Whether you are a Franchise Support Representative dealing with franchisees, or a teacher helping a student work through the reasons why he/she has trouble with math, the steps to effective problem solving are essentially the same:
- Gather information and define the problem.
- Determine the probable causes of the problem, after considering all possibilities.
- Develop alternative solutions, then choose the “best” fit.
- Outline an action plan for implementing the solution.
- Follow up during the implementation process to see how successful it is.
Gathering Information and Defining The Problem
A “problem” occurs when there is a discrepancy between what one expects will or should happen and what actually does occur. The deviation is usually caused by some sort of change. Defining the problem entails gathering sufficient information to sort out why the unexpected occurred, instead of what you would reasonably expect to happen. Gathering information begins with the following inquiries:
- Who are the individuals involved in the problem?
- What are the factors that make up the problem?
- What is the source of the problem?
- When did the problem begin and how long has it persisted?
Determining Probable Causes
From the information you have collected from the franchisee when defining the problem, you can generally extract its probable causes. Your goal is to determine at which point the business operations strayed from the desired path. You should pinpoint any changes that may have been causative, then move on to developing possible solutions.
Developing Alternative Solutions
Questioning and information gathering to this point have focused on the past. Once you move to the present – to identifying the problem – it then becomes possible to look toward the future and to formulate solutions.
- Clearly state the problem as you see it, the nature of the discrepancy between what should have happened and what did happen.
- Consider the cause of the problem and determine the resources that are available for solving the problem – for instance, money, personnel, materials and time.
You must operate within this framework to develop a solution that is practical and constructive. The search for solutions begins with an examination of both the franchisee’s experience and your own in dealing with similar or related problems. You should also invite suggestions from other individuals who have a stake in resolving the problem. Always consider all possibilities for solutions, particularly novel or “offbeat” approaches. Embedded within these are often the seeds of truly great ideas.
One recommended strategy for arriving at an optimum solution is to brainstorm options with your Franchisees, formulating as many ideas as possible and noting these down without comment. Judgment should be withheld until the next phase, that of choosing the best solution. The brainstorming approach encourages the development of a large number of options and often results in one idea leading to another - perhaps better - idea. Moreover, brainstorming is an excellent exercise for getting to the roots of a problem as well as learning more about your franchisee's thinking patterns. The solution that is ultimately chosen must address the problem within the constraints of available resources. Each potential solution must be evaluated in this light.