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You Got a Problem with That? Pete Stamps, CPPO, VCO Procurement Management Account Executive DGS/DPS

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“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Albert Einstein

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Throughout our day, we all handle situations and problems automatically. However, situations arise which you can’t handle automatically. The use of problem solving skills and techniques may help you make the best choices and decisions available.

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What is a problem?

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Merriam-Webster Dictionary- A question raised for consideration or solution; an intricate unsettled question; a source of perplexity or vexation. or

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A problem occurs when an accomplishment is less than expected. The expectation may be a goal, a standard of performance, a rule or a policy.

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People tend to deal with problems in one of three ways: Avoid them Solve them as necessary Seek them out

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“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them”. Henry Ford

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Crossing the Bridge Problem

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Crossing the Bridge 4 people to cross a bridge in 17 minutes. No more than 2 people on the bridge at the same time. It is dark and a torch must be used to cross the bridge, but there is only one torch. Due to injuries, people cross the bridge at different speeds: Alice-1 minute, Brian-2 minutes, Carol-5 minutes and David-10 minutes. Can only cross the bridge at the speed of the slowest person.

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Solution Alice (1 min) and Brian (2 min) cross 2 min Alice (1 min) takes the torch back across 1 min Carol (5 min) and David (10 min) cross 10 min Brian (2 min) takes the torch back across 2 min Alice (1 min) and Brian (2 min) cross2 min Total time 17 min

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Problem-solving is a tool, a skill, and a process. As a tool it helps you to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As a skill you can use it throughout your life. As a process, it involve a number of steps.

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Six steps to problem solving: 1.Define and Identify the Problem 2.Analyze the Problem 3.Generate Possible Solutions 4.Analyze the Solutions 5.Select the Best Solution 6.Evaluate the Solution

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1.Define and Identify the Problem This is the most critical step. You need to define what it is that needs a solution.

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“It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer”. Albert Einstein

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Decide what it is you want to achieve and write it down. Often times we keep the problem in our head as a vague idea and can often get lost in what we are trying to solve. Writing it down may force you to think about what specifically you need to solve.

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Writing the problem down may keep you from trying to only solve part of the problem (sometimes the easiest part). People often use the most immediate solution (problem gone!!) without considering if it is the best solution.

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Possible questions to ask in this phase: Is the problem stated objectively using only the facts? Will all who read it understand the same meaning of the problem? Does the statement include “implied causes” or “implied solutions”?

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2.Analyze the Problem We need to understand where the problem is coming from. How it fits in with the current developments and the current environment is crucial when working out whether a solution will actually work or not.

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“He who asks a question may be a fool for five minutes, but he who never asks a question remains a fool forever”. Tom Connelly

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You may want to establish a set of criteria to evaluate whether solutions will work or not. Possible questions to ask in this phase: What’s the history of the problem? How serious is the problem?

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What are the causes of the problem? What are the symptoms of the problem? What obstacles may keep you from achieving your goal?

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Woman’s Bathing Suit Problem

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3.Generate Possible Solutions “The best way top have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas” Griff Niblack

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“For every failure, there's an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour”. Mary Kay Ash

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Generate as many possible solutions as you can. Doesn’t matter whether the possible solutions are realistic, practical, or effective. Frequently a solution you might eliminate initially, with work may be worked into a very effective solution.

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Brainstorming is the best known and widely used team based approach designed to help a group generate several creative solutions to a problem. One major reason it is so useful that it helps to free us from fixed ideas and becoming emotionally committed to a perceived solutions.

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Don’t prejudge any potential solutions, rather treat each idea as a new idea worthy of consideration. Don’t become fixated on a preconceived solution.

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The Flea Theory

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4.Analyzing the Solutions In this phase, we investigate the various factors about each of the potential solutions. Write down the good and bad points and other things which are relevant to each solution.

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“The only difference between a problem and a solution is that people understand the solution”. Charles F. Kettering

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Don’t start evaluating the solutions at this point. It may be easy to decide not to write down the valid good points about a possible solution, because you think you may have already seen the best idea.

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Some questions you may want to ask in this phase? Are the solutions realistic? Are the solutions manageable?

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NASA and the Pen

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5.Select the Best Solution In this phase, you review and evaluate each possible solution.

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“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. Thomas Edison

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Rate each solution based upon criteria you may have previously developed. Apply a yes/no scenario or use a sliding scale.

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You may end up with one, many or no viable solutions. If you have no acceptable solutions, you may need to repeat the Generate Possible Solutions phase to try and discover additional possible solutions. Or maybe a solution couldn’t be found because the problem itself wasn’t initially well defined.

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6.Implementation The last phase is to implement our chosen solution to the problem. On-going monitoring of the problem may be needed to ensure you have actually solved the problem. Hopefully the anticipated solution hasn’t created other problems!!

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“The real problem is what to do with problem solvers after the problem is solved”. Gay Talese

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Some questions to ask during this phase: How effective was the solution? Did it achieve what I wanted? What consequences did it have?

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Remember that problem-solving is a cycle. It involves searching for a solution to a problem that may lead to various possible solutions which then need to be evaluated. If the problem is solved, then you have found an effective solution. If the problem has not been solved, then you may have to start the process again !

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The What, Why, How, Where, Who and When What: What (exactly) do I want to achieve? What are the facts? What would happen if no decision was made or a solution found? What do I need in order to find a solution?

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Why: Why do I want to achieve a solution? Why did the problem or opportunity arise? Why do I need to find a solution or way forward at all?

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How: How will the situation be different? How relevant is the information I am gathering? How can I find out more? How can I involve relevant people?

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Where: Where did the issue arise? Where does it impact? Is the “where” important? If so, why?

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Who: Who am I trying to please? Who cares about the situation? Who is involved (information, help, action)? Who needs to be informed?

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When: When did the issue arise? When do we need to act? By when must it be resolved?

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“I must do something” always solves more problems than “Something must be done”. Unknown Author

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Problem Solving Exercises

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