7 Problem Solving Steps Used by Leaders

According to McKinsey & Company, “When a company engages its people 
in problem solving as part of their daily work, they feel more motivated, they do their jobs better, the organization’s performance improves, and a virtuous cycle starts to turn. Such an approach can tap enormous potential for the company and its customers. According to
Forbes Magazine, “Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do.  As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems – which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand
If leadership and a culture of problem solving is associated with leading companies, why are so many companies today using work around solutions in sales, customer service, accounting, and production? If you’re frustrated by ongoing production problems, here is a seven step roadmap to help address most issues.

  1. Identify the problem. Every time we… image this plate, scan these images, click this button, drop files into this folder, order with this credit card, print on this paper, use this inserter, mail in this envelope…. this problem occurs.
  1. Describe the situation, following the principle of the Six Ws. Who did it? What happened? When did it take place? Where did it take place? Why did it happen? How did it happen?
  1. Create a temporary workaround solution on the spot. Don’t start looking for the root cause and creating a long-term solution. Instead, put the fire out first. Find a solution that will keep the work moving, even if it’s not perfect.
  1. Find the root cause. After the emergency is over, research the root cause. Return to the Six Ws discussed in step two, include people in the prior step and people in the following step.
  1. Proposing and research solutions. Talk to everyone experiencing this problem. Then talk to everyone working one step before the problem as well as everyone working one step after the problem. Ask them what they think could be causing this problem. As different options are whittled down, start laying the groundwork to motivate staff “buy-in” for the solution.
  1. Create an action plan. Most solutions involve one or more of the four basic solutions such as staff, training, equipment, and procedures.
  1. Check your results. This is perhaps the most common error. Someone needs to check the next day, the next week, and the next month to make sure no new hurdles are encountered. When new hurdles are created, start the process over.


W Edwards Deming, one of the fathers of total quality management once said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always get.” Problem-solving is one attributes of leading companies. Companies that master the problem-solving process are likely to become leading companies. How good are you at problem-solving? What are you doing to build a culture of problem solvers?

Howie Fenton is the Vice President of Consulting Services for IMG. For 25 years, he has helpied in-plant and commercial printers measure, identify and overcome operational issues. To learn more about how IMG can help you measure performance, benchmark against leaders, and overcome production issues e-mail hfenton@imgresults.com.

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