Why is a structured approach important?
Simply put, a structured approach leads to better results. For example, a colleague of mine assessed two teams, one using one of the standard frameworks and one that did not provide any particular method for its problem solving teams. The structured approach averaged less than four days to reach a verified root cause or causes, while the other team took a little over ten days on average. That 60% reduction in time and effort made a big difference to both results and productivity.
What parts of the process should be structured?
The obvious activity to structure is the investigation phase, when you are looking for causes. But two other steps in the process benefit from structure. The first is when looking for a solution to eliminate a known cause. A structured approach such as KEPNERandFOURIE'sTM SolutionWise is very effective at uncovering solutions that you might not find otherwise.
The second opportunity to apply structure is the area that I think causes many problem management initiatives to under-achieve: implementing solutions. Failing to get solutions into production is the number one cause of failing problem management functions that is reported to me by peers and colleagues in many parts of the world. Putting some structure around implementation makes the difference. My friend and colleague Joe Gallagher, from BNY Mellon, ran a Lean program on a previous organisation's problem process and identified the lack of implementation as the weakest link they had.
To make it work better, uncover effective solutions as suggested above, then have an approval step, where fully-costed, resource-planned solutions are put forward to decision-makers for approval and commitment to implementation. Once committed, standard project management can kick in to make sure it actually happens.
What prevents a structured approach being used?
Most often, lack of awareness that structure has big benefits, but lack of commitment and a lack of attention to training for everyone involved also contribute. What other barriers are there? I would love to hear your views...
About the author
As a Chartered IT Professional in Service Management, Michael Hall has a wealth of experience managing change programmes. He implemented problem management as a global function at Deutsche Bank and is the author of Problem Management: An implementation guide for the real world.