Brighton School of Business and Management June 2011 Student Newsletter
Contributions from you, our students, are very welcome if you have information, advice, website links, or ideas, that may be of help to other students, please send them to us.
Personal & Career Development Tip of the Month
Problem solving and decision making approaches can be applied to your professional development activity.
For example, if you are unsure, in career terms, which direction to take over the next few years, you could use the Seven Step Approach, or the 5 Whys model, or the DMAIC model to analyse your current situation and start to formulate a plan of action to take you into the future.Other tools, such as the SWOT Analysis, Risk Assessment, Project Management planning, and Force Field Analysis, can also be very effective when applied to personal and professional development and career planning.
Problem solving is a skill, an area of knowledge, needed by managers and leaders at all levels within an organisation, and in any type or size of organisation.
Faced with a continuous stream of problems, issues, difficulties and dilemmas, the ability to apply rational, considered thinking, in order to respond effectively, is essential.
There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job.Because humans are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That’s a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process.
Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.
1. Identify the issues Be clear about what the problem is. Remember that different people might have different views of what the issues are.Separate the listing of issues from the identification of interests (that’s the next step!).
2. Understand everyone’s interests This is a critical step that is usually missing.Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution.The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests.This is the time for active listening. Put down your differences for awhile and listen to each other with the intention to understand.Separate the naming of interests from the listing of solutions.
3. List the possible solutions (options) This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity. Separate the listing of options from the evaluation of the options.
4. Evaluate the options What are the pluses and minuses? Honestly! Separate the evaluation of options from the selection of options.
5. Select an option or options What’s the best option, in the balance? Is there a way to “bundle” a number of options together for a more satisfactory solution?
6. Document the agreement(s) Don’t rely on memory.Writing it down will help you think through all the details and implications.
7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (If-then!).How will you monitor compliance and follow-through? Create opportunities to evaluate the agreements and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”) This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision.Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you’re having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests.The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and necessary it is to use a disciplined process. * from an article by Tim Hicks at http://www.mediate.com
The DMAIC – Six Sigma Model DMAIC define – measure – analyze – improve – control: is a process improvement tool that helps you first find the cause of the problem and then establishes a methodology for improvement). While developed for quality improvement purposes, it can be used, often in an adapted form, for most problem solving activities.
DMAIC Process and Steps
Define the problem
Problem definition is really the heart of problem solving. If you cannot define the problem correctly, it is challenging to solve that problem. There are a number of problem solving techniques to use:
Ask the what, why, when, where, who and how questions?
Or focus on the 5 Whys
Why is there a problem? Do not assume you know the answer. Ask this question 5 times.
Why is ABC customer dissatisfied? Because we were late on three of their last five shipment
Why were we late on three shipments? Because we had a production backlog and the products were not ready to ship.
Why did we have a production backlog? Because the equipment malfunctioned.
Why did the equipment malfunction? Because the scheduled preventative maintenance wasn’t done on that unit.
Why wasn’t the preventative maintenance done on that unit. Because our maintenance technician was on holidays.
Define the business scope or reach of the problem and then measure the impact of the problem. For example, if one customer is unhappy about poor service and late shipments, other customers will likely be unhappy. Set up your systems to report on late shipments (as compared to promise dates on orders). You may want to do a customer survey (don’t be afraid, you really do want to hear what they have to say) to discover the primary causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
Analyze the data you have collected.
Build a process map to help you define the root causes of the problem and the potential solutions. Use this process as your decision making model. For example, now you have drilled down to the root cause of the above problem example: no back up for the maintenance technician.
Improve the process to eliminate the problem.
To continue on with the above example, you have some options to solve the problem: hire an outside contractor for vacation or overload times or train someone on the plant floor to provide back-up relief as necessary.
Control the process improvement.
A focus for your problem solving techniques must be to ensure you don’t revert back and cycle the problem. Develop documentation and monitor your plan and/or solution, and take corrective action whenever necessary.
* from a series of articles on www.more-for-small-business.com
The Fishbone Diagram – Ishikawa Problem Solving Tool
Problems arise in all areas and activities within an organisation. Managers need a set of problem resolution techniques that can be applied indifferent instances. One highly effective technique for analyzing complex problems that appear to have many interrelated causes is called a “cause and effect” diagram. Because of its shape, this diagram is also called a Fishbone Diagram.(Another name you might hear for this technique is an Ishikawa Diagrams. This is named for Professor Kaoru Ishikawa, a Japanese professor who pioneered the diagram in 1943.) Some benefits of this technique include:
It allows various categories of causes to be explored.It encourages creativity through a brainstorming process.It provides a visual image of the problem and potential categories of causes.
