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Solving problems not just symptoms

Regardless of the type of business that you manage, problem solving is undoubtedly part of your day job. However are you solving problems or just the symptoms of problems?

No matter how good a manager you are, nor how hard you work, you’ll end up in trouble if you spend your time solving symptoms rather than actual problems. It is often not easy to determine when an issue is in fact a problem that needs to be solved and when it is a symptom of deeper trouble in the business.

What’s the real problem?

A problem is a holistic failure of something you are trying to accomplish. Treating symptoms wastes time, money and resources. In the business world of problems and symptoms, often what you first think is a problem, is really only the symptom – it’s not the real issue. If you focus on that symptom without uncovering the real problem you are wasting your time. You need to discover what’s causing the issue.

To find this out you might need to discuss the issue with different people across your business. Keep in mind the focus of the conversation is to find the root cause of the issue, rather than find “someone to blame”. The goal must be to strengthen the business by eliminating a problem or making a system or process better.

How long has the problem existed?

Problems usually occur in one of three ways; the same old problem, something brand new or the old problem but manifested in a different way. If the problem’s been around for a long time, perhaps there’s a deeper issue embedded within your business. If this is the case you need to deal with the underlying issue.

Does the problem serve a function?

Is the problem worth fixing or is it just a mild annoyance that doesn’t really impact the way the business functions? If it is worth fixing then you should do that as soon as you can realistically do so.

Once you understand the real, underlying, root cause of the issue, you can begin to design a solution. That solution may require rethinking the processes and procedures in your business. It might even entail a reorganisation of aspects of the firm. Whatever the solution you develop, you will need to think through the steps required to successfully implement and evaluate it in order to eliminate the problem.