Problem Solving


Poor communication is one of the breakdowns that occur in organizational problem solving.  We have an extremely difficult time talking about a system of causes.  Since we speak in series our communication is very linear making it extremely difficult to communicate multiple causes verbally.  This communication barrier is easily overcome if we complement our verbal dialogue with a visual one.  This is where a map of the problem is so effective.  Mapping a problem creates a visual dialogue of the systems of causes and changes the nature of an analysis with a group.  The map we obtain when we rent a car contains an incredible amount of information on just one page.  Compare a map to typewritten directions.  Typewritten directions provide you with information from one particularly point to another.  The text provides no information if we decide we want to drive somewhere else.  How many pages of text would it take to explain how to drive from anywhere to anywhere else?  A one-page map provides all of this information (Tufte).  People can process significantly more information visually than they can verbally.  How are most of your reports written?  Text.  How are your meetings conducted?  Verbally.  Where does all of the information go that is discussed during your meeting or problem solving sessions?  Mapping information allows us to capture information to create a learning organization.  A learning organization does not relive the same issue four or five times.  How we communicate as an organization plays a critical role in our ability to improve our reliability performance.  For this reason, how we document the information from a problem is just as important as the analysis of the problem.

Problem Solving
Just like homework in our 4th grade math class, problem solving has three basic steps.  We needed a clear problem (from the teacher), we had to do the analysis (showing our work) and we had to provide a solution. As we learned in school there are three basic steps to solving problems - the problem, the analysis and the solutions.  Every process improvement process whether it has 5 steps or 9 steps follows these three fundamental steps.  The “plan-do-check-act” that includes piloting a trial, standardizing and monitoring solutions.  Six-sigma’s measure, analyze, improve and control also follows the same three steps of outlining the problem in terms of the goals, analyzing the causes and developing solutions that are effective over the specified time.  These three steps also align with the scientific approach to experimentation.  Problem solving and improving reliability is about outlining a problem in relation to the goals, determining the causes and selecting effective solutions.

Problem Solving Steps

Effective solutions prevent problems from occurring, but the actual mechanism for an effective solution is not that it just solves the problem.  Effective solutions solve problems by controlling specific causes of the problem.  This is why the focus of problem solving or improving reliability is on the causes of the problem (Senge).  It is the analysis step, where we break the problem into its causes, that the map proves so effective.