Problem Solving for Business Breakthroughs — Part II

19 Jun

Intro: Is logical problem solving worth learning?

The wet basement story:  Once upon a time, a woman had a wet basement.  She didn’t know what to do about it so she asked three friends for suggestions.  Friend one said, “You need to call a basement waterproofing company.”  Friend two said, “You need to call a plumber”.  And, friend three said, “you need to call a construction contractor.”  So she called all three to get their opinions and solutions.

The Construction Contractor said, “The only way to fix this is to excavate your entire foundation, replace any rotted block, plaster the walls with cement, waterproof with a tar like material, put a french drain around the entire outside perimeter and back-fill the ditch.”  Cost: $20K

The Plumber said “We have to dig up all you drain pipes and water pipes and replace them.”  Cost: $15K

The Basement Water Proofing Company said, “We have to construct a french drain around the interior of your basement, drill hole in the wall to let the water in more freely and install a sump pump to collect and pump the water out.”  Cost:$10K

The woman was now very confused.  All three contractors gave her different solutions with very different costs.  Which one was correct?  Not knowing what to do, she consulted with her nephew, who she knew had strong common sense.  She asked him what she should do.  He said, “I’ll  be right over”; and he elaborated that he could easily figure out what to do using his buddy RELF.   When he arrived, she asked him about his buddy Ralph.  He explained, “it’s not a friend but a system, with an acronym R.E.L.F, which sounds similar to Ralph.”

Now he explained, the first thing they had to do was recognize what was happening.  So she explained her wet basement problem.  The next thing he said they had to do was elaborate a little .  So he asked her some relevant questions, such as , “Does the water come in all the time, or only when it rains?” Does it come in on all rains or only particular ones?”  “Is there a lot of water on hard rains, many days of rain, etc?”   “Does the water come in at any one specific location or are there many?”  After getting his answers, they determined that the water only came in on one wall but in several places along the wall.  And, two that she only noticed the problem after it rained, ay rain would do it.

Now, the nephew continued, we will list all of the things we think it could be.  They listed, underground spring, rotted block allowing ground water to seep in, busted sewer drain pipes, and broken rain conductor pipe(s).

The nephew further explained how that they should start by investigating the easiest idea on their list, and where they had some control over it.  He figured this would be to test the rain conductor pipes that led water from the house roof to the street.

Based on all the information, the nephew said, “the next thing we have to do is agitate the problem a little to see if we can re-create it; so, how about we take your garden hose and with it we’ll run water down your rain conductor pipes (the ones that the roof down spouts lead in to).  This test will tell us if they are the cause of the problem.”

So, they ran the test; and, they discovered that when they put water into the two downspouts, along the wall in question, that after approximately ten minutes, water appeared in the basement.

Next, the nephew asked if she had a spade shovel because the rain conductors are usually not buried that deep and he wanted to uncover them and look at their condition.

The nephew spent about an hour digging up the pipe in question, it was only eighteen inches under ground; and, he found the old clay pipes to be deteriorated and crushed.

So off to the hardware store he went, to purchase twenty-feet of pipe and pipe cement.  He then spent another hour installing the pipes, testing with the hose, and burying the pipe.

Total materials cost: $45.00  Total time: 2-3 hours

The RELF system saved the women at min $9950.00 less what she gave her nephew for his help.

What can it do for you?

With the RELF system you can easily learn how to solve problems effectively.  And it can be used to solve almost any problem.

Using this system you can be more creative, make more money, save money, time, embarrassment and maybe even someone’s life!

With this system you can make your business more efficient, effective and profitable.  You can use it to increase customer satisfaction and employee morale and thereby create a sustainable cash flow.

As an employed individual you can use it to gain favorable recognition, and faster raises and promotions.  And with a little creative thought, you can use it to improve all of your personal relationships–with family, friends and romantic interests.

Problem Solving 2–RELF™

The RELF system is an easy to use, yet powerful and reliable method of problem solving.

RELF is an acronym for a problem solving system that will work on almost anything—but in difficult cases or complex devices, your success will depend on you having an excellent understanding of the thing you’re trying to fix.

The acronym RELF stands for Recognize, Elaborate, List and Find.  Now let’s review what they mean in greater detail.

To successfully use the RELF technique, you should study and learn everything you can about what it is you’re trying to fix, repair and/or solve.  Therefore, hunt down and gather all known literature and other information about it before you begin.  Also, you should seek to know every facet of the entire situation, as the case may be.

The next thing to do is to classify the problem; decide if the problem is a major problem or a minor problem.  Is it a degradation of a thing or process?  Or, is it a total failure of a thing or process?  (The difference here determines whether something is discarded and replaced or refurbished or patched up.)

Lastly, remember that this is a logical procedure; therefore, make sure your observations and decisions are based on facts—don’t guess.

Here is the procedure in detail:

The RELF Problem Solving Method

Step 1: Recognize

Recognize the problem or problem symptoms.

In this first step, use your knowledge of the situation and the required or desired outcome vs. what you’re getting.  What is the normal output vs. what you’re getting?   From this you define what the trouble is and/or what the problem symptoms are.

Symptoms are often mistaken as the problem; so, in this step it is critical that you separate them and clarify what you are observing, a problem or the symptom of a problem.  For example: The problem could be you can’t function normally, you feel sick—(this is actually a symptom but initially it is identified as the problem. The symptoms could be, you don’t feel good and you have a high temperature and a sore throat (Often, the problem isn’t identified until all diagnosing and testing is complete and reviewed, and solutions tested, etc.  In this example, you have a virus but that is yet to be determined.).

