Seven ways to become a better business problem solver

HEY, why not set yourself a goal of becoming a better problem solver?

Yes, the modern positive term is "challenge", but let's call them what they are - problems.

Here's the key thought, do it well and you'll have less of them.

Problem solving is a little like those high school essays - there's a beginning, middle and end. At the beginning, you identify and analyse the problem; in the middle you consider a variety of solutions; and finally, you implement your decision, follow up and evaluate the result.

Now understand this: defining and analysing problems actually saves time.

We all know that, but how often do we just rush in without taking the first crucial step. Start by categorising problems as either major or minor. Deal with, or delegate, the minor problems quickly and move on. It's the major problems that deserve your time and attention.

Here are seven steps for you to follow when tackling them.

1. Identify the problem - The easiest way of dealing with any problem is by nipping it in the bud. Watch for early warning signs or problems, but consider the relevant facts.

2. Establish your objectives - After identifying the problem, decide the outcome you want after you've applied the solution. To further clarify your objectives, divide the outcomes into those that are "required" and those that are "desirable". You may want increased productivity (required) and increased market share (desirable).

3. Analyse the problem - Now you must find the cause of the problem. Avoid focussing on the symptoms - they merely alert you to the fact that a problem exists. Taking time to gather all the relevant facts, particularly from those directly involved, can save you a great deal of effort in finding an effective solution.

4. Brainstorm for Solutions - Generating ideas requires you to switch off your logical, left brain thinking, and fire up your right side creative brain thinking! When brainstorming for ideas, remember:

- At this stage don't make a judgment on any idea, because even the most seemingly "off the wall" ideas can germinate practical ones.

- Go for quantity, rather than quality of ideas. Just them them flow.

- Don't constrain your thinking. - Write the ideas down immediately so they are not forgotten.

- Don't give up the minute the ideas stop coming; hand in there for a couple of minutes until they start again. Only at the 3rd dry spell should you stop.

5. Evaluate the ideas you've generated and eliminate the unworkable ones.

6. Implement your decision - Decide, how, what, when and by whom your decision will be implemented. If you seek your teams input and communicate with them each step of the way, you'll have a greater chance of gaining their co-operation in making the solution work.

7. Follow up and evaluate - Regularly check to see that all is running smoothly. This will help highlight errors before they get out of hand. Then evaluate the results. Has the solution achieved the desired outcome? What errors have you or others made that can be avoided in the future.

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