Problem solving & Decision making


Problem: 'The gap between where you are and a more desirable position.'

Problems are a natural part of our lives. They can of course be a challenge or an opportunity (positive words) or a situation (neutral word). In part we will demonstrate our effectiveness in our job role by our ability to solve problems or facilitate this process through our team.


Decision: 'A choice from known options.'

Problem solving and decision-making are different activities but are closely linked. Problem-solving involves creating more options.  The greater the skill in problem solving, the easier the decision-making becomes.  Decision-making becomes difficult when none of the options is satisfactory. A good problem-solver will invent/create more options and/or improve existing options. Often one option will emerge as the clear leader, whereby decision-making becomes easier.

Crisis: 'Something which arises suddenly or which is unforeseen.' Or:
'Something which has serious consequences for the organisation or for individual(s).'


Important factors that help in being able to handle crises effectively:

• Thorough knowledge of all relevant organisational policies and procedures (eg fire/bomb procedures)
• Trust of team members
• Knowledge of back-up systems
• Emergency exits
• Knowledge of who to contact, and how
• First aid competence (self or know who is trained)


Steps a team leader can take in handling crises:

• Stop and think/plan/prepare
• Ask other people
• Check they have all the information they need
• Delegate/use all the people available
• Warn/advise other people who may be affected


The effects that crises can have on people:

• Suffer stress in crisis
• Start to do things without planning/preparing/thinking ahead
• Can panic
• Make mistakes
• Forget to follow basic rules or procedures
• Forget to consult other people or delegate


Problem Solving/Decision Making :  Systematic Approach to Problem Solving


1.  Analyse the problem:

What is the problem? i.e. where are we now?
What is the desirable position/situation?
Why solve it?
Who will benefit?
Who will be adversely affected?
How will success/failure be measured?
Cost it: savings/increased expenditure.
Avoid jumping to conclusions.


2.  Gather facts:

Is it your decision alone? - clarify responsibility.
What are the limiting factors?, e.g. cash.
Is it a real or an apparent problem?
By when do we need to make a decision?
What information will help?  Go and get it. 


Use the '5 Whys' technique.

1. Why did the car lose control?
• Brake failure

2. Why did the breaks fail?
• Fluid loss

3. Why was there a fluid loss?
• Failed gasket

4. Why did the gasket fail?
• Incorrect installation

5. Why was it installed incorrectly?
• Lack of operator training

Draw on others' experiences.
Is there a better way?


What exactly is causing the problem? What is/are the root cause(s)?
Consider the '6 Ms':

- Manpower (your team members or other people)
- Methods (how you do things)
- Machinery (equipment, tools, vehicles, etc.)
- Materials (raw materials or supplies, products, goods, services)
- Mother Nature (temperature, humidity. etc)
- Measurement (accuracy, measuring the right things? etc)



Cause & Effect Program



Problem Solving/Decision Making


3.  Consult:

Would it help if a problem solving team were created?
If it affects others, ask them (especially your team).
Listen to them.
Check your ideas with them.
Has this issue cropped up previously?


4.  Generate solutions: 

Have you examined all options? Done your brainstorming?
Ask who, how, what, why, where, when, AND who else, how else? etc. 
Update your costings.
Remind yourself of what you want to achieve.


5.  Decide, communicate and implement the decision:

People prefer to work for decisive managers (avoid analysis paralysis).
Plan your approach for implementation. Draw up an Action Plan to help you.
Make sure you don’t forget to tell other parties who need to know.
Brief your team collectively (avoids heresay!)
Enthuse and persuade.
Explain why.
Confirm in writing - particularly if complex.


6.  Follow-up and Evaluate:

Monitor progress - quantify where possible.
Smooth out problems. Are improvements locked in?
Analyse success and failure by:
- Checking against set standards or criteria or predetermined targets or objectives.
- Carrying out a cost/benefit analysis.
Are further improvements necessary/possible?


Why Use a Systematic Approach to Problem Solving?

• The final objectives are identified at the start 
• All relevant information is gathered
• Everything relevant is likely to have been considered
• Vital stages are not omitted
• We are more likely to select the best or optimum solution
• The solution is more likely to work
• Problems are less likely to reoccur
• We are less likely to jump to conclusions prematurely
• We focus on causes and not the symptoms
• We are less likely to adopt a blame culture


CONDITIONS These conditions must exist for team members to solve problems confidently:

• The team must understand fully the problem, its causes and the need to resolve it
• The team must know the limits that exist in resolving the problem
• Team must be allowed time and freedom from interruption to work on it.


For more on problem solving and decision making, check out our Creative Problem Solving & Decision Making instant download training package.