Fire and emergency management/Leadership I:Strategies for Company Success (H803)/Problem-Solving II:Solving Problems

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OBJECTIVES[edit | edit source]

The participants will:

1. Complete the force field analysis begun during Problem-Solving I.

2. Demonstrate brainstorming.

3. Describe the steps that must be carried out in a problem-solving process after the problem has been identified and analyzed.

REVIEW OF PROBLEM-SOLVING I[edit | edit source]

The CO has a responsibility to recognize the relationship between resources (inputs) and service delivery (outputs). In order to balance inputs and outputs the CO must establish and maintain effective company-level processes.

Finally, the CO has a responsibility to monitor internal processes by identifying and solving company-level problems.


A problem exists if there is a gap (difference) between what is desired and what actually exists. After a problem has been identified, you must decide whether resources should be committed to attempt a solution. This decision is based on the urgency and importance of the problem and whether you have the authority to act.

The CO must also select an appropriate level of participation for others in carrying out problem-solving activities. There are three general levels of involvement: 1) none; 2) some input from group; and 3) group working together. Different levels may be used in different parts of the problem-solving process. The effectiveness of problem-solving depends on both the selection of the right level of participation and on the process used. Who is involved depends upon the importance and complexity of the problem, the required degree of acceptance by group, time available, whose values should be considered and what weight they should be given.

The nominal group technique (NGT) is an effective process for identifying and prioritizing problems.

Priority problem-solving efforts should be given to those problems which have a direct or indirect impact on quality of service, cost of operations, and company performance.

There are four methods of solving problems: 1) Intuitive which is based on hunches; 2) Minimum effort which involves forming a judgment based on a limited number of alternatives and choosing an alternative that is good enough--not necessarily the best; 3) Political, and 4) Systematic which is a rational process with a fixed number of steps. This process is time-consuming, exploring all possible alternatives and choosing the alternatives that maximize the attainment of the goal. The key to selecting the proper method is to select the one which takes the least time and resources to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the problem.

A systematic problem-solving model includes several critical steps:

1. Identify and prioritize problems.

2. Establish goals.

3. Situation analysis.

4. Set objectives.

5. Develop action plans.

6. Implement plans.

7. Monitor.

8. Evaluate outcomes.

The problem-solving process is an evolutionary process. It often becomes necessary to cycle back to earlier steps as difficulties arise or if alternative solutions initially attempted do not bring about a satisfactory solution.


Force field analysis is a useful way of identifying pressures for and against change in a problem situation.

The technique:

Pressures for change (their driving forces) are listed and their strength is estimated. The pressures which resist change (the restraining forces) are also listed and their strength is estimated. The relative strength of the particular pressure is indicated by the length of the arrow. The driving and restraining forces are then arranged in a diagram similar to the one shown in Problem-solving I.

The technique does not make decisions.

Rather, it helps you to visualize the forces at work and their individual and cumulative strengths. In order to solve the problem,it is necessary to evaluate the impact of each force and the probability of increasing or decreasing it.


Alternative strategies are actions that could reduce or eliminate the difference between the actual and the desired situation. For each driving and restraining force, identify actions you must take in order to increase or reduce the force.


Evaluate each of the alternative strategies. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Do you have the resources necessary? Are group members committed? Is it cost-effective? Which one(s) are critical to reaching your stated goal?

SETTING OBJECTIVES[edit | edit source]

Convert each critical strategy to a written objectivew:Objectives.

An objective is a specific description of an expected outcome to be attained over an identified period of time.

An objective must spell out the ABCD's (Audience, Behavior, Conditions, Degree).

Objectives should define what you intend to accomplish as specifically as possible.


One of the causes of poor performance at structure fires is "lack of hands-on experience."

Converting this to an objective might produce something like:

"By November 1, 1988, our crew will successfully complete four structure fire drills at the training tower."

You now have a strategic plan for reaching your stated goal.


Before moving on, take a final look at your problem-solving plan. If you accomplish all of your objectives can you reasonably assume that you'll reach your goal and eliminate the problem? If not, consider additional and/or different strategies (objectives).


An action plan is a step-by-step outline of work that needs to be done in order to meet the stated objective. Each objective requires its own action plan.

A good action plan requires that you:

- Determine and assign tasks.

- Assign responsibility for monitoring.

- Plan for evaluation.

- Determine timeframes.

- Identify needed resources.

- Document completion of each task.

Now you have a complete set of objectives for reaching a specific goal. Each objective has a clear and concise action plan. Individuals can now go to work on their assigned action plan steps. Remember, coordination and communication are essential.


While the present alternative is being implemented, think of the next alternative you will try if this one doesn't work.


The CO needs to monitor each activity to make sure tasks are completed correctly and on time. Amend the plan where necessary (unanticipated events, inability to meet specified deadlines, etc.). Keep all work group members informed of progress. Monitoring and evaluating can indicate discrepancies in the plan that necessitate cycling back to earlier parts of the process. The problem-solving model is a continuing process, not one where you follow the steps once and are automatically successful.

Completion of the problem-solving process requires an in-depth evaluation.

Evaluation is taking a "lessons learned" approach. This allows you to capitalize on noted strengths and weaknesses in your next problem-solving venture. Bring the work group back together and evaluate the total project in terms of both outcome and process.

The following are possible questions which can be used to determine "Did it work?"

Did we meet our stated goal?

What did we do right?

What did we do wrong?

What could we have done better?

Almost no project ends without bringing to light additional problems of which you were unaware. Thus, the process begins again.

GLOSSARY[edit | edit source]

1. Force Field Analysis--A tool for organizing and analyzing information during a problem-solving process.

2. Goal--A broad statement of what you wish to accomplish.

3. Intuitive method of problem-solving--Based on hunches, gut feelings.

4. Minimum effort method of problem-solving--A process where alternatives are investigated only until a satisfactory solution (one that minimally satisfies the objectives) is found.

5. Nominal group technique--A technique for structuring group meetings which assures participation and neutralizes power/status differences.

6. Objective--A specific description of an expected outcome to be attained over an identified period of time.

7. Political method of problem-solving--A process which selects a solution based on the preferences and power of parties affected.

8. Problem--A difference that exists between an actual situation and a desired situation.

9. Problem-solving--A process that results in eliminating the gap between desired performance and actual performance.

10. Systematic method of problem-solving--A rational process whereby the problem-solver knows his/her objectives and has them ranked in order of importance, has explored all possible alternative solutions, knows the relative pros and cons of each, and always chooses the alternative(s) that maximize(s) potential attainment of the goal.

BIBLIOGRAPHY[edit | edit source]

Ellas, Dean, & David, Paul. (1983). "A Guide to Problem Solving." In J.W. Pfeiffer (Ed.), The 1983 Annual for Facilitators, Trainers, and Consultants (pp. 149-156). San Diego, CA: University Associates, Inc.

Fire Department Company Officer. Stillwater, OK: IFSTA, (1981).

Gatza, James, Milutinovich, Jugoslav S., & Boseman, F. Glenn. (1979).

Decision Making in Administration: Text, Critical Incidents, and Cases. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.

Glueck, William F. (1979). Management Essentials. (pp. 198-214) Hinsdale, IL: The Dryden Press.

Huber, George P. (1980). Managerial Decision Making. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company.

Mitchell, Terrence R. (1982). People in Organizations: An Introduction to Organizational Behavior. (pp. 287-335). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.