The Use of Different Problem-Solving Techniques

How a business copes with and solves problems can have a dramatic effect on whether it is successful or fails. Proper planning prevents poor performance and prevents further problems occurring.

Problem solving requires several steps which can be defined as:

  1. Identify – what the problem?
  2. Define – what is the cause of the problem?
  3. Examine – what are the options available to solve the problem?
  4. Act – make a plan and act on it
  5. Look – what are the consequences? What could we have done differently, if anything? What can we learn for next time (learn is often overlooked in the rush to get on with the next project)

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis is a method of taking four elements of an organisation and utilising it as a planning method for change within that organisation or new venture. The four elements of SWOT are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats:

  • Strengths are features of the organisation that provide it an edge or advantage over others, for example dependability or a leading market product
  • Weaknesses are features of the organisation which put it at a disadvantage to others, or where area of the company are weak, for example a poor customer service record or an unreliable workforce
  • Opportunities are areas where an organisation can become stronger, more competitive or gain a lead on other organisations with the same market/industry
  • Threats are areas which could cause problems for an organisation with examples including increased competition, loss of vital data or the loss of a major company

SWOT analysis can be used to shape organisational strategy from the ground-up by helping to set important objectives and matching those objectives to opportunities and focusing on a more aggressive strategy. In contrast, weaknesses identified within the organisation can be defended (or completely avoided) by adapting the strategy to suit. For example, outdated technology may expose the company to cyber-attacks and this can be defended by upgrading the technology or replacing it completely.

PESTLE analysis

PESTLE analysis is a framework for an organisation to track the market that it operates in and is popular in strategic analysis and market research. It focuses on political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors.

PESTLE is often used alongside SWOT analysis but concentrates mainly on external factors which may affect the businesses current and future direction. PESTLE is an adaptation of PEST, and generally accepted as the preferred version of this framework within the United Kingdom.

According to the website PSETLEanalysis.com, there are certain questions that one needs to ask while conducting this analysis, which give them an idea of what things to keep in mind:[

  • What is the political situation of the country and how can it affect the industry?
  • What are the prevalent economic factors?
  • How much importance does culture has in the market and what are its determinants?
  • What technological innovations are likely to pop up and affect the market structure?
  • Are there any current legislations that regulate the industry, or can there be any change in the legislations for the industry?
  • What are the environmental concerns for the industry?

When assessed in real life, for example for an asbestos removal company, the results may be as follows:

  • What is the political situation of the country and how can it affect the industry?
  • We posed the questions that BREXIT and exiting the EU may change regulations but decided that with the UK’s regulations being so far ahead of the rest of the world, this was highly unlikely. However, government funded organisations may have a lesser budget for asbestos removal in the future.
  • What are the prevalent economic factors?
  • Budget cuts may result in less work. However, the low interest rate can make investment in new plant more attractive.
  • How much importance does culture have in the market and what are its determinants?
  • This area has little effect on our business due to the type of work, however, there is a lot of explanation that needs to be provided to the public and contractors due to naivety regarding asbestos containing material.
  • What technological innovations are likely to pop up and affect the market structure?Although there are occasionally new ideas for methods of removal, technology has had little effect on the industry over the past 20 years and us unlikely to in the future. Technological growth is generally limited due to the methods and tools available for removal. However, marketing is an ongoing project to ensure competitiveness.
  • Are there any current legislations that regulate the industry or can there be any change in the legislations for the industry?
  • Yes. Includes, but is not limited to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, COSHH, working at height, working in confined spaces, manual handling, etc.
  • What are the environmental concerns for the industry?
  • Removal asbestos waste all goes to landfill. Fly tipping. Sustainable timber products.

This is not an in-depth use of PESTLE, but it does serve as an example of how it can be used to identify factors effecting the organisation.

Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a modern approach to problem solving, which places priorty on finding a solution to a problem without proportioning blame. RCA encourages debate to find the best solution, rather than spending time trying to find a solution.

RCA encourages a culture that believes searching for something or someone to blame can waste time and resources, whilst having little no change on the original cause of the problem. This is because problems are rarely as simple as they may seem and are often caused by multiple factors (a casual relationship) converging to cause one main problem.

RCA encourages managers to look for issues that are within their control, to help prevent reoccurrence in the future and avoiding additional problems to occur.

5-whys analysis

5-whys analysis is a relatively modern problem-solving technique which keeps asking ‘why’ the problem has occurred until it is solved. It is particularly useful for problem which never seem to be solved.

For example, if I introduce a new pricing system but my team aren’t using it, I need to ask why. I might be told that they don’t like it because it’s hard to understand. If I ask why, they might say that the text on the screen looks messy and it’s difficult to follow. If I ask why again, I might be told that it’s because the font used by the designer is hard to read. By having the font changed to an easier to read font, I find that my team is much happier with the new system and begin to use it. In this case, it took me 3 attempts to find the cause of the problem and how to solve it. This is a basic example, but the principle is simple: keep asking why until you find the cause of the problem. Founder of the 5-why system, Sakicha Toyoda, believed that it is unlikely that you will ever need to ask ‘why’ more than 5 times to find a possible remedy and once the possible remedy is found, fix it to prevent it from reoccurring.

Summary

Ultimately, problem solving is vital in any business and depending on the type of industry may be something which needs to be carried out on a daily basis. For other organisation, daily problems may not occur but problem solving can still help with ongoing improvement and future decision making.


[1] http://pestleanalysis.com/what-is-pestle-analysis/

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