Problem Solving for Good

Why do so many leaders miss the first step in problem-solving?

I have read (and written) so many articles on effective problem-solving. Each one provides its own variation of an “X Step” process to effectively solve problems. Everyone, at this point, knows that we need to first take the time to collect and understand all the information in order to make a good decision that will solve the problem. Then analyze, plan, execute, etc. – repeat.

Wait. Repeat?

Why is it that some problems seem to just keep popping up, over and over again?

I’ve found that the answer to this question has a whole lot to do with people skipping, or at least not taking the time to complete, the universally undisputed first step of effective problem solving – understanding the problem.

Particularly in the fast-paced, hyper-productive, long hours, fewer employees business world we live in and love today, it is easy to underestimate the full scope of a problem. We need to remind ourselves to slow down and take the time to fully understand the problem. Train yourself to start seeing problems within the big picture and stop making a rushed judgments.

Problem-solving requires an understanding of context.

Solving problems for good requires an ability to see the problem in the context of the big picture. This includes the need to break down operational silos within your organization. For example, a customer service problem does not just affect the customer service or the shipping department. It affects every department from marketing and sales, to accounting, to production, to shipping.

Since I am a visual person, I like to physically write lists and draw models. Start by brainstorming and writing down every possible stakeholder this problem touches. Include external stakeholders such as customers and suppliers as well as internal, and departmental stakeholders. Once you are convinced that you’ve captured everyone that this problem touches, continue by listing all the possible ways in which each stakeholder is affected by the problem. Think freely and openly about this. Any effect, whether it be large or small, real or imagined, should be included on this list to give you perspective on the full scope of the problem.

Now is the point when you might want to start bringing in your team to help identify and define how the problem affects them and/or their department directly, as well as how it might affect the external stakeholders that the department is in contact with. Bring in representatives from each department that is affected by this problem and make sure that you’ve fully covered the issue. Then, as a group, begin working through the rest of the steps to effective problem-solving.