When a problem arises, the preliminary steps lead up to a decision about which a possible solution will be implemented. Problem solving may involve a relatively insignificant item, or it may concern a serious issue with the possibility of a major impact on the entire organization. The larger and more important the problem, the more time and detail go into each step of the problem-solving process. For minor problems, several of the steps may be accomplished mentally in only a few seconds.
But the process always includes these steps:
1. Define the problem. Take time to discover the nature of the real problem when something is obviously wrong. Define the problem clearly in terms of one or more organizational or personal goals.
2. List criteria for selecting a solution. Establish guidelines for evaluating possible solutions and making a decision by referring to specific organizational goals and priorities. The criteria might include impact on product quality, cost limits, personnel changes, the leader’s time allotment, and a target date for choosing a solution to be implemented.
3. Collect information. Considering time and expense, identify the particular type of information that must be assembled and set a deadline for collecting it. Asking open-end questions and listening carefully are generally good information-gathering techniques. Ask others how they would solve the problem and why they would take that approach.
4. Develop possible solutions. Examine all of the data collected and record all possible solutions suggested by the data. List as many possible solutions as you or the group can generate by brainstorming. The brainstorming process is most effective when it is completely uninhibited and free from any critical analysis.
5. Analyze possible solutions. Allow time for ideas to “incubate.” Work on other problems and come back to the original one with a new perspective. When you accept traditional assumptions about what can be done, you limit the ability to find creative solutions. Alter assumptions about what can be accomplished, and you open your mind to new possibilities for solving specific problems.
6. Make the decision. When as much information as feasible has been gathered and considered, assume the responsibility for making a decision, or for leading team members to choose the best possible solution.
7. Implement the solution and follow up. Since the process is problem solving rather than decision making alone, a plan for implementation must be developed to carry the job through to completion. Assign responsibility for each action step. Set up a schedule and follow it to make sure the problem is being solved. Make appropriate adjustments along the way to ensure successful problem solving.