Sustainable Problem Solving

Let me start with defining what a problem in the business context is – a problem is a situation when the actual outcome is not meeting the expectations. Problem-solving covers narrowing down the problem, determining the root cause, implementing corrective and preventive actions, so that the problem is killed, and the solution to bridge the gap is sustainable.

Today I decided to write about problem-solving, the way I practice, since in most of my assignments the problem-solving effectiveness is a challenge, despite people having been trained on multiple problem-solving tools and methods.

I use my flow assessment ( for understanding and solving problems. Let me start by explaining the two basic questions:

Problem Solving Basics

I discuss the situation in the respective level and then actually look and feel to validate. The outcome can either be,

  • Missing (The practice/routine is missing!),

  • Not OK (The existing practice/routine is either not meeting the expectation or the planned actions are not on track),

  • CAPA OK (Actions are planned and are on track for improving the existing practice/routine) or,

  • OK (The existing practice/routine meets the expectation).

While going through the discussion and validation, ideas get exchanged, PDCA cycle gets reinforced and in most of the cases the prototyping too is done.

Problem Solving

Now let me come to the actual problem solving. I first start by segmenting or breaking down the problem by always focusing on the top contributor. Diving deep in the flow assessment of the top contributor before proceeding to the next level is the key to success. I use the same methodology for the causes too. Normally in about 1 hour, the actions which can be completed within a week for the top contributing segment and the top cause get defined. I keep repeating the same every week till the solution is reached.

You may ask that this is different from the normal problem-solving workshop which needs at least ½ day. Normally during this workshop all the causes are discussed, and actions defined. Isn’t this a more productive approach? Well, you are right in a way the local productivity of the entire team during the workshop is better. However, the overall productivity with this approach, in my experience, is much lower since many actions are defined and almost none get done due to lack of focus. In my approach of using flow assessment, the focus is only on the top levers and very few quick actions are defined only for these focus areas, which leads to a quantum jump in the overall productivity. Of course, when all the segments and causes have attained high maturity levels and the problem still persists, the creativity, experimentation and statistical tools will have to be used to unearth the right solution.

The flow assessment approach for problem solving is something I have done intuitively during every regular review meeting I have attended in my career. This quick progression in levels of both the segment and the cause gave the teams visibility on both the lead and lag indicator, making them self-driven to find sustainable solutions.

You may want to tryout this approach for the most challenging problem you are facing. The most important success factor with this method is consistency and common sense.

Let me end my blog with a quote by Pablo Picasso:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

The flow assessment approach for problem solving awakens the child in each one of us to become the Artist that we are talented to become.

Happy reading!

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