How to Create an Effective Problem-Solving Culture

We spent the last four years working closely with some of our clients to help them create an effective problem-solving culture. We started by creating a Realitychart, asking why organizations do not create effective problem-solving cultures? We identified the causes and then created tools and training materials to overcome the major issues. The result is a comprehensive plan to help all organizations develop a culture which embraces problems and prevents them from happening in the first place.

At the core of this initiative is RC Simplified™, which is a simple to use, software application that asks the user the same questions a professional investigator would ask and guides them to answer. In a stepwise process, RC Simplified™ helps create a complete analysis of minor problems. Minor problems lead to the major problems, so by fixing them in the first place, the major problems do no occur!

RC Simplified™ provides the tool for individuals to embrace the principles of causation and they begin to understand that things do not just happen. Rather, they learn that "conditional" causes exist in time, just waiting for an "action" cause, such as a person, to come along and trigger the unwanted event. Rather than setting people up to fail, stakeholders learn to remove the conditional causes before the event occurs because they start thinking causally. When you have an entire workforce thinking and acting this way, you have an effective problem-solving culture that is hard to beat - all without formal training and excessive supervision.

RC Simplified™ provides great flexibility, because at anytime the employee can forward their Realitychart to their team, supervisor or dedicated problem solver who can then use RealityCharting® to dig deeper!

Effective Problem-Solving Culture - An Overview

Getting Started

The success of every organization is dependant upon the people and the strategies they use to accomplish their goals. Perhaps one of the most important strategies needed for success is an effective problem-solving process.

In his book, "How the Mighty Fall," Jim Collins points to hubris as one of the main factors in the failure of great companies. Our own experience points more specifically to the arrogant belief that people think they are already good problem solvers and don't need any help. To overcome or prevent this hubris, we suggest you watch the Effective Problem Solving Video in the RealityCharting Learning Center™. As Socrates said: "A wise man is a man who knows he knows not."

This video should be viewed by everyone in your organization, including top-level managers, whose job includes some kind of problem solving because it will help them understand the complexity of causal relationships and the principles that govern reality.

Start at the Bottom

In most organizations, problem solving is relegated to a few people, such as managers, supervisors, or subject matter experts such as engineers, programmers, designers, etc. Since most big problems are caused by small problems, preventing recurrence of the small problems should be a high priority for every business. However, since most people are not good problem solvers, and there are too many small problems for the designated problem solvers to tackle - stuff happens. To remedy this situation, we have created RealityCharting Simplified™, which anyone can use on any event-type problem and obtain a good understanding of the causes behind the problem. By adopting our Effective Problem-Solving Culutre Plan, RealityCharting Simplified™ is made available to everyone in the organization. It includes three very informative training videos that everyone should watch. It should also be incorporated into all procedures related to identifying and correcting deficiencies. A hidden benefit of using RealityCharting Simplified™ is that it teaches the user to think causally. People learn that stuff does not just happen and that by understanding the structure of causal relationships they can prevent problems from happening in the first place.

Strengthen the Middle

Effective problem-solving should include all stakeholders, but most problem-solving processes do not accommodate different perspectives very well and we waste a lot of time trying to convince others of the validity of our own perspective. To overcome this significant problem, RealityCharting® software facilitates the problem-solving process to create a common reality that all stakeholders can buy into. All managers and supervisors who's job requires them to solve event-type problems should learn how to use RealityCharting® so they can effectively communicate the causal relationships of a given event. Please note that RealityCharting® can also be used to document the causes of your successes, so all stakeholders can know how to repeat them. Learning the Realitycharting process has never been easier. We have created an online learning module called RC Coach™ found in step 3 of the RealityCharting Learning Center™.

With the purchase of RealityCharting® anyone can learn the process in about four hours. To hone your skills and learn more in-depth knowledge about effective problem-solving, the RealityCharting Learning Center™ also provides exercises and a library full of very helpful articles such as how to conduct interviews, or find the best evidence.

The key to making this part work is to designate one or more problem-solving champions whose primary job is to facilitate investigations by creating a Realitychart for all major incidents AND to promote causal thinking throughout the organization by teaching and reviewing others work. Establish certified incident investigators who are first certified and then promoted from within using a mentoring process. The mentoring should include the prospective facilitators watching an experienced facilitator and working their way up to performing an acceptable analysis on their own - being guided and mentored by the certified facilitator. In the beginning, it is highly recommended that you work with us to establish a comprehensive plan.

Promotion from the Top

Our experience shows that once managers see the incredible return on investment from using the Realitycharting process, they demand to see a Realitychart for all significant events. By establishing threshold-criteria for when to perform a formal investigation, resources are effectively managed and problems are prevented from recurring. Because problems do not recur and more are being discovered and resolved using RC Simplified™, the threshold for formal investigations is gradually lowered over time, thus improving efficiency and increasing the bottom line.

