Note: This material has been extracted from The Effectiveness Guide.
This article will focus on Problem Solving, one of the 10 Core Competencies of Effectiveness.
Here’s what I’ve learned from being an Executive Coach for more than 20 years about how to resolve problems.
Step 1: Define the Problem
Before you solve any problem, what do you need to know? The most crucial questions to ask before attempting to resolve any problem are:
- What’s the real problem here?
- What’re the root causes of this problem?
- How much time do I have before I’m forced to take action?
- What must happen before I know it’s too late to act?
- Are there other decisions waiting for my decision?
- How difficult, important, or urgent is this problem?
- Who has faced this problem before and who will be affected by my decision?
- What’re the consequences if this problem remains unsolved?
Identify the Real Cause:
Have you ever solved a problem, only to find that it keeps coming back? Perhaps you didn’t address the cause of the problem. There’s a big difference between the cause of a problem and the symptoms.
To me, this the most important step of the entire Problem-Solving Process. Why? Because the most painful problems in my lifetime started out by my assuming I knew the cause of my problems, only to find out several years later that I was wrong.
Unless you can identify the real cause, whatever you do will only be temporary at best. Ask people who’ve solved this problem before. Don’t be fooled. Many problems only present their symptoms for you to see. You’ve got to ask better questions to find the real cause.
Use Root Cause Analysis (or RCA):
RCA is based on the belief that problems are best solved by attempting to address, correct or eliminate root causes, as opposed to just addressing the obvious symptoms. By directing corrective measures at root causes, future problems will be prevented.
The most important questions to ask when developing your problem statement are:
- Is your problem statement stated as a one sentence question?
- Does your statement state that you are seeking the Best or Optimal solution?
- Is the problem statement posted so all members can see it?
- Does the team understand and agree to follow, support, and execute this statement as being the Best problem statement? If not, Why?
Example: Which is the Best Vendor to update our IT infrastructure?
Step 2: Gather Information
This step requires that you collect all the facts and assumptions needed to resolve the problem.
Separate facts from opinion or speculation.
A fact is verifiable or vetted information.
According to Colin Powell in his book, It Worked for Me, if you want to make good decisions, you need good information. Verifiable information can change over time and may not tell the whole story. Verifiable (or vetted) facts that come with qualifiers should make you nervous (like “In my best judgment, as far as I know, we’ve been told, for the most part, or as best as I can tell.”).
To get the Best information, start by asking, “Tell me what you know, Tell me what you don’t know, and Tell me what you think. What’s your best hunch? What’s your intuition telling you?” Always distinguish the difference. You’re looking for ground-truth; firsthand info from people on-the-ground closest to the problem.
An assumption is info accepted as true in the absence of facts. This info is probably correct but can’t be verified.
Acceptable assumptions must be valid, that is, they’re likely to be true, and must be necessary; they’re essential to continuing the process and moving the work forward.
If the process can continue without an assumption, discard it. If the assumption is both valid and necessary, it’s treated as a fact. Good problem solvers continually seek to confirm/deny the validity of their assumptions by testing.
To identify your assumptions: (necessary non-facts), ask these questions:
- What do I hope is true/necessary for this POA to be workable?
- What assumptions are needed to move the work forward?
- If my assumption is false, what’s my Contingency Plan? (Chapter 8)
- What unconscious assumptions am I making? (Chapter 3)
- What are we forgetting to do? (Appendix D)
- What are all the Unintended Consequences + 2d/3d Order Effects? (Appendix B)
With the help of your team, Brainstorm (Chapter 4) all the things that could reasonably-go-wrong. Now, develop Contingency Plans (Chapter 8) to deal with these situations. You’ll need assumptions but be careful! If the assumption turns out to be false, it’ll affect the outcome of your POA.
What are Unconscious Assumptions?
Sometimes assumptions are made unconsciously. So, be careful!
Here’s an example:
Bob walked into a Problem-Solving Session where one of his Direct Reports, with his entire team, was trying to select the BEST vendor from two similar companies. As the process was almost over, Bob asked, “What assumptions are you making here?” After a long silence, he asked the question again.
One person said, “None, we don’t need any.” To which Bob said, “Are you sure? Since I only see two vendors you’re considering, aren’t you assuming that there are only two companies that we could potentially hire to solve this problem? Are you all certain this assumption is correct? And, what’s the effect if later this assumption proves to be incorrect?
What happens later when we find out that there actually was a third company that could have solved our problem faster and at half the cost?” Again, there was a long silence. The group had assumed there were only two potential companies and they were wrong.
What assumptions are you making unconsciously, and what are the effects on the project if these assumptions turn out to be wrong? What’s your Contingency Plan?
I challenge you to share this information with others because the only way to truly own knowledge is to give it away – one of the great paradoxes in life.
To help you make the BEST Decision,
you need the BEST Facts and VALID Assumptions.
In my next post, I’ll focus on hoe to enhance your Awareness. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you need more help, visit TheEffectivenessInstitute.com