Problem Solving: Tips on Solving the ACTUAL Problem

“Doc, my right knee’s been hurting for a while. When I run I have to slow down after about 15 minutes. Do you know what the problem is with my knee?”

My chiropractor is really good. A former Ironman, he understands the human body and the stresses it can be put under. In my case, running and biking.

Over the last month, my right knee had been getting progressively sore. I thought it was just muscle tightness, but no amount of stretching and foam rolling could make it go away. Since I hadn’t been to the chiropractor for some time, thought it was time for a “tune up.”

After 5 minutes of my chiropractor checking some things and looking at alignments, he gave me an answer.

“The knee isn’t the problem. T2 is out of whack which put L7 out of alignment, which then misaligned your hips. Your back is the problem, not your knee. Lie face down and get ready for a little jolt!”

And with some jolts, twists, and drops, my back is straight and knee isn’t hurting. Magnificent!

Does this sound familiar? Can you think of a time when there’s a problem, you quickly jump to a solution, only to find you’re not solving the true problem? Happens all the time!

Here are some tips to problem solving. I admit, you can’t go into this level of detail for every problem. I reserve this approach for those larger ones; problems that will cost us days, weeks, or even longer of effort to work around. Everyone’s ideas of “BIG” problems are different, so I’ll leave that definition up to you.

Define the actual problem with the help of others. As in the example of my knee, I jumped to the incorrect conclusion. Only after engaging someone else did I find out what the actual problem was.

Your projects will run into a series of problems, especially those complex and innovative initiatives. When the unavoidable problem comes up, engage your team and anyone else who can assist with identifying the true problem. Remember, you’re not solutioning yet, just identifying the problem.

Do an RCA. Once you have the problem identified, do an RCA, or Root Cause Analysis. This answers the WHY it happened.

If I think about my back, a few days before my knee started to hurt I took a spill on the ice walking my dog. I hit the ground so hard the wind got knocked out of me! At that time, it’s probable I knocked my back out of alignment, too. Root cause ID’d!

Brainstorm, debate, select, and implement a solution. You know your problem. You know why the problem occured. Now, let’s fix it!!

Brainstorming on a whiteboard (physical or virtual) is the best method I’ve used to gather ideas from the team. As we collect ideas, I’m able then to put them into “buckets”, combining ideas that have a common theme. We’re able to document ideas, make changes, and engage in healthy debate.

Once we’ve debated on the best resolution, and ensured it’s solidly documented, it’s time to finalize its selection. Though the team feels they have the best approach, there’s usually someone higher up that needs to make the final approval. Go to them with the recommended solution and why the team feels that way, along with possibly another solution for their consideration (i.e. this is option #2). Have them approve, and then, implement!

Implementing is putting the team’s plan into motion. No plan is perfect, so as you implement, be ready to make adjustments. Remember, you’re working towards the goal of resolving the problem. The path to get there may have some twists and turns.

What are the results? Once you’ve implemented the resolution, what are the results? Is there anything that can quantitatively or qualitatively be measured to show success? See if there is a measurement that shows success you can report back to the team and leadership group.

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As for my knee, it’s better! Thankfully the chiropractor helped me find and correct the true problem, one that would not have been found if I didn’t engage him first. Your project team is the same way. When a problem arises, work with them to identify the true problem, ID the root cause, come up with a solution and implement.

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