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Problem Solving Techniques


My brain has failed me. I have been asked to facilitate a team away day focussing on solving a particular business issue. My challenge is the issue in question is very broad and doesn't naturally fit some of the usual problem solving techniques in my portfolio, such as SWOT, PEST, Pareto, Ishikawa etc.

The business issue is

'How can we ensure the change portfolio and BAU activity will deliver the strategy and desired organisational culture'

They have 3 hours to look at this with 1 hour to understand an appropriate problem solving model, 1 hour to work on the problem and 1 hour to debrief.

So any help is gratefully received.


Ben Sheath

10 Responses

  1. Borrow from IT problem solving world?
    I’m not an expert but have a look at IT helpdesks and their problem solving techniques.

    diagnosing, replicaton, modelling, scoping, looking outside the business, case studies, seeking expert knowledge, testing, trialling etc.

  2. Is this really a “problem” that needs to be “solved”?
    Hi Ben

    I might be barking up the wrong proverbial tree here, but I’m not sure the “issue” you quote is actually a problem at all. And this could be why none of your tried and tested techniques seem to be appropriate.

    So, that said, some techniques more to do with contigency planning, risk assessment, effective communication and influencing might be more suitable.

    BTW – what is BAU (I’ve seen it used for Business as Usual – is that it?).

    Happy to discuss if you want to get in touch – contact details on my profile.

    All the best


  3. Lateral thinking
    Why not try the De Bono 6 hats approach.Plenty of references on these pages to it and its analogous application to the situation you describe

    Best Wishes


  4. seven S

    As others have stated this isn’t really a problem…it is more of a planning and risk assessment session.

    Have you ever used the 7 S model to consider this type of situation? I have found it really works well since it is easy to grasp and you get a holistic picture of the needs to achieve.

    Your “desired organisational culture” is probably your “Shared Values”, you have your “Strategy” so you can spend most of the time looking at “Style”, “Systems”, “Staff”, “Skills”, and “Structure”

    I don’t know what your business is but I’ve used this successfully with manufacturing, professional services, public sector, health, financial services and charity clients.


  5. 6 Thinking Hats
    I agree with Jennifer, I feel Edward De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats would work fantastically well here. I use it regularly for brain storming sessions, new product launch sessions, change programmes being introduced into a business and so on.
    Please email me at [email protected] and I’d be happy to share my material/slides/further explanation,
    kindest regards

  6. Go back to basics
    Hi Ben

    The desired organisational culture is what you want.

    The change portfolio is your solution to making that happen. Already decided eh.

    So you are simply into implementation. Or not?

    To check you have got the guts of these two things properly captured try the following:

    Start back with what you want – the desired organisational culture.

    Break this down into manageble chunks.
    At the top write “how to get the desired organisaional culture”. Then ask “whats stopping us?” and make sure you have about 6 lower level items. Make sure they are specific and not wooly.

    Then cascade further down with these items asking the same question until you have lots of fairly small issues.
    You will have a tree diagram.

    Next take your change portflio and down the left of a large grid write in the specifics.
    Across the top write down the issues you obtained in the other exercise.
    Each portfolio item must address at least one of these issues or it should be dropped. You could debate just how it will solve that issue.

    This checks the detail of each part of your change portfolio against each part of your desired cultural change.

    It should make the implementation part a lot easier.

    I’ll let you work out the logistics of how to manage the group to do this.

    But feel free to contact me if you want.


  7. look across industries…
    Hey Ben,

    It looks like you’ve already got a good handle on how to think creatively – I wish you could sleep on it, but you’re under the 60-minute gun for most clients.

    For rapid solutions, I think that our friend Rus may have a good clue:
    RUS SLATER’S QUOTE: I’ve used this successfully with manufacturing, professional services, public sector, health, financial services and charity clients.

    All of us have a diverse career background, and we can simply think about the solutions, processes, and set-up of other industries that we have helped.

    Often, rapid and effective solutions can be found by simply copying a solution that we have already implemented or followed somewhere else.
    This is one of the suggestions provided on other websites that promote creativity, and I’ve found it to be one of the better techniques when a time pressure is involved.

    What did you end up trying in your consultations, and what were the results?

    Frank Seto
    Learning Consultant

  8. Do they understand the problem?
    For me the starting point is – to what extent does this team have a shared understanding of the strategy and desired culture?

    Then, what are the key challenges we face to get there?

    Then, what do we need to do to overcome these? Split into change portfolio and BAU.

    It sounds to me like they need to slow down a bit…


  9. Problem solved!
    Ben, the best way to look at this is to assume that the problem has already been solved.

    Issue pre-work to all attending (at least 1 week in advance – insist that the pre-work is “their price of entry” to the session) and ask them to jot down answers to the following question:

    ‘Assume that it is now Oct 2008. 12 months ago we implemented a change portfolio and BAU activity that set a defined strategy. Over the last 12 months, this strategy has worked extremely well, so much so, that there has also been a real change in our culture.

    1. What did we do to establish this change portfolio and set the strategy? What does our culture look like now?

    2. What challenges or problems did we have to overcome to ensure the change portfolio worked and that the strategy was the right one?

    3. What did we do to solve these problems and / or meet these challenges?’

    Then run a meeting around their answers. You will find that they will come up with all the answers. You will not only have a change portfolio and strategy, but an implementation plan. You can add responsibilities and dates to these towards the end of the session. You can see a fuller explanation of how to run this session on one of my websites at I also have a couple of chapters on this in my new book “What To Do When You Become The Boss” ( which will be out in about a month – probably a bit late, but if you want to give me a call, feel free to do so +41 61 921 66 51 (9 to 5 GMT +1).




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