Management can easily buy into this plan because all the tools and training are easy to deploy. By creating a culture where everyone in the organization understands the principles of causation and the key steps to effective problem-solving you will enjoy the success of your hard work and avoid the pain of failure.

Effective Problem-Solving Culture - A Detailed Guide

General Description

The following guidelines are provided to help organizations create an effective problem-solving culture. Please note that this is only a guide. Every organization is different, so before implementing this plan you should determine who the players are and what level of training they need. With our support, we can help you integrate the elements of this guide into your organization. This Plan will be updated as we get your feedback on how to improve it, so please send your comments to us at Contact Us.

Critical Elements

To be effective, everyone in the work force:

  1. Must be exposed to the principles of causation to understand that "stuff" does not just happen.
  2. Should know that we can find effective solutions to event-based problems by using RealityCharting® and RC Simplified™.
  3. Must understand that different perspectives are a key to effective solutions and easily accommodated when you use the Realitycharting process.
  4. Must know their role in defining problems and finding effective solutions to prevent recurrence.
  5. Must know that management is behind this initiative.


The following elements are required to implement this plan:

  1. Top-level management support.
  2. A Program Champion.
  3. Dedicated Incident Investigation Facilitators.
  4. Incorporation of the Realitycharting process into existing procedures and protocol.
  5. Involve every employee in this effective problem-solving initiative.
  6. Utilize RealityCharting®, the RC Learning Center™, and RC Simplified™ throughout the organization.

The name of this person may take many forms depending on the existing infrastructure. Examples include; Management Representative, Continuous Improvement Champion, and Problem Solving Champion.

Management Buy-in and Support

  1. Show the Effective Problem-Solving video to top-level managers so they know the principles of effective problem-solving.
  2. Show RealityCharting® Overview Video to all managers so they know what the software does and why it is so effective.
  3. If they want to know more, managers should read the eBook: RealityCharting – Seven Steps to Effective Problem Solving and Personal Success and work the interactive exercises in this book. This is a pdf eBook that includes over 30 interactive links that help you learn by discovery.
  4. Provide a manager's workshop as requested on Managing Effective Problem-Solving. Discuss application to Safety, Defect Elimination, Continuous Improvement programs such as Six Sigma, Lean, Proactive Maintenance, Chronic (Systemic) issues.

Create A Program Champion

  1. Assignment:
    1. The designated Program Champion can be developed with our help, or if a company already has an experienced incident investigator they may choose to be the Program Champion.
  2. Qualifications:
    1. The Program Champion must be an experienced incident investigator and facilitator.
    2. The Program Champion must have extensive knowledge of the latest version of RealityCharting® software and completed the training program defined herein.
    3. The Program Champion should be an Accredited Facilitator.
  3. Training:
    1. The Program Champion(s) must be familiar with the RealityCharting® learning tools to include the RC Learning Center™, RC Simplified™, and training videos, all of which can be accessed at tutorials.
    2. The Program Champion(s) must be a trained investigator as defined in the Investigator training below.
    3. Furthermore, Program Champions should become Accredited Facilitators, which includes taking a test, have extensive experience facilitating and performing an actual investigation in the presence of an Accredited Instructor. This process should include being guided and mentored by the Accredited Instructor.
    4. Required Reading: eBook: RealityCharting – Seven Steps to Effective Problem Solving and Personal Success. To purchase, go to our store page.
  4. Role of the Program Champion
    1. Mentor and be the "go to" person for all things relating to problem-solving.
    2. Be able to effectively facilitate incident investigations.
    3. Incorporate problem-solving tools and techniques into the organization's procedures, such that everyone automatically knows what to do in the event of a problem.
    4. Present or facilitate the appropriate training to all stakeholders to make sure they know what to do when they see a problem.
    5. Create and maintain a set of Threshold Criteria that trigger formal incident investigations.
      1. Make sure everyone knows what the criteria are.
      2. As fewer and fewer events trigger the criteria, lower the trigger criteria.
    6. Assure all problem solutions are tracked to make sure they are implemented according to the approved schedule.
    7. Keep management informed of the status of all Threshold Criteria events, from the beginning of the investigation to the implementation of the solutions.
    8. Evaluate and trend the success of the solutions to prevent recurrence of all documented problems.
    9. Identify the savings generated from the non-repeat of events and calculate the Return On Investment of this initiative – present this information to management periodically.
    10. Evaluate all events for common cause using the RealityCharting® Cause > Find Feature or our Enterprise software version called RC Pro®.
    11. Create Realitycharts for major successes and make sure all stakeholders know why they have been successful so they can continue to do the same things. This analysis may also identify weaknesses, risks, and serendipitous causal relationships – all of which can be strengthened.


  1. An annual audit of the program, investigation reports, skills, and success/failures should be performed by us or one of our authorized training partners to ensure quality of investigations, adherence to core principles of the Apollo Problem-Solving methodology, ensuring solutions are implemented and systemic problems identified.

