Everyday work brings up problems that you cannot always solve quickly. Creative problem solving is one of the most important skills managers need to get the desired results. So, how do the best managers solve problems while facing pressure and deadlines?
The best approach to solve moderately difficult problems and ones that you may not have a known solution is the lean six sigma problem solving process, DMAIC. Check out this post on the lean six sigma DMAIC approach.
And even for simple to moderately difficult problems, it is ideal to a standardized approach that everyone follows to assure you are defining the right problem and not jumping to solutions.
This process may still include relying on your gut or intuition as you consider possibilities.
That process is usually three steps, identify the problem, research how it has been successfully solved in the past, explore how this problem is similar or different and decide on the remedy.
I want to suggest adding an additional step you may not have been using that will be immensely helpful.
Formulate the Problem into a Challenge Question
Take the problem statement, usually posed in the negative and turn it into a question. For instance, if your problem is to decrease the wait time in your waiting room, you could ask “In what ways could we increase how quickly patients are seen by our practitioners?”.
Make sure that you form a unique challenge question for each problem. Raising two or more problems in one challenge question will create confusion when you get the brainstorming stage.
Once the challenge question is clear you can brainstorm different ideas on how you can resolve the identified problem.
Once you choose the problem you are solving, with its challenge question, then you need to create an action plan for it.
Steps to Take for Problem Solving Mastery
1. Ask “Five Why” Questions to Get to the Root Problem
Getting to the root cause of issues is how you are sure you are solving for the right problem. One strategy that you can use to do so is the “five why’s” technique. Start by stating the problem and then ask a series of why questions to get a deeper understanding of the issue.
For example, if you are trying to decrease the wait time in our waiting room, you could ask “why is this a problem?” or “why do I wish to achieve this goal?”
The answer could be “because we are losing new customers”. Then you would ask “why is that” or ‘”why else” five times. You could come up with answers like:
- Because we are missing out on referrals from our current patients
- Because we our customer service reviews are poor
- Because our profits are shrinking
- Because we can’t expand
Asking the “five why’s” may show that the real problem is loss of revenue. While reducing wait time is a great goal, the problem is revenue based and you want to identify all sources of waste prior to focusing on this one issue.
Brainstorming is a strategy most people are familiar with. It involves stating the challenge questions and coming with as many creative ideas as possible to solve the issue. Brainstorming is best done in a group such as a team at work or with friends and family. However, you can also do it alone.
Make sure that every idea is honored by writing it down in a place that everyone can see. This will increase creativity and encourage everyone to contribute.
Whenever you and your team are brainstorming solutions to challenges, don’t allow anyone to make judgments on the viability of an idea. Whenever an idea gets shot down for being impossible or too expensive, the creativity in the room gets stifled. Others become scared to suggest the ideas that come to their minds when these could have been the solution needed.
Unique ideas sometimes inspire a more viable idea from someone else. Set a rule for yourself and your team that brainstorming sessions are free for anything that comes to mind. Remember to stay positive and helpful when addressing feedback for team ideas.
3. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a brainstorming strategy that organizes your creative thoughts in a visual diagram or map. The advantage of mind mapping is that it summarizes a lot of ideas in easy to see pictures. Mind maps can also increase your teamwork and help people see connections between each other’s ideas.
Summary: Problem Solving in the Workplace
One of the main tasks of managers is to solve problems. It is important to know the best strategies available to engage your teams and identify the right problems.
Problem solving is a set of skills for managers that requires knowledge and experience along with subskills like facilitation, active listening and assertiveness that make you a problem-solving master.
We understand the need to support managers through training and coaching and developed the Work Smart Club as your vehicle for success. The Club is an online resource center for work and well-being. To learn more about how we develop your team’s problem solving ability, schedule a complimentary strategy call today.
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