Problem Solve for Success

Many leaders fail to recognize when issues hold them back. Others decide to work around them or fail to fix root causes. Issues continue to nag at their success and make work less enjoyable.

Let’s explore how a well run, recurring problem solving approach can 10x any team’s success.

In my experience, the most successful leaders start with the Toyota mindset of Jidoka. It suggests that fixing a problem completely before it propagates is fundamental to success. Any worker can stop the entire assembly line in their factories if there is an issue that needs addressed.

To put this mindset into practice, teams need great ways to:

  1. Build trust to encourage feedback – encourage all to push the Jidoka stop button
  2. Detect and track issues, blockers, risks, decision points, and pain points (let’s call all these ‘Issues’)
  3. Prioritize and assign ownership
  4. Decide in a way that solves root causes and prevents them from recurring
    – Don’t be afraid to try something
    – Only Level I, high impact get long analysis
  5. Implement the resolution and monitor success

This article details factors to consider in how to comprehensively implement these practices to create a world class issues resolution process. Incorporate them into your weekly Leadership Team Meetings and your overall StrategyOS execution process. You may choose to simplify your approach to start. Adopt the right level of rigor that is appropriate for your team.

Build Trust

Good issue discovery starts with an environment of trust that encourages feedback. Trust is built with behaviors that:

• Leaders show humility with credit to team for success and a shared desire to be better
• Take personal responsibility for failures and don’t react defensively to issues
• Respect all when raising and solving issues
• Say what is true to you, starting with facts and building to context and feelings
• Allow other to express with candor
• Kill all gossip, bullying, harassment, politics

Combine these behaviors with regular opportunities for team members to share feedback, communicate clearly, share reasoning behind decisions, and build interpersonal relationships at and away from work.

If you want to learn more about building strong cultures including feedback and trust, read Building Great Cultures. You can also read about the 10 Commandments of Good Decision-Making.

Detect & Track

Create good detection methods that uncover issues to add to your issue list:

• Listen to what customers, partners and employees have to say and add concerns to your issues tracking
• Note reasons for key sales wins or losses if they suggest issues
• Use a score card to track progress toward shared goals and notice when you are falling short
• Track action items and Rocks to know when any is in jeopardy of missing timelines or outcomes
• Allow for thinking time to reflect on trends and changes in your industry that may impact future performance
• Note major decisions that could have a large impact on the business
• Reserve time at meetings to raise issues and brainstorm issues, risks, blockers, key decisions as a team.

Next create a tracking mechanism to track known issues. This can be a wiki (like or a simple shared spreadsheet or document. Share this list with the team. Capture enough initial detail for all to understand each issue and its potential impact on business success. Where possible document outcomes that will indicate the issues is solved. Your issue tracking mechanism should have headings similar to the following:

  1. Issue Name
  2. Date Opened
  3. Date Closed
  4. Opened By
  5. Description (with impact)
  6. Proposed Solution (with outcome)
  7. Type
  8. Priority
  9. Decision Maker
  10. Discussion
  11. Decision
  12. Implementation (Action Items w Owners)

Your headings may vary, but these are typical. Anyone on the team should be able to add Issues to this tracking mechanism. To raise an issue, they should fully complete heading items 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6.

A best practice is to start issues with one of two statements:
“I wish …”
“How to …”
This phrasing starts the conversation in a manner that encourages problem solving in a more productive fashion than naming them as problems and pain points. I wish all issue names started in this way on the tracking list. Save the impact and pain points for the discussion section.

Prioritize & Assign

Once an Issue is properly captured and documented, the team should work on the issue together for the next steps.

Understand that not all decisions are created equally. Start with the Jeff Bezos concept of whether the issue raises a Type I: one-way door, or a Type II: two-way door issue. This dictates who may own decision making and impacts the right method for decision making.

Working together, have the team read the issue, and agree on items #7- Type, and #8- Priority:

  • Type I: These are irreversible decisions that cannot be changed once executed. Therefore, they require careful evaluation. Type 1 decisions are owned by the team leader (eg: CEO.) They can delegate collecting facts and alternative evaluation, but cannot delegate final decision making authority.
  • Type II: These are reversible decisions. Even after executing them, you can change them if you get new information or learning. Most decisions fall into this category. These decisions can and should be delegated to a responsible individual other than the team leader. Its ownership could stay with whomever raised the issue, or move to another that has more impact, experience or capacity to resolve the issue.
  • Within these Type classifications, teams can usually solve only a few issues at a time. Use a H, M, L priority classification to determine which issues are highest priority and should be next in line to solve.

Only one or two Type I issues should be in process at any given time. In addition, you might pick one or two type II issues for each member on the team to be working on at one time.

Have the team agree which issues are a priority to be worked and together assign a #9 – Decision Maker. This individual has final accountability in deciding the issue resolution. If there is any lack of agreement about who should be the Decision Maker, the team leader will assign the person.

