Thursday, 15 September 2011

Solution and Effect Analysis

In last month’s Ask Gordon article, I discussed the identification of the root causes of a problem. The example used was in relation to ‘low staff satisfaction in staff appraisal system’. The root causes identified were as follows:

The task now is to implement a solution, or solutions, to solve the problem.

I adopt the following process to implement solutions to rectify problems.
  • Identify potential solutions
  • Assess effects associated with proposed solutions
  • Identify optimum solution
  • Agree implementation plan
  • Implement
  • Verify
Identify potential solutions
So how would I go about fixing the problem having identified the root causes? I would walk through the category – centric maps I generated, review the symptoms associated with the root causes and then brainstorm some potential solutions.

In the ‘Poor Deployment’ section, a key root cause is that the staff appraisal system is not integrated into normal work activities. It appears to be a one-off, independent activity. How could the staff appraisal system be better integrated?

Managers and staff meet and interact on a regular basis over the review period. Such interactions should surely provide a meaningful input to the staff appraisal discussion.

So one solution that comes to mind would be to provide all managers and supervisors with a MindGenius template to use as a framework for their interactions and discussions.

But would such a solution work?

Assess effects associated with proposed solutions

A solution, once implemented, should have an effect. We normally have an appreciation of the positive effects that it will have – that’s why we deployed it. But will it have any adverse side effects? Have we thought the implementation through and have we included any preventative activities in the implementation plan to mitigate any potential side effects? You have to be careful you don’t fall into motherhood mode and become blinkered – it’s my solution therefore it will work. You need to consider the pros and cons dispassionately.

I explore the potential effects using a Solution and Effect approach. This is simply a reversal of the Cause and Effect approach I discussed last month and in this case I use the MindGenius Output Tree format.

The 6M level 1 branches prompt me to consider effects that the solution might have (good or bad) if considered from these different perspectives. This helps me take a well rounded view of the solution as well as helping me to avoid the motherhood trap. I can gain an appreciation of any adverse side effects before I implement the solution and take steps to eliminate or mitigate them.

As I identify potential effects, I record these in the Solution and Effect Map. I highlight the negative effects so I can address them.

If I take the MindGenius Review template solution this results in the following map

Is the ‘All staff need access to MindGenius’ side effect a show stopper?

A quick review suggests no and indicates that there are steps that could readily be taken to eliminate this potential adverse side effect.
The maps that you are developing also give you valuable information to support your case for the deployment of the proposed solution.

Identify optimum solution

The solution is intended to address a key root cause ‘Poor Deployment’ but how effectively does it do that?

One way is to take the solution and assess its impact on the root causes previously identified.

This helps identify potential problem areas that still need to be addressed.

To address the ‘Too project/task orientated?’ concern then the MindGenius Review template could be revised as follows

Again I would revisit THE maps to verify that this did in fact address the intended root causes and that there were no significant side effects.

Agree implementation plan

In order to understand the timeframes, activities, resources and costs involved you need to develop an implementation plan.

Now you are in a position to implement, or gain approval to implement, your solution.


The implementation plan would be used as the roadmap to ensure that the solution was implanted as plan.


Included in the implementation plan would be a verification activity to ensure that the solution achieved the desired benefits. In this case:
I’ve added Communication. Why? Because it is important that you maintain effective communication routes to all affected and interested parties throughout the process.

In understanding and identifying the root causes you need to involve the people experiencing the problem so you take a well rounded approach.

In implementing the solution you need to continually inform the people affected of what you are about to do and why you are doing it so they will support the implementation.

To recap, my approach to problem solving is as follows:

The amount of effort and activities involved in these separate steps will be dependent on the nature of the problem and its proposed solution.

Problem Solving can be a complex or simple task. It depends on the nature and scope of the problem being addressed. There are a number of problem solving methodologies that you could use but I don’t believe that one size fits all. You have to be flexible and creative. You have to have a toolkit of problem solving techniques and be able to apply the correct tool for the job. This can often involve using a number of techniques in the one problem solving activity. For example. Which of the solutions identified should I use? (Pros and Cons analysis). Have I missed anything? (De Bono 6 hats). It’s down to you and what works for you in a given situation. At least you have MindGenius to help you carry out these tasks.

In these two articles on Problem Solving I’ve probably only shown you the tip of the iceberg. Interestingly when you start to solve a problem, you are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg too. You will be surprised at what you often uncover. And lastly, don’t set your expectations too high. It’s unlikely that you’ll fix in a day something that many people have taken months, if not years, to mess up.
As ever, if you have any queries, ask Gordon

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