Sometimes, it is helpful to clearly and factually write out a problem statement and then list all symptoms that you can identify.  Then use your reasoning ability to determine the details, get clear about what you’re dealing with and sort the problem(s) from symptom(s).

To be an effective problem solver, you must recognize the problem exists and then discover all the symptoms.


Step 2: Elaborate

Elaborate on the problem or problem symptoms.

In this step, you will be attempting to make changes in the symptoms.  You will do this by agitating and probing to clarify what is actually going on.  You will agitate and make small changes in specific tests to uncover and probe deeper into the symptom.  You must gather more specific information about the problem.  To do so, you use the knowledge you have about the problem, symptoms, situation and various items related to those, as well as any cause and effect relationships you know of–to see if you can make changes in the problem.  (You take a person’s temperature; and, you put a cool cloth on their forehead; you turn knobs, change stations, move antennae, etc.)

Based on the knowledge you have, start by listing some simple causative actions you can take.  After creating this list, test some of your ideas to see what effect, if any, they have on the problem or overall situation.  Perform such tests, techniques, changes or agitation that you think may add valuable insight to your diagnosis. Observe what happens and write out what effect each action had on the problem or what the test result was (Create an action and effect list.).  What effect did the change have on the main problem?  Did the change create a related problem or symptom?  Do the tests or change results/effects confirm and support an original idea or steer you in a different direction?  Did the action give you such clues that you may eliminate certain items as suspected solutions?  Or, did the action reinforce previous symptoms?

Make as many simple tests, changes and adjustments that you can think of and record the results and what affects they had on the main problem.  Use your knowledge and information about the problem and situation to make sound logical decisions.


Step 3: List

List the possible faults and/or solutions.

Using the information you obtained in the first two steps along with your personal knowledge and accumulated reference materials, create a list of all the possible faults and solutions.


Step 4: Find

Find the exact faults and/or solutions.

This is the step where you begin to eliminate, one by one, the items you listed out as solutions to the problem.  Test each solution beginning with the most logical or most likely answer or the one that’s easiest to test. (Tip: Always work from the most logical to the least logical and from the easiest to the most difficult.)

Continue this process of elimination in a logical order until you’ve come up with the right solution.  Throughout the process, utilize your reference material, facts you gathered, and your cause and effect list.

After you’ve located the exact cause or reason for the problem and implemented its solution, in some cases, you’ll find it’s a good idea to confirm your solution by removing it to see if the exact problem occurs.  In this way, you can verify if you’ve truly solved the problem.  Obviously, after verification you re-establish the solution and correct the problem.

Note:  You should definitely do this verification if the device or situation is or can be life-critical; otherwise, base your decision to do this on the probabilities of risk vs. reward or potential loss possibilities or convenience of the situation or if it makes sense or if time permits–use your best judgment here. (Of course, there are exceptions.  One big one is the difference between human beings and machines.  Testing and re-verifying with a machine is often simple, necessary to insure safety, and cost-effective in the long-run.  On the other hand, the case with humans is, you are not likely to remove a working solution for verification purposes.)

Some suggestions for obtaining the most from the RELF method:

A.)  Always use the information you gather from each step to make your analysis and selections.

B.)  Write down all the problems, symptoms, possible situations and solutions.

C.)  Draw detailed graphic pictures or line drawings to help you reason and resolve.

D.)  Review all the information products (manuals, books, software, block diagrams, schematic diagrams, journals, etc) and intelligence you have about the situation.

E.)  Leave it alone–after intense hours of concentration on a problem, try leaving it alone for a while–take a break.  And when you’re on the break, try not to think about the problem–do something or talk about something else. (Get some rest and relaxation. Go for a swim, take a walk, exercise, (any recreational activity), play a game, etc., basically relax and don’t think about work.)

F.)  Strive to be relentless and tenacious in your trial substitution and elimination process.

G.)  Persist in your attempt to find new cause and effect relationships.

H.)  Talk to other people about the problem.  Seek out expert advice and sound your ideas off of them and others.  Be sure to listen to other people’s ideas as well.

 Talk with technical support staff, colleagues, and trusted advisors to get their ideas.  (Always, use the proper professionals, (Doctor, Attorney, Engineer, Dentist, etc.) or craftsman when the situation calls for it.)

I.)  Never quit, stay focused and optimistic.  There is, after all, an answer to everything.

Your goal + faith + Ask, Seek, and Knock + a positive attitude and honest work = you achieving your goal.

Whether you’re faced with a difficult problem or a simple one, the RELF system is an easy to use and effective method that will work for you.  And it’s easy to remember, R.E.L.F. (“Ralph”) Recognize, Elaborate, List and Find.

I hope you’ll take the time to memorize this method and then use it when the need arises.  If you do you will gain greater control over the events in your life, in your personal life and in your business life.  Using it, you will always know what to do to resolve an issue.  Furthermore, you will experience less panic in your life, achieve more in less time, be more creative, make a better business, home, or family; moreover, as an effective problem solver you will develop a more positive outlook, you’ll be more optimistic, and thereby, you’ll enjoy life!

R.E.L.F., it’s so simple you can begin using it today!


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