Effective problem solving is not a skill that comes to most people naturally. It is a taught skill that must be practiced to become effective, a structure in the way you approach every problem you tackle. The following problem solving system is derived from a version of the scientific method I was taught at a very young age. One factor that classic versions of the scientific method do not take into account is perceived problems. A few of the problems facing the foodservice industry today are problems not derived from ineffective systems or procedures. They are derived from incorrect perceptions from our target audience.
What is a perceived problem? A perceived problem is a conclusion that some or many of your target audience have come to that may or may not be correct. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Ever wondered why you can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but never all of the people all of the time? Every person that comes in contact with you or your business will take away a different perception of you no matter how identical you act to everyone who walks in the front door. Every person will have their own perception of you.
Is perception important? Your friends or customers perception is actually more important than the facts. If the service in your restaurant is fantastic, but 2 percent of your clients believe your service is horrible, who’s correct? In the case of that 2 percent, they are. Will you sway their opinion by simply stating that they are incorrect because 98% of your clientele believes you give great service? Probably not. Is there really an actual problem with your service if 98% of the people are satisfied? Once again, probably not. Most lump this hypothetical 2% of customers into the category of people that you cannot please. I say it’s not true. In this case, the 2%’s perception of bad service in your restaurant is their reality, which makes it your reality in relation to them. Perception is always more important than reality.
Can you change people’s perception of you or your restaurant? Absolutely. Rather than ignoring the opinions of a minority of people who think a different way than everyone else, try to form a different solution of how to please them in comparison with everyone else. Most often the conflicting perception of the minority in relation to the majority is caused by a different set of values they have in relation to a certain subject. While the majority of people may consider great service to mean they receive every item they need to make their meal complete without having to ask for it, other people may simply judge service by how friendly the server was despite a few mistakes here and there. Others still may judge service exclusively on speed while some judge it on formality. The differences in perceptions are infinite, but the reality is; you can change people’s perception of your restaurant if you can identify the cause of their perception. This is where an effective problem solving technique comes in to play.
Studying and repeating this technique could help you become a more efficient problem solver. You may also find you are able to solve some problems you previously thought unsolvable. These seven steps can be related to personal, professional and scientific problems alike. Keep an open mind.
The Seven Steps to Effective Problem Solving
- Evaluate – Identify your problem first. A problem is an effect resulting from an unidentified cause in a particular scenario.
There are two types of problems
a. actual – an actual problem is identified by observing a direct and provable correlation between a cause and an effect without variation; the cause always produces the same effect in a given scenario. Perceived problems can always be broken down into one or more actual problems.
b. perceived – this is a problem identified by witnessing an effect that cannot be created by repeating a cause; a repeated cause creates a different effect in identical scenarios. A perceived problem can be identified but cannot be solved until one or more actual problems are identified that create the perceived problem.To form a correct solution we have to identify the actual problem/s.
- Investigate – Ask questions. Who, what, when where, why, how. Ask every one of these questions for each problem identified. Do not assume.
- Hypothesize – Form an educated guess based on questions asked. What do you think the cause is?
- Analyze – Take apart a problem into base components. What are the most basic parts of the problem? If a problem is too complex to understand, it should be broken into smaller problems that make up the whole problem. Solve all the smaller problems separately to solve the whole problem. Gather information by experimenting with controls and variables using your hypothesis.
a. controls – perform different tests in an identical scenario to attempt to recreate the same cause and effect; record the results
b. variables – perform one test in different scenarios to attempt to recreate the same cause and effect; record the resultsThe cause of the problem will be identified when a common cause and corresponding effect is discovered to repeat itself in a particular scenario.
- Reevaluate – Identify the problem again to make sure it was correctly evaluated. If it is determined that the problem is perceived, analyze it until the actual problems that make it up are identified and restate the problem. Repeat from step 1 with the restated actual problem. If multiple restated actual problems are identified, the process must be repeated with each actual problem to solve the perceived problem.
- Synthesize – Put all information back together in a logical order.
Cause + Scenario = Effect.
- Conclude – Test the information. If the problem was correctly identified, and the correct cause of the problem found, the same effect should result from the same cause in the same scenario every time. Include in your conclusion any perceived problems and incorrect causes that were identified before they were broken down into actual problems. Restate the actual problem by identifying the cause and effect in the particular scenario. Identify a solution by changing the cause of the problem in the particular scenario to create a desired effect. Use a formula that you know already works for you or someone else.
Problem – an effect resulting from an unidentified cause in a particular scenario
Cause – the catalyst that begins a problem Scenario – the conditions necessary to make a particular cause create a particular effect
Effect – the result of a problem
Actual problem – an actual problem is identified by observing a direct and provable correlation between a cause and an effect without variation; the cause always produces the same effect in a given scenario. Perceived problems can always be broken down into one or more actual problems.
Perceived problem – this is a problem identified by witnessing an effect that cannot be created by repeating a cause; a repeated cause creates a different effect in identical scenarios. A perceived problem can be identified but cannot be solved until one or more actual problems are identified that create the perceived problem.
Control – particular scenario used to prove or disprove a hypothesis with different causes and effects
Variables – different scenarios used to prove or disprove a hypothesis with the same cause and effect Memorize these steps in order until they are a natural thought process when confronted with a problem. You will become a more efficient problem solver.