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9 essential problem-solving actions every ops manager should take

9 essential problem-solving actions every ops manager should take

Operations and manufacturing problem resolution is at the heart of value chain management. When these departments encounter obstacles, everything else stops. As a result, problem-solving within the operations or manufacturing environment is uniquely challenging and urgent.

Problem-solving is the essence of an operations professional’s responsibilities. The motive is to minimise the occurrence of problems – which means you must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force them upon you. Your ability to solve and move beyond these problems will often determine your business success. Therefore you must be resilient in your attempt to create and sustain momentum for the organisation and for the people you serve.

So what, then, are the fundamentals of problem-solving? Following is an overview of nine essential problem-solving actions to perform for sustained success:

1. Define the real problem

Here’s the nub: make sure you’re solving the right problem. Toyota is justifiably famous for applying its problem-solving ability in perfecting its production methods. According to Toyota, the key to its method is to spend more time defining the problem and less time figuring out the solution.

2. Solve the root cause of the problem

Don’t treat the symptoms; solve the root cause of the problem. If the problem had severe consequences or happens on an ongoing basis, the root cause must be identified and eliminated. (Read Treat the source rather than symptoms with structured problem-solving to find out more.)

There are numerous methods to determine root causes – cause mapping, fishbone analysis, and so on. The 5 Why technique, however, is commonly used for this purpose since it is simple and robust enough for use by all levels in the organisation. By identifying the problem and then asking ‘why’ five times – getting progressively deeper into the problem – the root cause can be strategically identified and tackled.

3. Use a hypothesis-driven approach

A hypothesis-driven approach recognises that there are multiple possible explanations for any given problem or process flaw. It examines each one in turn until the problem is isolated and a solution can be identified. Make a best guess as to the solution to the problem at the beginning, that is, define the initial hypothesis. Then test this initial hypothesis by digging deep to determine whether the hypothesis is right or wrong and adjusting the hypothesis as the facts dictate.

4. Get the facts

Poke even deeper and get the facts to truly understand the nature of the problem and the possible solutions. Do the analysis to let the facts do the talking instead of gut instinct. Then connect the dots and map out a realistic plan of action in advance.

5. Keep the solution simple

Any solution to a problem has to be implemented by your team. So keep it simple. You should be able to explain the solution clearly and precisely in 30 seconds. Limit the action items to solve the problem to about three. Think 80/100: go for the solution that solves 80% of the problem, but that is 100% implementable by the team — rather than the 100% solution which is unlikely ever to be properly implemented.

6. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Don’t be shy to copy tried and tested methods. If someone has a clever idea or way to solve your problem, by all means legally use it. The ‘not invented here’ syndrome can hinder your progress.

7. Gain momentum in problem-solving

In situations where you have multiple problems to solve (for example, during a value chain transformation) pick the low-hanging fruit first. Solve the easy problems. This approach gives momentum, shows progress, and gives your teams confidence. (To find out how an integrative approach supports end-to-end value chain transformation, download the eBook, Value Chain Transformation through Integrative Improvement.)

8. Consider the time factor

With any solution, ensure that you do first what needs to be done first. Also, make sure that the solution can be implemented in a reasonable time period. Solutions that take longer than a few months will likely fail and the momentum will die out, or top management will move on to another ‘critical issue’.

9. Let your team solve its own problems

An effective operations manager has a strategy for how the problem is approached and managed. They anticipate the unexpected and use the strengths of their people to ensure that the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.

Embrace an entrepreneurial spirit where your work teams can freely navigate and collaborate to connect the dots. In the absence of this, problem-solving is more difficult because you will deal with individual contributors rather than team players nurtured in a cross-functional environment. That’s when problem-solving becomes a gloomy task.

You must engage employees to solve problems together. The aim is to find resolutions and make the company stronger. Help your teams develop the confidence to problem-solve with these eight steps.

Problem-solving is the greatest catalyst of growth and opportunity. By truly solving problems once and for all, you, as the leader, can go beyond being reactive. The endless stream of problems that you need to solve will no longer determine your schedule and priorities. Instead, you can become proactive and begin to focus sufficient time on the most important items that will drive your organisation to success.


The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.
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