Problem Solving Tips for Your Business

Whether you own your own business or you are rising through the ranks at someone else’s company, problem solving is one of the most valuable skills you can develop. It’s essentially the process of identifying what is preventing you, your team, or your company from reaching certain goals and finding a solution. You can begin working on this skill even before you enter the workforce, but it is likely to be something you’ll continue to refine and develop throughout your life.

Hone in on the Issues

Too often, people will define the problem too generally. If you are a fleet manager, you may have determined that there is some waste occurring that needs to be curbed, but this really isn’t sufficient information. A better analysis might identify the problem as too much idling, meaning that the engine is running but the vehicle is neither moving nor being used. Of course, to some extent, this is unavoidable, such as when waiting at a light. However, if allowed to go on excessively, idling has a number of negative effects, including polluting the environment, wasting fuel, and increasing maintenance. After identifying this as the specific issue, you might move on to research. You can learn more about the costs associated with idling as well as laws intended to prevent it and technologies that can help. None of this would be possible if you were bogged down at the waste part of identifying the problem but were unable to concretely say what actions within the fleet were causing that waste.

Context from Others

Whatever your position in the company, and even if you have a solution mindset, you may be too close or too far away from the problem to get a good read on it. It’s helpful to seek the input of others who may be able to bring different perspectives. You might simply see that the company is struggling to collect on certain invoices and assume that the problem is at the client end. You might even think the solution would be to cease working with those clients. However, reviewing accounting department procedures might reveal that there are no clearly stated policies for all clients about when payments are due or that you lack a blueprint for what to do next once a balance has passed a certain point unpaid. Refining these procedures could be the key to the actual solution.

Identify Solution Parameters

Part of writing a business plan is having a blueprint for potential problems and how to solve them, but it is impossible to be prepared for everything. At the beginning of this process is the potentially ill-defined problem; at the end, you might have an ill-defined solution. You’ll need to decide ahead of time what constitutes a solution and how you will measure it. In the case of the clients who aren’t paying their invoices on time, would it be sufficient to get the lag time reduced from 90 days to 30 days, or do you really need even prompter payment? How long will the new behavior need to be in place before you call it a success? After all, they might pay two invoices on time and then slip back into their old behavior. Concrete criteria to measure success can help you determine when you might need to rethink your solution.