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Break Free from Problem Solving Traps

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on Feb. 9, 2014

Every once in a while I'll get trapped in problem solving mode and end up spending more time managing the solution than solving the problem. I use a process called “degrees-of-freedom” to break free.

Degrees-of-freedom is a way to hit the restart button. It's a simple process to free up more problem solving options by steering away from the implementing the solution, and refocusing on the business objective. Here's how it works.

A few years ago one of my manufacturing plant’s output was too low and customers were upset as we cut orders. The solution seemed clear – get more production - so we started daily meetings to focus on plant output. When the production didn't increase fast enough, we increased our effort, reviewing every minute of production time. We still didn’t make enough progress and the customers became more upset and the plant grew frustrated from our "help."

Then it struck me, managing the solution had become more important than solving the problem. Somehow our objective had shifted from fulfilling orders to micro-managing the plant.

So instead of reviewing the plant's production, I asked, “what will it take to get more cases to fill orders”? I was given multiple options such as using a contract manufacturer, or offering a substitution. We ultimately worked with customers with excess inventory to lower their orders while we filled the most critical outages. This helped us regain our customers' confidence and gave the plant time to stabilize.

What happened? I confused a possible solution (more plant production) with the business objective (fill customer orders). I got locked down to “one degree of freedom” when I overly focused on the solution. When I re-focused on the objective, I opened up more “degrees of freedom” to solve the problem.

When the solution starts spinning its wheels, it’s time to re-evaluate – not just bear down on the same solution.

Break free.

Here's an approach to adding value in problem solving - especially when you're new: Rock Your Join up

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