The following description and examples show how the problem-solving technique works.First, describe the problem on the far right side of the diagram. This may be the actual problem or it may be a symptom at this point you’re not exactly sure. Draw a long horizontal
arrow pointing to the box. This arrow will serve as the backbone from which further major and minor causes will be categorized and related. Identify potential causes and group them into major categories along the “bones” of the Fishbone Diagram. You should brainstorm to identify the major categories; that means that at this point you shouldn’t be concerned if there’s disagreement about whether a category holds the potential cause or not. Just put them all up. Make sure to leave enough space between the major categories on the diagram so that you can add minor detailed causes in later Continue to brainstorm the causes by looking at more detailed explanations for each of the major cause categories identified above. The team should ask whether each category is a cause, or if it is a symptom. If it’s a symptom, then try to identify the more detailed causes on slanted lines that hook up to the appropriate major category lines. Sometimes, the detailed causes will have other, more granular causes coming off of them. If so, connect additional lines to the detailed lines. When you’ve finished brainstorming major causes/symptoms and more detailed causes and symptoms, the team can begin analyzing the information. Evaluate each major cause and the potential detailed causes associated with it. Remember that the original list was compiled by brainstorming where all ideas are included. Now, you must determine which items seem like they are more likely to be the cause (or one of the causes). Circle the items that are most likely and need to be investigated further. If there’s not an obvious consensus on the top areas to investigate, use some sort of voting system to formally narrow down the top choices with the biggest chance of success. For each item circled, discuss how the item impacts the problem. Once you have circled the causes that appear to be the most likely, you should create an action plan for attaching these causes. This will most likely involve some high-level actions and assigning the cause to a team member to be analyzed outside of the meeting. Remember that this technique is used for complex problems with multiple causes and allows you to identify potential causes for the problem and determine which ones are most likely to be resolved. Sometimes the detailed causes will have other, more granular causes coming off of them. If so, connect additional lines to the detailed lines. Three levels of detail is usually the practical limit for this diagram. When you’ve finished brainstorming major causes/symptoms and more detailed causes and symptoms, the team can begin analyzing the information. Evaluate each major cause and the potential detailed causes associated with it. Remember that the original list was compiled by brainstorming where all ideas are included. Now you must determine which items seem like they are more likely to be the cause (or one of the causes). Circle the items that are most likely and should be investigated further. If there’s not an obvious consensus on the top areas to investigate, use some sort of voting system to formally narrow down the top choices with the most chance of success. For each item circled, discuss how the item impacts the problem. Once you have circled the causes that appear to be the most promising, you should create an action plan for attaching these causes. This will most likely involve some high-level actions and assigning the cause to a team member to be analyzed outside of the meeting.Remember that this technique is used for complex problems with multiple causes, and allows you to identify potential causes for the problem and determine which ones are most likely to resolve.* from an article on www.techrepublic.com
Other Problem Solving Tools and Techniques to Investigate
Problem solving is a key skill, and it’s one that can make a huge difference to your career. At work, problems are at the center of what many people do every day. You’re solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new problems to solve.The problems you face can be large or small, simple or complex, and easy or difficult to solve. Regardless of the nature of the problems, a fundamental part of every manager’s role is finding ways to solve them. So, being a confident problem solver is really important to your success. Much of that confidence comes from having a good process to use when approaching a problem. With one, you can solve problems quickly and effectively. Without one, your solutions may be ineffective, or you’ll get stuck and do nothing, with sometimes painful consequences.
There are four basic steps in problem solving
Defining the problem. Generating alternatives.Evaluating and selecting alternatives.Implementing solutions
Defining the Problem
The key to a good problem definition is ensuring that you deal with the real problem – not its symptoms. For example, if performance in your department is substandard, you might think the problem is with the individuals submitting work. However, if you look a bit deeper, the real problem might be a lack of training, or an unreasonable workload. Tools like 5 Whys, Appreciation and Root Cause Analysis help you ask the right questions, and work through the layers of a problem to uncover what’s really going on.At this stage, it’s also important to ensure that you look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. If you commit yourself too early, you can end up with a problem statement that’s really a solution instead.For example, consider this problem statement: “We have to find a way of disciplining of people who do substandard work.” This doesn’t allow you the opportunity of discovering the real reasons for under-performance.The CATWOE checklist provides a powerful reminder to look at many elements that may contribute to the problem, and to expand your thinking around it.
When your problem is simple, the solution is usually obvious, and you don’t need to follow the four steps we outlined earlier. So it follows that when you’re taking this more formal approach, your problem is likely to be complex and difficult to understand, because there’s a web of interrelated issues. The good news is that there are numerous tools you can use to make sense of this tangled mess! Many of these help you create a clear visual representation of the situation, so that you can better understand what’s going on. Affinity Diagrams are great for organizing many different pieces of information into common themes, and for discovering relationships between these.
