Consulting For Dummies
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In consulting, problem-solving is really where the rubber meets the road. While problem-solving, you review the data that you sliced, diced, and otherwise processed to develop a set of solutions, one or more of which will ultimately become the recommended course of action that you present to your clients. Because of this, you want to open the net as wide as possible at the beginning of the problem-solving process — hauling in as many possibilities as you can. Then you need to throw some of your catch back into the sea (and keep the good ones for yourself) by weighing the alternatives until you are left with the best possible courses of action.

There's a right way and a wrong way to problem-solve. Here's the right way:

1. Brainstorm possible solutions.

The first step in the problem-solving process is to take the data and brainstorm possible solutions to the problems that the data raises. Although you could brainstorm by yourself, you get a much wider variety of options if you include your clients in your brainstorming sessions, and you begin building client buy-in to your recommendations.

The secret to conducting productive brainstorming sessions is to encourage every possible idea — no matter how far out it may seem. This means suspending judgment for the duration of the session and welcoming everyone's input. Record every idea on computer, paper, flip charts, or a white board so that you don't lose track of any of them.

2. Consider the implications of each possible solution.

Isolate each alternative that was generated during your brainstorming sessions and follow it to its logical conclusion. For example, if a client has a problem with the quality of the circuit boards leaving the factory floor, one possible cause is that workers are not using the correct soldering techniques. If you follow this possibility to its logical conclusion, a solution may be to provide more training to employees on soldering correctly or to monitor employees' work more closely.

3. Weigh alternatives and narrow your focus.

After you work through all possible alternatives, weigh them against each other to determine which ones are most likely to be relevant to the outcome. As a part of getting to your final recommendations, you have to focus your efforts more sharply at this point and move ahead on a few fronts instead of many. Discard the alternatives that are least likely to become viable recommendations, and focus on those that are most likely.

4. Pick the best courses of action.

By this time, you should have narrowed your list of possible alternatives to a manageable number. Continue to work through this list with your client until you whittle it down to no more than five of the best courses of action. After you complete this step, you are ready to go on to developing your recommendations.

About This Article

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About the book authors:

Bob Nelson (San Diego, CA) is founder and president of Nelson Motivation, Inc., a management training and consulting firm based in San Diego, California. As a practicing manager and a best-selling author, he is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of employee recognition, rewards, motivation, morale, retention, productivity, and management. He is author of the bestselling book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman) — which has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide — and coauthor of the best-selling book Managing For Dummies, 2nd Edition, with Peter Economy (Wiley), as well as 18 other books on management and motivation.
Bob has been featured extensively in the media, including television appearances on CNN, CNBC, PBS, and MSNBC; radio appearances on NPR, USA Radio Network and the Business News Network; and print appearances in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and many more. He writes a weekly column for American City Business Journals and a monthly column for Corporate Meetings & Incentives, among others.
Dr. Nelson received his PhD in management from The Peter F. Drucker Graduate Management Center of Claremont Graduate University in suburban Los Angeles, and received his MBA in organizational behavior from The University of California at Berkeley. For more information on products and services offered by Nelson Motivation, Inc. — including speaking or consulting services — call 800-575-5521. Visit Bob at his Web site:

Peter Economy (La Jolla, CA) is a freelance business writer and publishing consultant who is associate editor of the Apex award-winning magazine Leader to Leader, and coauthor of the best-selling book Managing For Dummies, 2nd Edition, with Bob Nelson (Wiley), Giving Back with Bert Berkley (Wiley), The SAIC Solution with J. Robert Beyster (Wiley), as well as the author or coauthor of more than 30 other books on a wide variety of business and other topics. Visit Peter at his Web site: and be sure to check out his Free Book Project at:

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