60 Minutes to a Solution

by Matt Redmond

We’ve all been in those meetings. You know the type: Everyone knows what the problem is. Lots of ideas are chewed on and spit out. The group shares anecdotal experiences about the problem, but nobody records anything. The same goes for potential solutions.

Eventually, somebody might be assigned a task: Find more information or talk to somebody outside the meeting. Eventually the meeting ends and people go their separate ways.

You could argue these meetings lack leadership, organization and accountability—or a combination of all three.

To move your group closer to a solution, you can combine four basic tools. While this approach might lack some of the rigor and discipline of the define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) Six Sigma process, it’s based on the same logical steps—and can be wrapped up in 60 minutes (see Table 1).

Identify the Problem

First, the team must agree on the problem. In an ideal situation, the group leader will get this ironed out prior to the meeting. Start by trying to fix smaller problems rather than larger ones. The leader should call the meeting only after the problem is identified.

The first tool the team will use is a fishbone, or cause and effect diagram, for root cause analysis. The problem goes at the head of the “fish.” Next, the team silently brainstorms potential root causes of the problem.

The team leader allocates a short amount of time for this and gathers the group’s ideas. The leader arranges the root causes into affinity groups on the fishbone diagram and allows the team to delve deeper into the “why” of some of the causes.

Next, the group attempts to reach a consensus on the most prevalent root causes. This could prove easy or difficult, depending on the complexity of the problem.

Brainstorm Solutions

After this, the group can brainstorm potential solutions. The group leader then should collect the ideas and help the team place them into affinity groups.

Finally, the team needs to prioritize these potential solutions based on the possible benefit and ease of implementation using an effort/benefit matrix (Figure 1). The team agrees on ownership of executing the tasks that will be easy to implement and will bring a significant benefit to the organization. The tasks that are difficult to implement and that will bring little benefit to the organization should be set aside at this time.

The team assesses the tasks on a case by case basis. It is critical for the group leader to assign the tasks to specific individuals and give deadlines. At the meeting’s end, the team must have assigned some tasks that it knows will have an impact on the problem for which they called the meeting. The best part is the team hasn’t invested any more time than it would have in an ordinary meeting.

What this 60-minute approach lacks in rigor it makes up for in speed. Here are some critical success factors for using this approach:

  • Get the right people into the room.
  • Identify the problem before the workshop begins.
  • Keep the discussion moving forward.
  • Assign work to specific individuals and give them deadlines.
  • Follow up to make sure the tasks get done.

One organization used this technique to solve the problem of a low response rate on client scorecards. The team brainstormed potential root causes, identified the primary ones, brainstormed solutions, prioritized those solutions and assigned responsibility for them. The team produced actions to put it on the right track in 60 minutes.

If you like this approach but don’t have the confidence to facilitate a problem solving session, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of someone with more experience using these tools. That’s why quality professionals exist in your organization. They can either coach you on how to use the tools, or they can facilitate a problem solving session for you.


The figures were adapted from a presentation created by Paul Tindle of TSYS Europe.

MATT REDMOND is a Six Sigma Black Belt at TSYS in Columbus, GA. He has held quality and operations positions in several industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, and an MBA from Walden University. He is a senior member of ASQ and an ASQ certified quality engineer and quality manager.

good ideas to use time more effectively and efficiently, but the real root causes must be determined more precisely.

Aylin N. Minikus

Aylin N. Minikus
--Aylin N. Minikus, 12-10-2018

--Santosh Sahoo, 06-30-2014

This can be a good approach provided the team able to complete the critical steps within 1 hour like Brainstorming session of grouping ideas (Ishikawa),then development of pilot actions & finally prioritizing the actions within team. Also the team needs some more time to validate the results.So discipline & adherence to the approach account a lot for reaching the solution.

Thanks for sharing your view.

Santosh Sahoo
--Santosh Sahoo, 06-30-2014

Very good article: the approach saves time, reducing the rigor of a complete solution.
--Santos, Paulo Q.dos, 08-13-2009

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