Day in and day out we are all faced with problems that we need to solve, both in the office and in our personal lives. Problems come both big and small, and yet the way to handle them is basically the same. In my experience there are many people who are never “taught” how to address problems and so they will try their best, throw their hands up in the air or just defer to someone who can handle the issue.
Here is a basic “primer” on how to handle a problem, any problem!
Step 1. Understand the extent of the problem.
Answer the 5 basic questions … what, where, when, who and why.
What is actually happening?
Where is it happening?
When is it happening?
Who is involved, affected etc?
Why is it happening?
It is important not to jump to conclusions, but truly try to understand the answers to the 5 “W”s before moving to step 2.
Step 2. Try to Identify Potential Causes.
This might mean getting input from other people, and understanding their ideas about the cause. You might also have your own thoughts on the cause … or it might be very evident what the cause is.
Step 3. Identify Potential Approaches to Resolving the Problem & Pick One
Again it is useful to get the ideas from a few people in this process.
Choose the right answer for this situation and go for it!
Understand that sometimes fixing one problem can cause other problems! So try to anticipate the impact of your potential solution.
Step 4. Implement & Monitor The Solution
Either do it yourself, if it is a simple problem, or put in place the actions necessary to fix things.
If a number of people are involved in the solution then clear communication is key. It is imperative to have a plan that is comprehensive and ensures that everyone knows exactly what they have to do, and when.
Stay close to the situation while the “fix” is happening to ensure things go as planned, and to understand if the “fix” has caused other issues.
Step 5. Make Sure it Worked!
After all is done …make sure the fix worked!
Obviously for small day to day problems the process is fast and seamless, but as the complexity of the problem increases the discrete steps in this process become more important.
Try it … here are some problems that we might all face and some that occurred very recently.
1. Your car breaks down on the way to an important meeting. What is the problem? How many problems do you have? What priority do you give them?
2. You are in a meeting at work and your child calls to say they are sick and have to go home now. Oh your car is in the shop and you live an hour from home!
3. You are in charge of the underground system in London and you learn that a bomb has just gone off in one of your stations.
4. You are captain of a ship transporting $100 million worth of Mazda cars to North America when bad weather almost capsizes your vessel.
The steps to solve the problem are the same for the daily issues or for the big problems … so hopefully they will work for you.
If you would like an engineers approach to problem solving I found a good blog on the same subject.
Got to run … I have a client problem to solve!