Is the Traditional Problem-Solving Process Obsolete?

Is the Traditional Problem-Solving Process Obsolete?
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It’s Almost Perfect

All traditional problem solving processes were pretty much the same and in the end, project managers would often settle with a solution that worked best—most of these solutions weren’t perfect, however.

During a project, a problem was defined and analyzed, and a solution (perhaps several) were chosen to “fix” the problem. The solution that offered the most promise to project teams was usually selected and implemented. If the solution was ineffective, only after it was implemented was the traditional problem-solving process started again.

The basics of problem solving and fixes, in the age of obsolete project management, were much like a chef developing a recipe. The taste test ruled and if an element was missing, the chef kept adding until the recipe achieved the desired outcome.

Are the traditional ways of solving problems lost in the world of today’s project management, or are they delicately hidden within the various project management methodologies we utilize today?

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Hide and Seek

Initially, most problems aren’t clear or defined. Managers and teams find hidden flaws and seek ways to improve the errors made. In fact, the traditional problem-solving process is a much longer avenue than those seen in methodologies like 5S, Lean, or even Six Sigma.

While researching this topic of traditional problem solving, I found that most problem-solving experts offered between ten and twelve steps in a traditional approach. These steps more commonly started with who should be the decision maker to defining the problem to choosing the “best” fix and then monitoring the fix to see if it did indeed correct the problem.

Perhaps for new project managers, these traditional ways of problem solving are effective, but they are hardly ever efficient. With Six Sigma phases that include DMAIC, DMADV or DMEDI, you can tell by these acronyms alone that you’ve got five steps in each of these processes, and tucked inside these famous Six Sigma acronyms are standards for identifying a problem, repairing it, and realizing a defect-free outcome.

Traditional vs. New

If we look at traditional problem-solving processes suggested by Master Class Management, where twelve steps are offered, they include:

  1. Who is the person who will be the decision maker?
  2. Why is the problem present?
  3. Where is the problem?
  4. Why should it be called a “problem?”
  5. What is the cause of the problem?
  6. How large is the problem?
  7. Is the problem urgent?
  8. If the problem didn’t exist, what would be the ideal outcome?
  9. What are possible solutions to the problem?
  10. Pick the best or agreed-upon solution.
  11. Plan for the problem fix and implement that fix.
  12. Monitor the fix to see if the problem was solved.

These twelve steps, while effective, can lengthen project finish times. What if instead, a Six Sigma process was utilized such as DMEDI wherein the problem solving process was considered throughout the project? Or, what if problems could be solved using an Agile Methodology?

Shortening the Problem Solving Cycle

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One of the processes utilized in Six Sigma, DMEDI–or define, measure, explore, develop, and implement–has only five phases.

With DMEDI the problem-solving phase is completed long before the final phase, or the “implement” phase. While the implement phase means the project outcome is ready for market, in DMEDI, the Explore and Develop phases ensure, through project problem-solving controls, that concerns are addressed, analyzed, and fixed, and future fixes or improvements are developed prior to the Implement phase.

The phases of an Agile project are much the same where an iteration isn’t passed along until it’s totally complete; in Agile, done really does mean done. Some detriments to using more modern problem-solving techniques may be if the methodology is not utilized correctly or if a methodology doesn’t include a root cause analysis to identify problems during the project process.

Using a traditional problem-solving process is more than likely the best way for project management students and entry-level managers to grasp the basic knowledge of problem solving, but as technology and creativity continue to be inserted into projects, problem solving as a standalone management tool in today’s world of project management, is really not considered a best practice.

Image Credit (Free Digital Photos)