The Ultimate Problem Solving Roadmap

Roadmap for selecting the right problem solving tool

A rational for problem solving by Sidney Porto & Jim Thompson

When the only thing you have is a hammer… everything looks like a nail. But a hammer isn’t always the tool you need to get the job done right. A problem that we see far too often is the use of the wrong tool, or the SAME tool, for each problem or opportunity to improve a product or process.

With enough experience, solving problems can be intuitive. But only through a commonly understood problem solving methodology is it possible to implement effective solutions for a problem or opportunity at hand. Although we all make small corrections every single day, effective implementation of corrective action through in-depth problem solving take correction to a different level – time, money and discipline included. So how do you know which tool to use for each unique problem or opportunity?

Step 1 – Clearly identify the problem

While PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is common in the world of management systems and problem solving, Robert Kettering said it best: “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” Instead of using the PDCA Cycle, we frequently use the acronym IDPDCA. ID = Identify. You can have the best root cause analysis and problem solving techniques in the world, but if you’re solving the wrong problem (i.e. low impact or low return), then your efforts may not be worthwhile. Use the worksheet in Figure 1 - 5W2H Problem Definition Worksheet to capture the who, what, when, where, why, how and how many of the issue observed.

Figure 1 - 5W2H Problem Definition Worksheet

Figure 1 - 5W2H Problem Definition Worksheet

Step 2 – Prioritization based on impact

Figure 2 - Impact Funnel

Figure 2 - Impact Funnel

Problems, risks and opportunities come in various forms of impact and complexity. The impact of an issue can span from a loss of life or limb through something that simply needs to be done to make the lunch room smell better.  Tools ranging from a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) to a C&E Matrix (Cause & Effect) or the FMEA (Failure Modes & Effects Analysis) can assist in giving a value to an issue. The bottom line is this – you can’t do everything at the same time. This of this step as a funnel. You can put every issue in the world into the funnel, but you only have the resources to focus on a few at a time. See Figure 2 – Impact Funnel.

We recommend ranking issues from, say, 1 to 10, using 2 to 3 variables such as cost, impact to the customer and ease of implementation. In some cases, such as QMS requirements in the automotive sector (i.e. IATF 16949:2016), prescribed variables such as severity, occurrence frequency and detection risk are all multiplied together for what is called a risk priority number (RPN) to promote focus on the highest risk characteristics.

Step 3 - Selecting the correct primary tool

Figure 3 – List of primary tools based on severity

Figure 3 – List of primary tools based on severity

Figure 3 – List of primary tools based on severity illustrates the relationship between the issue type, issue impact or significance, and the recommended problem solving tool. Simple tools should be used for minor problems that are easy to solve, and where the cause and/or solution may be apparent. Comprehensive tools should be used for complex issues to get to the bottom of what is causing, or may cause, the issue at hand. And comprehensive set of tools should be used for chronic issues such as the methodology found in Six Sigma. Most issues will fall into the category of “solutions unknown” or “complex” and therefore should be solved using the A3, FTA (Fault Tree Analysis), 8D (disciplines) or a variation of two or more of these primary tools.

Step 4 - Selecting the correct secondary tool

In our fourth step, we structure the problem-solving resolution into 3 distinct lanes:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Root cause(s) identification
  3. Corrective action implementation

This sounds simple because it is simple. All fundamental requirements such as containment, validation of alternatives and effectiveness checks will fit into one of these three lanes on the roadmap. See Figure 4 – Roadmap for Problem Solving.

Figure 4 – Roadmap for Problem Solving.

Figure 4 – Roadmap for Problem Solving.

During the root cause analysis phase, ensure that any data being gathered and analyzed is accurate by conducting a measurement system analysis (MSA). Outputs and effective solutions are only as good as the integrity of the inputs and reasonable bias or measurement error (ideally < 10%).

Like Step 3, the effectiveness of your problem-solving results is highly dependable of the set of secondary problem solving tools you have selected. Figure 4 also suggests which secondary tool(s) to use as well as the sequence of usage for optimal results.


Do you feel this roadmap can guide you on most of the formal problem common solving resolution? Want to learn any specific tool described here. Concentric Global counts on a team of subject matter experts in the USA and South America that can help you on this arena.

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