Before I start this article, I want to mention a friend of mine whom many of you know. Phil Jeffers, 56, passed away on July 26. For those of you who knew him, you know that he was a character, sharp as a tack, and a fountain of great ideas. I knew Phil for 20 years; we had many good times, and we shared some good laughs together. From what I understand, his passing was quite sudden. I will miss Phil; rest in peace my friend. You can sign a guest book if you want to say something to the family.

This is the beginning of my fifth year writing this column. It has been a lot of fun and I hope these articles have resonated with you. This time we’ll discuss an effective problem-solving method.

One of the biggest challenges that business owners face is to be a problem-solver. If they are not, then they have to hire someone to solve problems for them. A service business is essentially a problem solving business; in this case, you are solving your customer’s problems for them. Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

How exactly should you go about solving a problem? Have you ever really thought about it? You would expect that it should be intuitively obvious, but for many it’s a difficult task to accomplish. Experts have developed all kinds of problem-solving tools and methodologies. Mark Matteson said, “If the only tool you had is a hammer all of your problems begin to look like nails.”

My favorite problem-solving tool is a three-phase solution. Each phase consists of three sub-steps. The first phase is understand the issues. Many times a person will jump to conclusion and think they know the answer to the problem without understanding the real problem.

The first sub-step is to describe the situation. As Albert Einstein said, take the time to ask the right questions so that you find out what is happening. You want to hear the description and then begin to analyze the facts. Many service procedures walk you through the diagnosis, which is essentially, what you are doing here.

The next sub-step is to frame the right problem. You have to be careful and not define the symptoms instead of the problem. After you analyze the facts, you have the means to define the problem. If your condensing unit is losing refrigerant that is the situation. If you have checked, the coils, and they are okay and you find out your field joints are leaking that’s the problem

The third sub-step is describe the end state and goals. Your end state and goals may be that you don’t want to have any leaks, and you want your techs to solder their joints correctly the first time. With this, you have just completed phase one of the three phase problem-solving model.

In phase two, you look for solutions. You may want to discover why your joints leak and to find ways to prevent it from reoccurring. In this phase, you do your research and try to discover all of the information regarding making leak-proof joints.

The first sub-step is to generate ideas and use your research to identify alternative options. You might discover a new flux or a new way to clean the copper pipe. You may find a new brand of silver solder that is easier to work with or flows better.

The second and third sub-steps are to evaluate these potential ideas. Look at each of your alternatives, and identify and assess the risks of each of your ideas. This might mean talking to people who have used the products you’re considering, or it might mean doing some tests on your own, or might involve talking to subject matter experts.

Phase 3 is the fun part. Decide and Act. Select the option that you think has the lowest risk and the greatest chance to succeed. The last three sub-steps are make the decision, implement the solution, and the part that most people skip, is to evaluate the results.

This is a very simple and easy to follow problem-solving method. You can use it on any kind of problem from business problems, financial problems, employee problems, or service related problems, it works for anything if you follow the steps. Print this article and keep in handy, you’ll never know when you might need it.

  1. Understand the Problem
    1. Describe the situation
    2. Frame the right problem
    3. Describe the end state and goals
  2. Find Solutions
    1. Identify alternatives and generate ideas
    2. Evaluate ideas and alternatives
    3. Identify and assess the risks
  3. Decide and act
    1. Make the decision
    2. Develop and implement the solution
    3. Evaluate the results

Andy Fracica helps companies deliver their message in an ever -ncreasingly crowded market. He helps HVAC dealers more effectively market their businesses without breaking their budgets. Contact him at 260-338-4554, or visit the Fracica Enterprises, Inc., website.