A Quick Exercise in Problem Solving

Problem solving is a natural requirement for any job: you have goals to meet and barriers to overcome to get there. The challenge with problem solving is that too often, a surface level issue is identified and “fixed” without actually addressing the true matter at hand. This is just a Band-Aid.

A quick exercise I encourage when seeking to reach one’s goals and address opportunity areas is called the Fishbone or the Ishikawa Diagram. Essentially each “Rib” is a category that influences a problem.

The goal is to consider all the inputs and determine the key causes resulting in the problem. In this example, I have selected constituent engagement as an area for improvement.

Each organization is going to have differing components that impact the problem but I’ve provided a few below. Usually there is more than one reason behind the problem. To address it, it is imperative to identify all the influencing factors and choose what inputs you have control to change today, in the future, or something that might never be changed but still important to understand.

One must then identify why the input exists in the first place. Take incomplete or missing data: are constituents not choosing to update you as they move or change jobs? Do you have poor record books?

As you hone in on the inputs causing the main problem you wish to solve, it is easier to identify solutions that address the root cause. Solving for the root cause provides more permanent solutions and allows you to move forward in reaching your goals.

This exercise is quick and a great visual to have both leadership and teammates understand the big picture.

And this diagram is versatile! You can change the themes of the “ribs” or change the problem statement into a project goal. Instead of causal inputs, each rib can list out all the necessary components required to completing the project!

Happy Problem Solving.



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Katie Gibson

Focused on the customer experience, I strive to deliver meaningful content to organizations looking to enhance data, engage constituents and manage volunteers.