Dedicated Incident Investigators

  1. Identify Stakeholders
    1. Identify all stakeholders who have to solve problems as part of their daily work scope. This usually includes the following:
      1. System or Process Engineers
      2. Supervisors or Team Leaders
      3. Some Managers
  2. Training
    1. It is recommended that these individuals use the online learning found in our RealityCharting Learning Center™. It takes half the time of classroom learning and produces a better understanding of the method and tools. Once trained, the student can become an Accredited Investigator by taking a test and performing designated tasks to demonstrate proficiency.
    2. This training shall consist of each student installing RealityCharting® software and using RC Coach™ to learn the process and the software. If any questions arise during this training, they can contact us or the training consultant and get answers, or you may choose to kick off the training with an online conference.
    3. Students will work at least two Facilitation Simulator exercises in the RealityCharting Learning Center™ and use RealityCharting® software to create at least two charts of real problems of their own. We will then review the finished charts to ensure they are done properly and provide feedback as needed.
  3. Mentoring Process
    1. The Program Champion and other Accredited Investigators should mentor other practitioners and support them to develop their skills for conducting more complex investigations.
    2. Note: By encouraging investigators to continuously improve their problem solving skills you not only embed this thinking into the culture, it creates a line of succession if the Program Champion leaves.


Incorporate the ARCA™ problem-solving tools and training into the existing company procedures and protocols as follows:
  1. Entry Points
    1. Identify problem-solving entry points by reviewing the work processes.
      1. Problems can occur anywhere and this evaluation should include what the actions of any employee should be if they identify a problem.
      2. This may include Non-Conformance Reports, Corrective Action Reports, and Customer Feedback Forms.
  2. Minor Problems
    1. If the problem is below the threshold criteria for performing a full-blown ARCA™, employees should use RC Simplified™ to document the problem as they see it and send the Realitychart to their Supervisor/Team Leader and the Program Champion.
    2. Getting Help
      1. If an employee is not capable of using RC Simplified™ for whatever reason, they should go to their Team Leader, supervisor, or other designated person who does have access and work with them to do the first cut analysis.
    3. Problem Identification Form
      1. If none of the above will work, the employee should fill out a designated problem identification form and give it to their Team Leader/Supervisor. The form should simply ask them to describe the problem as they see it – this entry point must be simple. Working with the stakeholders involved, the supervisor can then use RC Simplified™ or RealityCharting® to analyze the event.

General Employee Training

  1. Watch Video
    1. As a minimum all employees should watch the 17-minute Effective Problem Solving video. If possible the Program Champion should be present when watching and answer any questions people may have. The Program Champion may want to stop it at certain points and add examples that are applicable to the specific business. This can be part of the introduction to the effective problem-solving initiative or general employee training.
  2. Use RC Simplified™
    1. RC Simplified™ is an excellent training tool in addition to an entry-level problem-solving tool. If employees have access to a computer and the web, show them RC Simplified™ and ask them to view the training videos provided in the Help menu of RC Simplified™ and then ask them to create and submit a problem analysis of any problem they may be having now. It can be company related or not. These should be submitted to the Program Champion for review, information and to provide feedback to the individuals to help them understand the principles of causation.

Implementation Strategies

  1. Initial Findings
    1. If the initial problem analysis using RC Simplified™ provides effective solutions, then implement them according to existing procedures and approval protocol.
      1. Send the final analysis to the Program Champion for review and approval and put into the organizations tracking and trending system and/or print, or otherwise transmit the final copy to stakeholders who may need it.
      2. The Program Champion will review to determine if the problem exceeds the threshold criteria for a formal investigation and respond accordingly.
      3. This review provides the Program Champion oversight of how well the program is working and when and where to adjust it.
  2. Incomplete Analysis
    1. If the event-analysis using RC Simplified™ does not find effective solutions, then send the initial Realitychart to the Program Champion.
      1. The Program Champion will determine if the problem exceeds the threshold criteria for a formal investigation and respond accordingly.
      2. The Program Champion will determine if he/she can finish the analysis or if a team is needed to work the issue.
      3. If a team is required, the Program Champion will gather the team and work with them to finalize the analysis. The Program Champion may lead the analysis or ask another practitioner to do it. This is usually a function of the size of the organization and the functional domain.


  1. Roll Out
    1. Depending on the size of the organization it may be necessary to roll this initiative out in a stepwise fashion.
      1. You may want to start with one business unit or discipline and as you work out the kinks move to another unit or discipline, until full deployment is achieved.
  2. Ease of Deployment
    1. Deployment is easy because the RC Learning Center™ is web-based and provides free access to all but RC Coach™.
      1. Use the RealityCharting Learning Center™ to access the free videos and other teaching aids as required.
      2. Use the Exercises (Step 4) in the RC Learning Center™ to work real-world events and create a Realitychart. If you have problem examples that are specific to your business that you want added to this feature, send them to Realitycharting ( and we will add them. We can remove any sensitive information to make them look generic.