The world sure has its fair share of problems; there’s certainly no argument there. However, there is also no shortage of problem-solving methods. We’re all familiar with the more commercial approaches to problem-solving including the 5 Why’s (and all of its variants), the Fishbone Diagram, PDCA and all the others. This post will cover several that you probably have never heard of but have been used to varying degrees of success, some of which for decades already. I present to you 3 problem-solving methods that you never knew existed.
Problem-solving Method #1: The Cynefin Framework
Pronounced (/kəˈnɛvɪn/ kuh-NEV-in), this method is used to help leaders decide how to approach a problem or decision. The model is organized in 4 quadrants with a 5th category of “Disorder” in the center. The categories, or domains, are ordered by simplicity as you go clockwise on the framework.
The domains include:
Simple (aka obvious or clear) – This quadrant represents challenges where the variables involved and course of action are relatively known and understood. The approach in this case is to apply best practices as there is a high degree of confidence in relationship between action and result.
Complicated – This quadrant represents challenges where the core factors contain known unknowns. Here, analysis, research and expertise can help bring clarity to the decision-making process. The strategy here is to increase the level of knowledge until the challenge moves counterclockwise on the framework into the “Simple” quadrant.
Complex – In this domain, the core factors of a decision fall unto the category of unknown unknowns. In this case, there isn’t enough information to even start trying to deduct a rational course of action. The decision-maker’s only recourse is to begin a series of experiments in order to build enough of a knowledge base to move the challenge into the Complicated quadrant.
Chaotic – Events in this domain have not only a weak or non-existent relationship between cause and effect, they also come with a high urgency to act. The decision-maker is typically acting on impulse and instinct for the sake of survival. Imagine a fire fighter inside a burning building who looks and moves one step to the left out of sheer instinct to avoid a catastrophic situation.
In the center of the framework is Disorder, which means there is not enough clarity to apply the challenge in any of the other domains. The approach for the decision-maker is to break the event up into discernible pieces and categorize each part accordingly; then manage them in isolation with the aim to minimize risk.
The strategy for appropriately using this framework is to move each event or challenge clockwise, ultimately into the Simple domain in order to make the best possible decision. At a macro level, a culture of transparency and experimentation moves all challenges, in general, towards Simple. Likewise, a culture that is complacent and bureaucratic generally moves all challenges toward disorder.
Problem-solving Method #2: Appreciative Inquiry
The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an exercise in developing innovative solutions to problems by focusing on the organizations strengths as opposed to weaknesses. It is built on a framework of Appreciation, Inquiry, and Wholeness. Appreciation considers the aspects of the organizations operations that are already doing really well. Inquiry seeks to ask questions to develop a shared vision of the future instead of taking a commanding posture. Wholeness refers to the effort of engaging stakeholders at all levels with a willingness to accept that great solutions can come from unexpected places.
Appreciative Inquiry uses what’s called the 4-D model to explain the following process:
Discovery – In this phase, facilitators seek out examples of when the organization has demonstrated the best results in developing innovative solutions. Then they seek to identify the common elements in those examples in order to re-create a highly innovative environment.
Dream – In this phase, facilitators would go through the process of envisioning how a highly innovative organization would operate in it’s ideal state. Here is where the organization creates a powerful shared vision of the future.
Design – In this phase, facilitators would create a plan to close the gap between current state and the desired future state. The idea here is to get as tactical as needed to ensure a clear path forward.
Destiny – In this phase, the team implements the design that has been developed in previous steps
This approach is best applied in situations where the company needs to become generally more innovative. Leaders in some organizations will need to relinquish authority in order to gain a higher level of engagement and ownership of results from those in the company who typically aren’t awarded this privilege.
Problem-solving Method #3: The Basadur Simplex Process
This model applies a systematic approach to problem-solving that is similar to Deming’s PDCA model. It is a cyclical model that encourages high engagement, implementation, evaluation, and ongoing improvement. This model includes 3 phases that are composed of 8 discrete process steps. The three phases are as follows:
Phase 1: Problem Formulation – This phase of the process is intended to develop a thorough understanding of the problem. It may include direct observation, data analysis, and interviewing subject matter experts to correctly frame the problem and prepare for the development of solutions.
The steps in this phase include: 1) Problem Finding 2) Fact Finding and 3) Problem Definition
Phase 2: Solution Formulation – This phase of the process requires developing solutions through brainstorming, researching, or expert inquiry. Ideas are gathered and organized prior to evaluating and selecting the best-fit solutions.
The steps in this phase include: 4) Solution Finding and 5) Selection and Evaluation
Phase 3: Implementing the Solution – This is the phase of the process where the plan of action is implemented. After developing solutions, a detailed plan of action is created. Part of the action planning processes includes socializing solutions with key stakeholders to refine the plan to increase feasibility and likelihood of sustainment. Part of the intent in this step is to increase engagement and support for the plan of action.
The steps in this phase include: 6) Planning, 7) Generating Engagement, and 8) Taking Action
This model encourages a period of observation after solutions are implemented to evaluate their effectiveness and to determine if further action is needed to produce the desired outcome. If the solution fails to deliver as anticipated, the 8-step cycle is repeated until results are satisfactory.
There are dozens of great problem-solving methods available to address the challenges faced by organizations of all sizes. This post presents 3 of those methods to help increase the options in your problem-solving toolbox. Of course, all tools should be used with discretion and with the guidance of a trained expert to avoid unnecessary problems and minimize risk. We always encourage the application of scientific thinking in combination with the use of any tool. This means to approach each problem as an opportunity to experiment and learn. Be clear about what you expect to happen before taking action; and after implementing any solution, observe the results and be prepared to try again if the anticipated results are not achieved.
Have you had success with any of the methods listed here? Tell us your story.
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