Problem solving

by Rus Slater and Hans Vaagenes

Move on

The final stage is moving on – problem solved. But even though you have solved the problem, tested the solution and put it into practice, it is still wise to move on with a degree of careful thought and follow a process to ensure that the solution works well and everyone is happy.

Closing the file

Once we have solved the problem there is often a tendency to simply sigh a huge sigh of relief, and get on with life. Generally, this is OK as a strategy, but there are lots of occasions where we might want to do other things before we close the file.

Preventing future occurrences

We need to decide whether we just want to fix the problem for now or whether we want to fix the problem for now and also prevent it happening again. We should make a conscious decision whether we need to change something in the process to prevent this problem happening again.

Changes to policies, processes or procedures

If you have changed a policy or a procedure, or if you identified downstream impacts during the earlier stages of your problem solving, you should now formalise these changes and ensure that the people who are affected downstream have formally changed their processes, policies or expectations.

Credit where credit is due

You need to celebrate the success of your solved problem. You should be happy that you solved a problem, so say thanks to people and give people the rewards and or recognition due to them for solving this problem. Make sure that the credit goes to everyone, not just the senior people – mention people by name, give an award.

Publicise your success

You have given credit where it was due in house; now give credit where it is due in the wider public arena. Get some Public Relations value out of it: write a press release; publish an article; present at a trade show or conference, or perhaps circulate a note to your suppliers and customers. Why? This shows continuous improvement; it shows you care about getting it right; it shows that you are confident enough to admit you had a problem; it shows that you learn from your mistakes; it raises the profile and self-esteem of your staff, ‘your greatest asset’, and it sets you apart from your competitors (or, if you are a monopoly, it ‘proves’ the value you provide).

Monitor your solution

Finally, when the solution is in place and the dust has settled, you can move on, but keep an eye on the solution and make sure it continues to work in the long term, without unpleasant side effects.

You may find that your solution was right in the specific environment of the time, but that as the environment changes your solution becomes less effective. The term environment here includes the whole gamut of factors covered by PESTLE analysis.

Political

What are the changing political drivers of relevance? Worldwide, European and government directives, national and local organisations’ requirements, institutional policy and so on

Economic

Are there important economic changes? Materials and labour costs, internal funding models, budgetary restrictions, revenue figures and so on

Social

What are the main societal and cultural aspects? Societal attitudes, general lifestyle changes, changes in populations, distributions and demographics and the impact of different mixes of cultures may affect the solution’s continued effectiveness.

Technological

What are developing technology imperatives and innovations? What is the competition doing? Are new materials/processes becoming available that could be more effective than ones you have chosen?

Legal

New and impending legislation – anything from Health and Safety to Working Time directives – may affect your solution.

Environmental

What are the environmental considerations, locally and further afield? Local, national and international environmental impacts, outcomes of political and social factors

Monitoring the continued effectiveness of the solution may look like trying to find a reason to declare it a failure, but it isn’t; it is an effective part of a continuous improvement policy. Your aim is to catch a potential problem and be ahead of the game before it turns into a crisis.