Problem Solving – Key Strategies

problem solvingOne of the lessons I learned a long time ago is that when you need to choose or decide a course of action  – like identifying a lecturer for a particular course or deciding what sort of marketing tactic to employ in a given situation – it is always beneficial to have a checklist of available possibilities. For lecturers, having a list of all the  lecturers who have contacted you in the past really helps with quick selection. Similarly, a master list of all the possible marketing tactics readily available for reference is helpful in thinking through the options. So it is with problem solving. You never know when you may need to solve a problem so having a list of key problem-solving strategies can make the job easier.

Here is a list of key problem solving strategies you can use…

1- Define the problem precisely

“We have a problem with customer service!” is what you hear from the MD. But can you set out to solve the problem just like that? No, of course not. You need better definition of the problem.  What kind of customer is facing this issue? Is it product related or process related? Is it related to a specific function in the company like product delivery.

This might need brainstorming to understand the different components of the problem. Sometimes a visual representation or a mind map may be very helpful to illustrate the exact nature of the problem. Ask for examples of customer service complaints that have arisen in the recent past.  When the problem becomes very clearly defined, it is easier to find an appropriate remedy.

2- Do something radically  different or opposite

When everyone is recommending the conventional approach, it may be useful to think about something very different. So for example if the issue is about pricing a product to increase turnover and reducing the price has not worked, maybe it’s worth considering jacking up the price!

3- Do a cost and benefit assessment

There may be multiple solutions to fix a problem so how do you decide? The cost-benefit technique is often used in these situations. A difficult employee might be terminated but this may result in exit payments. So an alternate solution might be re-training or counseling.

4- Rethink the assumptions

Sometimes it is useful to question the basic assumptions about the problem. For example, if your team is wrestling with a problematic customer, you might question if this customer is vital for your organization in the first place. The act of asking such questions might lead to new ideas and potential solutions.

Many years  ago, when I used to work in Malaysia, a group of PC sales guys were complaining that the price was too high for their clients. They explained this was the reason for not meeting the target sales volume. So the regional manager at the time asked “What if we gave these PCs away?  Would you be able to exceed your sales target then?” There was dead silence for a while. The sales guys realized that even with this zero price, they would not be able to exceed sales quota and the core issue was something else related to the brand.

5- Get help from the outside world

You are not going to be able to think through every problem yourself. Ask a subject matter expert inside or outside your organization for advice. Check the internet and organizational material for clues.  Ask your manager for help and don’t forget to consult your colleagues and team members.

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