Problem solving tools put to the test by small non-profit EDCI

During my first few weeks at EDCI as a GSK Pulse Volunteer I did a lot of observing. Coming from highly structured GSK to a small, casual non-profit offered many lessons. However, I quickly saw the opportunity to introduce them to some basic organizational effectiveness tools and concepts that they could put to use right away. The trick was how to convince CEO David Reese that I could do this without compromising my other Pulse program objectives. After describing the approach I would use and defining the EDCI problems the staff would tackle, he was on board. He also shared that the staff at EDCI had never had the collective opportunity to go through anything like this. In his mind this was a no-brainer.


To the staff, I introduced the concept as “organization effectiveness”; at GSK the methodologies and set of tools are known as ADP (Accelerated Delivery and Performance). In reality, I used some key team effectiveness techniques to facilitate the sessions and taught the rest. The end result was approximately 25 individuals volunteering to take on one of the seven key meeting roles (time keeper, herder, scribe, etc., often competing to be the rewarder and manage the chocolate), and seeing the value of structured agendas with key objectives and appreciating the opportunity to contribute to ground rules for meetings. This set the tone for a series of problem-solving sessions they eagerly attended every other week for two hours each over the course of two months.


The problems they aligned themselves to varied in level of difficulty; this was by design:

1- The EDCI staff refrigerator is not kept clean.

2- As EDCI’s staff has grown, they have quickly outgrown their office space, but it appears the space is not being used optimally.

3- EDCI can currently only service families and kids who live within a certain geographical zone. When families who they have supported move out of this zone, then EDCI can no longer support them, causing a host of issues and ill feelings on both sides. More importantly, the opportunity to help that family and the kids over the long term is lost.


During the first Organization Effectiveness session, I introduced the following key concepts:

1- In order to solve a problem, you need to start with a good problem statement that does not include any assumed root causes but paints a picture of what is happening, when it occurs, where it is a problem, and to whom it is a problem. This is usually the first hurdle because most teams want to jump to conclusions and solutions. My key message to the EDCI staff was, “slow down to speed up,” meaning that if you take your time to draft and agree on the problem you are trying to solve, then you will be able to better identify its causes and then potential solutions. This may take a few iterations and even may entail gathering additional information to support your statement.

2-Next the staff learned about the use of the 5 whys and fishbone tools to do proper root causing. This helped each team to use a structured approach for brainstorming various causes of the problem, to get to the true one to two root causes.

3- Lastly, I took the staff through one of my favorite tools and techniques: the Bold Moves Decision Matrix. My favorite part of this tool is how the teams get their ideas up on the matrix—and that is the use of silent brainstorming. This technique provides some silent time for individuals to capture on sticky notes their ideas for the solutions that will address the root cause(s). This private time reduces the amount of groupthink that may arise when teams just blurt out their suggestions. Additionally, the use of the Bold Moves Matrix forces teams to think about the level of effort it would take to introduce or implement the suggested solution and the impact it would have. They can then focus their energies on the no-brainers and plan for the bold moves while avoiding any wasted energies on potential no-goes and distractions.

The “Space Invaders” team collaborates on how to optimize the office space the EDCI staff has quickly outgrown. The fishbone root cause finding tool helps to spark the conversation.
After several iterations of their problem statement, the
After several iterations of their problem statement, the “Mole Busters” were ready to use the fishbone tool to identify root causes that led to creative solutions.


To date, each team has successfully documented their problem statements (each going through several revisions). They have collected data and used the fishbone tool to identify their root causes. And now they are at varying stages of solutioning. The refrigerator team, known as the Mold Busters, has completed most of the steps involved in good problem solving and have implemented and are testing their solutions. You can see from the pictures, they chose to put up reminders in key places for staff, guidelines on the refrigerator about its use, and developed a cleaning schedule so staff can sign up for weekly and monthly cleaning duty. The space team, known as Space Invaders, is in the process of identifying different solutions, and the zone team, known as the Twilight Zone, is working on an action plan to explore a variety of solutions they identified.


Sign up sheet for weekly refrigerator cleaning duty
Sign up sheet for weekly refrigerator cleaning duty
One of three reminders to EDCI staff to take their
One of three reminders to EDCI staff to take their “fridge” items home
Guidelines for refrigerator use
Guidelines for refrigerator use
Problem solving supported by
Problem solving supported by “super bowl” competition

All in all, the staff have embraced a few key concepts that they can continue to leverage from here on out. Meeting roles, ground rules, and structured agendas are the norm. Friendly competition created by the use of a large football field and team names on helmets helped to move each team along the phases of the problem-solving journey, so they could realize the benefits of using this approach. As new problems arise and these concepts are leveraged by the staff, this could become part of the EDCI way of working—a large accomplishment for a small nonprofit, creating additional organizational capabilities that support growth and sustainability.


  1. Looks like your are doing some good work, Levia! Really nice to see you doing capability building so that long after you have left your assignment they will still be able to benefit from your time with them. Keep up the great work!!

  2. What a great post. Thank you for sharing what you have been up to and for bringing it to life in such detail that it can be replicated. This is inspiring stuff!

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