Problem-solving will be at the heart of what you do in your new life as an independent consultant. Your customers will only hire you to solve their problems.

Business leaders don’t typically hire consultants to fix things that they don’t consider are broken or need improvement.

However, they do hire consultants to help them when they don’t actually know what is broken.

Therefore, you will need to have (or to acquire) the skills to identify what problems exist, and then to expeditiously provide solutions. While effective problem-solving is something that needs practice, a few basic pointers will at least get you on the right track, especially if your previous roles have not offered too much problem-solving exposure.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

The most fundamental principle of problem-solving is to find the core drivers. A single business problem may have many, many contributing issues. If you try to isolate each one and find a solution, you will simply burn time and your customer’s money, which is unlikely to get you hired again, even if you eventually solve the overall problem.

The 80-20 Rule: Your Best Friend in Problem-solving

If you haven’t come across it before, the 80-20 rule is the principle that even when many issues exist, 20% of those issues will be the cause of 80% of the problem. In other words, you need to look for, and tackle, the offending 20%. By applying the 80-20 rule in your problem-solving efforts, you will naturally seek to identify the key drivers of a given problem.

For example, if you determine that there are ten issues contributing to your customer’s falling customer service levels, you should focus on the two for which a solution will have the biggest positive impact. Sometimes you may find it hard to narrow the drivers down to 20%, so then it can be a good idea to work on the ones which can be most easily proven using hard data.

The Importance of Data in Problem-solving

Having mentioned hard data, it’s probably worthwhile expanding a little on its value in problem-solving.

Until you have made a seriously good name for yourself as an independent consultant, there will be no room for discussing problems and solutions on the basis of gut instinct. If you want your customers to take you seriously, you will need to illustrate exactly how you have identified issues that need resolving. That means providing hard data to support their existence.

It doesn’t mean though, that you need to over-analyse and reveal all the data minutiae that may exist. To do so will have the same effect as trying to identify every issue contributing to a complex problem. You will cost your client a lot of money for a result that takes too long to deliver.

Instead, you should focus on providing just enough data to prove or disprove each key issue as a driver of the customer’s problem.

Hone Your Problem-solving Skills

Many different skills and techniques can be employed in problem-solving and in this post, I have chosen to outline just a couple of the basic building principles—focus on core drivers and back up your assertions with concrete data. I will dive deeper into some specific techniques in future posts. In the meantime, as problem-solving will be something that defines your consulting credibility, I urge you to take every opportunity to study the process and gain as much knowledge as you can.

Best Regards,
Rob O’Byrne
Email or +61 417 417 307