Simplified Problem Solving

Deming’s PDCA continuous improvement approach can be well applied to most goals or decisions in business:

– Plan (an outcome)
– Do (try best solution to solve root causes)
– Check (is it working)
– Act (scale solution if working)
– repeat

Fast cycles = fast improvement.

As with many problem solving approaches, Plan is especially important: Make sure all participants in problem solving identify and agree to the desired outcome. Be specific in setting an objective that defines a desired impact that can be verified within a set timeframe. Ask why 5 times to get basic understanding and to uncover the most important issues that are preventing achieving the outcome. Start with first principles and work to develop alternative actions that could correct root cause issues and achieve the outcome. Evaluate each alternative action as best as possible with input from all participants working to solve the problem.

The next steps can happen quickly.

Do: Test the action that is most likely to produce the outcome desired. This could be through a pilot that address a limited scope of the problem or could be implemented with temporary tools or processes.

Check: Implement metrics early that can objectively evaluate whether the goal is met. Ensure that the metrics show whether the desired outcome was achieved.

Act: If the action works, it is time to make the solution scalable and stable. Create any new tools or processes that are needed. Expand the action to address the full problem. Continue to ensure full implementation and monitor that the outcome continues to deliver results.

If the action did not work, go back to Plan; with the learning from this iteration, pick the next best action to Do and continue until the outcome is achieved.

Once solved, move on to your next most important issue, decision, or new goal you want to achieve.

Save more difficult problem solving techniques for issues and decisions that have a large impact and cannot be changed or undone once a decision is made. For most problem solving, PDCA has the right balance of rigor and efficiency.

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