The pitfalls of problem solving

Regardless of our experience level, we can all fall into these classic problem-solving traps. The human mind is such that we need to force ourselves (a little) to achieve our goals and solve problems effectively.

Problem definition, identification and analysis

These pitfalls relate to the first four steps of 8D and A3.

Pitfall #1: Forgetting to talk to stakeholders

Who knows the problem better than those who live it? This is obvious, but when the person in charge of solving the problem is not the one living it, then it is easy to get it wrong. It is essential to go to gemba. You will be able to visualize the problem, reproduce it (if possible) and exchange with those who experience it.

The understanding of the problem will be better. It’s by avoiding this first trap that you can be sure to start off on the right foot!

Pitfall #2: Defining the problem as a lack of …

This is the counterpart of observation and direct exchange. It is strongly related to trap n°5. Stakeholders on the gemba are likely to define the problem as a lack of… training, human or material resources, …

In doing so, the solution becomes obvious: more training, more human and material resources are needed. When observing, focus on facts rather than perceptions. Do not jump to conclusions.

Just define the problem as what it is: Who, What, Where, When, How, How much. Going back to the basic QQOQCP questions, we focus on defining the problem.

Pitfall 3: Solving the wrong problem

In the heat of the moment, you identify the problem, analyze the root causes, implement the solutions and … the problem is still there … Maybe you’re dealing with the wrong problem. I can’t say it often enough: you have to take the time to identify the problem.

All the time spent at the beginning of the process to fully understand the problem is time saved for the future. The effort curve required to correct a bad start is exponential. At each step you need more and more energy to get back on track. If the problem is urgent, working on a bad problem is even more costly. In fact, you will have to start over, with a lot of time wasted and effort invested for nothing. Reflection takes time and it is necessary to give yourself time to identify the right problem.

Pitfall #4: Solving others’ problems before your own

It is written in the Gospel: we are quicker to see the faults of others than our own. Questioning is a difficult exercise. If you can’t see what’s not working in your area of work, why not get help from your colleagues in other areas? Since it is easier to see the mote in the eye of others than the beam in your own, you can use this adage to help each other understand your problems better.

Beyond problems in other areas of your organization, this trap also applies to problems in your area, but whose resolution is beyond your reach. Focus on the areas you control before moving on.

Pitfall #5: Skipping the root cause analysis

It is a classic: we go straight to the solutions, even before identifying the problem or its causes. This trap comes with its variant: we go straight to the root cause without analyzing or observing the situation sufficiently. This trap is complementary to all the previous ones, and can be avoided with the same techniques: observe, take the time, understand.

Check and learn

The other three traps concern the last two steps of 8D and A3, which are also the last two steps of PDCA: the “control” and “lessons learned” phase.

Pitfall #6: Neglecting to measure the effectiveness of solutions

Once the solutions are in place, the problem is still not solved. We need to make sure this is the case. How many times do you move on to another topic, another problem without confirming that everything is working as planned?

The definition of a measurement indicator and a control plan with managers are the simplest ways to ensure the implementation of the action plan. And therefore to guarantee the effectiveness of the solution.

Pitfall #7: Forgetting the sustainability of solutions

In addition to trap #6, once you have ensured that the problem has been solved, you need to verify that the solution in place will remain so. There is still some work to be done: nobody wants the problem to reappear.

Beyond the documentation of the process, what needs to be done? Standardization usually arrives at this stage. Other actions may be required to ensure the sustainability of operational solutions.

Pitfall #8: Missing out on learning about the process

The final pitfall of problem solving is to simply measure the results of the solutions to the problems, without looking at the process. Indeed, beyond improving the product/service and the associated processes, to have a performing organization, it is also necessary to improve the improvement processes.

What can be learned from the process and the methodology used? What helped the team or made it more difficult? These are all questions that should be asked when closing a problem.