Tanya’s secrets to problem-solving

How do you solve a problem like Maria? You can send her to live with a widower and his seven children in Austria, but most problems aren’t that easy to solve.

Quite often we’ll come across a problem and half the battle is working out where to start because if you don’t know where to start how are you going to get anywhere?

Not everyone’s brain works the same way either, so what one person finds easy or logical, another person will find hard – and you might as well be talking in two different languages!

For me, it seems that my brain sees certain patterns that others don’t, which allows me to solve problems that come up for my clients or myself personally.

Here are some ways my brain works around my day-to-day problem-solving.

Secret #1: What is your desired result?

At GS we’ve switched to using Xero for our financial software and sometimes the standard reports don’t give us the results we want. To build the report we want, we either start from scratch or adapt from something that exists so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

We worked backwards and considered what we wanted the report(s) to look like, and what financial and non-financial information we needed to achieve the results we wanted. Working backwards from the result we wanted, made it much easier to get the exact reports we wanted (and it was better to have most of it automated as manual entry is prone to errors).

Secret #2: Confirm your source of truth

Because of this big system change, we’re currently having to reconcile reports from two different sources which should logically match, but for one reason or another, sometimes they’re not reconciling.

Our source of truth, in this case, is the system we produce our financial information. Once we reconciled and found the differences, we then needed to work out why there are differences, and if there were any common themes. From there we worked out where the differences came from and learned either how to fix or stop these from happening.

We found different dates in the two systems, information deleted in one but not the other, and different amounts between systems. The solution was to look at how we can mitigate these by changing permissions or educating the users.

Secret #3: How much time do you need?

When planning a trip overseas (one of my favourite things to do) and you only have a limited amount of time, you want to maximise the opportunities and fit in as much as you can.

I recommend printing out a calendar showing the dates for when you want to travel with a rough timeline. Write in the dates for the country you’re travelling to. Here’s mine…

  1. Get a calendar to represent the days you’ll be away – you’ll see on mine above, that the blue dates represent New Zealand time.
  2. Write in your travel days – to and from the destinations (the black text)
  3. Work out your ‘must sees’ (the green text), whether it’s a place or person, and map out how much time you’ll need to do this (include some breaks so that you can appreciate what you’re seeing).
  4. Check online to see if your ‘must sees’ will be open at the time you plan to go to avoid disappointment and do some juggling if you need to.

This time of planning can also be used in project management. Put in the immovable dates/targets/requirements first, then fill in what must be done to achieve them. If it’s not possible, then the requirements may have to be renegotiated.

Secret #4: Do you have all the information?

Quite often someone in the office will ask me a question (expecting an immediate solution) and from experience, I have learned not to answer the question they’re asking without first getting some context. Don’t fill in the gaps or assume anything, and make sure you have all the right information.

Nowadays, I pause, consider what they’re asking, and they ask questions around their question first. It’s made a huge difference in getting to the root of the problem and therefore, an optimal solution that covers all the bases without other problems popping up.

When looking at a problem, the secrets to solving them are simple:

  1. Have you got the correct and most up to date information?
  2. Have you asked the right questions?
  3. Have you got enough time?
  4. What is the result you want at the end?

Seems obvious, but it’s funny how overwhelming problem solving can be. If you are having any problems (at least to do with accounting, taxation, or numbers in general) I’d be happy to see if I can help, just flick me an email (tanya@gilshep.co.nz).

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