Whenever we have a problem to solve or an opportunity to realize, how do we know our solution is the right one or that the best options have been analyzed? Are there other alternatives? Did we really fully understand the “Problem” or “Opportunity”? Will we come up with the right solutions…but to the wrong problem?

The intent of the Critical Thinking Process is to confirm that our thinking is sound and that we have the best solution to what is the “real” problem, or the right options to realize the opportunity.

Critical Thinking Process Steps

Stage 1: Determine the Problem/Opportunity

  • Identify the Problem As Given (PAG).
  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure it is clear what the priority of this problem is or to understand the opportunity that is being addressed. These may include:
    • How big is the problem and why is it a problem?
    • What are the consequences of doing nothing?
    • Who should be involved in the solution?
    • Are we likely to develop intense emotions over the problem?
    • What should success look like?
    • Are we making a decision or a recommendation?
  • Complete a Stakeholder Analysis.
  • Conduct an Issue Analysis.
  • Create the Problem as Understood (PAU).

Stage 2: Establish the Possible Causes/Drivers

  • Complete a Root Cause Analysis by asking “why” up to 5 times on each issue within each Issue Statement.
  • Combine all root causes as they relate to each Issue Statement and related Issues.

Stage 3: Identify the Possible Options/Solutions

  • All possible options/solutions can be identified by either;
    • Completing a Mind Map of all options/solutions.
    • Brainstorming, as a team, recording everything on flip charts
    • Brainstorming, individually on yellow post-it notes and then creating an Affinity Diagram of options/solutions.

Stage 4: Select the Best Option/Solution

  • The best options/solutions can be identified by either;
  • Multi-voting, as a team, on all identified options/solutions and thereby reducing the list to those core areas that everyone agrees are the best ones to move forward.
  • Completing a more detailed analysis of each options/solution by using a Criteria Evaluation process.
  • It is possible to reduce the number of options or solutions through multi-voting and then to apply the Criteria Evaluation to this reduced list. This will help to identify the key options or solutions and help you to prioritize them for implementation.

Stage 5: Develop the Implementation Plan

  • Develop a high-level implementation plan to ensure it is clear as to how to proceed with the options or solutions and to determine who will hold responsibility for their implementation and within how much time these should be implemented.
  • Develop the report and recommendations.
  • Gain approval to proceed.

Summary

Critical Thinking skills are used by Leaders throughout an organization. This process will help them to identify and reduce risks facing the organization, the department and/or a project. It will assist them in identifying opportunities which will help them to reach their strategic goals. Critical Thinking skills are essential for all levels of employees when dealing with issues, concerns and challenges in their own work environment, on projects and/or on process improvement or Six Sigma initiatives.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca