Are You Guilty of Throwing Jelly in the Hope That It Sticks?

It is probably the weirdest title for a blog post ever, but a term, or an analogy that we often use in some of our courses.

If you throw jelly at a wall, only small parts of it stick. Most of it will fall away and land on the floor. The best it will do is leave a big stain on the wall.

We use this analogy to describe the approach that some people use when problem-solving. Whether this is a complex problem or an issue or problem that a team member or team mate has.

Sometimes when these problems occur, we make assumptions that we know what is going on and how to fix it. Or, we give little or no thought at all to a solution and jump straight in to try and fix it. When our first attempt doesn’t work, we try another and another then another, in the hope that eventually something works.

Just like throwing at a wall, all we probably do is leave a big stain on the relationships that we have with those around us, and you will have lots of mess to clean up.

If you are facing a problem, don’t throw solutions at it. If the problem or issue is with a team member or a team mate, simply asking what’s wrong and how can you work together to resolve their issue is the simple way of getting it right the first time.

If it’s a complex issue then using some simple problem-solving techniques can help to quickly get to the root cause of the issue to help you put a first-time fix into place.

Both of the above may appear to take a bit longer but isn’t probably the case. You should get the fix right the first time, and you will have a lot less mess to clear up afterwards.

Are you guilty of throwing jelly?

5 Whys – A Problem Solving Technique

The 5 Whys is a question asking technique used to determine the root cause of a problem.

The 5 in the title suggests it should take no more than 5 questions to get to the root cause of the problem.

Developed by the founder of Toyota Sakichi Toyoda, the 5 Whys Technique is used in problem solving, trouble shooting and improving processes.

It may not solve the problem by itself but may guide you to an alternative path to follow, for example using a cause and effect diagram (Ishikawa diagram) or other problem solving tool to fix the problem.

The technique is designed to guide you to the root of the problem.

Here’s how to use the 5 Whys Technique.

Start with the problem and ask a ‘why’ question about the problem. The next ‘why’ question you ask should then follow on from the answer to the first question. Here’s an example:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

You could possibly take this to a 6th or 7th why, but 5 is usually enough to get to the root of the problem.

It’s important to understand that typically the 5th why doesn’t point to a solution – it points to processes. This answer doesn’t tell you how to fix the problem, only what caused it.

This is where some other problem solving tool will come in useful to determine why the root cause existed. So in the above example, the process of servicing the vehicle failed and this is then what needs to be corrected. A cause and effect diagram can then help you to determine which part of the process failed and what corrective actions need to be taken to correct this for future.

There has been some criticism of the tool in that its too basic or doesn’t fix the problem. But when time is short and you need to get to the root cause quickly then the technique is incredibly useful.

Example taken from Wikipedia

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is a step by step process management method used for the continuous improvement of products and processes.

Also known as the Deming Cycle or the Shewhart Cycle, Plan-Do-Check-Act is a four step process that helps review current processes and identify improvements that can be made. Although the cycle won’t do these things alone, it works as a check that new ideas you are about to implement work first time. It’s a process to follow when you need to make a change.

Developed by W Edwards Deming who believed having clearly defined, repeatable processes in areas such as quality management and process control used this approach.

The cycle can be used in many areas such as implementing continuous improvement, improvements to processes in the business, a controlled approach to finding the best of a range of solutions to implement, saving time during change and many other areas.

Plan-Do-Check-Act comes with 4 stages, named after its title:


Plan – Identifying and analysing the problem. Here you need to identify exactly what the problem is. You can use a range of problem solving tools such as cause and effect diagrams (Ishikawa Diagram) or drill down to get from big chunks of information to more detailed information.

Set objectives that you now want to achieve and map the process that is causing the problem. You can learn more about Process Mapping on a Training Course. Take a look at Revolution Learning and Development Ltd and their Process Mapping Training Course.

Do – This is where you will begin to consider the things that you can do to solve the issue. You could brainstorm a range of solutions that could fix the problem then go through a process of reviewing each one until you agree on the best solution. Tools such as impact analysis, brainstorming, Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model and Appreciative Inquiry can work well here.

Once you have agreed the solution, think about running a test on a controlled group to ensure your solution will deliver the results you require before rolling out to the wider group.

Check – This is where you will measure the results of the test you conducted to ensure it will meet the objectives you set in stage one. You can also repeat the Do and Check stages, making small tweaks and changes to test if different variations of the solution will deliver better results. Once you are happy that the objectives can be delivered you can then move on.

Act – Once you know that your solution can deliver the objectives you can begin to roll it out on a larger scale to the wider group. This should be carefully planned. After roll-out you may want to repeat the cycle to look for further improvements that can be made.



Appreciative Inquiry – A Problem Solving Technique

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making and creating change within organisations. It’s about the search for the best in people or an organisation.

When things aren’t going to plan, it’s easy to start looking at all of the things that are going wrong and considering what can be done to fix them. When it comes to problem solving this tends to be the normal approach and in some cases the right approach to take.

