What is a Problem Solving Action Plan?
In short, an Action Plan clearly defines and quantifies the actions (for example: projects, change management, process improvement, training……) that you must take to solve the problem. Now that you have gone through the first 4 steps to define and investing the problem, determine the root cause , and make decisions on what to do – you need to take action (do some things!) to actually solve the problems. If you haven’t yet read my previous articles on those steps, you can do so now by clicking on the links.
Do we really need an Action Plan for Problem Solving?
Have you ever been in one of those strategic planning sessions where you did all kinds of great brainstorming and came up with a big list of objectives – only to realize a year later that you didn’t accomplish any of those things??! We have all been there! Too often, we stop there without a clear plan on what needs to be done, who will do it and when. We all hope that someone is following up. But unless you agree to a plan, and attach someone to it – chances are it won’t be done.
Let’s continue with our previous example of low cash flow in a particular month. Once we realized it was due to a flu epidemic that ran through the sales department, we considered several very different options. So perhaps we decide that we want to reduce absenteeism by ensuring that people don’t get the flu. You are probably seeing lots of agreement. After all, that is a very wise choice, both for the benefit of the company and for the employees themselves. Perhaps you even discuss some ways that can happen – flu shots, education of hand washing, making sure you aren’t overworking people at that time…… But what specific activities are involved in each of these? Who will take responsibility? What will it cost? How long will it take to implement?……..
If we all just leave the session feeling that we have solved the problem – chances are that everyone will be expecting that someone else is taking care of it. The action plan provides structure and focus.
How do we develop an Action Plan for Problem Solving?
It really comes down to setting SMART Goals (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bounded). You can refer to one of my previous articles on SMART Goals that goes into some detail on this. But unlike a typical business goal setting, where it is clear as to which manager is responsible for what (ie Manufacturing, sales, distribution……), this is a new and often interdependent set of activities. So it is important that the managers work together to:
1. identify the specific activities
2. define the inter-dependencies between these activities
3. determine the sequence of events that needs to happen (and set deadlines!)
4. assign the people and the resources to each of these tasks
Depending on the scope of your problem solving action plan, you may need to take a phased approach. For example, consider that educating people of hand washing is a major behavioural change that will take time. You may need to have different “campaigns” each quarter for a year or more, until it has become a habit. But at the same time, you can start scheduling flu shots and look at your work flow to reduce overtime and ensure that employees can take their vacations.
Effective problem solving is a core management skill
We often think that good leaders are just “natural” problem solvers. But effective problem solving for managers is something that you can learn! There are specific tools and techniques for addressing complex problems in the workplace, and engaging stakeholders in the decision making process. This is an important aspect of strategic thinking and management, which I cover in depth my Advanced Problem Solving and Decision Making Techniques course.
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