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Problem-Solving Doesn't Need To Be Rocket Science

Here's a logical and practical way of approaching it ...


This week, I hand over to my colleague Helen Bell again who offers some good solid advice on why problem-solving doesn't need to be rocket science ...

My list isn’t exhaustive, but it will certainly help you with problem-solving!

My list isn’t exhaustive, but it will certainly help you with problem-solving!

copyright: alphaspirit / 123rf

I have written a number of blog posts and articles about problem-solving and the one thing that I always try to get across is that understanding how to solve problems is one of the most important life skills you should possess. Not only that, but a lot of it is just about applying common sense.

"We face problems throughout our lives, at home
and in the workplace!"

Many of them are easy to handle and resolve, but when faced with more difficult or messy problems, the ability to apply problem-solving tools and having the skills to adopt critical thinking will definitely be of benefit.

If you are working towards ISO 9001 certification, or are already certified, you should understand problem-solving in the context of 10.2 Nonconformity and Corrective Action as you will be required to conduct root cause analysis, eliminate the non-conformity and put into place effective corrective actions. My list below isn’t exhaustive, but it is my top 8 steps to help you to solve problems.

  1. Define the Problem in Writing

    To enable you to fully understand the problem, it is often best to write it down along with all of the symptoms of the problem that you have. This is often called the “problem statement”. This allows you to contextualise the problem and is the first step towards solving it.

  2. Data, Data, Data

    Gather as much data as you can to allow you to understand the problem. You can then make informed decisions about the root cause of the problem, the size of the problem and potentially how to solve the problem.

    Do not try and jump to assumptions or results without data to hand. In the words of the eminent detective Sherlock Holmes, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data".

  3. Draw out the Problem in a Diagrammatical Format

    Sometimes, to better understand a problem and its root causes, sketching the problem out can help to visualise it and define problematic areas. I love a good Ishikawa or Fishbone diagram and find them extremely helpful in these circumstances.

    This will show all of the potential causes of an event and is particularly useful in a manufacturing environment where it can be used to pinpoint potential areas for quality escapes.

  4. Involve Others

    "A problem shared is a problem solved". You don’t have to go it alone! You may also find that whilst the symptoms of your problem are unique, the problem itself is generic and many people before you will have solved the problem (Drucker 2008).

    The use of subject matter experts and 'fresh eyes' can allow you to brainstorm new hypotheses making problem-solving a team effort.

  5. Get to the True Root Cause

    You may feel as though you have the direct cause, but that is no reason to stop looking for the true root cause of the issue. Using a tool such as 5 Whys is a brilliantly simple, iterative approach which will allow you to drill down to the true root cause of the issue.

  6. Create an Action Plan

    With all problem resolution measures, you need to ensure that you have an action plan. Who does what, how is your solution measured and what results you obtain. This continuous cycle of improvements may be required to be repeated until you are happy that you have resolved the problem.

  7. Contain the Problem

    Sometimes a problem is not easily solved, but it is possible to contain the problem until a permanent fix can be put into place. In a manufacturing context this could be through the addition of an extra quality check or test. This may be costly and may not be 100% successful so adopting a permanent fix is now of paramount importance."

  8. Prevent Reoccurrence

    If you have successfully understood the root cause of your problem, defined a robust solution and executed that solution, you may be able to prevent your problem from reoccurring in any form. However, if the symptoms do reappear, you will quickly realise that you did not find the correct root cause and will need to repeat the process.

    By measuring your results you will be able to understand whether or not you have truly fixed the problem as your results will tell you that the problem no longer exists.

Taking all of these into account when looking to solve a problem, will give you a logical and practical way of approaching it. Try them next time and you will be sure to find out that solving problems really isn’t rocket science.

Until next time ...

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Would you like to know more?

A huge thank you to my colleague Helen Bell for this week's blog post!

If you want to learn more about problem-solving, why not talk to us? Call us on 01164 422546, leave a comment below or click here to ping over an email and let's see how we can help.

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About Ellen Willoughby ...


I'm Ellen, Director of All About Quality and All About Productivity. I have over 20 years experience as professional in the quality world and 17 years as a practising Buddhist. As a result of this, I have a passion for improvement. in both business and personal life.


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