Generally speaking, we define a problem as a gap between an observed state and some desired state or norm. Given this, in professional environments we can distinguish two types of problem solving activity:
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While some of the same problem solving tools can be used to at least partially cover both types of situation, the way they are used will be quite different:
When system performance is consistently below some desired target level, understanding all the “constituent conditions” ie. the conditions that will consistently produce the undesired state, will be the key part of the problem solving process.
Against that, when system performance deviates from an established level or norm, it is always because something has changed compared to the state it was in when the norm was established. In such cases, understanding what has changed will generally be the key to problem resolution.
Regarding improvement activities, the following quote attributed to Albert Einstein is well worth keeping in mind.
“If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”
With this model, when an issue which requires resolution is identified, the problem solving activities start with an initial phase to “Grasp the Situation” and identify the “Real Problem” ie. investigate the whole problem situation thoroughly before focusing on a few chosen areas of action.
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