Consulting Services – Problem Solving

Complex Problems need …

The shadow side of our relentless advance in technology and organizational systems is that the problems we encounter now can be very complex and difficult to resolve. Powerful technologies combine with each other to produce extraordinary results, but when things go wrong it can be very challenging to untangle the situation to find the cause(s). Powerful ways of organizing people, such as cross functional teams, virtual organizations and global partnerships also have their shadow sides-when things go wrong in these complex systems, identifying and resolving the problems can be very difficult.

A Sophisticated Approach

Complex problems require a sophisticated approach to problem solving. Often these problems require a multidisciplinary team to sort through an enormous amount of data under massive time pressure. This problem solving team must separate symptoms from possible cause(s), cause(s) from effects, and useful information from piles of data. The importance of the problem may produce serious organizational pressure, causing emotions to arise that cloud everyone’s thinking.

In this setting, the problem solving team must adopt a step-by-step approach that enables them to sort through the data and produce a clear understanding of the problem, its cause(s), and a range of solutions that can be carried out.

Problem-Solving Guidelines

Some general guidelines for solving complex problems:

  1. Create a clear definition of the problem you are trying to solve. Make sure the whole team understands and agrees on the problem definition.
  2. Identify the scope and importance of the problem. Focus problem solving work on important issues.
  3. Develop a fact-based definition of the problem. It may be necessary to gather the facts-opinions at this stage are not useful. “It always happens on Fridays” is less useful than “It has happened 20 times; 15 of these are on Fridays; always after 2 PM and before 4:30”
  4. Look for where the problem is NOT. Establish boundaries for data-gathering and solution-seeking by isolating where the problem does NOT occur.
  5. Search for what has changed, and for patterns. The cause of the problem likely lies within a change-if nothing has changed, you would not be experiencing the problem.
  6. Identify possible causes, and then test each. First, test the possible causes against the data you have gathered. Eliminate what doesn’t fit. Second, devise simple tests that will confirm / deny your theory about the cause.
  7. Plan both corrective and contingent action. Corrective action eliminates the cause, while contingent action reduces the effect of the problem until it is solved.

Fall Line Systems facilitates teams that are assembled to solve complex problems. We help these teams investigate purely technical problems as well as those problems which involve the interaction of the technical and human systems. Examples include:

  • Identify the cause of excessive water production in a strategically important oil field in Yemen, for Nexen Inc.
  • Identify the cause of cause of large differences between cash flow forecasts and actuals in key production areas of Provident Energy.
  • Identify opportunities to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses from oil and gas production within Western Canadian Operations of Nexen Inc.

The following projects in our portfolio describe our work with Problem Solving: