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Objective Problem Solving

Often when something negative happens we are quick to formulate an idea about why “it” occurred. Unfortunately, our first thoughts are typically skewed based on our own bias.

CYCLIST: My tire blew out! These tubes/tires/rims are junk!

BIAS: This has to be a mechanical thing.

Though our bias may lead to some form of conclusion, typically these early realizations reflect only part of the actual problem. If you want to understand what is truly going on, we need to look at the problem objectively and perform some analysis.

More often than not, the flat has nothing to do with the wheel.

CREATE A PROBLEM STATEMENT
The first step in understanding a problem is to create a well-crafted problem statement following the What / When / Where / Impact format.

Example:
As a result of a failure in my wheel (either tube, tire, or wheel) I incurred a flat on my bike during the Mission 2 Mission charity ride along a smooth road. The delay incurred while changing the time added an extra 30 minutes on my ride time and slower than anticipated finishing time.

BRAINSTORM ROOT CAUSES
Once you have crafted a problem statement, you want to go broad in terms of potential root causes. Consider writing one short idea per post-it note inside of a two-minute time box.

Example:
Blown Tire Seal, Punctured Tube, Pinched Tube, Bent Rim, Nail/Screw, Sharp Rock, etc.

5-WHYS: THE ISHIKAWA DIAGRAM

With the potential root causes identified, we want to begin understanding the why behind the cause. First, consider associating each cause with a major category, or “bone.”

Example:
Blown Tire Seal: Equipment
Sharp Rock: Environment

Once each root cause has been classified, you can begin asking yourself “why” up to 5 times to arrive at the cause of the cause.

Example: Blown Tire Seal
(1) Weak tube pressure
(2) Temperature variation
(3) Insufficient air pressure in tube
(4) Forgot to check tire pressure before ride
(5) Rider not great at bike maintenance

PARETO ANALYSIS
With the cause of the causes identified, we want to group like causes and vote to understand which causes are likely to be of greatest impact to the problem.

If working in a group, consider giving each member of the team 5 “dots” to vote on the cause of the cause. Voters can spend all of their dots evenly, or spend them on only one or two causes.

Once the voting has completed, we want to view the results in a chart that allows us to interpret the data. Though one cause may emerge as being the contributor, be careful not to discount the other factors that may add up to be more significant than the emerging factor.

RESTATE THE PROBLEM
With the data available to review, we can begin reformulating our problem statement given our new learning.

Example – Original Problem Statement
As a result of a failure in my wheel (either tube, tire, or wheel) I incurred a flat on my bike during the Mission 2 Mission charity ride along a smooth road. The delay incurred while changing the time added an extra 30 minutes to my ride time and slower than anticipated finishing time.

Example – New Problem Statement
As a result of my failure to perform a pre-ride tire pressure check, I incurred a flat on my bike during the Mission 2 Mission charity ride along a smooth road. My lack of attention added an extra 30 minutes to my ride time and a lower-than-expected finish.

BRAINSTORM SOLUTIONS
With the new problem in focus, we can begin thinking about what can be done to prevent the recurrence of the problem. Similar to how we brainstormed potential causes, we can go broad with potential solutions and prioritize those which would most directly prevent the problem.

Example:
1 – Run tubeless tires
2 – Do maintenance
3 – Create a pre-ride checklist
4 – Carry CO2 canisters for faster tire changes

CONCLUSION
Our problems are typically not stemmed from what we think they are. By using an objective method to arrive at a true root cause, we can set aside our own bias and focus on preventing problems instead of blaming symptoms.

Like this method? The problem solving method is part of the Problem Solving Workshop in the Inspect & Adapt events within the Scaled Agile Framework: a toolkit focused on reinventing the way people work.

Learn more at ScaledAgileFramework.com/Inspect-And-Adapt



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