Another popular tool is the Cause-and-Effect Diagram. To generate viable solutions, you must have a solid understanding of what’s causing the problem. Using our example of substandard work, Cause-and-Effect diagrams would highlight that a lack of training could contribute to the problem, and they could also highlight possible causes such as work overload and problems with technology.
When your problem occurs within a business process, creating a Flow Chart, Swim Lane Diagram or a Systems Diagram will help you see how various activities and inputs fit together. This will often help you identify a missing element or bottleneck that’s causing your problem. Quite often, what may seem to be a single problem turns out to be a whole series of problems. Going back to our example, substandard work could be caused by insufficient skills, but excessive workloads could also be contributing, as could excessively short lead times and poor motivation. The Drill Down technique will help you split your problem into smaller parts, each of which can then be solved appropriately.
The four-step approach to problem solving that we mentioned at the beginning of this article will serve you well in many situations. However, for a more comprehensive process, you can use Simplex, Appreciative Inquiry or Soft Systems Methodology (SSM).
These provide detailed steps that you can use to solve a problem effectively. Simplex involves an eight-stage process: problem finding, fact finding, defining the problem, idea finding, selecting and evaluating, planning, selling the idea, and acting. These steps build upon the basic process described earlier, and they create a cycle of problem finding and solving that will continually improve your organization.
Appreciative Inquiry takes a uniquely positive approach by helping you solve problems by examining what’s working well in the areas surrounding them.Soft Systems Methodology is designed to help you understand complex problems so that you can start the process of problem solving. It uses four stages to help you uncover more details about what’s creating the problem, and then define actions that will improve the situation.Using these tools – and others from the Problem Solving menu – will help you improve your approach to solving the problems that your team and your organization face. You’ll be more successful at solving problems and, because of this, more successful at what you do. What’s more, you’ll begin to build a reputation as someone who can handle tough situations, in a wise and positive way.* from a series of articles on www.mindtools.com
Is Your Solution Ethical?
The UK Institute of Business Ethics suggests a simple ‘test’ for ethical decision-making in business (see their website for a fuller version). Adapted below it is applicable to all decisions in all types of organisations and in life as a whole. It’s a remarkably easy test to apply.Try it next time you have to make a decision or arrive at a solution:
· transparency – am I happy to make my decision/solution public – especially to the people affected by it?
· effect – have I fully considered the harmful effects of my decision/solution and how to avoid them?
· fairness – would my decision/solution be considered fair by everyone affected by it (consider all stakeholders – the effects of decisions can be far-reaching)
If you can honestly answer Yes to each of the above questions then you are likely to be making an ethical decision. If you have any doubt about saying Yes to any of the questions then you should think about things more carefully. Maybe there is an entirely different and better solution – there often is.If you can’t decide how to answer these questions, seek input from someone more senior and more experienced who has strong ethical principles, and who owes you nothing. But beware! – do not ask anyone to advise you about difficult decisions if they owe you some sort of allegiance or you have power over them. Managers and leaders can sometimes be blinded by their own feelings of self-importance, and more dangerously can believe that the leader’s job requires them to shoulder the burden of decisions which cause anguish and suffering, or worse.Believing that leadership carries some sort of right to take risks with other people’s well-being is nothing more than arrogant delusion.A strong feature of good leadership is knowing when, and having the strength, to find another way – the ethical way. * from an article on www.businessballs.com
Study Resources of the Month
As this issue is focused on Problem Solving ~ here are some recommendations related to that topic:
Edward de Bono – Six Thinking Hats (Penguin 2009) ISBN: 9780141033051
Isaksen, Dorval, Treffinger – Creative Approaches to Problem Solving (Sage 2010) ISBN: 9781412977739
Tony Proctor – Creative Problem Solving for Managers – (Routledge 2009) ISBN: 0415551102
Please see the links, above in the left hand column, for websites that contain valuable information, articles, reports, case studies, and reflections on this month’s topic.
Student Recommended Resources
www.businesslink.gov.uk good pages on budgeting our thanks to Hussain
http://smallbusiness.dnb.comuseful for small business starting up our thanks to Yuki
Quotes from the Gurus
Believe it is possible to solve your problem. Tremendous things happen to the believer. So believe the answer will come. It will. Norman Vincent Peale
Don’t find fault – find remedy. Henry Ford
Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one. Richard Sloma
The significant problems we face cannot be solved using the same thinking that created them. Albert Einstein
Useful Study Links
Each of the websites listed here have a range of articles, reports, case studies, discussions, best practice checklists, and links to other sites