7 Step Problem Solving

Prof. Shoji Shiba is an international expert in Total Quality Management (TQM) and Breakthrough Management.[1] Globally he is best known for developing the “Five Step Discovery Process” for Breakthrough Management. In the recent years he has been guiding the transformation of the Indian manufacturing industry.

A Deming Prize winner[2] in an individual capacity for propagating TQM amongst corporates and governments, Prof. Shiba has authored books like ‘A New American TQM’ (co-authored by David Walden and Alan Graham), ‘Integrated Management Systems’ (co-authored by Thomas H Lee and Robert Chapman Wood), ‘Four Practical Revolutions in Management’ (with David Walden) in English and ‘Breakthrough Management’ (Japanese 2003; English 2006).

To handle a complex problem say for example a huge number of calls in a call center, you need the following 7 steps (defined by Dr. Shoti Shiba) to perfectly solve it:

  1. Definition: the first thing is to ask what is the problem really, without the answer of this question you cannot go any further; taking our example, you need to know what the problem really is? Is it the number of calls? Is it how long the call is taken? Or it is about something in the content of the call. Let’s decide it is the number of calls.
  2. Data Collection: next step is to answer the question “WHAT?” Get detailed data about the problem; if we are talking about the number of calls so let’s draw a graph about the number of calls over time.
  3. Cause Analysis: next step is to answer the question of “WHY?”; many techniques can help you find the cause of the problem such as Ishikawa or Pareto; or may be simple analysis, any of them will use the data collected above; in our example you found that the increase of calls synchronized with the shipment of new product, which the most of the new callas are about.
  4. Solution Planning & Implementation: “A lot of work in a simple line of writing”; after previous 3 steps you are ready correctly solve your problem by planning and implementing the solution; it worth the effort because you know you are doing the right thing; in our example you may chip to the customer a check list about the things/checks they need to go through before calling.
  5. Evaluation of Effects: Don’t stop now; you need this step as much as you need the previous 4; the question here is “DID IT WORKED?”; after shipping the check list you need to monitor and collect some data to check if the calls goes normal again.
  6. Standardization: once we found the right solution, let’s see how widely we can use it in the organization.
  7. Evaluation of The Process: after we widely spread the solution all over the organization we still not done; we need to know about the steps we have been through to solve the problem are they good to do every time we solve a problem, what are they pros and cons; so next time we do it more efficiently.


Synectics is a problem solving methodology that stimulates thought processes of which the subject may be unaware. This method was developed by George M. Prince (April 5, 1918 – June 9, 2009)[1] and William J.J. Gordon, originating in the Arthur D. Little Invention Design Unit in the 1950s.

The process was derived from tape-recording (initially audio, later video) meetings, analysis of the results and experiments with alternative ways of dealing with the obstacles to success in the meeting. “Success” was defined as getting a creative solution that the group was committed to implement.

The name Synectics comes from the Greek and means “the joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements.”[2]

Gordon and Prince named both their practice and their new company Synectics, which can cause confusion as people not part of the company are trained and use the practice. While the name was trademarked, it has become a standard word for describing creative problem solving in groups.[3]


Synectics is a way to approach creativity and problem-solving in a rational way. “Traditionally, the creative process has been considered after the fact… The Synectics study has attempted to research creative process in vivo, while it is going on.” [4]

According to Gordon, Synectics research has three main assumptions:

  • The creative process can be described and taught;
  • Invention processes in arts and sciences are analogous and are driven by the same “psychic” processes;
  • Individual and group creativity are analogous.[5]

With these assumptions in mind, Synectics believes that people can be better at being creative if they understand how creativity works.

One important element in creativity is embracing the seemingly irrelevant. Emotion is emphasized over intellect and the irrational over the rational. Through understanding the emotional and irrational elements of a problem or idea, a group can be more successful at solving a problem.[6]

Prince emphasized the importance of creative behaviour in reducing inhibitions and releasing the inherent creativity of everyone. He and his colleagues developed specific practices and meeting structures which help people to ensure that their constructive intentions are experienced positively by one another. The use of the creative behaviour tools extends the application of Synectics to many situations beyond invention sessions (particularly constructive resolution of conflict).

Gordon emphasized the importance of “‘metaphorical process’ to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar”. He expressed his central principle as: “Trust things that are alien, and alienate things that are trusted.” This encourages, on the one hand, fundamental problem-analysis and, on the other hand, the alienation of the original problem through the creation of analogies. It is thus possible for new and surprising solutions to emerge.

As an invention tool, Synectics invented a technique called “springboarding” for getting creative beginning ideas. For the development of beginning ideas, the method incorporates brainstorming and deepens and widens it with metaphor; it also adds an important evaluation process for Idea Development, which takes embryonic new ideas that are attractive but not yet feasible and builds them into new courses of action which have the commitment of the people who will implement them.

Synectics is more demanding of the subject than brainstorming, as the steps involved imply that the process is more complicated and requires more time and effort. The success of the Synectics methodology depends highly on the skill of a trained facilitator.[7]