• Edward A. Surber

"Structured" Problem Solving

In life and in business we face problems each and every second of each and every day. Some problems are easy to solve, like when the toilet paper runs out you just go get a new one. But many other problems are a bit more complicated and complex.

In business, the problems we face each and every day cause frustration to our employees and our customers, make the day to day business activities not fun, and they cost us money and negatively affect our bottom line. As business owners, employees, and humans [in general], we want to solve these issues as soon as we can so we can eliminate the feelings and frustrations associated with those problems. But often times, our rush to solve our problems without actually understanding them first will cause the problem(s) to return and the feelings of frustration and despair to linger. The reason this happens is because we are not solving the problem in a "structured" way.

There are many books and blogs and people out there in the world today explaining the "structured" approach to solving problems. I know, because I've read and learned from so many great sources. But what I've learned is that it takes more than just the "tools" to solve a problem. What I've learned is that it takes the following ingredients to effectively, and permanently, solve a problem:

  • Problem Solving Process

  • Help & Support

  • Patience

  • Continuous Improvement Mindset

Problem Solving Process

This is what we all read about and are told is the key to successful problem solving. The process is the "tool box". The "tool box" analogy is a good one because most people can associate with it. If you want to assemble a bicycle for your child you'd have a collection of instructions, parts, and tools. Same thing applies to the problems in business; you'll need instructions, parts, and tools.

The instructions, in this case, is the process. The process I like to use is the following, which has 6 steps:

  • Define the problem & goal statement

  • Dig into the root cause(s) of the problem

  • Identify some potential solutions

  • Prioritize those solutions and put a plan together to implement them

  • Implement the solutions by putting them in action

  • Standardized any new processes you've determined are solving the problem

The parts and tools, as we referred to in our analogy, are the pieces that make up the problem and the solution(s).

Help & Support

Unless you're stranded on a desert island and you only have the birds and coconuts to help you solve your problems GET SOME HELP!! I see this too often in both life and business -- we don't seem to leverage the help of others to solve our problems. Sometimes it's because we're embarrassed, we don't want to bother others, we cannot afford to hire help, or we just don't think anyone else could possibly understand our problems let alone help us solve them. If this is you, I guarantee you will never solve all of the problems you face, both in life and in business. Whether the help comes in the form of working with your co-workers, employees, bosses, business partners, consultants, contractors, vendors, or whomever it's extremely critical to get help...from actual humans!! Often times just having the support and encouragement will be enough to get you through the problem solving process. Not to mention, it's impossible for one person to know everything (unless you have children...they know it all)!!


This is probably one of the most difficult parts in dealing with our problems. Especially in business, we just want the problem to disappear and NOW!!! Now, I’m not saying we need to just sit back and relax and the solutions will just appear, but we need to be patient enough to ensure we are digging deep into the problem itself and then being even more patient after we implement some of our solutions. Often times, I help people solve some very complex problems that has been plaguing their business for months or even years and then they all of sudden get impatient about the solutions not fixing the issues fast enough…you waited how long to solve this problem and dealt with the pain and frustration it brought you and your company and now you’re in a hurry!! Slow down!

If the process and the right people are brought on board to help solve the problem then in time the problem will be solved! I promise! Sometimes it just takes time.

Continuous Improvement Mindset

The goal of problem solving is obviously to solve problems, but it’s important to understand that when you solve one problem other problems will rear their ugly heads. I’ll give you one example:

Selling Products in a Business

The day you opened you were selling 10 units per day. You looked at your financials and thought to yourself, “I wish I could just sell 12 units per day, then I would be making real money!” This was the first problem; you wish you could sell just 2 more units per day. You go through the problem solving process, you get the right help, you’re patient throughout the process and voila…you are now selling 12 units per day. Time goes by and you then think to yourself, “I wish I could just sell 15 units per day, then I would be making real money!”

This is the essence of a Continuous Improvement Mindset. Never settling. Never solving just one problem. Getting excited about picking off problems and capturing opportunity each and everyday! This is the Continuous Improvement Mindset. It’s a cycle and a journey to keep improving. Never give up! I like to say:

“The continuous pursuit of the elimination of problems!”

I hope this short article has opened your eyes and your mind to the possible reasons you’re still frustrated with the day to day problems you and your business are facing. And I also hope that it has provided some encouragement to go and tackle those problems. Running a business or a team should be fun and uplifting! Look at the problems as opportunities and have fun capturing those opportunities. The feelings you feel when you do are priceless and your teams and customers will be happy as well!

Identify the problems and get some help. If you feel we can help, give us a call. Until next time…

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