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Structured Problem Solving

Using Structured Problem Solving & Value Mapping to Tackle Health & Wellness

Susan T. Asks…

I’ve tried many different diets over the years but have been unsuccessful in losing weight.  Can you please help me figure out a way to not only lose weight but be healthier overall?

The MBA responds…

Thanks for the timely and perpetual question, Susan!  In a recent discussion with a friend, we were sharing ideas on how to get back into shape, to train for running events, and most importantly, stay healthy for the long haul.  After nearly an hour-long discussion, I found myself using MBA trained structured problem solving techniques and value mapping in tackling this popular topic.  So, ladies and gentlemen, outlined below is the approach I’ve come up with to tackle health & wellness using my Strategize, Execute, Measure, Monitor, and Repeat framework.  This approach can be used for personal health and wellness or applied at the corporate/organizational level as a health & wellness program/challenge.

If you continue to read this post, you’ll discover the way to get access to my Health & Wellness Map (ver. 1.0) that presents a plethora of ways to fill the gap (must read further to understand what that means!)

Losing weight is not an easy feat!  So if you are looking for the silver bullet, or magic pill, or the next fad, you can stop reading here!  And fad diets are exactly that – a fad or an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, esp. one that is short-lived; a craze!  If you follow the steps below and put in the necessary time, I can assure you that you will not only lose weight, but also decrease your risk for heart disease, decrease your risk for diabetes, and live a long, healthy life!

IMPORTANT: Defined below is merely a defined process to tackling your weight loss challenge and should not be a substitute for consulting your primary physician before starting any exercise or diet program.


Define the Problem – Before you jump into just doing stuff, let’s take a moment to understand what we are trying to resolve.  The reason or motivation may be different based on your individual situation, but fundamentally, let’s assume everyone’s challenge or problem is losing weight.  There is so much more to Health & Wellness, but to demonstrate the framework and value mapping technique, let’s use weight loss as the challenge.

Look at the Numbers –  Now, armed with our problem, we can further define the problem using data and numbers.  It’s easy to get carried away with numbers, but let me try to simplify the key numbers you need to understand and log to help you lose weight.  Each of the following numbers have prescribed levels based on your individual profile, so please consult your physician to measure and further understand the numbers.

    • Weight: measured in lbs. or kg., is the pull of gravity on an object.
    • Body Fat: measured as a %, is the amount of weight stored as fat; 100 – Body Fat % would give you the amount of muscle in your body.
    • Cholesterol Levels: measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood, are made up of HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol) and Total (a composite number).  Higher LDL and Total Cholesterol levels, typically, contribute to heart disease risk.
    • Blood Sugar Levels: measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood, is the amount of glucose in your blood.  Higher blood sugar levels, typically, contribute to diabetes risk.
    • Daily Calories Consumed: measured in calories, is the total amount of caloric intake or consumption on a daily basis.
    • Daily Fat/Net Carbs/Protein Consumed: measured in grams, is the total amount of fat, net carbs (Total Carbs – Fiber), and protein intake or consumption on a daily basis.
    • Daily Calories Needed: measured in calories, is the total amount of calories needed on a daily basis.   Resource: http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm
    • Daily Fat/Net Carbs/Protein Needed: measured in grams, is the total amount of fat, net carbs (Total Carbs – Fiber), and protein needed on a daily basis.  Resource: http://www.freedieting.com/tools/nutrient_calculator.htm
    • Daily Calories Expended: measured in calories, is the total amount of exercise/daily activity performed that lead to calories lost.
    • Daily Calorie Surplus/Deficit: measured in calories using the following formula: Calories Intake – (Calories Expended + Calories Needed).  You want this number to be lower (even negative).  Remember, it takes 3600 calories to lose 1 lb.
      • So, for example, if I eat 2500 calories but my body needs 2000 calories and I ran on a treadmill and burned 300 calories, then I over-consumed by 200 calories (2500 – (2000+300)).
      • But if I only ate 1500 calories, then I under-consumed by 800 calories (1500 – (2000 + 300)), which means I would have lost 0.22 lbs. (800/3600).

Define the Goal – Once the problem is defined and you’ve established your baseline situation based on the numbers, you need to define your future or end-goal. Using the SMART goal-setting tool (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), define, commit, and share that goal with family/friends.  

    • Example: I will lose 10 lbs. over the course of 30 days, starting from May 21st to June 20th, by consuming less Fat and Net Carbs daily and targeting a total caloric intake of 1800 calories.

Understand the Gap – You’ve understood where you are, you understand where you want to be, now how do you fill the gap?  By the gap we basically mean the time between your current-state of non-ideal weight and your future-state of ideal weight.  This is where people struggle the most!  So let’s spend some time here.  In performing gap-analysis, there are some pretty easy-to-use tools/techniques to help fill the gap such as:

    • Learn the best practices and educate yourself – Take some time to research, understand, and make sense of the knowledge and information related to weight loss.  Talk to your physician, a registered dietician/nutritionist, a fitness professional – whoever!  One amazing thing, if you are serious about weight, there are plenty of people willing to help!  Here are a couple of best practices or tips that work for me:
      1. Drink at least 64 ounces of water, daily, starting with 8 ounces the instant you wake up in the morning.
      2. Exercise for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week.
      3. Cook at home as much as possible; not only does this save money but also controls what goes in the food.
      4. Understand and read the nutrition labels!
      5. Avoid processed foods and opt for fresh fruits/vegetables.
      6. Avoid white foods (white flour, pasta, potatoes, etc.) and opt for whole-wheat, multi-grain options.
      7. Find resources (free classes, seminars, and coaching sessions) through your employer or health insurance provider.
    • Review the lessons learned – Next, do some introspection and review what works for you and what didn’t work for you all these years you’ve been trying to lose weight.  Ask yourself questions like:
      1. What kind of activities/exercise do I enjoy doing?
      2. What are my food weaknesses?
      3. What are my daily habits with respect to eating?
      4. Am I an emotional eater?
      5. Do I really enjoy the foods I eat?  Do I feel good eating them?
      6. Have I tried exploring various food options?
      7. Are there people in my life who help or hurt my weight loss attempts?
      8. What are my favorite places to eat and why?
      9. Have I tried cooking at home?   Am I comfortable trying new things?
      10. MOST IMPORTANT: What makes me happy and motivated?
    • Review the Numbers – Numbers are great because not only do they help measure but also help surface and highlight issues/trends.  So, review the numbers mentioned above and ask yourself the following questions:
      1. Am I at risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease? Or if you already have these issues, are they getting worse?
      2. What should I be doing to decrease or increase <fill in the blank>?  (For example, increase HDL and decrease LDL)
      3. Are there safe and natural supplements to adjust the numbers to appropriate levels?


Fill the Gap – Considering the lessons learned, the best practices, and the numbers, find a way to fill the gap and start executing.  Come up with the architecture, the routines, and the culture that will make weight loss your competitive advantage!  You can once again use the SMART goal-setting tool here.

Below are some specific SMART examples, but use the Contact Me page to a request a copy of my Health & Wellness Map (version 1.0 focuses on Weight Management – shown to the left) that provides a starting point to fill the gap.

      1. I will walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes, 3 times a week (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), from 6:00 – 6:30am.  Makes these goals public and highly visible (i.e., write them down and stare at them everyday) to provoke action.
      2. I will come up with a weekly menu and go grocery shopping (based on the defined menu) on Sunday afternoon.
      3. I will replace my “white foods” with whole grain or healthier options to decrease my LDL cholesterol levels and decrease my Net Carb intake.

Commit to Stay the Course! – When a CEO works with his/her Senior Leadership team to define a corporate-wide strategy, the most important step in the process is to get full commitment to stay the course!  Once you’re armed with the best practices, your lessons learned and your numbers, commit to stay the course!  If one of your lessons learned is “I can’t commit and end up giving up!” then formalize the commitment through a resource like http://www.stickk.com/


Measure the Numbers – As mentioned above, the numbers serve as a great tool to tell you if what you are doing is working or not.  So plan on measuring the numbers using the appropriate timeline.  For example:

    • Daily – calories consumed, fat/net carbs, protein consumed, and calories expended
    • Bi-Weekly – weight and body fat
    • Every 3 Months (as prescribed by your physician) – cholesterol and blood sugar levels


Monitor the trends – Before monitoring the ups and downs, understand the direction each number should go.  Then, review whether the number is going in the right direction.  Assess whether your course strictly needs a new, revised, or deleted goal or you need to start at Strategize.

Don’t get discouraged! Monitor your attitude! – This is VERY IMPORTANT – do not get discouraged!  As a good friend of mine always says, if something is not working just accept the fact that you have to change it, but don’t complain about it or, even worse, just quit.  The cleaning product 409’s formula got its name from the fact that it took 408 failed attempts to get the formula right!  Additionally, as important as it is to monitor the numbers and their trends, make sure to take some time to monitor your attitude and emotions towards your weight loss goals.


There you have it!

Imagine the types and numbers of everyday problems you can resolve using structured problem solving and value mapping. In fact, to simplify even further, just approach each problem using the Strategize, Execute, Measure, Monitor, & Repeat framework. Notice how most of the time is spent in the Strategize and Execute phases. Nonetheless, it’s just as important to Measure and Monitor to understand your progress and results.

As always, hope you enjoyed this post and let me know what you think!


One thought on “Using Structured Problem Solving & Value Mapping to Tackle Health & Wellness

  1. Good website, thanks for share this article with us

    Posted by Andre Remsen | May 22, 2012, 11:08 am

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