Structured problem-solving is a process, starting before you start.

Before you engage to use a formal Problem Solving methodology some solid prep is required or your efforts will be a waste of time.

Typically, the instinct by people and organizations is to "jump to solution" using job skill and experience. Unfortunately the solution can be very expensive and complex and the result the problem still exists. Even if people jump directly into using some sort of formal problem solving methodology like 6-Sigma, 8D, Shainin, A3, 5 Why. If you have not done some decent prep work the exercise could be in vain.

In order for any Problem Solving methodology to work you need to have a strong Problem Statement. Too broad and you may be attempting to solve too many problems and too narrow you may miss the mark of a potential root cause.

Creating a solid Problem Statement is a Process.

Follow these steps to identify and hone the content of your Problem Statement.

IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM The first step is to identify critical problems in your business. Examples could be:

  • declining customer satisfaction

  • high employee turnover

  • a drop in profitability or sales

  • instances of the “8 wastes,” such as inefficient operations or activity, idle employees or machines, or misused resources

Most Leaders aren’t aware of the full extent of waste and other challenges in their company. To identify them, we recommend doing a physical walk-through of your plant or office, known as a Gemba walk. Even better, stand in your imaginary circle and take time to observe.


Most problems occur after a change has been introduced into a process. Perhaps even multiple changes over a period of time. Go back in time and be a sleuth investigator and write down every deviation that has been made ... it is very important that you also note the date and time that these changes were introduced.


Finding Potential Root Causes is like conducting a search but you need to use different criteria;

WHEN = when did you first notice problem?

WHERE = where did the team first notice the problem, followed by when could the team have first detected the problem, once again add a time stamp to your observation.

WHAT = what deviation has been noted and where on the object has it been observed, at this point it becomes important to dismiss areas where the problem could have occurred but did not.

FREQUENCY = how often are you seeing the problem, constantly, infrequently or sporadic and attempt to define if there is a pattern to how the problem is being seen.


You will most likely come up with several potential root causes. Look for Potential Root Causes that could stem from a deviation and could potentially have created the problem you are witnessing. Once your list is complete prioritize your Potential Root Causes from Highly Likely to improbable.


I really don't care what kind of Problem Solving Methodology you decided to use they all start with a strong Problem Statement.

A Strong Problem Statement will contain only 1 (one) Deviation and only 1 (one) Object. I typically like to underline my Object and circle the deviation ... it helps me to visualize. If your problem statement contains the words "and", 'or" then start over or reduce the context and scope of your problem statement. For example a good problem statement could read ..

The Bread is Stale

Bread being the object and Stale being the deviation

However, if my statement reads

The Bread is Stale and Moldy

I still have one object being the "Bread" but now i am attempting to solve 2 deviations, being both Stale and Moldy


After we have completed our Prep work to instigate an exercise towards problem resolution I suggest one more step to categorize the significance of the problem you are attempting to resolve.

Why?, frequently i have seen organizations completely enamored by 6-Sigma that they have launched a full blown 6-Sigma Problem solving exercise when all they had to do is move a table 6 inches to the left. Granted the 6-Sigma team did arrive at the same conclusion but only after 6 months of investigation, data collection, when all that was required was a "Go Do" resolution.

I suggest the following 3 categories

1) I know what caused the problem! just need to "Go Do" to fix

2) I think i know what may have caused the problem! In this case review your Potential Root Causes and attempt some low-cost corrective action to see if the problem solves ... be careful that you only work on one root cause at a time or you will not know if what you have done is effective.

3) I have no clue what allowed this to happen? , now this is your clue that you do have an excellent 6-Sigma problem solving candidate where significant data collection and analysis will be required to help you identify potential root causes.

Some additional Tips related to Formal Problem Solving ...


Problem-solving is a daily task in any business.

I like to make our Problems appear Big and Ugly, but they are also great improvement Opportunities in hiding. I love the use of "Morning Market" to display the current slate of Problems to be solved or in the process of being solved and we update our board every day.

YOU MAY NEED TO INVOKE TEMPORARY COUNTERMEASURES You may need to take quick action to temporarily resolve problems until you’re able to implement a more complete solution. For example, an unhappy customer could be offered a credit or discount while the reasons for the problem are addressed.

ESTABLISH AND IMPLEMENT AN ACTION PLAN With your team, develop an action plan to implement the solutions. The plan should detail specific initiatives, who is responsible for carrying out them out and a timeline. It should also include key performance indicators to gauge the impact on the business.

The effectiveness of your solutions depends on how well you manage them with your employees. That’s why creating and proactively managing an action plan is important. An action plan creates more ownership and responsibility within your team.

CHECK RESULTS It’s important to follow up with your team to make sure action items have been accomplished and monitor improvements to gauge impacts on your business. Also be ready to adjust your action plan if needed and evaluate any gaps between anticipated and actual results.


Ultimately you will want to document your progress and a great summary document is a Problem Solving A3 Template since it incorporates everything discussed above.

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