Problems are bad, right? They must be solved, avoided, mitigated and managed – or must they? What if business, IT, and manufacturing leaders are wrong about problem-solving? Perhaps, it’s time to take a closer look at problem-solving within your organization and what you can learn from it.

A good place to start is by looking at how your organization perceives problems. Is there a general perspective that all problems are negative? Almost every breakthrough in human history began with a problem that a smart, perceptive person recognized as an opportunity.

Problems can help you understand the environment in which your organization operates, the various factors that influence performance and the effects of various decisions. What can your problems tell you about your organization’s limitations, potential, and capabilities? You may be overlooking some key opportunities.

Not everything is a problem. Business, IT and manufacturing leaders often lump a number of situations into the category of problems. To help clarify this, I believe there are 3 key concepts that should be clarified and treated differently.

“Events” happen during the course of normal business. They may have a positive or negative impact or they may have no impact at all. Events are indicators that activities are taking place, or relate information about the status of a tool or resource. Many events require no action.

“Incidents” are situations where something outside normal operations can occur. Like events, incidents may have positive, negative, or no impact on the organization and its customers, but (unlike events) require some level of investigation, action, and follow-up to return the business to normal operations.

“Problems” relate to the underlying cause(s) of incidents and have the potential not only for immediate but also continuing or recurring impact on the organization. Problems (particularly serious ones) require investigation into both their causes and impact as well as their potential for recurrence and the need for an action plan.

It’s important to differentiate among events, incidents, and problems to eliminate noise from the problem-solving process and focus efforts on what actually requires the organization’s attention.

Not all problems have solutions; not all problems need solutions; not all solutions should be implemented. Leaders often consider the number of problems solved as a measurement of the success of a problem-solving process.

Contrary to the belief of some leaders, success isn’t the quantity of problem-solving – it’s the quality of the solutions, actionability and maximizing positive impact for the organization. Focusing on impact will help leaders (and their teams) understand that not all problems require a solution. Some situations are acceptable without action. For those problems with identified solutions, it doesn’t always make sense to implement the solution. Solutions should be considered investments, involving both value and cost dimensions. Some solutions may not generate a positive ROI, or the opportunity cost (of not doing something else) may not be acceptable to the organization. In these situations, it may be better for the organization to forgo the solution and focus resources on other higher-value activities.

If the business, IT and manufacturing leaders in your organization don’t understand that not every event, incident or problem is a problem; not all are bad; not all require solutions, then, perhaps, they are also wrong about problem-solving. Shifting their focus onto the customer experience requires an understanding of the components in the problem-solving value chain, and expediting the solutions and projects that generate an ROI for the organization.

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your approach to the world of problem-solving, and hope this article helps you lead your organization to stop solving problems for the sake of it, and start solving problems that matter!