Problem Solving: People vs. Design

Problems often occur due to a people issue, a design issue, or both. A.T. Gimbel shares how to diagnose a problem and solve it effectively.

A.T. Gimbel
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September 30, 2019

How to analyze the root of a problem and execute a solution

When you are running a business, inevitably there will be challenges or issues that arise. After you get through the heat of the moment, a root cause analysis is often helpful to look back and understand why the issue happened so you can improve the organization. In simple terms, the problem often occurs due to a people issue, a design issue, or both. Here are a few steps on how to diagnose the difference and fix it.


A people issue could be that you have the wrong type of person in the job. For example, an introverted, pessimistic person in a front-line customer service role. You could have a clear protocol and employee training in place, and an employee continually chooses to avoid that protocol and do their own thing. You could have someone who was a great sales individual, but a terrible sales manager. There are many other examples but this is a mis-match in abilities and/or skills required for the job.


A design issue could be that there was no backup system in case of an emergency. It could be employees were never trained on a new process. It could be that the sales commision structure incentivized providing a larger total contract value with deferred payments vs. cash paid up front. All of these are examples of where the system design and process leads to the issue vs. the mistake of an employee. In these scenarios the system worked as intended, but the design was flawed.

What to do

So given the above, how do you diagnose the true issue when in reality the issue could be a mix of both? When an issue occurs, it is important to speak with internal team members (both that were and were not part of the incident) as well as external customers to get a balanced perspective. It is also important to get deeper into the “why” of how the incident occurred and not just the symptoms of the problem but the root cause. As an example, let’s say a customer had a bad experience in your store. WHY? They waited 30 minutes to get their food. WHY?

There was no chicken readily available. WHY? Proper inventory had not been taken and chicken was not replenished. WHY? Inventory process was inconsistent with no reporting, training, and limited to manual tracking.

In the end, analyzing both the people and the design component of any issue will help you quickly make the necessary changes to both demonstrate your commitment to excellence (to both your employees and customers) as well as your ability to move forward and prevent the issues from happening again. Remember, this analysis should ultimately lead to a clear action plan to go execute!

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