’s that someone needs to do. Get those written down so that you can check in and make sure they’ve been done the next time you meet.
And voila! Problem solved. Hopefully forever.
That is the three-step Problem Solving Process: Prioritize, Frame, and Solve.
It’s not rocket science by any means, but it does take discipline to master. It is very easy to get sucked down rabbit holes and tangents. You have to keep yourself and your team on track and on priority. Make sure you stick to solving the most pressing problems first.
Also, you have to make problem solving as inclusive as possible. Just because you’re the leader does not mean that you have to solve all of the company’s problems.
Our natural tendency, especially certain behavioral styles, is to jump right in and start solving when we hear about a problem. You probably like solving problems. You may have faced a similar issue in the past. And you may even have the exact right answer. But if you want to build a self-healing organization, you need to get others involved, teach them how to problem solve.
This is a skill that when developed will help everyone in the company make sure they are solving problems the first time they come around.