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Problem Solving and Prevention, and Decision Making, Part 2

Problem Solving and Prevention, and Decision Making, Part 2

By Bob Sproull

Review of Problem Solving and Prevention, and Decision Making, Part 1

I have met many people over the years who work on problems and many more who complain about problems, as I explained in Part 1 of this series. But I have encountered very few who understand how to systematically search for and find the root causes of problems. Without the right tools for problem solving, prevention, and decision making, manufacturing professionals are much more likely to make poor decisions, jump to wrong conclusions, or simply treat symptoms of problems, rather than solve them.

As a reminder, much of what you will be reading is taken from my soon to be published book entitled, The Problem-Solving, Problem-Prevention, and Decision-Making Guide—Organized and Systematic Roadmaps for Managers, CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group, LLC), scheduled for release in April.

The Raw DNA of Problem Solvers

In today’s post, we will dive into the basics of problem solving and lay the foundation for a systematic approach to solving problems.

I believe that truly good problem solvers in all walks of life all share a special bond. This connection is not coincidental; it is due to specific behaviors and character traits that they have in common. These are the qualities that separate true problem solvers from problem-solving imposters.

I have catalogued 10 behaviors and personality traits that I believe are the basic genetic material shared and utilized by effective problem solvers. If a person or team can demonstrate these qualities, the opportunity to become effective and successful at problem solving will usually materialize. Each quality serves a different purpose or function as the individual or team searches for the answer to the problem-solving conundrum. In no particular order, they are as follows:

  1. Being impartial and objective
  2. Being analytical and systematic
  3. Being imaginative, creative, and ingenious
  4. Having dedication, commitment, and perseverance
  5. Being curious
  6. Having courage
  7. Having a sense of adventure
  8. Being enthusiastic
  9. Being patient, persistent, and resilient
  10. Being vigilant

Unlocking the DNA

Let’s now look more closely at each of these 10 behaviors and traits.

A problem solver must always be impartial and objective. This means that he or she must not have preconceived notions, ideas, or biases regarding a problem’s potential cause. Each problem has its own set of conditions or circumstances, and most of the time the answer lies in the data and information surrounding these conditions.

A good problem solver must be analytical and systematic in his or her approach to problems. One of the keys to solving problems is the art of methodically asking the right questions. Asking the right questions is imperative if we are to uncover the facts relative to the problem. Closely related to asking questions is the need to perform a purposeful and methodical analysis. Once the data surrounding the problem is collected, it must be analyzed in a systematic way. A good problem solver understands which tools and techniques are available, how to use them, and when to utilize each one.

Solving problems requires imagination, creativity, and ingenuity. Sometimes it demands abstract thinking and imaginative, inventive actions. Once you have determined the true root cause (or causes) of the problem, it’s time to be innovative and let your creative juices flow as you develop effective solutions. Finding the solution to your problem will demand ingenuity and resourcefulness, so you must be inventive.

Dedication, perseverance, and commitment are the next requirements for problem solving, because the answers are sometimes obscure or concealed. One must be determined to find the root cause and committed to using a systematic approach. False leads can frustrate problem-solving imposters, who become frustrated with having to continue a process that appeared to be heading toward a conclusion.

Another hallmark of effective problem solvers is curiosity. The curious are interested in understanding why things happen and will probe beneath the surface of a problem in search of elusive culprits. Solutions to problems all begin out of the curiosity and desire to determine and understand what happened and then understand why.

It takes courage, daring, and guts to be a good problem solver. Because there is usually a negative aura or atmosphere surrounding problems, people who are closest to and responsible for dealing with the problem sometimes feel threatened. When asked questions about a problem in their area of responsibility, many people instinctively take a defensive posture.

Solving problems is a journey and an exploration into what happened, so having a sense of adventure is fundamental to reaching your destination. I have often wondered how the early explorers like Columbus or Lewis and Clark must have felt as they sailed into unknown and uncharted waters or passed through unfamiliar and strange countryside, never knowing what they were going to be confronted with, or even if they would be successful. Toyota takes this quality more seriously than almost any other manufacturer. The company directs its managers and executives to go visit the source of the problem in its plants, so they can see first-hand what is happening.

A good problem solver will usually demonstrate enthusiasm during the process. There must be a certain zeal and passion that becomes infectious to the rest of the team. By demonstrating and communicating enthusiasm, a problem solver motivates and inspires other team members to contribute their talents.

The steps in identifying root causes and developing solutions to problems is not always a straight-forward linear progression, so a good problem solver must demonstrate patience, persistence, and resilience. You will, at times, be pressured to move faster than you would like to or need to, so you must be compelled to stay the course.

Finally, a good problem solver should be vigilant and always expect the unexpected. Just when you think you may have exposed the root cause of a problem, or discovered the causal pathway, new information or something unanticipated may arise and catch you off guard if you aren’t alert to this possibility. So be cautious and attentive to new information that could come at any time and change your thinking.

These are the qualities and behaviors of a good problem solver, but not all of them are necessarily essential in one person for successfully solving a problem. As a matter of fact, teams that are comprised of individuals with different combinations of these qualities who complement one another and collaborate well are often the most successful.

Coming in the next post

In the next post, I will discuss the DNA of problems and define common types of problems. Not all problems are created equal, so it is important to recognize the type of problem you are working on before you can determine the most effective problem-solving approach.

Until next time.

Bob Sproull

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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