Recently, as I was driving across town (most likely shuttling my children to one activity or another) my son suddenly proclaimed, “Mom, you are a really good problem solver!” I immediately thought that this was an interesting comment for a first grader to make out of the blue. So, I did what most parents would do; I asked him to explain more.
“Oh yeah, what makes me a good problem solver?” I asked.
“Well, you always fix problems,” he replied.
While that answer is perfectly acceptable to a 7-year-old, it got me thinking. What qualities define a good problem solver?
They Use PDSA Cycles Routinely
Plan, do, study, adjust cycles are based on the scientific method and help to determine what changes should be made, the best way to implement the changes, and ensure that the change is producing the intended result. This method of thinking can be used on any problem, large or small. Practicing PDSA is only part of this step, the key is to practice it routinely. We all know that practice makes perfect (or better anyway).
They Base Countermeasures on Data
Good problem solvers base their solutions, or countermeasures, on data rather than a feeling or assumption. Data can give you an accurate picture of what is actually happening and is the best way to understand if the countermeasure improved the situation. By looking at the data you are much more likely to get to the root cause of the problem.
They Focus on the Process, Not the People
To understand the problem and come up with the best countermeasure you must focus on the process, not the people. Seasoned problem solvers have learned this. It is helpful to determine whether a standard process exists and if it is being used consistently.
They Go to the Gemba
In order to solve a problem, you must first understand that problem. What better way to do this than to go to the gemba and observe? Going to gemba will also provide opportunities to ask questions that will help expand your knowledge of the current state.
They Are Willing to Fail
Good problem solvers are willing to fail. They understand that it is important to run experiments. If an experiment does not produce the desired outcome, learn from it and try again.
Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires that everyone in the organization be empowered to solve problems every day. Becoming a good problem solver doesn’t just happen; it takes time and practice. These concepts can be applied to all types of problems, large or small.
Sara Thompson, Communications Manager