5 Mistakes to Avoid When Problem Solving

Finding the best solutions to problems is a necessary skill for navigating the changes that are continuously affecting our profession. Firms that take a proactive and structured approach to problem solving position themselves to overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities. This approach comes from making a concerted effort to avoid the following five common problem-solving mistakes.

Mistake #1 – Not involving the right people in the conversation

When firms exclude the right people from the problem-solving process, they propose solutions one-sided or limited solutions. Different perspectives help to better understand the problem at hand. Resist the trap of allowing busy schedules and a desire for quick resolution to allow people to be excluded. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be involved. Progress may be slower when too many people participate. The most effective problem solving teams include representatives from various levels in the firm who share their perspective and insights.

Mistake #2 – Failing to get on the same page from the beginning

Certain people may agree that a problem exists, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same problem in mind. People often have different expectations, opinions on issues and goals, and potential solutions. Effective problem solving requires getting everyone on the same page. When this doesn’t happen, there is a risk of running in different directions – this means that everyone may cross a finish line, but no one wins the race. Take the time to define and document issues and get alignment before attempting to solve a problem. The result will be better solutions.

Mistake #3 – Making improvements that don’t address the source of the problem

Brainstorming sessions are great for getting ideas flowing, but activity should not be mistaken for achievement. Finding solutions that don’t address the root of the problem only leads to more problems in the long run. We can avoid this by using a simple yet effective tool called the “5 Whys.” The website iSixSigma.com gives the following explanation: “By repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five is a good rule of thumb), you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Very often the ostensible reason for a problem will lead you to another question.”

To complete the 5 Whys, identify a problem, ask why the problem happens, then discuss and determine the answer. If the answer does not uncover the source of the issue, ask why again. Repeat this process until everyone agrees on the source of the issue.

Mistake #4 – Not considering how technology could be part of the solution

Failing to leverage technology is a costly mistake. Some common reasons include negative experiences in the past, believing clients will not welcome technology advances, lack of education about features and benefits, and fear of a learning curve slowing down internal processes. Firms that are unwilling to include technology as part of their problem-solving toolkit get left behind. The rate of change for technology has accelerated dramatically, and solutions are customized to address the needs of the firm and the profession. Our people are smart, capable and often eager to use technology solutions that will allow them to provide a better internal and external client experience. With a few exceptions, clients have the necessary technical expertise that they already use daily while interacting with banks, mortgage companies, social media and other outlets. Discomfort with technology should not hold the firm and clients back from taking advantage of the best possible solutions.

Mistake #5 – Not having a framework for problem solving

Finding the best solutions starts with having a structured approach to problem solving. Developing the habit of having the appropriate team members ask the following five questions will help to avoid problem solving mistakes:

  1. What problem are we trying to solve?

  2. Why is this an issue?

  3. What are we currently doing to address this problem?

  4. What could we do differently/better?

  5. How can we move these ideas forward? What are the next steps?

Effective problem solving doesn’t happen by accident. Firms that take a disciplined approach find lasting solutions that lead to progress and growth.

Workflow technology can solve many of accounting firms’ toughest problems. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Workflow, to learn more.

Reprinted with permission from Boomer Consulting, Inc.