The Most Important Step In Problem Solving

When we work with groups on problem solving, CALMC presents a 6-step approach, beginning with identifying the problem and proceeding through evaluation and standardization. Some authors present a 4-step approach based on Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. Others incorporate more steps, with 8 or 10 step problem solving wheels.

The number of steps you use is not significant. What is important is having a clear, well-organized process that is followed on all problems. You can’t skip steps or jump around if you are going to effectively solve problems.

When Dr. Deming spoke about his four step process, he said there was a problem with the way it is diagrammed. Typically, a circle is drawn and divided into 4 equal sized parts for the steps in his PDCA cycle. This implies each step was going to take about the same amount of time. Effective problem solving requires more planning time.

The first two steps in the CALMC process are “Identify the Problem” and “Diagnose the Problem”. Unless a team thoroughly understands the problem, it will not be effective in finding solutions. This is the most important part of the process.

Everyone on the team needs to understand the nature of the problem and its causes. We have written in other blog entries about the importance of distinguishing between symptoms and problems. There are a variety of data-based tools that can help accomplish this, such as Pareto Charting and Run Charting, but the easiest tool is simply asking “Why” something is happening. Continue to ask “Why”, and you can move from symptom level down toward the root cause of the problem. Dealing with symptoms is never effective in problem solving, dealing with root causes can be.

Dr. Deming said that half of the time spent on solving a problem should be spent in his “Plan” stage, or in our first two steps. We absolutely agree. The more time spent thoroughly analyzing and diagnosing the problem, the less the chance for later having to return to this stage because what you thought was happening was not correct.

While this makes sense, it is difficult to keep groups in the planning phase. Basic human nature kicks in, and groups are in a hurry to come up with a solution. This results in rushed solutions that may not only fail, they may cause even more problems. Part of our process as facilitators is to hold the group in the planning and diagnosing phase.

Part of planning phase includes asking the question “So what?”  Sometimes, people present problems that are not significant enough to merit the efforts of the group. Asking this question can preserve the group time and resources for more significant issues.

Effective problem solving requires careful planning and problem diagnosis. This takes time and commitment from the group to stay with the process. It will pay benefits in the long run, as the solutions you develop will be more effective.

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
This entry was posted in Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Facilitation, Labor-Management Committees, Problem Solving and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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