Problem solving: An holistic approach

The author, in this paper, brings a Unique approach in helping businesses and teams identify, define and solve Routine problems (where known solutions exist) and Creative problems (where known solutions are not effective & there are no ready-made answers).

He brings an Holistic approach encompassing ‘Process improvement & new process design’, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Enterprise IT governance & management’. And tool-sets that are Statistical, Qualitative and Creative.

Customer value creation

Before we embark on the journey of value creation, it is important to identify the key stakeholder from whose point of view we want to improve or innovate.

Once the customer is identified, cascade the customer needs into business imperatives; identify areas of improvement; spin them off as projects.

To do this, problem solvers usually pick up tools and methods like Lean Six Sigma, where a business problem is converted to statistical problem. Or problem solvers, if they are from IT, will conduct an audit or IT process capability review.

And quite rarely Innovation is a 3rd technique for problem solving. The author propagates the need for problem solvers to be immersed and well aware of all the 3 techniques and not rely entirely on any one technique.


Typical areas for improvement for a business unit are from Voice of customer, Voice of business, Business strategy, Financial results, Voice of employee, Voice of process.

Critical to Quality (CTQ)

As typical in Lean Six Sigma process, we translate the Voice of Customer to CTQ. A CTQ comprises of:

  • Operational definition: e.g. time to deliver product to customer post receipt of order
  • Calculation: e.g. (Time shipped- Time order received)
  • Target: e.g. 7 days
  • Specification Limit (USL/LSL): set specification limit

Digital Transformation Consultation

A CTQ should be independent of the methodology/ design used to attain it (e.g. whether the online content is a video or pdf, more or less the tolerable limit customer can bear waiting for it to download is the same)

Root cause analysis

  • Brain-storm on probable causes
  • Review whether the identified causes are root causes
  • Prioritize causes: Prioritization is done based on causes that are in your control and the impact of the cause on the problem or the effect

Evaluate processes & look for improvement opportunities

  • What is the purpose? Why is it necessary? Where is it done? Why is it done here? When is it done? Why is it done then? Who does it? Why does this person do it? How is it done? Why is it done this way?
  • Eliminate steps, Perform steps in parallel, Rearrange steps, Simplify steps, Expedite steps, Implement less expensive operations, Ensure consistent performance


Creative problems are where known solutions are not effective and there are no ready-made answers. This requires problem solvers to consider innovation as an approach to creating solution. Innovation can be applied any stage of your product or service life-cycle. It attempts to bring different ways of delivering value to customer. Solutions which will necessarily be used by customers.

Example of innovative problem solving:

KFC unveiled an edible coffee cup.

The cup, named the ‘Scoff-ee Cup’ is made from biscuit, wrapped in sugar paper and then lined with a layer of heat-resistant white chocolate to keep the coffee hot and the cup crispy. Once the chocolate lining melts over time, the biscuit begins to soften causing it to melt in your mouth.

This innovation not just reduced wastage and management of disposable cups, but also extended the usage of cups to not just serve a beverage but also serve as a quick-bite.


IT is no longer a support function. It is all encompassing and your business now runs on IT. Therefore as problem solvers it is critical to understand this area. Enterprises exist to create value to their stakeholders by maintaining a balance between the realization of benefits and the optimization of risk and use of resources.

As problem solvers we need to evaluate IT processes and enablers and review whether these support business value creation. The enterprise should have a robust IT capability that translates stakeholder needs into specific actionable and customized goals within the context of the enterprise, IT-related goals and enabler goals.

Problem solvers should also review the IT enablers: Processes, Organization Structures, Culture, Ethics and Behavior, Information, Infrastructure and Applications, People & Skills.

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