7 Steps to Practical Problem Solving

By James V. Anderson, DMD

This article represents the 13th and 14th principles in a series of articles discussing the 14 Management Principles from The Toyota Way a book authored by *Jeffrey Liker. This article is the last in the series exploring the 14 management principles of Toyota. The principles illustrated in Toyota’s management systems can be applied to improving the efficiency in dental practice operations.

When bringing a perceived problem to the attention of management, the first reaction is to jump in and to stop whatever is happening. Toyota management will react slowly by consensus and considering all options and scenarios before implementing a course of action. By slowing things down and thinking it through helps to identify the real cause of the problem and it may not be the obvious at all.

“This is how we have always done it” is not the Toyota Way yet is a typical response to problem-solving in a dental practice.

The Toyota Way of management teaches that nothing is assumed, and everything is verified. How you arrive at a decision is as crucial as the quality of the decision. In summary, we will examine the seven-step process to solve typical problems in a dental practice the Toyota way.

Practical Problem Solving is a 7-step process including the 5 Why’s

1. Initial problem perception-find out what is going on by seeing it for yourself
2. Clarify the problem and understand the underlying issues
3. Locate area or point of root cause using investigation with the 5 Why’s system

      • Root-cause analysis — used in proactive management to identify the root cause of a problem or the factor that was the leading cause of that problem.
      • Root Cause, referred to in singular form, but one or several factors may constitute the root cause(s) of the problem under study.

To simplify, we dig deep to find the root causes and work to eliminate future occurrences by working together to solve problems.
We use the 5 Why’s to get to the root and dig deeper.

The Five Why’s

Define the problem (from the initial problem perception)

i.   Ask why it is happening
ii.  Ask why that is
iii. Ask again why that is
iv. Ask again why that is—digging deeper
v.  Ask again, and this should be the root cause(s)

4. Expand on using countermeasures or alternative solutions to decide on the course of action
5. Seek group input, decide and announce
6. Evaluate with the team and use a consensus—fall back if no agreement received
7. Standardize the measures to ensure the problem will not happen again

Thinking through problems and solutions and gaining individual accountability is not about blame and punishment, but about learning and growing. Self-reflection is essential and an integral part of Toyota’s learning and Japanese culture. When we learn from our mistakes and take responsibility, we create a more positive attitude about our work and our lives.

To support the team to learn to solve problems, root cause is to build a foundation in learning and to change a system that doesn’t work. There will be less gossiping and blaming when the team understands that complaints or perceived problems will be examined for a root cause and then solved in a standard group process.

The 14th Toyota management principle discusses creating a learning organization to support continuous improvement and growth in the team. For Toyota, creating a learning organization was a long-term journey but worth the time and development.

In a busy dental practice, cutting out the time to learn together may be challenging, but worth the time invested in the improvement of the team. Attending seminars and conferences opens the doors to new products, services, and technology available.

Encouraging team members to read articles and report on the findings supports further education and learning that improves communication with patients who have questions about their dental care.

At eAssist Dental Solutions, we have introduced eAssist University to our workers for the opportunity to learn new ideas, to grow, and to share their knowledge with their teams.

By learning valuable business skills, our workers can communicate at a higher level with our clients and their teams for successful working relationships.

Originally published in The Dentist’s Network


James Anderson, DMD was an entrepreneur before becoming a dentist. His leadership and business presentations offer dentists the essentials needed to achieve the practice and life of their dreams. His speaking programs help dentists realize their full practice potential by combining dental clinical skills with excellent business skills to create a profitable and enjoyable dental practice career.

View James’ full bio