Skip to content

A Superior Problem Solving Process: How To Produce Better Results

Does your business feel stuck when it comes to problem-solving? It might be time to create a tailored problem solving process! Discover the advantages of having a streamlined method for solving problems, the importance of prioritizing which ones to tackle first, and a 4-step approach you can customize for your business.

The Benefits Of Your Business To Have A Standard Problem Solving Process

Running a business requires identifying and capitalizing on opportunities, but each company has its own personality, mission, competitive landscape, and skill sets. To stand out, it’s important to develop a distinctive approach to tackling problems and reaching objectives. Indeed, your choice of what to focus on, and how to do it, can help your business stand out, build its brand, and thrive. For specifics, see below for the benefits of having an effective problem solving process for your business. 

  • Fix Things That Are Broken. You need to have processes in place to identify what is broke within the context of your business process. For example, do not  buy a new printer, if the current printer meets your business needs.
  • Address Risk. All businesses manage risk and they should fix problems that can mitigate risk. For example, buy anti-virus software if it has a significant advantage over your current anti-virus software.
  • Improve Performance. You improve your business performance by solving problems that reduce friction in your business processes. For example, you buy project management software to streamline and gain visibility over high-priority, time-sensitive projects.
  • Seize Opportunities. You fix problems that will give you a competitive advantage. For example, you hire a web developer for your web site to have a superior user experience over your competitors.
  • Lower Stress and Anxiety. You address things in the workplace that are causing employee stress. For example, you have a team building event to build stronger relationships to increase camaraderie in the business.

See BrianTracy’s Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills – Steps, Processes & Technique for more information on the benefits of having an effective problem solving process for your business.

Problem Solving Process - "Don't fight the problem, decide it" - George C. Marshall
George Catlett Marshall, General of the Army, U.S. Secretary of State and of Defense

Two Things Drive How Your Particular Business Solves Problems.

Identifying and solving a business problem isn’t one-size-fits-all. Therefore to succeed, you need to understand your company’s strategic goals, determine what’s realistic for your business to tackle, and evaluate your current situation. Only then can you work on the right problem and make sure it gets solved efficiently and effectively. After all, your resources and time are valuable—you can’t solve the world’s problems! See below for more explanation on strategic goals and determining your business situation.

1. Strategic Goals: Identify and Prioritize Problems Based On Your Strategic Goals

Each business has strategic objectives and all its workers address problems in the context of those goals. Preferably, these objectives are clearly outlined and documented as they provide all employees with guidance on the company’s desired path. Moreover, employees will use these objectives to prioritize efforts, assign resources, and align personnel to stay on target.

Strategic goals are essential for success. For example, the military uses a concept called “statement of commander’s intent” to ensure everyone understands what they’re working towards and how to get there. In civilian terms, the commander’s intent is a way to identify the ultimate purpose and tasks necessary to reach that goal.

“A wise leader must deal with reality and state what he intends,”

Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

See SmartBrief’s Fixing strategy execution with commander’s intent for more information of the commander’s intent.

2. Know Your Business Situation – The SWOT Analysis.

To set priorities and allocate resources to address problems, it is essential to be aware of your business situation. This is where the SWOT analysis is used. Specifically, SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Moreover, it is a method used to assess a company’s competitive status and to craft strategic planning. Consequently, SWOT analysis makes complex problems more manageable. In fact, a SWOT analysis can be used for almost any business problem. Also, the analysis can relate to an organization, group, or individual. It can also analyze a full product line, changes to branding, geographical expansion, or an acquisition. Lastly, the SWOT analysis is a flexible instrument that has many uses.

For more information on SWOT analysis and analyzing your business situation, see Investopedia’s SWOT Analysis: How To With Table and Example and LivePlan’s The Best Ways To Approach Problem Solving In Business.

The Four Key Steps Of The Business Problem Solving Process.

Problems in business are slippery and hard to define. It is not like school, where the teacher gives you test problems to solve. Indeed, in business you have to identify the problem to solve. Hopefully, you will pick the right problem to solve. Moreover, problems come up in a lot of different ways. For instance, it could be straight forward where a new product with a defect and no one knows why, Or it could be a piece of software that does not work after you going through all/ the basic troubleshooting steps. Sometimes it can even be a perceived problem where an employee thinks there is a problem.

No matter what the business problem, your business needs a standard problem solving process that solves the right problems in an efficient manner. Below is a 4 step problem solving process. This is a recommended process that you can change or add steps depending on your strategic goals, business situation, and staff maturity.

1. Define The Problem.

Here you need to gather the facts, not opinion. Also, you need to identify the root cause as that may be the actual problem that you need to solve. Based on this analysis, state the problem specifically – who, what, where, when, and why. Also, you may also be able to identify and describe the deliverable, metrics for success, or end outcome of the problem that you will solve.   

2. Generate Alternative Solutions.

It is best to come up with several solutions to the problem as comparing solutions is the best way to identify the strengths and weakness of each solution. In many cases, the solution you choose eventually may be a combination of two or more solutions. Obviously, any solution should align with corporate goals and be feasible.

3. Evaluate and Select An Alternative.

Here you compare each solution against a solution criteria. The key things to determine is verify that each solution is feasible, you have the resources to implement, and can any risks be mitigated. Also, you need to establish a criteria to evaluated each solution.

As an example of how to evaluate different solutions, use a decision matrix where you list each course of action against a weighted criteria. To detail, criteria could be cost to implement, speed to implement, lower ongoing costs, or best to delight the customer. Some criteria will usually be more important than others, so in that case you can double or triple the weight of that particular criteria. Then you give a numeric value to each criteria and added them up, The solution with the highest number is the recommended solution.

“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost.”

Sun Tzu

4. Implement And Follow Up On The Solution.

Once you decide on the solution, develop an implementation plan. To minimize risk, it is always good to implement a pilot test to make sure it works and get real-world experience to refine the solution. For example if you are implementing a new warehouse system, you may start with just one warehouse or with just one product line before implementing the full solution.

Whatever solution you implement, most likely you will need to have a support and maintenance for the solution. At least with automation and software, plan that the ongoing annual costs of support will be 20% of the original startup costs. Also, need ongoing monitoring and measuring of the solution to assure the solution works and the problem is no more.   

For more information and other perspectives on business problem solving steps, see ASQ’s What Is Problem Solving?, SPCForExcel’s Problem Solving Model, and TheHappyManager’s Seven Step Problem Solving Technique.

For more information from Unvarnished Facts, see articles on creativity and innovation 

Don’t miss the tips from Unvarnished Facts!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

%d bloggers like this: