Problem Solving TIPS Discussion


Melinda, a recent graduate of our Systematic Problem Solving one-day workshop asked this question about one of the problems her team was working on:

MELINDA:  Focusing upon what was specifically observed, my team wrote this Statement Core temperature gage is 20% above target operating temperature.We began, being most careful to be specific.  We identified the problem object and problem defect as follows:

OBJECT: Boiling Water Reactor #3’s Core Temperature Gage

DEFECT: Reading Too High

I recalled that our BPI instructor had a discussion with us about how to split the object and defect to allow consideration of proper range of potential causes and to avoid blind spots in thinking.  I wanted a quick check with you about our split.  Any suggestions?

BPI FACILITATOR: The main thing to remember about defining the defect and object is this.  When working on a SYSTEM we recommend you define the object as the system and the defect as any deviation observed.  So with the problem you worked on (above) we’d define the Object and Defect as follows:

OBJECT: Boiling Water Reactor #3

DEFECT: Core Temperature Gage Reading Is Too High

The reason this is a better SPLIT is it facilitates a discussion of anything about the system that might be causing the gage to show a core temperature increase.  In your original split the object was the Gage.  In addition to the “obvious” possibility that the core is too warm, the team’s attention then goes to many other things that might create a false warm reading.  But the point is your first split takes the attention off the system and puts it on the gage – off the big thing and onto the monitoring device.

We recently saw a similar thing happen at an automotive assembly plant where the plant people defined the Object as a sensor rather than the Automobile.  And we see this in the media when a reporter makes a negative report about a person, place or thing and the focus becomes almost exclusively the reporter as the problem (deserved or not.)  A focus on the big thing as the object encourages exploration of options beyond a faulty reporting mechanism (i.e. a biased or ignorant reporter).

One final example comes to mind.  When researchers reveal research that supports an unpopular “idea”, attacking them as biased and a tool of the XYZ industry or political correctness has become common.  While researcher bias may always be considered in these situations, other potential causes should also be evaluated.

When you hear attacks solely against a speaker in the absence of any reasoned discussion of his or her ideas, consider this may be an attempt to distract you from the new information the speaker might offer.

Multitasking myth?

The word “Multitasking” seems to communicate being able to do multiple things at once.  Perhaps a better definition would be “Juggling several things at once, taking turns giving attention to one thing after another, and managing transitions.”  Realty sometimes demands this kind of rotation or splitting of awareness, as anyone who is responsible for children can attest.  However, at work, organizations pay a big price when multi-tasking is used and worse if it is common and expected!

Eli Goldratt, in his book Critical Chain, points out the damage multi-tasking does to project durations. Important projects are delayed while less important projects are worked on perhaps because of the need to show progress at the next project review.  Goldratt strongly advocates that organizations set clear priorities with one most important project at a time.  Then that is the project that is always worked upon first, given an opportunity to do so.   Every department knows the priority of each project and works accordingly. The #1 project is NEVER to be delayed while resources are applied to another.  Businesses following Goldratt’s model, which includes not multi-tasking and a special project buffering strategy, routinely cut project durations more than 50%!

We have an article on the Member part of our website entitled Project Management Tip #1. (Become a member of our website with your email to access this article.)  The article demonstrates mathematically that using six identical resources (i.e. people) on one project and avoiding spreading their efforts across six projects, all else being equal, earns an average 42% improvement in project durations for those six projects.

An individual focusing on one project at a time, will avoid time wasted putting down one project and picking up another.  Mental effort is reduced and errors become far less likely.

Here is more information about what other critics of multitasking have to say:

Unlimited Memory by Grandmaster Kevin Horsley:

“Multi-tasking is a myth”; “Stop multitasking”; “Our brain can … only focus on one thing at a time”; “When you (think) you are multi-tasking you are actually switching between tasks”;

“We (humans) cannot do more than one thing at a time.  Sharpen your intellect by returning to the habit of doing one thing at a time.”; “Rediscover the value of sequential tasking, instead of settling for the quality dilution associated with simultaneous tasking.”

“Exceptional work is always associated with periods of deep concentration.”; “Nothing excellent comes from scattered effort.”  “We are training our brains to an attention deficit.”

Marilee Springer – Neuroscience consultant:

“Multitasking is known to slow people down by 50% and add 50% more mistakes.”

Enough said?

Aligning Learning Strategy with the Business

Five key points (of many) from:
State of Learning & Development 2016 report by Brandon Hall:

“1. Less than 8% of companies with an L&D strategy
     would call it very effective.

“2. More than 50% of companies say they are ready .
… to take action on aligning the learning strategy
    with the business.

“3. High performers are 78% more likely to have an
     effective L&D strategy than average or poor
     performing companies. …

“4. There needs to be a set of critical skills and
     competencies the strategy can target.

“5. …(To) really do learning the right way, you need
     a game plan for each learning topic you offer.”

…End of report excerpts…

What skills and competencies should be part of your L&D strategy? Business managers, supervisors and teams universally: Solve problems, make decisions and Implement projects. So your L&D curriculum must help people with practical applications of these business skills.

The following skills form a critical thinking framework, one that can empower employees to think together and succeed in running any business by optimizing use of their experience and judgment: Root Cause Analysis, Decision Making and Project Implementation.

Consider this: how successful can an organization be if their people do not do well in understanding the causes and root causes of problems; find it difficult to make high quality, timely, and balanced decisions; and are weak at implementing projects?  Symptoms of the above include: delays in making decisions, problems that reoccur, and projects that are late, abandoned, or fail to achieve key objectives.

The management assessment research conducted in the 1970’s and 80’s proved that there are two categories of effective management skills: human/communication skills and thinking/analysis skills. These two sets of skills can be described various ways but their basic validity is well established.

The good news is that L&D science and technology has progressed so that we now can create a dynamic, business focused game plan to transfer learning directly into the work setting to make needed changes and dramatic improvement.  A blended learning approach.

Contact us to discuss what you want to do to improve the thinking competence of your people.  Visit our website to learn more about our standard workshops, online training and blended learning methods. Thank you.

Needs assessment discussion.

TRIGGER: from ATD (Association for Talent Development):

“… needs assessments are an integral part of developing talent.”

—> In the quote from ATD below any text set apart in these brackets [  X  ] indicates              BPI comments.

“In a recent research report, ATD found:

• Only 56% of surveyed organizations use needs assessments.

• The top challenge with needs assessments is stakeholders believing they already know the needs. [We interpret “stakeholders … already know the needs” to mean the stakeholders think they know the solution already.  A solution and a need are different.  A need exists now, but a solution in this context is only an idea for meeting a need.]

• The primary benefit of training needs assessments is identifying performance gaps.” [We prefer the term needs assessment to “training” needs assessment because training is not always the most effective solution or may only be part of an optimal solution.]

Please read the article: Critical Thinking Interview -Part II in the PUBLIC ARTICLES section of our website (especially pages 3-4).  The URL for this specific article is:

Our experience shows that there is an almost “casual waste of Talent Development resources” perpetrated on the altar of appearing to be cooperative while missing an opportunity to be truly effective. As a result, training is often rightly seen as not having much of an impact on the real day-to-day business of the organization and can be the first to suffer budget cuts when times get tough.  (Witness the purge of budgets and personnel of training departments in 2009!)  We’ve found that both internal stakeholders and internal Talent Development specialists fall victim to the same logical error while the organization suffers two wounds – $’s wasted on resources for the wrong solutions and $’s lost on continuing performance gaps.

What should be done about it? Training and Talent Development Professionals with their internal customers should learn how to accurately analyze the real needs (causes) of performance gaps before considering solutions.  Please read the above mentioned critical thinking article for more insight into this issue – and also see this article HRD, Consulting w/ your customers! 

Critical Thinking Certificates – NOW!

Our new website [] is setup with two sides or parts:

1. The PUBLIC part offers this BLOG, articles (24),
videos (9), descriptions of our standard “on-site” workshops (5),
blended learning ideas, and the CONTACT Form that enables communication back to us.

2. The free MEMBER part adds more videos (2), audios (13),
more articles (9), and access to purchase any of our newly
available e-Learning courses and modules (11). The e-Learning courses
cover all our standard content in self-paced online
training. They enable us to work with individual
learners as coaches and are the core of our two
certificate programs [Troubleshooter I Certificate; and
College Senior Critical-Thinking Certificates (3).]

