III. The Solutions
Most of the work takes place in the outline and in the root cause analysis steps when the cause map is built. Since the map was built causally, any cause on the chart contains potential solutions to prevent recurrence. A solution for every cause on the map is not necessary. We are interested in finding the solutions that prevent or reduce the probability of the problem occurring again. We may only have to control one of the causes to significantly reduce the probability of the problem occurring again. Some causes have a greater impact than others on preventing the problem from occurring again.
The simple fire triangle is an excellent example of this point. The fire triangle teaches us that to have a fire it takes heat, fuel and an oxidizing agent. To put out a fire, the same logic applies; we must remove one of the three causes. If any one of the causes of a fire – heat, fuel or the oxidizing agent is removed the fire cannot be sustained. By removing anyone of those causes we can prevent a fire. But we also know that for every effect there are causes and that there are additional causes for the heat being present. If anyone of the causes of heat is removed it will prevent the heat from occurring, which also prevents the fire from occurring.
The possibilities for solutions are limited only by our imaginations. Of the possible solutions that we may consider only those that meet the organizations overall goals will be effective. We’re looking for simple, effective solutions that are economically viable. Occasionally our solutions will be more complex. Also, just because we have a complex cause map it doesn’t necessarily mean we must have complex solutions. We may find a simple solution that has been overlooked for years. This doesn’t happen every time, but it happens sometimes and the cause map makes it easier to find these “good ideas.” Since solutions control specific causes, the cause map provides a platform for brainstorming possible solutions. Effective solutions will be dictated by the overall goals and what the group is able to influence in the organization. This is where the risks, costs, schedule and resources are taken into consideration. A cause map is an excellent vehicle for tapping into the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the people within an organization. Punishment and blame do not encourage employees to share their good ideas. The “I’m the boss, you’re the worker, do what I say” mentality is one of the best ways to kill creativity within an organization. Once a solution has been identified in an action plan it will be listed with the specific cause that it controls. Three action items (solutions) in an action plan would have three corresponding causes listed too. This connection improves the continuity of the problem solving process and the action plan.
The solutions step has two basic parts, the Inside step and the Outside step. The Inside solutions step is what happens inside the problem solving session. This is the brainstorming from the cause map and selection of the best solutions based on the goal criteria. The Outside solutions step occurs outside the problem solving session to ensure that implementation is effective. The Outside steps define the ownership of both the individual action plans and of the overall action plan. The outside step also includes verification over time that the solution was in fact effective and met the desired goals. The last part of the outside solutions step addresses documentation and database updates.
If a solution is implemented and the problem reoccurs the solution obviously was not effective. The next question should be “Why wasn’t it effective?” and it should take us right back to the cause map that was originally created. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel and start a new cause map. Take advantage of all the knowledge that was captured in the last analysis and make it available to others within the organization as a cause map.
Developing an Organizational Approach
An organizational approach to problem solving is not a quick fix. It is an approach to better communication and better analysis. This visual approach to analyzing problems is simple enough that it can be piloted in one department or group. As the nature of problem solving sessions improves other groups will copy the approach. People tend to copy methods that are simple and effective. This is one simple way to get started. Experiment with the cause mapping approach, but do it consistently. Every time there is a problem outline the problem (What When Where Goals), build a cause map and identify effective solutions. This visual cause mapping approach also facilitates the use of simple technology tools like MS Excel and MS NetMeeting. These tools are designed for better organizational communication and are readily available today.