You started a new role and determined that one of your business partners has been “muscling” through one of their key operational processes. They believe the process can be done more efficiently but have been so busy and haven’t had time to figure out what the changes should be.
You’ve agreed to review the process to help solve their problem. Here are five steps I typically follow:
My 5-Step Problem-Solving Technique For A More Innovative Solution
1. Identify the problem. The first step is to identify what the true problem is. Talk with the business to understand what is the goal or problem that needs to be solved. If there is more than one problem, don’t assume that they are necessarily related.
2. Assess the problem. Define the problem based on factual data and not opinions. You may want to pull reports, talk with other departments, and observe the process yourself. Then you can start to analyze the data to determine what is/isn’t happening, or if there are any contributing factors.
- Have you identified the root cause of the problem?
- Can you identify the five Ws (who, what, where, when, why, and how)?
3. Develop the solution. This is a pivotal step, and you want to make sure you have the best solution (and not just a temporary workaround). Brainstorm possible solutions! Diverse ideas are contributed by diverse individuals with diverse perspectives.
- Identify possible options. Is it viable to do nothing (at least for the short term)? Or are any options not plausible? You can exclude an option but explain why you excluded it. For example, different options could be various vendors.
- Identify potential criteria (such as estimated cost, features/functions, and time frame). Criteria should be differentiators. If one criterion is the same across all options, then it can be excluded.
- Evaluate the criteria against the options. For example, what is the three-year total cost of ownership for each option?
- There are multiple options, and you’ll determine which option is the best option. Document your analysis including your recommended solution into a report. Present the report to the business for their review and approval.
4. Implement the solution. Create a detailed implementation/project plan. Depending on your solution, you may need to include updated procedures, internal controls, testing, and/or training. Nobody wants “bad” surprises when implementing something new. I believe there can’t be too much communication so communicate, communicate, and communicate.
5. Monitor the solution. Once you’ve implemented the solution, evaluate to make sure the solution is working correctly and has resolved the problem (continuously monitor and improve). Don’t forget to update your disaster recovery and/or business continuity plan.
And last but not least, it may be worthwhile to solicit input from the business and document the process results (similar to a project wrap-up). Define what went well, what didn’t go well and could be improved next time, pending issues, etc.
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