Visit the website, enroll as a member and access the additional content.  There are three courses of study accessible on the member portal page.  Two concern the certificate programs and the third is an OPEN unstructured course of study members can select from for their own personal development.

We are excited about helping college students transition from their academic environment into the world of organizations. We also look forward to continuing our work with expert problem solvers giving them the tools they need to rapidly solve problems with our logically convergent methods.  These complement the divergent tools most teams are familiar with (e.g. brainstorming, fishbone diagramming) which are missing important critical thinking steps.

Introductory information about the certificate programs is available in the ARTICLES and VIDEOS section of the PUBLIC part of the website.

HR leaders – Do you really care?

After conducting 100’s of critical thinking workshops and facilitating the analysis of thousands of real organizational issues during those workshops, my opinion is that HR does NOT care if the problems brought up within the workshops they sponsor are solved or that the organization is wasting hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars by not following up on what is discovered within these classes.

I have my own opinion as to why, but I want HR professionals to share their thinking.  Please answer two questions: First: “Are you interested in working on this and making a difference for your organization?”  Second,  “If not, why not, what barriers do you see to taking action?”

There are exceptions to the above which unfortunately has become the rule.  But, exceptions are few. The typical HR and HRD professional whether manager or specialist does nothing that we can detect to make sure the gems discovered in the workshops actually benefit the organization.  Perhaps this is because most training classes are not like ours, they don’t have a direct impact on current realities, they work through improving more general attitudes or capabilities whose effects are difficult to measure (e.g. Emotional IQ or Communication Skills or Seven Habits of Successful People)?

How do we know that action is not being taken on high impact problems?  After all it could be that fantastic things are happening when the participants return to their work duties and report to their manager – how would we know?  We are confident that is not happening spontaneously because when we return to conduct the next class, the new participants identify the SAME problems that were already analyzed in previous classes!  The new analysis confirms the old. And this pattern continues for months and even years within some organizations and typically on the bigger, higher impact issues, ones that require management involvement to address.  We have many workable solutions to address this problem, but first HR needs to care and be willing to collaborate with us. We can’t do it alone.  HR is typically our point of entry into the organization.  However, we often find ourselves all dressed up with no where to go.  We are not granted permission to follow-up with stakeholders or problem owners.

Would somebody PLEASE help us to understand what is going on?  It is not unusual for one single problem to be worth more than the whole training budget for the year and participants analyze 3-4 of these problems in every workshop.  Yet, our appeals to our HR contact stir nothing detectable, crickets?

Companies in any country must run better, smoother and effectively in today’s competitive world. They can’t afford to leave “money on the table” while turnover, layoffs, disappearing research funds and rapid change affect every industry.  Step one is caring enough to look into this, communicating the newly discovered root causes of issues that are delaying production or draining organizational resources.  We want an internal champion for this most worthwhile cause.  No matter who we contact with our value proposition at a prospective organization, we get directed to HR or HRD (often called the Talent Development department.) – stuck with someone who has no bottom line incentive to do something, to risk being an advocate.

“Thinking clearly” is a competitive advantage one that can show immediate results.  Let’s work together to leverage what participants are discovering, like clockwork, workshop after workshop!.  Training can have a very large, visible and powerful impact on eliminating some of the most troublesome issues your organization is facing.

Guarantee!  Our training will return every training dollar x10 or our training is free.  Now it is your turn to step up to the plate.  I am asking not to waste the discoveries individuals are making in our workshop!  Together we can do this.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a theory that helps make some sense of this phenomenon of no action!  At the article: Chris Argyris: Theories of Action, Double-Loop Learning and Organizational Learning (key aspects of his thinking) seems to apply directly.  Argyris also has a book: Overcoming Organizational Defenses.

In brief:  Most organizations, especially unexceptional and poor performing ones, are Model I learners.  These are characterized by defensiveness, self-fueling processes, and escalating error.  Feedback loops inhibit detection and correction of errors.  The model one learning organization itself can begin to function in ways that act against its long-term interests.

[As I understand, Model I is based upon single-loop learning where the governing Values (objectives) are used to limit action to safely protect self and others unilaterally against change, to control the environment and the task unilaterally.  This so the organization can carry on its present policies and procedures.  Learning that threatens any of this is kept in individual memory and not organizational memory.]

Double-Loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that modify an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives (culture?).  Model II learning organizations use double-loop learning.

[It appears to me that the leaders of such organizations have Theories-In-Use updated to be compatible with the evolving current reality as revealed by the experience of people solving problem, defining root causes, taking corrective actions and observing consequences.  Organizational memory is complete and accurate as reflected in the organization’s policies and procedures.]

I hope this helps!



Tip For Project Creators

There is a need for project creators to learn how to better delegate projects to project teams. Part of the current difficulty is that what are being called projects are actually problems to analyze or decisions to be made. Problem Solving and Decision Making are not amenable to the standard project management tools. Projects, to put it simply, are decisions that have been approved and now must be implemented. Tools for defining action steps, scheduling, tracking and managing projects are what Project Management Professionals (PMPs) learn.

Another issue plaguing project teams is shifting or conflicting priorities or worse the “everything is top priority” disaster. Multi-tasking kills timeliness.  At any given time there can be only one top priority project, although that honor can change to adapt to evolving contingencies.  But, there should be no confusion on what the priority is now.

In SUM: Organizational leaders – don’t send people to get their PMP certificate unless you are able and intend to define projects for them to do.  Application of critical thinking skills to make high quality decisions and uncover root causes of problems is a prerequisite to launching any project.  Don’t abdicate that role and launch a series of vague initiatives requiring other skills.  The tool sets are distinct having different purposes.

College Texts on Critical Thinking?

The college texts I’ve reviewed are filled with logical syllogisms and examples of rhetorical manipulation techniques- but mostly about what NOT to do or what to look out for.  Nothing on how to think better to understand the world and how to gain understanding to find root causes and make better decisions.  They offer a deep education in labels but do not offer a useful process to guide thinking.
The evaluation of argument content is not about creating valid understanding or a good argument.  It’s focus is on how to criticize other people’s arguments.  So, students would become great at criticism of others but weak in creation themselves.  It is really difficult to be creative if you are worried about what not to do.  Like Bob Dylan wrote in one of his songs/poems,  “Some people don’t have much food on their table.  But they got a lotta knives and forks and – they gotta cut something.”



Chosen because they succeed at teaching powerful concepts while entertaining the reader.  Read ALL is my recommendation.

  1. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
  3. The GO-GIVER by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
  4. The PROJECT MANIFESTO by Rob Newbold and Bill Lynch.
  5. Leadership Simple by Steve Morris and Jill Morris.

Buffers one or all?

(This POST was submitted by Michael McGinty an expert consultant on Critical Thinking and Project Management.)

Eliyahu Goldratt is credited as the author of the Theory of Constraints – a powerful concept which created something of a revolution in process improvement.  He applied these insights to project management in his book Critical Chain.  Here at BPI, we share some of his key insights with project leaders when they attend our one-day workshop in Systematic Project Management.

Goldratt teaches us that one of the best ways to ensure projects don’t violate their deadlines is to re-think our treatment of buffers.  What people typically do, unconsciously, is they build in a buffer for every action step in their project.  For example, let’s say that based on our previous experience, we know that a particular task usually takes about 3 hours to complete.  However, when we create our project plan, most of us will allocate more time to complete that task – you know, just to cover our bases.  So, the task that usually only takes us three hours to complete might instead be scheduled to take five hours.  And we do this for every action step in our plan, which stretches out the project timeline.  We unconsciously set our project deadlines based on a ‘worst-case scenario’ with these frozen buffers.

Goldratt teaches there’s a way to guard against this but without putting your plan at risk.  He says to schedule the average time it takes for each action step, and then build your buffer into the back end of the project.  So, a task that typically takes three hours is scheduled for exactly three hours.  The additional two-hour buffer is built into the tail-end of the project.

You might ask, “Why is that any better?  You’re still allotting five hours for that step!”  That’s true, but the location of the buffer is crucial.  When buffers are built into each step, the time is not available to help other steps.  And, if something actually does get done on time, other people/resources are not ready because they didn’t plan for it to get done “early.”  By scheduling the average time for each action step and collecting the buffers in one place, other people can be prepared for a quick hand-off to the next task plus they can dip into the common project buffer when needed – that’s what it’s there for!

In this way, Goldratt’s techniques are helping companies complete projects in what seems like ‘record-time’, 50% less time or better is not unusual!  But for those of us in-the-know, it’s just ‘average time’!