Fast, effective problem solving is a critical skill for any successful entrepreneur. Unfortunately, many of us haven’t had much training in problem solving before being thrust into the world of business and competition. That’s OK – as a business owner, you know what it’s like to think on your feet, and a few simple techniques can help you deal with issues before they become showstoppers.
With that in mind, we’re adapting the wise words of Harvey Mackay, an expert business consultant who writes about the importance of getting to the root of your problems. As he says, “Too often, we make problems larger than they are by rushing to solutions. Methodical thinking, breaking down the problem into manageable parts, and considering unorthodox approaches are necessary skills that feed into practical outcomes.”
Let’s break down his approach and see how it applies to solving business problems.
Step 1 – Identify the problem (symptoms and root cause)
Develop a good understanding of the issues the underlying problem is actually causing. Are deliveries to customers late? Are people abandoning their shopping carts in the middle of their e-commerce transactions? Are you failing to get a good ROI on the money you’re spending advertising? List between one and three symptoms of the problem, focusing on the ones causing the most trouble.
All issues or symptoms have a root cause. This is the underlying factor that makes them happen. There’s a very useful technique called “Five Whys” that can help you find root causes, which we wrote about here.
Step 2 – Measure and analyze the issues; create a list of solutions
Set up a way to measure the issues you’re having. How many times a week do people abandon their shopping cart or report late deliveries? What is your actual ROI on your advertising spending? You’ll use these measurements as a “baseline” so you can see if your solutions are working.
Once you know the root cause, you can come up with ways to fix it. Let your mind wander and use unorthodox approaches to create solutions. Ask your peers and colleagues what they would do. Brainstorm different approaches.
Step 3–Trim your list of solutions down
Consider each solution you have. For each, ask the following questions:
- How easy is this to put in place?
- Do I have the resources to make this fix?
- How quickly can I carry this out?
- Is this fix likely to last?
- What are the possible pros and cons?
Once you’ve done that, trim your list down to one or two solutions.
Step 4 – Take action
It’s time to put your fix in place. For a longer-term solution, you might need to setup a project. For faster fixes, just go ahead and get them done. It might take more effort now, but it’ll make your business run more efficiently, leading to more success.
Step 5 – Evaluate the effect your fix has had
In step 3, you created a baseline. After you’ve put the solution in place, continue to measure it. Find out if your solution has actually fixed the root cause, solved the problem, and reduced or eliminated the number of issues and failures. If it hasn’t, try another solution. Keep trying until you see a positive trend in your measurements.
When a solution does work and you can measure it, you should still make these measurements from time to time. That way, if the problem starts to creep back in, you can identify it early and fix it before it becomes a major issue.
The last word goes to Harvey Mackay, “It’s helpful to have a strategy prepared for when problems arise, because problems are a fact of life. Despite your best efforts, problems may arise. Accept that, but you don’t have to surrender to them. “