How to Choose the Best Solution

Choosing a solution

Solutions are designed to address the root cause of a problem, and each root cause identified would need to be addressed through a specific solution. Solution development is one of the more creative aspects of problem solving, and it is a good idea to involve several team members in the process to harvest the best ideas. In some cases, solutions are obvious and straightforward, and at times there is only one real option available. In general, however, a single root cause can be addressed in several different ways, which then implies that several solutions are possible. How then do we choose which is the best solution?

At we teach two primary methods for choosing solutions: Decision Matrices and Effort-Benefit Charts. For both tools, the key concept to appreciate is that when choosing between solutions, we are considering solutions relative to each other only, not relative to some other standard. You can therefore give a maximum rating to the solution that scores best on any criterion and then rank the other solutions relative to that score to make the process easier. Remember that we are considering the entire life cycle of the solution, from procurement through to final disposal at end of life, not only the implementation phase. 

In the case of a Decision Matrix, problem-specific criteria can be decided upon and all solutions can then be evaluated against these criteria. The criteria are divided into two categories, non-negotiable criteria and comparative criteria. Non-negotiable criteria are not scored, but are either met or not met. If a solution does not meet a non-negotiable criterion, it either must be modified so that it does, or excluded as a choice. Comparative criteria are scored using a rating scale (e.g. 1-5), and each criterion is also given a weighting (e.g. 0.1-1.0) based on its importance. The score and weighting are multiplied by each other to give a weighted score for each criterion and the individual weighted scores for the solution are added to yield the solution’s total weighted score. The solution that meets all the non-negotiable criteria and has the highest total weighted score is then the preferred solution.

Effort-Benefit Charts consider the effort required to implement and operate the solution relative to the benefit it delivers. Solutions are scored relative to each other for effort and benefit and then viewed and compared to each other on the chart. Where two solutions require equal effort, the one with the greater benefit is preferred. Where two solutions deliver equal benefit, the one requiring the least effort is preferred. “Effort” would include matters such as cost, time to implement, technical and operational complexity, maintenance, disposal and so on. Where solutions require risk mitigation measures to be incorporated into their design and/or for these to be maintained, this increases effort. Benefit would include how well the solution “closes the gap” and also any secondary benefits over and above the solution of the problem itself.  

There are many subtleties to the application of these techniques, and these are explored in depth in our courses, with examples.

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