Daily Archives: July 23, 2006

Problem Solving Series VI: General Problem Solving Strategies

This is the sixth, and final post, in our first series of posts designed to introduce you to problem solving strategies that you can use to attack your sourcing and supply chain problems.  Last Sunday we discussed some methodologies that you could use to evaluate a solution.  Today we are going to discuss ten general problem solving strategies that you can apply during the problem solving process to increase your chances of success.

( 1 ) Think of options without immediately evaluating them.

Although several options may be applicable to your problem, chances are one will be better than the others.  If you focus on one option too quickly, you might get “tunnel vision” and miss a better solution.

( 2 ) Set a goal

Make the outcome specific.  For example, “I want to decrease spend in this category by at least 10%”, “consolidate my supply base for non-critical indirect commodities to at most four suppliers per commodity”, or “decrease cycle time by 20%”.  It’s often easier to work towards a specific goal.

( 3 ) Avoid distraction

Good problem solving takes time, and distractions can significantly slow down the process.  It takes time to get into it, collect and organize all the information and your thoughts, and come up with a good plan of attack.  Every time you are interrupted, you will spend a considerable amount of time just working your way back to where you were.

( 4 ) Shake things up

Sometimes working in a new place, or at a different time, can be as helpful as trying a different approach.  Anything that stimulates those neurons is a good thing!

( 5 ) Make sure you have enough time

If you just spent a week coming up with an optimal sourcing strategy and award allocation for one key strategic direct material, you should not expect to do an entire category of ten strategic direct materials in anything less than six to eight weeks.  Sure, you will get better, and faster, as time goes on and learn to apply economies of scale, but only to a point.

( 6 ) Don’t work in a vacuum

Just like it helps to ask an expert, it also helps to bounce ideas of a colleague now and then.

( 7 ) Be positive

Negativity does not help, especially in problem solving.  Thus, do what you can to maintain a positive mood.  For some people that might be a well lit botanically decorated workspace, for others that might be metal blaring through the Altec-Lansings.  Whatever works! And remember, proving there is no solution is a valid solution!  It might be impossible to consolidate your supply base to only three suppliers for a given product and retain the desired amount of supply chain flexibility.  But if it is, a well constructed model run through an appropriate solver will prove it.  (And variations on that model will tell you the best you can do.)

( 8 ) It’s a Challenge!

If you don’t like problems, then it’s a challenge.  If you don’t challenges, it’s an opportunity.  And we all like opportunities.   This will help you keep a positive mood.

( 9 ) Be Confident in your abilities

A positive mood is good, but confidence is better.  If you think you can not, there’s a statistical psychological significance that you will not.  If you think you can, you have a much better shot.  And when you get right down to it, most problems are not that new or that difficult that you will not be able to solve them with a little brain power and a lot of hard work.  Although global supply chain problems can be hard, we are not talking P=NP or quantum gravity hard.  (Fortunately!)

( 10 ) Persist, Persist

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.  And maybe even again.  I have a rule.  A Murphy’s rule, but a rule.  “You never get it right the first time.”  I’ve never encountered a counterexample in any realistic situation.  Never!   We live in an age where technically dependent accomplishments are so fundamentally complex, that we are virtually guaranteed to make a mistake the first time, because we are only human.  That’s why we have advanced QA processes, six sigma, and other tools to help us get it right (which limit the amount of exposure when we get it wrong the first, second, and even tenth time). 

Your first idea, even if it helps, will in all likelihood not be the right one.  And unless you’re inconceivably lucky, chances are the second idea will not be appropriate (or ideal) either.  There’s a reason they say “third time’s the charm”.  We may not get it right the first time, but we are intelligent, learn from our mistakes, and gradually make our way to the right solution, no matter how hard it is.  So keep trying – no matter what.  And as time goes on, you’ll solve harder and harder problems and devise better and better solutions, and learn a lot in the process.  If you need to, take a break, revitalize yourself, and then continue.

This concludes our first set of posts in the problem solving series.