Improving Processes & Services

Structured Problem Solving

The Problem Solving Framework

Structure problem solving is a collection of approaches and techniques designed to help people to take a complex problem, analyse it to establish the causes of that problem, and then identify alternative ways of resolving the problem and an action plan for doing so. The approaches and techniques are both analytical and creative and are particularly powerful when used by teams.

The approach has a long history but really came to prominence during the rise of TQM and quality of service improvement over the last twenty or so years. Initially such approaches were primarily used in high technology manufacturing by quality circles and their like, but have now gained a far wider acceptance.

The basic idea is that most of the problems we encounter in organisational operations are like the iceberg depicted below.

Problem Solving Iceberg


Six Step Summary

Step 1 - Identify, Select, and Redefine the Problem Definition

  • Try to ensure that it describes a problem or effect that you want to remove rather than a general area (training, or standardise forms) that you just want investigated.

Step 2 - Identify Possible Causes

  • Make a MAP of the problem. Use Brainstorming with either a Cause & Effect analysis or Process Mapping to create a diagram that people can use to map the possible causes.
  • At this stage an Action Team would draw up a simple Action Plan  for the next two months, covering:
    • redefinition of problem.
    • what information to collect in order to identify which causes should be pursued in more depth, and how it should be collected.
    • what sort of analyses and approaches to use.

Step 3 - Identify a "Temporary Fix" if possible.

Step 4 - Identify Root Causes

  • This usually involves several meetings collecting further data and analysing it using the other improvement tools.

Step 5 - Identify Possible Solutions

Step 6 - Select, Test, and Implement