Determining What Problem to Work On

When teaching someone about problem solving methodologies, the question that most commonly comes up is “How do I prioritize what problem(s) to work on?”

The good news and the bad news is there is no defined way to determine which problem to work on.  Some people do not like that answer because they can get paralyzed by so many problems they don’t know where to begin.  If that is the case, the person can pick a method they like to prioritize and use that to help them.

In reality though, there are many different types of environments, cultures, and situations so being flexible in how you prioritize can a great advantage.  Some ways are straight forward such as your manager prioritizes the issues to work on for you.  But others aren’t.

Most people tend to prioritize by the problem that will have the biggest impact on the metrics or process when it is solved.  Most of the time this can be a good way to prioritize.  The “bang for your buck” factor.

What if you are in a situation where people are skeptical that things will work or can even be fixed?  Choosing a problem that isn’t the biggest but can be solved quickly and convince people to join in and help may be a better way to go.  Get the quick win and build momentum.

If there is work that is done on a consistent basis that causes problems, the way to prioritize may be to fix what is bugging you the most.  Fix something that relieves the pain points for people allowing them to add more value to the process quickly.

Quick summary on ways to determine what problems to work on:

  • Biggest impact to the business
  • Solved quickly and get a quick win
  • What is bugging you the most
  • You manager assigns the problem

None of these ways is better than another.  There are different ways to choose and being flexible can help you pick the way that is best for the situation you are in.

Are there any other ways that you may prioritize problems to work on?

Posted on December 21, 2011, in Problem Solving, Strategy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Matt,

    Each of your criteria for project selection are good ones. Safety and Quality should be big considerations. Any project that has a negative impact on either should be rejected unless these concerns can be resolved (i.e. scope or solution changed so that Safety & Quality break even or improve). Other considerations are the likelihood of success, ease or difficulty of implementation, manageability, and likelihood of sustained improvements. Another consideration is if outside resources or capital funding will be required. All of these should be taken into consideration as part of the decision making process. While this sounds like a lot, I tell people not to get too hung up on it though. There are probably 100 if not a 1000+ projects you could choose in a manufacturing plant. How bad can it be if you go out and solve #5 instead of #1? You can solve #1 next.


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