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Problem-Solving Success Tip: Everyone Necessary, Nobody Extraneous
by Jeanne Sawyer

The goal is to make sure everybody who can contribute to the problem-solving effort is appropriately involved. The key word here is appropriately. There are many different ways of involving people in the effort, making best use of their skills and time available and satisfying management's need to know what is happening. The more political and visible the problem, the more important it is to manage everyone's participation.

Start by developing a list of key players: all the people who should participate in the problem-solving effort in some way. Then define the most effective role for each. Typically, there will be a small group of people who have specific skills that you need intensively, and who can and will actively participate in the whole problem-solving effort. These should be the members of your core team.

In addition, you will have stakeholders who need to be informed of progress but won't directly contribute to solving the problem. You may also need technical experts who can contribute to understanding the problem causes or to identifying solutions, but don't need to participate in the entire problem-solving effort.

For stakeholders who need to be informed of progress, develop and publish a communication plan. Tell them when and how they will be kept up-to-date with regular progress reports as well as if anything goes wrong. These stakeholders do not like surprises, so give them what they need to be confident that you and your team are on track and that they'll know with plenty of warning if you're not. If they have this confidence, they'll tend to leave you alone to do your work.

The more political the problem, the more likely it is that some of these stakeholders will try to attend team meetings. Generally, this is a very bad idea: their presence tends to disrupt rather than contribute to progress. If you have this situation, the best way to keep them out is to develop a strong communication plan and follow it, thus demonstrating that their attendance is unnecessary as a way of finding out what's going on.

Technical experts tend to be in high demand, making it hard to get their time. Use these people only where you really need them, which generally means they don't belong on your core team. Invite them only to specific meetings where you really need their expertise, such as to a session where possible root causes are identified or where you are analyzing the merits of possible solutions.

Only have the people on your core team who will contribute actively to solving the problem and who are truly needed for the entire problem-solving effort.

Copyright 2007. 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:

Jeanne Sawyer may be contacted at or


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