Skip to main content

If you are in business, with a focus on leadership, or if you work in such complex fields as logistics or supply chain, you have undoubtedly come across problems where you have little to no experience. But, inherently, as a leader, and especially as a planner in logistics, you have had to rely on effective problem solving steps to figure out the issue at hand and continually move forward to make your business, life, and yes, your supply chain remain efficient, despite any disruption.

In this week’s guest blog, Chuck Intrieri, talks about how to remain confident, no matter what comes your way, by instituting these effective problem solving steps.

Effective Problem Solving Steps to Not Disrupt your Supply Chain (or Life!)

Problem-solving is a basic coping strategy. Problem-solving is also a structured approach to addressing a problem and can lead you to the best solution to a problem. When done correctly, it can help someone experience a greater sense of control and predictability with regard to a problem. As a result, stress and anxiety may be reduced. There are six problem solving steps.

  1. Identify the Problem: The first area of focus in your problem solving steps is recognition of the problem. This might sound like common sense; however, this is a very important step. Try to describe the problem as objectively as possible, as opposed to focusing on the potential consequences or implications of the problem. This can give you a better sense of the issue you are specifically dealing with at the moment.
  1. problem solving stepsDefine and Analyze the Problem: In this second of six problem solving steps, you will want to figure out what caused the problem, what the problem looks like at this moment, and the urgency of addressing the problem. Find out the root cause of the problem. In this step, you want to also learn as much as you can about the problem. Be flexible in your approach. Do research on the problem. Look at the problem from a different perspective. Evaluate all of the different ways in which the problem could impact you.
  1. Generate Potential Solutions: Here you want to brainstorm and come up with as many solutions as you possibly can for the problem as you come to the third phase of problem solving steps. Be creative and don’t concern yourself at this point with how feasible the solutions which can fix the problem. You want a number of different options to choose from. This process of generating solutions can also help you look at the problem from multiple perspectives. Keep in mind that it may be impossible to address all areas of a problem. When this is the case, break the problem down and try to generate solutions by writing them down or speaking in a group.
  1. Find solutions for parts of the problem (as opposed to the problem as a whole). It may be necessary to seek out help in your problem solving steps by polling trusted colleagues or friends. A cross-functional problem solving group can help. Different ideas, from different points of view, put on a white board helps.  Anything goes; any solution is acceptable, no matter how outlandish. No comment is withheld. Freewheeling and objectivity are the keys here. Furthermore, this activity lends itself towards creating trust, leading to true collaboration. After all, collaboration is one of the tenets of innovation.
  1. Decision-Making: In this fifth of our problem solving steps, you want to evaluate the solutions you came up with in step 3. Weigh the short- and long-term pros and cons of each solution. In addition, in this step, you want to start to evaluate how feasible each solution is. That is, how easily can you implement the solution to the problem? Mark each one on a scale of feasibility, so you can sort them how you wish later in some way when you transcribe what you are creating on a white board.
  1. Implement a Solution and Evaluate its Success: In this final of our problem solving steps, you want to choose a solution and implement it. Take action. In choosing a solution, you want to weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, and it is generally a good idea to start out with a solution that is associated with low risk and that is compatible with your priorities and future goals. Once you have implemented a solution, evaluate how it was and was not successful. If the solution did not completely address the problem, you can then move back through some of the different stages to address other areas of the problem.

Combining Strategies:

problem solving steps six sigmaThese 6 Problem solving steps are a basic coping strategy that can be very effective in managing different sources of stress or problems both in the supply chain, logistics planning, in business in general, and of course, in your life too. As with any coping strategy, it may be important to combine it with other coping strategies, such as anxiety reduction techniques or skills for setting and managing goals.

By taking the steps above, you may be able to reduce your level of stress and maximize your effort in addressing problems in your life. As with any coping strategy, it is best to practice this skill first with a very basic or non-threatening problem. This way you can get comfortable with the steps before you use them with more complex problems.

Six Sigma Quality uses DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control as their driving problem solving steps guide. First you define the problem, next you measure it, then analyze it, improve it, and the final step is to control/maintain the solution. The most important step is control. Once you find the root cause of the problem and solve it, it must be controlled so it does not occur again. In both of these methods finding the root cause of the problem and solving it is at the core of problem solving.

Getting input from others, similar to the cross-functional team example, is very important for objectivity and looking at the problem from various points of view, always being objective and looking for the right solution(s) to the problem.

Example I: Improving Inventory Records Accuracy (IRA), for instance, where the warehouse on-hand quantity differs from the ERP/computer on-hand quantity, takes looking at the root cause of the problem in the transaction detail of the Warehouse Management System (WMS). You then analyze the problem once uncovered, discuss it, and write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to eliminate this from happening in the future.

Example number II: A bicycle fender is very difficult to put into a plastic sleeve because of the contour of the fender. Define the problem, measure exactly where the problem exists, through trial and error, try different methods of fitting the fender into the plastic bag, analyze these alternatives, and call a Supplier in to look at the problem from a specialist’s point of view. The Supplier comes up with the idea of air blowing into the plastic bag to open it up easier and the fender then slides into the plastic sleeve much easier. Problem solved. Write a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) to confirm how this issue was finally solved.

How do YOU go about solving issues in business, the supply chain, or in life? Let us know in the comments below!