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Problem-Solving Success Tip: Whatever You Do, Do It on Purpose
by Jeanne Sawyer

Decision-making shows up throughout the problem-solving process. The decisions may be difficult or unpopular, so it's very tempting to ignore some of them. Imitating an ostrich, however, is a wimpy way to decide not to change anything—and is quite likely to leave you making awkward explanations later.

• Make conscious decisions: whether to proceed or not, which path to take, etc.
• Know why you made the decision you did,
• Be able to explain it (and offer alternatives).

The first big decision in problem-solving is deciding whether or not you'll tackle a particular problem. Take the time to gather the information you need to know to make an informed decision, then decide. If you are asked to solve a problem, be sure you at least have a reasonable chance do it successfully before you agree to lead the project. Otherwise you're setting yourself up for failure.

Of course, if you're going to tell your manager or an executive you can't do it, you want to be careful how you present it. A flat "no" or "I can't" is usually not the best approach. Be prepared to explain why the project can't succeed the way it's defined. Have the facts organized to present a clear, reasonable explanation. Propose alternatives that make the project viable. For example, perhaps somewhat less ambitious success criteria will remove enough of the pain from the problem in the time allowed, or perhaps the deadlines can be extended. Perhaps the success criteria are reasonable, but only if certain resources are available to you.

Once you've agreed to take on the problem-solving project, you and your team will have many more decisions to make along the way, including choosing which root causes to address and determining what action plan you'll follow to eliminate each root cause. When you make these decisions, always know the reasons behind your choices and document them.

You'll eliminate unnecessary rehashing of decisions already made if you have good notes. Of course, sometimes it's appropriate to reconsider a decision. When that happens, if you have written down the logic behind the original decision, it'll be easier to figure out what has changed and choose a new path or confirm that the original decision should stand.

Copyright 2006. Jeanne Sawyer. All rights reserved.

Jeanne Sawyer is an author, consultant, trainer and coach who helps her clients solve expensive, chronic problems, such as those that cause operational disruptions and cause customers to take their business elsewhere. These tips are excerpted from her book, When Stuff Happens: A Practical Guide to Solving Problems Permanently. Find out about it, and get more free information on problem solving at her web site:


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