Seven Critical Prompts for Problem-Solving Reports

November 1, 2011 by
Posted in Leadership, Performance Readiness Solutions

Problem-Solving Skills (PPS) should be one of the primary sought-after skill sets of a company’s workforce. Do you have those skills? Just what is meant by PPS? Most colleagues and coworkers are smart enough and have the ability to solve problems effectively; additionally most possess the know-how. Yet time and time again, without a methodology, most people struggle in getting to the desired outcome on a consistent basis. Situations that can contribute to this varied outcome may include failing to use a problem-solving scheme; failing to fully define the problem with supporting details; intuitively jumping to a conclusion; or overanalyzing the problem, especially if the problem is dynamically changing. Supporting data must be compiled into a usable format that will guide the user to a credible outcome.

Certainly business has been adaptive at assisting key stakeholders make well informed decisions through problem-solving reports. Such reports have been developed in many forms and styles, along with being made accessible via input to worksheets, matrixes, and logs. More specifically, critical elements of the report must exist in order to uncover the correct information to generate an informed solution. Asking the right questions early on works cogently to surface the facts quickly, thus becoming the basis for PPS in today’s data-driven marketplace.

Studies show that defining the problem and taking action occur almost simultaneously for most situations; therefore, the greater effort in the front end analysis, the easier it is to come up with a good solution. Keeping the facts straight is the function of the problem-solving report while the content is handled in the process of defining the problem. Seven critical prompts for problem-solving reports include the following:

  1. State the theme (topic) – In short order, what are you trying to change or accomplish? Answers the question, “What do I really what?” One example is reducing Mean Time To Repair (MTTR).
  2. Provide a statement of the problem situation – Must cover these five criteria:The standard to be achieved is quantifiable, tangible, and measurable; it defines a specific expectation.
    • In the current situation, what is happening versus the standard?
    • How much discrepancy is between the standard and the current?
    • When is the anomaly occurring, how often, in what location, what’s the trend, and who is affected by this type of defect?
    • What is the level of urgency of addressing the problem?
  3. State a targeted goal that is quantifiable, measurable, and achievable. Answers the following: Do What: A one-word action verb (for example, increase, raise); To What: What you want to do in the current situation?; How Much: In specific measurement terms; and By When: specific date. Example: Increase throughput by 10% by January 1.
  4. Uncover the cause: Drill down to find the root of the problem.
    • List and investigate any potential causes to help pinpoint the most likely cause.
    • Highlight the most likely causes that should be assumed using expert opinions.
    • Develop a discrepancy problem statement that continues to ask “why” at least five times; continue to investigate until the root cause is uncovered.
    • State the final root cause; state countermeasures against it.
  5. Focus on countermeasures by listing the steps to address the problem in the short term and how to permanently prevent recurrence. If needed, address both countermeasures for defect and escape cause. Ask, “Do the countermeasures meet the following criteria: effectiveness, feasibility, and impact?”
  6. Present the Timing Plan: Critical steps; dates; responsibility of what, when, where, who, and when, again.
  7. State potential bottle-neck follow-up items: Check method – Monitor the progress of the implementation plan, and monitor the results of the countermeasures. Check date – How often will you follow up, and provide recommended actions.

Increase your chances of better solutions by first defining the problem, and then begin to look for connections and patterns in the information on the problem-solving report. Play like a strategic master and recognize hundreds of patterns prior to making the move. Don’t just collect the data—pattern it. Put the data in categories that make sense to you. Ask a lot of qualifying questions at least 50% of the time. The more relevant questions asked, the more relevant information will be gleaned for a concise solution.

Do you have specific problem-solving management tools you most favor to better define a problem and then seek its solution? Would you say your leadership skills demonstrate a methodical approach to problem solving; how?


About the Author: For over 17 years, Mike Koper helped establish new training programs for GP Strategies™ and continues to be a subject matter expert in the manufacturing industry. He has written and published numerous thought leadership articles for the industry.

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