Problem-solving and decision-making tools and techniques can be used to help in gathering the right information to make optimal decisions and learn from those decisions, as well as in the process of making those decisions. Often, the learning steps in the decision-making process are neglected, but it should not be. It is important to evaluate and analyze both the decision made and the process used in coming to the decision to ensure learning and enable continuous improvement.
A structured approach to problem-solving and decision making includes the following steps:
Identifying and framing the issue or problem.
Generating or determining possible courses of action and evaluating those alternatives.
Choosing and implementing the best solution or alternative; and
Reviewing and reflecting on the previous steps and outcomes
In this structured brainstorming technique, ideas are organized on a “map” and the connections between them are made explicit. Mind mapping starts with an issue to be addressed placed in the center of the map. Ideas on causes, solutions, and so on radiate from the central theme. Questions such as who, what, where, why, when, and how are often helpful for problem-solving.
A process map, or flowchart, is a graphic depiction of a process showing inputs, outputs, and steps in the process. Depending on the purpose of the map, it can be high level or detailed.
The steps for creating a process map or flowchart are:
Activity and Role Lane Mapping
Activity and role lane mapping can be a useful exercise to include in process mapping. List the process activities and the roles involved, and ask who performs the activity now. Then, take the role out of the activity so that “nurse records vital signs” becomes “record vital signs”, this type of analysis can help with process redesign and streaming.
Service blueprinting is a special form of process mapping, it begins by mapping the process from the point of view of the customer. The typical purpose of a service blueprint is to identify points where the service might fail to satisfy the customer and then redesign or add controls to the system to reduce or eliminate the possibility of failure.
Problem Identification Tools
Root-Cause Analysis is a structured, step-by-step technique for problem-solving. It aims to determine and correct the ultimate causes of a problem, not just the visible symptoms, to ensure that the problem does not happen again.
Five Whys technique
The five whys technique consists of asking why the condition occurred, noting the answer, and then asking why for each answer over and over until the “root” causes are identified.
The cause-and-effect diagram is one of the seven basic quality tools, it is sometimes called a fishbone diagram (because it looks like the skeleton of a fish). The problem, or outcome of interest, is the “head” of the fish. The rest of the fishbone consists of a horizontal line leading to the problem statements and several branches, or “fishbone” vertical to the main line.
The branches represent different categories of causes.
Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
FMEA is used to identify the ways in which a process (or a piece of equipment) might potentially fail, and its goal is eliminating or reducing the severity of such a potential failure.
Theory of Constraints
The TOC maintains that every organization is subject to at least one constraint that limits it from moving toward or achieving its goal. Eliminating or alleviating the constraint can enable the organization to come closer to its goal. Constraints can be physical (e.g., the capacity of a machine) or nonphysical (e.g., an organizational procedure).
Optimization, or mathematical programming, is a technique used to determine the optimal allocation of limited resources given the desired goal. For example, the resources might be people, money, or equipment. Of all possible resources’ allocation, the goal or objective is to find the allocation that maximizes or minimize some numerical quantity such as profit or cost.
Decision analysis is a process for examining and evaluating decisions in a structured manner. A decision tree is a graphic representation of the order of events in a decision process. It is a structured process that enables an evaluation of the risks and rewards of choosing a particular course of action. In constructing a decision tree, events are linked from left to right in the order in which they would occur. Three types of events, represented by nodes, can occur: decision or choice events (squares), chance events (circles), and outcomes (triangles)