Solving problems back to front

Problem Solving

Problem solving using hypothesis based approach

Thinking back to my days of doing puzzles and quizzes, I remembered doing mazes. Just how did I get to the prize in the middle? Well I always cheated. I started at the end and worked backwards, it was always much easier.

The same can be said of problem solving. Think about the end point (solution) and work back from there. That is the principle of a hypothesis based approach.

What is a hypothesis?

Hypothesis – an idea which is suggested as a possible explanation for a particular situation or condition, but which has not yet been proved to be correct – source Collins Dictionary.

What is problem solving using hypothesis based approach?

Firstly we need to define with precision what is the problem / opportunity?

Write it down and gain agreement that this really is the issue.

To help clarify use the 5 Whys tool and to check that the problem is really the problem. The 5 Whys was developed by industrialist Sakichi Toyoda. It ensures that you understand the root cause not just the symptoms ie what you can ‘see’ (it is particularly useful if you have a recurring problem). At each ‘Why’ you will identify potential courses of action. However, a complex problem may require a more complex approach.

It is a simple technique often used by 5 year olds when they don’t like the answer you have just given them…

Develop an action plan

What are we going to do? Who is going to do it? When will it be completed? Are there any dependencies?

What do we already know? What don’t we know?

Analyse the data available. Use the data to test our hypothesis. Does this back up our hypothesis?

Are the gaps significant? Do we need to buy / commission more data? Run trials?

Be strict, ask yourself “what question am I trying to answer?”

Update action plan and go back around the loop based on the findings or impact on timings. Confirm or amend hypotheses.

Using a hypothesis based approach to problem solving should deliver results quicker and with better return. It is an efficient way to validate / create solutions, with a reduction in time spent on aimless analysis and more time on analysis that will deliver results.

If you would like some help solving your problems, contact us.

What are the potential explanations? What are our hypotheses?

Don’t re-invent the wheel. The answer may already be ‘known’ ie a hypothesis. Gather a group together and work through what the potential solutions are that could solve the problem / deliver the opportunity. Throw out any that are not plausible based on knowledge /experience.

You can use a logic/issue tree to capture the component parts.

Logic or issue tree

Prioritise. How big is each solution (if relevant)? How will it contribute to solving the problem? What will it cost and how long will it take? Identify the solutions you want to take forward, break them down into component parts so that actions / responsibility can be divided and allocated. Remember the 80:20 rule too. Identify some easy wins and some more complex steps.