Solving Symptoms

Something is wrong! You see it… the thing you are expecting to happen is not happening. The quality of a product is not to spec. The turnaround time of a report with in-depth analysis is beyond the time you allowed. You see there is a problem and you ask your team to solve it. They work harder, and things start to get done quicker. The one quality issue that kept on popping up now goes away. You have effectively managed the situation and the problem is solved. But is it really?

The problem you saw was actually the symptom of not achieving a certain goal. Something was not happening. “We have a problem!” is heard throughout the halls. Yes, there is a problem. And in typical fashion, the desire to quickly solve the problem to make the symptoms go away can cover up real issues. Issues that can still cause goals to not be achieved.

Jumping to solutions before defining the problem results in biased assumptions of the cause which can be misleading. You do this because you assume you know the problem and the cause of the problem, and you want to fix it… quickly. When there is a disturbance, you want resolution.

Here is a reminder for all of us of a structured problem-solving approach.

  • Clarify or define the goal – What are you really wanting to accomplish?
  • Define the problem – What is the problem objectively stated, without weaving in any causes or solutions?
  • Discover the cause of the problem – What are the contributing factors to the problem? What influences on these factors? Eventually, what is the root cause of the problem?
  • Offer up possible solutions – What solutions address the problems? What are the resources needed?
  • Analyze solutions – How likely are they to succeed? Which one has the best ROI? Which one is the quickest to implement? Are there multiple parts of a solution?
  • Decide – Make the call. Clearly communicate the decision.
  • Implement – Support the decision with the resources committed to the solution.

Some problems you are able to identify and resolve without an intense process. You have already experienced something very similar or the same problem in a different context. However, guarding against solving a problem too quickly and missing a new problem you have never faced before is prudent.

There are few other issues to avoid when solving problems to insure the most effective outcome.

  • Assuming the cause of the problem is the same as one previously experienced because the symptoms are similar.
  • Immediately blaming employees or volunteers for doing something wrong, not caring, or not working hard enough.
  • Not having in place appropriate checkpoints and measuring the right interim results.
  • Shifting blame around as the root cause begins to be discovered.
  • Not allowing a solution to be fully implemented, including some perceived setbacks of the learning curve when a process has been modified or new process has been put in place.
  • Leaders assuming they are not involved with or are not the primary source of the problem.

If you do not encourage an environment of taking the time to truly solve the problem and instilling a balanced approach to continuously improving, problems can grow to a point of causing a larger impact on the organization’s performance that is eventually seen on the income statement in a negative way.

Are you focused on solving symptoms or problems? How do you encourage good problem-solving in your organization?