a disciplined approach to problem solving

In all organizations large and small, problems occur on a regular basis. Products/services priced too high, files continually missing, increased turnover, allocation of resources, competition requiring product revision, customer problems with call center, production defects, customer complaints, customer returns, etc.

In order to solve any problem we must first understand the cause. Good problem solving skills require that we create a problem statement (consisting of an object and a defect), which is the result of a situation appraisal activity. Then, data/information needs to be collected about the problem before we jump to a cause and learn from it.

The important areas of data collection center around four dimensions; the Identity, geography, timing and severity. A data collection template called the “circle of truth” can be helpful to identify both…what is involved with the four dimensions, inside the circle…and other related info, that doesn’t seem to be involved, outside the circle.

A template of the circle of truth used for problem solving and data collection

Then, a questioning technique can be used to identify possible causes, i.e., ‘What is odd, unusual, distinctive or different?’ about the factual info inside the circle of truth compared to what is outside the circle, for each dimension.

Then, the possible causes can be validated by asking, ‘If this cause is the cause of the problem, how does it explain what is inside the circle vs what is outside the circle’?  The result of this activity will be the most probable causes, which then can be tested to confirm truth.

Organizations are much stronger and produce better quality services when employees have a disciplined approach toward using methods (like above) for problem solving, decision making and anticipating future problems. Download the “Circle of Truth” template and test it out with your own team.

How does your organization solve problems? We would love to hear your “solutions” in the comments below.

About Michael McDonald

Throughout his 57 year career with Corning, Inc., Mike has conducted over 600 seminars around the world, covering topics of Quality, Manufacturing and Engineering. After earning his BS in Ceramic Engineering from Penn State, Mike became a key member of the original team of six instructors that introduced Total Quality Management to Corning’s employees. Mike is an active member of the American Society for Quality and he serves on six Non Profit boards and Advisory councils along with being a co-creator and facilitator for the Steuben Leadership Program. Mike is a certified six-sigma black belt instructor and ISO 9000 auditor. Mike and his wife, Linda, live in upstate New York and have two children.

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