The AECP 10 Step Approach to Problem Solving

What is the Purpose of this Training Module?

To equip those in senior leadership and management positions with a useful and practical approach to problem solving.

  • Problem Solving Defined: It is another form of "critical thinking;" the considered use of facts to form judgements. "A method of assent to the rigorous standards of excellence."
  • Rationale: Those in senior leadership and positions of management spend a substantial portion of their time solving problems that affect the mission and strategy of the organization they serve.

The Problem to Correct:

  • Many and perhaps most organizations do not operate from a shared and common problem solving method. Consequently, leaders and managers (and managers are leaders) go about problem solving variously and don't "speak the same language" when it comes to problem solving.
  • The formulation of a well-defined problem may be the most useful skill in business.
  • A lesson from GE during the "Jack era;" the value of speaking a common language.

Step #1:

Start with a useable, practical, actionable case statement and definition of the problem.

  • The case statement provides a basic display of "observables" that lead to the development of the problem statement; the "outward indications/ symptoms" of a potential problem.
  • Starting with a proposed solution is a common mistake (e.g., "The problem is we need to hire more staff...")
  • Well defined problem statements can have multiple layers of description and examination.
  • "Problem" can be substituted with "Challenge," "Opportunity," "Implementation Requirements."

Step #2:

Establish the time frame requirements for successful resolution.

  • "Our go/no-go date is..."
  • Remember, a parachute that deploys too late functions as expected, but still fails the end user.

Step #3:

Identify all areas and issues implicated by the problem and the potential solution set (i.e., who and what are, or could be implicated by the right or wrong solution set.)

  • Think broadly, comprehensively and critically.
  • Remember, none of us operate in a vacuum. The patient experience, for example, is a product of a whole, integrated process and all related functional components.

Step #4:

Identify the data required to evaluate the problem.

  • Determine what is required whether it is readily accessible or not.
  • Map out your data/ information requirements.
  • Determine your approach to analysis.
  • Determine who should see the results of the analyses. Some may draw different conclusions.
  • Consider the data in the context of historic and expected trends (i.e., where we have been and where we are going.)
  • Be sensitive to a whole, integrated, organization strategy.
  • Don't operate from hunches or instinct. Chances are you will miss something.

Step #5:

Redefine your problem statement as required. Determine if you need to change the definition or course of thinking on the problem statement (it is acceptable to adjust after you examine the facts. This is not an admission of a mistake or misstep.)

Step #6:

Develop your first solution set from conclusions drawn so far.

  • "This is the best approach because..."
  • Test this approach with the appropriate stakeholders.
  • Develop a defined issue/action list.
  • Know that sometimes what works in your head, will become something else when you start explaining it to those affected. Take this feedback and adjust accordingly.

Step #7:

Adjust your solution set (problem resolution set) and organize your approach in a written case statement format draft. Structure this draft as:

  • The final problem statement.
  • The solution set.
  • Expected outcomes and measures.
  • Investments required.
  • Risks assumed.
  • An implementation plan with accountable parties.
  • Launch date.

This is your first "dry run" plan. The above is a format for this step.

Step #8:

Develop a final, full plan including an approach to "socializing" the plan to be pursued. Recheck the team's understandings of who does what, when and who is accountable for what in execution.

Step #9:

Communicate the launch to those who need to know, including when you expect to "go live." Listen to final feedback and receive "sign-off" from the right parties. Develop a written Gantt chart or other distributable tool for project management.

Step #10:

Have your ongoing progress evaluation methods and approach to reporting ready to go with accountable parties, systems and methods identified. Know how you will evaluate your solution set and make sure that ongoing evaluations are done and reported.


The value of a shared problem solving method extends from a shared belief system which is the foundation and building block for a healthy culture.

About Daniel K. Zismer, Ph. D.

Daniel K. Zismer, Ph. D.

Daniel K. Zismer, Ph.D. Is the Co-Chair, Co-Founder and CEO of Associated Eye Care Partners. He is also Endowed Scholar, Professor Emeritus and Chair, Department of Healthcare Administration, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.

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