The best problem solving route is…?

I will start by apologizing as this isn’t going to cover the whole topic. But hopefully something interesting for you. There are many different problem solving methods and tools out there that people like to use and they even have different ways of using the same tools as well, which makes life very interesting. It is important to distinguish between a tool and method as a first step (get it?). A tool is a specific method used to execute a step in a methodology. Clear? Just kidding. But to be a little more serious. A method we should consider to be a the highest level set of steps that we need to follow to solve a problem. A tool can be the whole or part of the way to execute a step in a method.

Some of the popular methods for problem solving out there are:

  • Kaizen defect reduction routes
  • Six Sigma DMAIC
  • Kepner Tregoe Problem Analysis
  • A3

There are of course many others. Here where I work we have our own method that we developed to better reflect our organisation and that is great.

I am sure you don’t need me to tell you that wars have been fought in meeting rooms over which method is the best and clearly the real answer is, it depends. It depends on many things but let’s highlight what it should depend on and shouldn’t. You should not select or say a certain methodology is the best just because it matches your personal bias. What do I mean? Unfortunately, I asked a KT consultant once about this and their answer was disappointingly obvious. Ask a six sigma consultant you will probably get a similarly obvious view. I do not believe that one single problem solving method is the best.

Each different problem solving method has it’s own unique characteristics that make it particularly useful to certain types of problems.

This post was inspired when I bumped into my colleague Fredrik the other day. He had been reading this blog (good lad!) and told me he was going to use the KT tools on a problem (he attended a 3 day PSDM workshop that I held a year or so ago). The discussion went to about how the KT problem analysis helps with a certain type of problem and I think it really does.

(What will follow goes into some detail on the KT method so if you don’t know it apologies). There are 2 things that I find most powerful about the KT problem analysis. Firstly there is the obvious IS / IS NOT when describing the problem. The questions you learn, frame the information in such an easily responded to way. Then the distinctions and changes tease out the sometimes hard to perceive but crucially important combinations that can help identify the root cause. In this case there was a change that they already knew about and Fredrik was concerned that this might bias the analysis. So the advice on this from me? Focus on the distinctions and I should have also told him (make sure the possible causes can explain all the facts! Sorry Fredrik forgot that one)

Now this may not seem like it really says when you should use KT over Six Sigma or vice versa but perhaps when you have a sense of what problem faces you think about how you would go about solving the problem with the different methods and then choose the one that seems the best fit. This can at least challenge bias which is the first step to overcoming it!

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