Seven steps for effective problem solving in the workplace

Manuel Talbot, a second-line manager of the ZYXW department at a state agency, does not like what he saw this morning. What he saw was mud-splattered storage buildings, dirty state-owned vehicles, and even some spider webs when he looked out his office window. Unfortunately, this state of disarray has existed for a few months. Furthermore, another department—the VUTS—oversees these buildings and equipment, not Manuel. The VUTS are led by Jeff Gnash. Jeff is a second-line manager like Manuel.

Manuel is frustrated by this situation. He runs an orderly department and is upset that Jeff’s department seems to have little concern about the poor impression it makes when clients see the buildings, vehicles, and equipment poorly maintained. Moreover, the way the agency divides the work among departments contributes to Manuel’s frustration:

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  • Manuel, his four supervisors, and other members of the ZYXW department are responsible for designing the work to be done by the agency for this region.
  • Jeff’s VUTS department is responsible for implementing the designs created by ZYXW.
  • After VUTS finishes the job, the ZYXW department inspects the completed work.

Manuel admits that the VUTS department does good work despite the mud, dirt, and spider webs. However, he’s not sure how much longer he can tolerate this situation.

One day the agency announces a big change. As part of an agency-wide reorganization plan, the two departments, ZYXW and VUTS, are merged into one department. Manuel now leads the new, single group in the region, called the ZYTS group. Jeff Gnash is transferred to a different region to do the same thing.

Now that Manuel is in charge, what are some things he should do in the next few weeks?  Use the seven step problem-solving method discussed in the reading to solve the problem.

IMPORTANT: Use the questions below as subtitles. Write at least 150 words per paragraph for each question.

1. Identify the issues.

Clearly state the REAL decision problem and state all issues surrounding the problem. In other words, what is the difference between what is desired and what exists? (1 paragraph)

2. Understand everyone’s interests.

What are your objectives? Describe the interests or needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. (1 paragraph)

3. List the possible solutions.

Create a range of workable alternatives, without evaluating any of the options. (The term workable prevents alternative solutions that are too expensive, too time-consuming, or too elaborate.) This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity. Be sure you are not EVALUATING the options in this step, just listing them.  (1 paragraph)

4. Evaluate the options.

Provide pluses and minuses for each possible solution. What are the consequences (outcomes) of the alternatives? (Consequences include personal, social, health, and/or environmental. Watch the video Analysis of the Biological Clock Decision. What are the trade-offs? What would happen with each alternative? What would be its effect on the problem Gather the data you need to defend each option, and compare them with a checklist. Watch the video Making A Checklist, And Checking It(1 paragraph)

Download the transcript of (DOCX)  Analysis of the Biological Clock Decision Analysis of the Biological Clock Decision – Alternative Formats

Download the transcript of (DOCX)  Making a Checklist, And Checking It Making a Checklist, And Checking It – Alternative Formats

5. Select an option or options.

What’s the best option and why? What decisions are interrelated? What are the implications for interrelated decisions? If there is a way to “bundle” several options together for a more satisfactory solution, do that. (1 paragraph)

6. Document the agreement.

Once the solution is chosen, share the decision with those whose work will be affected. [Questions to consider answering include: What should be communicated? What is the reason for the decision? Whom will it affect and how? What are the benefits expected for the individual, the department, and the organization? What adjustments will be required in terms of how work will be done? What, specifically, is everyone’s role in implementing the decision? What results are expected from everyone? When does, the action called for by the decision go into effect?] Write out all the details and implications. (1 paragraph)

7.  Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

What might be a contingency plan if circumstances change?  Generally, feedback and reports are necessary to learn of the decision’s outcome. How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?  (2 paragraphs)

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