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Problem Solving and Decision Making-Back to the Basics

The typical activities of what managers do include solving problems and hopefully making the right decisions. Some managers, in particular, often solve problems by reacting to them. They are undertaken, anxious and often very short for time or resources. As a result, when they encounter problems they must solve, they respond with a decision that is familiar and or seemed to work before.

It is very easy to get caught in this thinking process because it reduces the element of risk. However, an experienced manager always looks to find smarter and simpler way of doing things. This approach relies on using an organized systematic process - problem-solving process. This process is sometime referred to as “Work Simplification”. There is a word of caution, because this process cannot solve all problems.

However, if the basic guidelines are applied carefully, they can result in considerable benefits. After some practice, they'll become second nature and a common approach to your thinking process. Here my take, successful managers should view problems as opportunities to correct deficiencies and to look for improvements. Therefore, excellent managers view "problems" as "opportunities.”

Gather information and define the problem

This is often where managers fall short. They react to what they think the problem is. Instead, they need to seek to understand more about why you think there's a problem. Is the problem a repeat, unique and or different? “A problem well defined is half –way solved. “

Get the facts, and ask a lot of question. Seek input from yourself and ask others.

  • Who is involved? How extensive is the problem?

  • How long it has been going on?

  • Why do you think it is a problem? Who is causing the problem?

  • Where, how, and when, and with whom is it happening?

Write down a brief description of the problem

Specify in terms of "The following should be happening, but isn’t..." or "Record the job as it’s, not the way it should be”…

As much as possible, be specific in your description, including what is happening, where, how, with whom and why. The inquiring attitude relies on having an open mind while utilizing the what, where, when and how questions. Work with facts, not opinions.

Recognize the difference between "important “and "urgent" problems.

Often, what we consider to be important problems to consider are really just urgent problems. Important problems deserve more attention. For example, if you're continually answering "urgent" phone calls, then you've probably got a more "important" problem and that's to design a system that screens and prioritizes your phone calls.

Verify your understanding of the problems.

It helps a great deal to verify your problem analysis. Ask for conferring with a peer or someone else not related to the problem.

Understand your role in the problem and the role of others.

For example, if you're very stressed out, it'll probably look like others are too, or you may resort too quickly to blaming and reprimanding others. Or, if you are feeling very guilty about your role in the problem, you may ignore the accountability of others.

Select an approach to resolve the problem

When selecting the best approach, consider the following questions:

  • Which approach is the most realistic to accomplish for now? Do you have the resources?

  • Are they affordable? Do you have enough time to implement the approach?

  • What is the extent of risk associated with each alternative?

Plan the implementation of the best alternative (this is your action plan)

Carefully consider the following questions:

  • What will the situation look like when the problem is solved?

  • What steps should be taken to implement the best alternative to solving the problem?

  • What systems or processes should be changed in your organization, for example, a new policy or procedure? Don't resort to solutions where someone is "just going to try harder."

  • How will you know if the steps are being followed or not? (These are your indicators of the success of your plan)

What resources will you need in terms of people, money and facilities?

  • How much time will you need to implement the solution?

  • Write a schedule that includes the start and completion times, and when you expect to see certain indicators of success.

  • Who will primarily be responsible for ensuring implementation of the plan?

Write down your action plan.

Communicate the plan to those who will involve in implementing it and, at least, to your immediate supervisor. (An important this process is to continually observe and ask for feedback.)

Monitor implementation of the plan

Monitor the indicators of success:

  • Are you seeing what you would expect from the indicators?

  • Will the plan be done according to schedule? If the plan is not being followed as expected, then consider: Was the plan realistic?

  • Are there sufficient resources to accomplish the plan on schedule? Should more priority be placed on various aspects of the plan? Should the plan be changed?

Verify if the problem has been resolved or not

One of the best ways to verify if a problem has been solved or not is to resume normal operations in the organization. Still, you should consider the following:

  • What changes should be made to avoid this type of problem in the future?

  • Consider changes to policies and procedures, training, etc.

  • Consider "What did you learn from this problem solving?" Consider new knowledge, understanding and/or skills.

Consider writing a brief memo that highlights the success of the problem

Describe the problem and the solving efforts, and what you learned as a result. Share it with your manager-supervisor, peers and subordinates.

Celebrate achievements

This critical step is often ignored. New managers are often focused on a getting "a lot done." This usually means identifying and solving problems. Experienced managers come to understand that acknowledging and celebrating a solution to a problem can be also be as important as the solution itself. Without ongoing acknowledgement of success, employees can become doubtful and even distrustful about true efforts in the organization.

For further information, call us, here at Searchtec Consulting Group.

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