Tag Archives: faster problem solving

Tools for Solving Problems


Persistent problems cannot be solved by repeatedly using the same knowledge and insights. Or, as Albert Einstein phrased it, we can’t solve the problems at the same level of thinking with which we created them!

Few decisions have a greater impact on the likelihood of success of an improvement project than the definition of the problem.

Stephen Covey says that the way we see the problem is the

Dr. Don Wetmore of the Productivity Institute says that a problem well defined is at least 50% solved!

However you choose to look at it, the way we define and communicate the problem the team is expected to solve will greatly influence the speed and efficiency with which a team will complete its work, the
degree of satisfaction between the team and the project sponsor, and the efficacy with which an organization prioritizes and sequences the problems to devote resources to.

So the first key step to problem solving is to define the problem. Four key best practices for doing so are:

  1. Write it down and share it
  2. Quantify the waste it is causing
  3. Be specific about the metric you are using to size the problem
  4. Avoid judgments or opinions about root causes

Once a problem is well defined, it is often best to use classic problem-solving tools to examine current reality from a variety of different angles. This will most often require the use of multiple tools to reveal more advanced insights and solutions, as in many cases no one tool will provide all the answers. These tools can include:

  • Pareto Charts to explore ideas about possible causes
  • Process Mapping to spot and quantify the waste and trace it to the primary cause
  • Cause and Effect Diagramming to stretch beyond initial ideas about possible root causes
  • Histograms to provide new insights into the dynamics of process performance
  • Run Charts to understand current process performance and distinguish between random variation and special causes
  • Scatter Diagrams to clarify the importance of possible causal factors on results measurements
  • Affinity Diagrams to find breakthrough ideas and natural relationships among the data
  • Priority Matrices to consider alternatives and identify the right things to work on
  • Interrelationship Digraphs to visually demonstrate the relationship among factors—causal factors (drivers) vs. symptoms

Faster innovation!

close the barn door

Recent posts have focused on innovation and problem solving, which requires knowledge, critical thinking, and, in many cases, creative thinking.

One interesting example of how we might apply creativity when solving problem is called the Theory of Inventive Problem-Solving.

The concept dates back to the 1950’s and Russian innovator G.S. Altshuller’s belief that innovation processes could be improved and accelerated by studying patterns in problems and solutions. Altlshuller and his team analyzed millions of patents to identify patterns, and they deduced from this data a small number of principles that can be applied to make the creative process more predictably effective. The result, TRIZ, is an acronym for Russian words that translate as “the theory of inventive problem solving.”

The fundamental premise is that there is nothing new so, whatever your challenge, if you understand it both in its specific and general form and you do the research, you will find that someone somewhere has already solved it. Then if you focus your creativity on adapting the general solution to your particular challenge, you will achieve your breakthrough faster and more predictably.

It’s About Time!
TRIZ accelerates breakthroughs by guiding the human intellect along paths most likely to be fruitful. And speed of innovation is essential because most people and groups abandon a “stretch” goal fairly quickly and settle for a compromise; and “slow innovation = no innovation.”

The developers and practitioners of TRIZ observe that problems often emerge from contradictions, and that most solutions aim at compromising with the contradictions instead of overcoming them. Here are some of the contradictions that may appear in the workplace:

  • It takes time to do something the right way, but the thing must be done quickly
  • A task requires precision, but it must be done without precise tools
  • A product must have dozens of features, but it must be simple to use.

Each problem is a specific example of a general contradiction. TRIZ research has paired every general contradiction with a small number of general solutions. So a practitioner of TRIZ can focus their effort and intellect on translating the specific problem into one of several dozen general problems. The next step is to look up in the TRIZ resources the general solutions that have been applied to that general problem in the past. Then one focuses one’s creativity on identifying and testing specific solutions that could apply the general solution to the problem at hand.