Problem Solving Modes

I want to tack a similar issue onto yesterday’s post about normal operating mode vs. recovery mode.

Listening to a team trying to understand a complex issue, I noticed three different threads intertwining in their conversation.

  1. They would discuss the actions needed to work through the issue and get the product to the customer. This is appropriate and necessary, but not in a meeting to discuss cause and countermeasure of the issue itself. This topic is habitual because it is the mode the group normally operates in. They are working to change that, but until they do, they’ll have to do what is necessary to meet the requirement… just not in this meeting.
  2. They would discuss the actions required to understand the next level of the cause – the investigation itself.
  3. They would discuss possible preventive countermeasures.

We’ve already said #1 should be taken off line. As you listen to the conversation in your problem-solving meetings, watch for this one because it can be very distracting as it is often confused with finding the cause.

#3 – discussing possible preventive countermeasures – often takes place before the root cause is understood. Though it is certainly appropriate to discuss (and experiment with) preventive countermeasures once the root cause it known, it is simply an exercise in idle speculation to do so before that.

In fact, doing so can be dangerous. You could put in a “countermeasure,” followed by an intermittent problem “going away” or the symptoms disappearing for a random reason, and end up with a powerful superstitious belief that you HAVE to operate that particular screen with the mouse in your left hand, or it won’t work.

The best course of action is to follow a methodical series of experiments to rule out possible causes.

This is harder than it looks. This week a team had an epiphany when they discovered that an unlikely cause they had talked themselves out of early on turned out to be the actual issue. The lesson they learned was don’t eliminate a possible cause without hard evidence. The more certain you are, the more you need to get that evidence.

Ask yourself “What would I have to prove to eliminate this as a possible factor?”

Just some thoughts for the day.

2 Replies to “Problem Solving Modes”

  1. Hi Mark

    Understanding the modes of problem solving will help greatly in problem solving proses.

    One thought : Focussing only on defectives during problem solving process will distract you from the identifying root cause. We should focus on the process giving good/bad output.
    Your explanation about eliminating the possible causes will help in understandig the process better.

    Sunil Pantoji

  2. Interesting thoughts Mark. I think those behaviors are common human nature, something that we all have probably done at some stage. What I have found is that in order to prevent them you need a very disciplined/structured facilitator with enough interpersonal skills to drive the discussions in that direction. Something that is not easy to find. Do you have any suggestions in that direction?

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