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Problem Solving and Prevention, and Decision Making, Part 1

Problem Solving and Prevention, and Decision Making, Part 1

By Bob Sproull

Today’s post is the first installment in a new series on problem-solving, problem prevention, and decision making. Much of what you will be reading in this series is taken from my soon-to-be-published book, [1]The Problem-Solving, Problem-Prevention, and Decision-Making Guide— Organized and Systematic Roadmaps for Managers, scheduled for release in April.

Problem solving has always been a problem in manufacturing

When I was a much younger man, just starting my manufacturing career at Xerox Corporation, my new boss called me into his office and told me that he had a problem he wanted me to solve for him. Since it was my first real assignment of substance, I was anxious and wanted to impress him by doing a great job. However, I had no idea how to begin to solve problems, and quite frankly, I was too embarrassed to ask for help. After all, problem solving is what he hired me to do. So, I frantically searched the library (in those days there was no internet to surf for answers) for a simple reference book on problem solving to guide me, but I couldn’t find one.

I couldn’t sleep, and I spent days and nights worrying about what to do. I finally did solve the problem, but only after weeks and weeks of simple trial and error. I tried every conceivable approach until I inevitably stumbled onto the solution. I had no real methodology, just simple logic on a process of elimination. I realized then the critical need for a methodology to lead or guide people like me through a problem-solving exercise.

Even today, manufacturers are in need of reliable problem-solving methodologies

Since that time forty-plus years ago, it seems not much has changed in problem-solving methodologies. I’ve met lots of people working on problems and lots of people complaining about problems, but very few who understand how to systematically search for the root causes of problems. Just like me as a young man, many people don’t even know where or how to begin to prevent or to solve a problem. We humans tend to get bogged down in the minutiae of the unimportant details and fail to realize that both preventing and solving problems really aren’t that difficult, if we simply follow an organized, disciplined, and systematic approach.

I also see many people making bad decisions, jumping to conclusions, or simply treating the symptoms of problems rather than solving them. Every day we are confronted with a plethora of real problems. Problems that are creating issues like lost throughput, poor quality, personnel deficiencies, and material shortages require decisions that must be made correctly and efficiently. Our approach to these daily quandaries will determine how successful we are in our broader individual roles, and in our organizational missions.

We need problem-solving and decision-making roadmaps

It has been my experience that people like to jump directly into identifying causes and developing solutions before they even understand the nature of the problem they are trying to solve. But for complex problems, a sound decision-making process often requires weeks of effort. Shortcuts often result in blind decision making that results in changes to perfectly acceptable processes for all the wrong reasons. The danger in not having a sound methodology is that we wind up adding numerous steps that complicate, create waste, and destabilize our processes and systems. It is this waste of time, motion, and materials that drives many companies to financial ruin and closure.

The cornerstones of my upcoming book are three roadmaps for solving problems, preventing problems, and making decisions. Each roadmap contains a step-by-step explanation on how to prevent future problems, how to solve existing problems, and how to make effective decisions.  Over the next series of posts, I will examine and explain these roadmaps.

Coming in the next post

In Part 2 of this series, I will dive into problem solving, problem prevention and decision making in a manufacturing environment. In this series of posts, I will provide roadmaps for all three subjects which I think you will find useful as you work to improve your capabilities in these areas and to avoid the quandary I found myself in early on in my career.    

Until next time.

Bob Sproull

[1] The Problem-Solving, Problem-Prevention, and Decision-Making Guide - Organized and Systematic Roadmaps for Managers, by Bob Sproull, CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group, LLC), 2018.

Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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