The Lean Office Blog

Better Problem Solving in Five Steps

Today’s post provides tips for problem solving in your own work.

I once worked with an executive who gave some really practical advice to new employees about owning their work:

No one else in the organization knows more about the problems you face every day than you do. If you don’t want to face the same problems next week that you deal with today, it is up to you to help solve those problems.

It takes a certain type of organization for this type of thinking to be allowed, but if you are lucky enough to work for a Lean enterprise, the advice doesn’t come as a surprise. So if science tells us processes tend to break down over time, and we already know we have problems in our work, why aren’t we spending time solving problems? Many times the issue is finding time to do the problem solving.

So, if you are in charge of helping solve the problems in your own work, how do you go about it without putting everything else on hold? Below is a five-step process for solving more problems in your own work:

  1. Log problems – keep a simple log for writing down problems as they occur throughout the day. Don’t worry about solving the problems as they come up, but do capture a few details about the problem so you can use the information later. You’ll be surprised how freeing it is to capture the problems and move on-there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that even though you aren’t solving the problem immediately, that problem’s days are numbered.
  2. Daily reflection – we’ve written on this topic in a previous post, and I can’t overstate the value of it. problem solvingSet aside 15 minutes at the end of your day for reflection. Not only will you be able to easily remember more details about the day’s problems, you’ll also be able to manage your stress and workload much better as seen in this chart.
  3. Set aside time – Pick a time in your week with the least amount of distractions (Friday afternoons are great, for instance), mark the time off on your calendar, and let other people know that you’re busy during this time and shouldn’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.
  4. Create a priority list –  Start your problem solving time by reviewing the problems log to figure out which problems occurred in the past week, and you’ll quickly identify a group of problems that keep coming up-these are the “most wanted” problems that you’ll want to deal with first.
  5. Solve problems! There are literally hundreds of problem solving tools and frameworks to choose from; here’s a personal favorite of mine. Whatever method you choose, pick one problem and work it through to completion. This includes spending time after making changes to see if the changes actually solved the problem (the “Check/Act” portion of the PDCA cycle). If you don’t confirm your solution is working, you’ll often see the same problems come back again later.

Don’t let the stress of problems in your work overwhelm you. Follow this simple five-step process, and you can have a major impact on the problems you experience every day. Now get out there and solve some problems!

The Lean Office has an entire suite of modules designed to support your Lean Management System, including a several tools designed to help you solve problems. Click here to find out more!

1 Comment

  1. Norma Simons

    Good post. I would only like to add that there needs to be measurements at key points in the process that would help you identify problems as they occur. On the manufacturing floor problems should relate to quality, throughput, productivity. Most times I believe people tend to be anecdotal when trying to identify a problems.

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