“Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.” — Alfred A. Montapert
While I can’t comment on the health benefits of eating problems for breakfast, Alfred makes a great point. We should expect problems in life.
Although in my experience, many teams in organisations react to problems as if they’ve never seen one before. They’re often ill-prepared to tackle issues because:
- There is a lack of leadership support and involvement
- There is too much focus on symptoms rather than on root causes
- There are no structured problem-solving approaches in place
- Staff have received no support in learning problem-solving skills
So, if you’ve not had any problem-solving training, here’s a simple checklist you can use:
Step 1: Contain the Problem
The first thing you’ve got to do is to confine the problem and limit further damage.
Damage control could mean shutting down an internal process, removing embarrassing content from your social media or throwing away defective products. This first step is crucial if your customer or internal stakeholders are affected. Your most important goal is to stop the bleeding and making the situation worse.
Step 2: Find the Root Cause
Once you have contained the problem, your next step is to find the root cause. You’ll need to understand the who, the what, the why, where, and how as soon as possible.
Depending on the urgency, approach this step systematically and calmly. For example, if you have quality problems, establish what’s really going on and who or what is to blame. If it’s a people problem, decide on whether you have a training, motivation, staffing level or even a discipline issue.
Step 3: Correct the Problem
Once you know what’s causing the real problem (not the superficial one), do whatever is possible to fix it.
Sometimes, you’ll have to implement a temporary fix. A sticking plaster solution might mean paying for more expensive supplies until you can source cheaper goods. Or it may mean employing temp staff to plug admin gaps until you can install new software or design new procedures.
A short-term fix to a problem should be just that. Short-term. Don’t let expensive temporary solutions become the norm. All they should do is give you the time and space to find permanent fixes.
Step 4: Control the Problem
When you’ve identified and fixed the problem, implement new controls to prevent it from happening again. Often, a permanent fix will do enough to prevent the issue from rearing its ugly little head. For example, moving your website to a dedicated server should stop it from crashing when your customers visit.
However, never forget what Alfred said.
You can expect that once you’ve fixed one set of problems, there’ll always be new ones to tackle. So when they do, run through your 4Cs and start problem-solving again.
Enjoy your new-found breakfast.