Read time: 5 minutes

Stop. Drop. Think.

Tamala Bradham, Ph.D., DHA, CCC-A, CPPS, CPHQ

Problem-solving is the method we use to understand what is happening in our environment, identify things we want to change, and figure out what needs to be done to create the desired outcome. Problem-solving leads to new inventions, social and cultural evolution, and its the basis for continuous improvement, communication, and learning.

However, too often, we fall victims to the problem-solving process. Common mistakes include: 

  • Paralysis- We don't acknowledge what is right in front of us
  • Avoiding- We don't do anything
  • Solution jumping- We do the first thing that comes to mind and hope it solves the problem

Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are doing these things.

When faced with a problem for urgent, low stakes, these tendencies may be appropriate, but using the same approach to address a highly-complex problem is not the best course of action. Research suggests that jumping to conclusions results in a failure rate of over 50%! 

To improve the chance for success, we need to spend energy to better understand the problem before moving to solutions.

Although problem-solving takes time and energy, it helps us in these critical areas:

  • Identifies challenges that improve performance and outcomes
  • Ensures that data and observations are used to understand the problem 
  • Enables us to identify opportunities in the environment to predict the future
  • Allows us to innovate and create new things
  • Fosters a culture of learning 

We must first identify if we have a significant problem and, if so, what the problem is. Ask yourself, "Is it necessary?" or “What are the consequences if I ignore it, avoid it, or make a quick fix?".  Consider these two examples.

Example 1
In clinical and hospital environments, refrigerators have to be monitored to ensure that they are working correctly. By keeping logs, healthcare providers can ensure that the food and medicine are safe to administer. 

If a refrigerator temperature goes outside the specified ranges, then the professional needs to determine what to do. Does this require resources to study the problem? Or is this something that a decision can be made quickly by the professional? 

While this is a significant issue that the food and medicine will probably need to be replaced and the refrigerator serviced, the issues don’t necessarily require an in-depth problem analysis. 

Example 2
Another problem that hospitals face is when patients get an infection from their urinary catheter. Hospitals can be penalized for having a high number of CAUTIs (catheter-acquired urinary tract infections).

Most hospitals in the United States have measures in place to prevent these types of infections. Although, there are times where too many patients are getting these infections, and intervention needs to be enacted. 

Before implementing such plans, we found that asking “Does the patient need the catheter?” solved part of our problem since many patients did not need the catheter. Instead, alternative treatment options were chosen. 

Once the significance of the problem is determined, it is vital to create a problem statement. Crafting a problem statement is important as it is something you take with you when you talk with others about the situation. 

A problem statement should be simple, easy to remember, and one sentence. Here is a template to get started: 

  • One – State the problem 
  • Two – State who it is impacting 
  • Three – State what the impact is

Once you answer these questions, insert them into either of the following sentence structures:

<PROBLEM> is happening to <WHO> cause them to <IMPACT>.


"The current situation is <PROBLEM AND WHO> leading to <UNDESIRABLE EVENT>.

Here are some problem statement examples:

  • Overeating food and not exercising is causing me to gain weight, be less active, and feel bad about myself.
  • The current situation is that I am late with my clinical documentation, leading to a delay in patient care and revenue loss.  

A straightforward method to study a problem is to keep in mind STOP. DROP. THINK.

  • STOP.– Learn about the problem
  • DROP. – Go to where it is happening and observe
  • THINK. – Consider what you have learned and start action planning

Learn about the problem. What do you know about this problem? Do others have this problem? Don't react but stop, breathe, and take a moment to reflect on this situation.   

I turn to the literature and see what others say about my current problem. Others like to talk to people or experts to find out about their similar experiences. Knowing that others have the same problem can help motivate us to change.  

When we can't find any information or no one else seems to be having this issue, it is a challenge to find a solution but let that be an inspiration to find a resolution.

Next, we want to drop. Drop-in. Check it out. Continue talking to others. What do you see? What do you know? This is where you want to use tools to help you better understand your situation from many perspectives. 

3 Key Approaches to Study the Problem

One of the key approaches to problem-solving is “Go and See in the Gemba,” which means the place where it happens. Genchi Genbutsu is often referred to as the "go and see" approach. It translates to the real location or the real thing. There is a difference between visiting a place and talking to people versus getting to know the area and knowing the people who do the day-to-day work. Once you enact “Go and See in the Gemba,” the opportunities for continuous improvement are unlimited.  

Another tool you can use is called the "5 Whys?". With this tool, you ask “Why?” until you reach the cause of the problem. You can learn a lot about a problem using the 5 Whys? but never rely on this tool in isolation. You can interview multiple people separately to learn as much as possible about the problem from different perspectives. The 5 Whys? answers should be based on direct observations, not by deduction. This could lead to certain biases, and interventions will likely not lead to any positive changes.

The last tool I use to better understand my problem is the "Ishikawa Diagram", also known as the Fishbone Diagram or the Cause and Effect Diagram. This method is used when determining possible causes for an effect or problem. It is a method for sorting brainstorming sessions into specific categories by graphically displaying the categorized observations or "causes" contributing to the issue.

Using tools like these can help you better understand the problem.

After you have collected information about the problem, ask, "what have I learned about my problem?" There’s usually not just one cause or issue that is creating the problem. As I reflect on this information, I can start to see possible solutions. 

By using the stop, drop, think method, we can craft a great problem statement that generates buy-in from stakeholders to study the problem and produce solutions to improve the problem.  
Sometimes we think things move too slow or not fast enough, but maybe there’s a reason why.

We need to understand the problem better, not react to it. Stop, drop and think next time a problem comes your way.



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About the blogger

Tamala S. Bradham, Ph.D., DHA, CCC-A, CPPS, CPHQ

For 25 years, Dr. Bradham’s career has always centered on developing and implementing new, innovative service delivery models to improve care delivery.

 As a clinician, researcher, published author, and professor, she is a multi talented and multifaceted leader that inspires those around her to deliver best practices based on the current state of knowledge, explore opportunities to improve service delivery, and innovate solutions for the tomorrow.

As a partner with 3C Digital Media Network, Dr. Bradham will connect people with great talents and knowledge to the network, collaborate with others to improve and develop oneself, and communicate with genuine passion and transparency.

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