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Systematic Problem Solving


1) Background to Problem Solving

2) Setting the Problem Statement
3) Analyze the Problem in Detail
4) Identify Likely Causes
5) Define Actual Causes
Background to Problem Solving
A logical problem solving process

Problem Statement
Analyze the problem in detail
Identify likely causes
Define actual cause(s)
Problem vs. Symptoms

Problems exist when someone or

something is not performing as expected;
Actions need to be taken to solve the
problem thus action should follow
from a clear understanding of the problem.
To understand problem solving it is
necessary to distinguish between
symptoms of a problem and its causes.
Problem identification

Identification of the cause of a problem is

the key to problem solving;
Once you know the real cause of the
problem, you can decide how to deal with it;
In many cases people tend to combat
symptoms only instead of real problem
It is necessary to distinguish between the
symptoms of a problem and its causes!!!
Avoiding Pitfalls

A. Giving up too early;

B. Jumping straight to conclusions about the cause;
C. Not getting the right people involved;
D. Not collecting all the relevant data.

What is the worst one?

The worst one is B " because: it is always very
tempting to think you know the cause of a problem
straight away, jump to conclusions and take action to
solve it.
Setting the Problem Statement
Not the cause of the problem, but the problem itself!!!
Setting the Problem Statement

A problem statement is a single sentence which

specifies your understanding of the problem.
Not the cause of the problem, but the problem
Setting the problem statement is the single most
important action you will take in the whole
problem solving process.

It is so important that you must be prepared to put

in time and effort to get it right.
Setting the Problem Statement

Why is setting the problem statement so important?

Several potential reasons are given below

1. Get the problem statement wrong and you will
search in the wrong areas for the problem's cause.
2. A clear problem statement enables you to decide
what actions must be taken to find the cause.
3. Keeping the problem statement visible during the
search for the cause keeps effort focused in the right

The problem statement provides the context within

which all further work takes place.
Analyze the Problem in Detail
Analyze what is wrong
Analyze what is right
Analyzing what is wrong

Here you are aiming to develop a detailed

specification of the problem;
This involves measuring its scale and scope,
determining what the detailed symptoms are;
Determine the current and future negative impact
or consequences of the problem;
It also needs to determine who is involved and
when and how often the problem occurs.
Analyzing what is right

The purpose of this is to determine what the

problem is not;
If things are going well, then they can't be part of
the problem;
By analyzing what is right you can eliminate
potential causes of the problem and limit the
scope of your investigation.
The Role of Questions

Asking questions is the key to analyzing problems;

A systematic approach to questioning ensures you
don't miss any important areas;
If you don't ask the right questions, you can't
possibly get the right answers;
The best questions nearly always start with 6Ws:
What? Why? When?
Who? Where? With what (How)?
Avoid to get the right answers for the wrong
Analyzing the Problem

To summaries, the key questions you need to ask

What is wrong?
Why it went wrong?
When did it go wrong?
How much went wrong?
Where did it go wrong?
Who is involved?
Identify Likely Causes
What is different?
What has changed?
What are the most likely causes?
Identify Likely Causes

Identify the differences between what you have

identified from your analysis of what is right and
what is wrong.
This will enable you to discover what is distinctive about
the problem.
What has changed? Something happened to
cause the problem.
So what things changed round about the time the
problem started to manifest itself.
What are the most likely explanations?
The work you have done so far should enable you to
identify potential causes of the problem.
What's Different?

In this stage look for things which are:

Distinctive in the symptoms identified which distinguish
the problem situation from the areas where you are
Distinctive in the parts of the organization and specific
locations where the problem arises which distinguish
them from the areas where you are satisfied;
Distinctive about the time a problem arises from times
when it does not;
Different about a group which is affected by the problem
compared to groups which are not affected by it.
What Has Changed?

Often the changes involve:

Equipment. This includes introduction of new equipment
and changes in maintenance procedures;
Processes. Introduction of new systems and
procedures, changes to patterns of communication,
training processes and so on;
People. These include changes in personnel,
organization structure, workgroups, skill levels and
leadership style;
Materials. Use of different materials, changes in material
specification and changes in quality are all relevant.
Define Actual Causes
What is the most likely explanation?
Can I prove it?
Define Actual Causes

Identifying what is the most likely explanation.

Of all the potential causes identified, which is the most likely
explanation for all the symptoms which have been identified?
Proving the cause.
This involves testing whether the cause identified can explain all
the symptoms presented by the problem.
Questions & Discussions