Problem Analysis Final Project

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Today's corporate and private business organizations must make swift, sound decisions to maintain a competitive edge in their marketplace. The proper use of critical thinking skills, problem-solving techniques, and decision-making tools is vital to strategic, tactical, and operational planning. Repeatedly, businesses set direction and make mid-course adjustments using these tools. This paper will provide a description of the issue facing the Cajun Café. It will identify three solutions that the Cajun Café's problem-solving team has determined to be potential, viable solutions to rectify the problem. The alternatives will be evaluated using decision-making tools and techniques. The ethical implications of each the solutions will be discussed. The problem-solving team will select one solution to implement. An implementation plan will be mapped out and resources, timelines, and a resistance management plan will be created. Finally, this paper will evaluate the success of the solution based on the application of decision-making tools designed to measure success criteria.


The Cajun Café's senior management team created a temporary problem-solving team consisting of five employees - one each from departments identified as stakeholders of the problem. Representatives from accounting, finance, management, sales and operations make up the team. In designing the problem-solving team in this manner, it was the goal of senior management to create a diverse team rich with cross-functional understandings of the business. The problem that the team is tackling is process-oriented. For a number of years, the Cajun Café has been paying vendors in cash for materials, supplies, and product. No transactional references or documentation of the cash payments has ever been recorded and no accounting of cash payments is available. This has led to a current state of non-compliance to accounting standards and principles as defined by the Internal Revenue Service and the State Comptroller's Office.

The Cajun Café's senior management team has created a team charter. The goal of the problem-solving team is to identify, implement, and validate a solution for the accurate accounting of any cash disbursements or to eliminate the problem entirely by identifying an alternate payment method. The Cajun Café's senior management team has also developed success criteria for the problem-solving team. The problem of cash payment reconciliation of vendor payments will be solved when the company can account for vendor payments according to standard financial accounting practices, which meet or exceed the requirements of Internal Revenue Service and the State Comptroller's Office.


In their first meeting, the problem-solving team focused on framing the problem. The criteria, goals, and objectives of the team were defined by senior management in the team's charter. In its place, the team created a number of team expectations. Creativity would be encouraged. Everyone had an equal voice. Leave your title and seniority at the door. Problem solving and decision making tools would be utilized. A facilitator of equal standing to the other group members would be selected along with a timekeeper and scribe. All three would handle the meeting logistics. With the aid of a decision-making worksheet, the team identified the problem as a lack of cash payment documentation and reconciliation methods. The effect of which was non-compliance to accounting standards and principles as defined by the Internal Revenue Service and the State Comptroller's Office.

In the second meeting, the team employed problem-solving techniques to generate alternate solutions to the problem. The team opened the meeting by employing a technique known as brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, team members were encouraged to state any idea for a solution that came to them, no matter how far-fetched it appeared on the surface. The following contributions were captured in the brainstorming session:

Pay the vendor's by check...Don't pay the vendor's...Ask for a receipt...Buy the supplies on the Internet...Keep a cash journal...Photocopy the invoices...Use a credit card...Use a barter system...Outsource the purchasing... Get a monthly statement from the vendor... Hire an outside accountant... Use a sole source vendor... Pay once at the end of the month... Sign over customer's checks to the vendors

While capturing the ideas generated through brainstorming, the team employed a technique known as mind mapping to organize the solutions into like categories.

"Mind Maps increase the quality of thinking. They assist in systems thinking, allowing a visual representation of an overview, showing connections, and facilitating the synthesis of ideas. They are helpful for creative thinking, allowing you to access multiple intelligences and generate new ideas. Mind Maps help you to organize ideas, both your own and those of other people" (Tippett, 2003).

The use of mind mapping enabled the team to eliminate those solutions, which did not support problem resolution as defined by the team's objective, goals, and success criteria. By the end of the second meeting, the team identified three potential solutions: 1. A cash receipt / cash journal system, 2. A check ledger system and 3. A credit card payment system.


The three alternatives that were decided on are: 1. A cash receipt / cash journal system, 2. A check ledger system and 3. A credit card payment system. These alternatives were arrived at by using the brainstorming technique by the decision making team. The brainstorming tool was utilized to stimulate and capture creative thoughts and ideas. DeJanasz-Dowd-Schneider in Interpersonal Skills in Organization, Chapter 19: Problem Solving Using Tools, Processes and Creative Approaches, states in regards to brainstorming that," it involves the creative generation of many ideas to solve a problem. There are several variations of brainstorming, yet they all have the following ground rules: (1) Articulate the theme of the question. (2) Set a time limit. (3) Record the ideas for everyone to see. (4) Quantity is important (generate as many ideas as possible). (5) Everyone should actively participate (no benchwarmers). (6) All ideas are good ideas (positive or negative critiquing is not permitted). (7) Piggyback or build on ideas of others."