What it can do in some situations is drive so much negativity that it’s hard to find the the things that are wrong, just because when we talk negatively we tend to react negatively (take a negative attitude). It then becomes much more difficult to think of positive solutions with a ‘negative hat’ on.

Appreciative Inquiry is about looking at positives – to create positivity. When we feel positive we’re much more likely to succeed. The idea of Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s.

Lets start by looking at the two words that make up the name of the technique. This should help us to begin to understand what it all means:

Appreciate – recognise the value of the contributions of the things or people around us

Inquire – explore and discover, to better understand and be open to new ideas and possibilities

When put together, it means that we appreciate what is good and valuable in the present situation, then we can discover and learn about ways to effect positive change for the future.

To use Appreciate Inquiry we first need to start by thinking positively and looking for positives in any given situation. You can then apply the 5 D’s of Appreciative Inquiry:

Define – Define the problem. Before you can start to analyse a problem or situation you first need to be clear on exactly what you are looking at. Because you have chosen a positive mindset, you will begin to look at the problem from a more positive viewpoint. Think about the language you use, the way you communicate with people working with you on the problem and what kind of behaviours you demonstrate. Talk about things from a positive viewpoint i.e. instead of saying ‘how to fix poor sales’ say ‘how to increase sales’.

Discover – Here is were you begin to look at the past and look at all of the things that are good, or even right back to a time when things were good or better. Understand what was/is good, why it was was good. Find out what people find most valuable about the organisation, the current process or products and services. Once you have all of this you can not start to look at the data and begin to understand why it was good – what were the factors that were making it good?

Dream – At this stage you should begin to think about the ‘what could be’. Building vivid pictures and ideas of what the future could look like if things were good/better again. You should think about how to take the things from the previous stage and consider how good things would be if it was like that again. Use techniques such as brainstorming to consider how these things might work and what could be be achieved.

Design – Here you need to start looking at how practical your ideas are – will the past work again or have things changes so significantly that this just won’t work anymore. This is where you need to think about systems, processes and plans of how to make the vision come to life. A Process Mapping Training course can help here. Look no further than our training and Development Partner Revolution Learning and Development. See details on their Process Mapping Training Course here.

Deliver – This is the stage where you begin to plan your strategy to achieve the ideas you cam up with in the dream stage. It’s taking the points from the design stage and beginning to turn those into a workable plan. You need to keep the dream/vision as a point of focus and build plans to move closer towards it. Use Project Planning techniques such as plans, milestones and objectives to move closer to the dream. Take a look at Revolution Learning and Developments Project Management Training Course as this will provide some useful insight on this stage.

So, next time you’re faced with a problem, don’t always think negatively – look for the positives and use the Appreciative Inquiry technique to find better ways to get a more positive outcome.

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model – developed by Canadian author Tim Hurson is a structured approach to solving problems or generating creative ideas.

Being creative in probing solving allows you to understand issues surrounding problems and will help you to find the best solution.

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model can help you to be more creative when it comes to problem solving. Its a framework (not a technique) that uses a number of other techniques within it such as brainstorming or lateral-thinking and these are applied at different stages of the process.

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model can be used by individuals, teams, businesses or anyone that needs to solve problems creatively.

The model has 6 steps or is a 6 step framework to follow. The six steps to Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model are:

1. What’s Going On? – You first need to understand what the problem is that you want to deal with. This might be just one problem or a number of different problems. You can use brainstorming here to identify a long list of problems should you need to. Ask questions such as:

  • What are the/my major bugbears?
  • What impact is is having?
  • What’s the detail of the problem?
  • Who’s involved or causing the problem?
  • What does good look like?

2. What’s Success? – This is where you clearly define what got or better looks like. It’s painting a vivid picture of what success would look like should the problem be solved. You could use the model described in Hursons book ‘Think Better’ called DRIVE:

  • Do – What do you want the solution to the problem to do?
  • Restrictions – What should the solution not do
  • Investment – What’s available to help you, how much can you invest (time and money)
  • Values – What values should the solution stand by/respect
  • Essential Outcomes – How will you measure the success of the solution

3. What is the Question? – At this stage you begin to look at a whole range of questions that if answered can solve the problem. The stage frames the challenge by turning it into a question. To do this look at the information you have gathered then think about the questions that will need to be answered to achieve the target. You open questions such as How.

For example, your target might be to have more sales. You questions might then be ‘How can we get more sales?’, ‘How can we find more opportunities to get more sales?’ or ‘How can we increase our customer base to create more sales opportunities?’

4. Generate Answers – The next logical step is then to find answers to the questions you asked. You can use brainstorming here for example to generate lots of answers to each of the questions posed.

5. Forge the Solution – Once you have lots of answers you can start to think about the best answers. Use something like a decision making grid to help here. Once you have your best answer, develop it further. Drill down into the detail of the answer and start to think about how it potentially could be achieved. Begin to list the steps required to get to success.

6. Align Resources – This is where you begin to build a plan to achieve the outcome. You need to start to think about the resources you need to achieve the outcome. Use a tool such as an action plan or a project plan to put your plan together.

We hope you find this framework useful to help with your future problem solving.