5 mistakes to avoid when problem solving

Written on Jan 29, 2018

By Arianna Campbell

Finding the best solutions to problems is a necessary skill for navigating the changes continuously affecting the accounting profession. Companies that take a proactive and structured approach to problem solving position themselves to overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities. This approach comes from making a concerted effort to avoid the following five common problem-solving mistakes.

Mistake #1 – Not involving the right people in the conversation
When the right people are excluded from the problem-solving process, the proposed solutions can be one-sided or limited. Various perspectives understand the problem at hand differently and may identify a better solution. Resist the trap of letting busy schedules and a desire for quick resolution to exclude people from the process. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be involved. Progress might be slower when too many people participate. The most effective teams include representatives from various levels in the organization who share their perspective and insights.

Mistake #2 – Failing to get on the same page from the beginning
Certain people might agree a problem exists, but that doesn’t mean everyone has the same problem in mind. People often have different expectations, opinions on issues and goals and potential solutions. Effective problem solving requires getting everyone on the same page. When this doesn’t happen, there is a risk of running in different directions – this means everyone might cross a finish line, but no one wins the race. Take the time to define and document issues and get alignment before attempting to solve a problem. The result will be a better solution.

Mistake #3 – Making improvements that don’t address the source of the problem
Brainstorming sessions are great for getting ideas flowing, but activity should not be mistaken for achievement. Finding solutions that don’t address the root of the problem only leads to more problems in the long run. We can avoid this by using a simple yet effective tool called the “5 Whys.” The website iSixSigma.com gives the following explanation: “By repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five is a good rule of thumb), you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Very often the ostensible reason for a problem will lead you to another question.”

To complete the 5 Whys, identify a problem, ask why the problem happens, and then discuss and determine the answer.

If the answer does not uncover the source of the issue, ask why again. Repeat this process until everyone agrees on the source of the issue.

Mistake #4 – Not considering how technology could be part of the solution
The failure to leverage technology is a costly mistake. Some common reasons include negative experiences from a past software trial, the belief that clients will not welcome technology advances, lack of education about features and benefits, and fear of a learning curve slowing down internal processes. Companies that are unwilling to include technology as part of their problem-solving toolkit are getting left behind.

The rate of change for technology has accelerated dramatically, and solutions are customized to address the needs of the firm and the profession. Our people are smart, capable and often eager to use technology solutions that will allow them to provide a better internal and external client experience. With a few exceptions, clients have the necessary technical expertise they already use daily while interacting with banks, mortgage companies, social media and other outlets. Discomfort with technology should not hold your organization back from taking advantage of the best possible solutions.

Mistake #5 – Not having a framework for problem solving
Finding the best solutions starts with having a structured approach to problem solving. Developing the habit of having the appropriate team members ask the following five questions will help to avoid problem-solving mistakes:

1. What problem are we trying to solve?
2. Why is this an issue?
3. What are we currently doing to address this problem?
4. What could we do differently or better?
5. How can we move these ideas forward? What are the next steps?

Effective problem solving doesn’t happen by accident. Companies that take a disciplined approach find lasting solutions that lead to progress and growth.

Arianna Campbell, Consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.

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