Problem solving fixes malfunctioning parts and restores a system to its previous functioning, analogous to fixing a flat tyre in a car.
Problem solving is required if faults, mistakes, blockages or deterioration occur in an otherwise well functioning system. It is also required to refine a design or amend parts of a system to improve their fit within the larger whole.
The generic method of problem solving is root-cause analysis (i.e. identifying why the system malfunctions) and then “fixing” the part which causes the problem.
This approach restores the system to the state it was in before the problem occurred. It does not change the form or function of the system itself. For example, if the car breaks down, fixing the malfunctioning part restores the functioning of the car. Likewise, if a new filing clerk makes mistakes, training the person will eliminate the filing problems caused by that person. These interventions do not change the car or the filing system.
In problem solving, the logic of the problem IS the logic of the solution. The design of the system represents the logic that guides the problem analysis and identification. Once the problem is understood, the logic of the design also suggests the appropriate solution.
Problem solving does not require creativity as much as expertise and detailed knowledge of the system and its functioning.
Problem solving restores a system to its current future.
relevance for the change manager
Many complex problems faced by an organisation can be dissected into sub-problems, some of which require problem solving.
A systemic change methodology distinguishes between problems that can be solved and those that cannot and therefore require system redesign.
The so called “quick wins” that change managers try to achieve when starting a major change intervention are typically derived from solving those parts of a complex problem situation (or mess) that can be solved.