Discussion up to this point may make the resolution obvious. If so, document it with a clear resolution statement as a team and move on to Implement. If you don’t get to agreement on the resolution statement quickly, use an appropriate technique from Decide to take decision making off-line and keep the team from bogging down.

If issues are urgent, temporary measures may be needed. Acknowledge and document when these measures are not final and continue to work the process toward a final resolution. The Decision Maker should issue temporary directives when needed with advice from the larger team.


The Decision Maker gets to decide the approach for reaching his final decision. This does not mean that individual can make the decision without following a process. Teams should have a few shared problem solving methods they agree to use.

In choosing the method consider how much impact the issue has. Include the issue’s potential to impact overall success and how many people are impacted. More impact on success suggests more detailed information is needed to make the decision. More impact across a diverse group suggests more people may need an opportunity to give input to understand the best alternatives and to create buy-in to make implementation easier.

Keep it as light weight as possible and only add more structure for the hardest to solve issues with the most impact that cannot be modified once an initial decision is made.

Type II, Low Impact Issues:

This type of decision can be made after a brief discussion of available information. Use a method like IDS (Gino Wickman, Traction, pg 136). The Decision Maker is responsible to facilitate this approach and make the final documentation of resolution. Time box the method to keep appropriate focus.

– Identify: Fully understand the issue and the impact it is having. Review and detail the issue as originally documented and expand as needed. Search for true underlying root causes that need fixed.
– Discuss: Get all facts on the table. Let those that have an opinion be heard. If more information is needed to help decide, make that an action item before continuing discussion. Uncover potential approaches that could solve the issue and information to help choose the best alternative.
– Solve: Once facts are out and no new information is needed, the Decision Maker should pick a resolution that best corrects the issue. Document the decision with a statement that all agree to.

Type II, High Impact Issues:

This type decision can require more input and testing. But, given its reversable nature, should still be made as quickly as possible with the best available information. You can add more rigor by using Deming’s PDCA, or Bain’s RAPID approach.

PDCA is an acronym for a continuous improvement approach. It is suitable for resolving many types of issues with an appropriate amount of rigor. It that stands for:

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

RAPID is a way to asynchronously gather input about a decision from a broader constituency of the people required to successfully implement the decision. The Decision Maker circulates a document to gather input from RAPID participants and then issues a decision based on that input. It stands for:

– Recommend = whomever proposed the Issue and Solution
– Agree = colleagues whose input is vital to the decision (like legal or hr)
– Perform = people who will have to enact any decision
– Input = people who have valuable input
– Decide = The decision Maker

See further reading on the PDCA and RAPID approaches. You can find an example of RAPID in Matt Mochary’s book (The Great CEO Within, pg 67) and here.

Type I, Low Impact Issues:

Because of their low impact, these issues can be decided using similar approaches as Type II, high impact. Often questions need answered or more information needs gathered before decisions are made. You can add greater structure to data gathering and evaluation using six sigma’s DMAIC approach. Or stick with PDCA or RAPID with the added information.

Like all type 1 Issues, the Decision Maker should be the team leader (eg: CEO.)

Whenever possible, these decisions should be broken into milestones that allow for keeping decisions reversable as long as possible and phasing impact so that as much information as possible can be gathered before the final impact is recognized.

Type I, High Impact Issues:

These decisions usually require projects to gather alternatives, run scenario analysis, model possible decisions, quantify and mitigate risk, and negotiate outcomes. Decisions should be made carefully. Create Action Items and Rocks to gather and analyze needed information.

Break the decision into milestones with gateways that create opportunities to recognize impact in a phased approach and cut losses if the decision outcomes are not as expected.

Regardless of the method used to reach it, be sure the resolution decision is in line with company Values. Use Values as guidelines throughout the problem solving process. Also make an explicit check before finalizing any decision. Modify until all are satisfied that no Values are compromised.

A decision is not completed until it is fully documented and agreed to by the team. Complete #10- Discussion as you execute the decision process and # 11- Decision on issues tracking when a decision is made. Ensure that your Issues tracking mechanism documents details of the decision so that there is no disagreement in the future.


Once a decision is made and documented, it is time to implement it. Two steps are still needed:

  1. Create Action Items/Rocks to implement the decision
  2. Implement monitoring to ensure the actions create the desired outcome and the issue does not resurface

The Decision Maker can delegate implementation to one or more other responsible individuals. Document implementation broadly on your issues tracking #12- Implementation.

Then move them to your routine tracking for Action Items and Rocks and add new metrics to your shared Scorecard as needed. These should become part of your #StrategyOS execution routine. Set a follow-up date to ensure implementation is complete and the results are as expected.

Once complete, close the Issue with a #3- Closed Date and move on to assign your next most important issue and begin to work it to a solution.

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