The team utilized the NGT (nominal group technique) of brainstorming as all members were to leave status and rank at the door and everyone enters the team on equal terms. DeJanasz- Dowd-Schneider, Chapter 19: Using Tools, Processes, and Creative Approaches, states, "NGT is another variation on open brainstorming that ameliorates the negative impact that status differences may have on a problem-solving group. The technique "normalizes" or equalizes hierarchical or status differences among members of the group, enabling individuals to speak out without concern for such differences or fears of being ridiculed. To brainstorm NGT style, all team members are given index cards or pads on which to write their ideas. After the theme or question is posed, each person in the group must write down as many answers to the question as they can." (In our team the question was: What system can we come up with to replace paying the vendors in cash; which allows for better tracking of the payments made and a method for more timely payments.) "After silent writing of ideas slows, you ask each member in sequence to share one written idea, recording all ideas on the flip chart for everyone to see. Keep going around the group, asking for and recording one unique idea from each person until all written ideas are recorded. If individuals note that their idea was already listed, underline or put a check next to the idea."

It is encouraged to be creative in brainstorming to arrive at new and different ideas. Andrew Lang Golub (1997), Decision Analysis, states, "Creative ideas can be fragile. Therefore, while brainstorming it is important to create an open, nonjudgmental, and upbeat feeling. To this end, no one should be allowed to openly judge an idea as bad. During a brainstorming session, when an idea sounds very ridiculous and particularly unusual a useful response is "That's creative!" Using this expression as a reward encourages participants to search broadly for new and different ideas."

Golub (1997) goes on to add, "Quite often, one suggestion leads to another similar idea, and then another, a phenomenon known as hitch-hiking. These subsequent revisions can help a ridiculous, off-the-wall suggestion lead to a creative alternative. Thus, while brainstorming, it is perfectly acceptable to suggest an idea that improves upon a preceding idea. It is not acceptable to disdain another's idea as unrealistic (or even worse, as dumb)."

After arriving at different alternatives through the NGT technique of brainstorming, the technique of mind mapping was used to categorize these alternatives. David Pollitt (2003), Mind mapping your way to a better career, Career Development International, states that, "a mind map is a way of planning and structuring thought to allow a rapid but profound exploration of ideas, while simultaneously maintaining clear focus on the central issue. Mind mapping is a fairly straightforward eight-part process: (1) Arm yourself with blank sheets of A3 or A4 paper and lots of colored pens.(2) Relax, get into the right frame of mind for new, creative thought, and suspend belief in your inability to draw. (3) Select your keyword or image-for example, "business trip"- and write or draw it in the center of your page. (4) Branch off any ideas related to this central theme, such as "travel"," preparation", "food", includes thoughts that may seem obscure or irrational - they will give you a fresh perspective on your subject. (5) Use one color for each branch, with sub-branches flowing off from the center, continuing until you have exhausted all possible links. (6) Condense your thoughts to one word per line, so you are free to make a greater number of connections. (7) Use images instead of words whenever possible, and draw boxes around, or otherwise highlight, important information. The more imaginative and colorful the mind map, the more you will remember what is on it. (8) When you have exhausted the subject, edit and regroup your notes on a fresh sheet in order to produce your final, master mind map."

After brainstorming to gather alternatives and mind mapping to sort these ideas into categories, the technique of the prioritization matrix was then used to select the best alternative for replacing the cash payment system presently used by Cajun Café. DeJanasz-Dowd-Schneider(2001) state the five Prioritizing Solution steps are: "(1) Brainstorm the criteria to be used in evaluating the multiple solutions. These might include cost to implement solution, time it takes to implement solution, ease of implementation, management receptivity to the solution, employee receptivity to the solution, and likelihood of permanently fixing the problem. (2) Next, Create a grid, placing the alternatives or solutions along the vertical axis and the criteria against which the alternatives will be evaluated along the horizontal axis. (3) Decide on the scales for the criteria, ensuring consistency. Using a 1-5 scale, with higher number being more favorable, a group might determine that a high cost to implement would be valued at 1 while a low cost to implement would be a 5; conversely (though maintaining consistency), high management receptivity to a solution would get a value of a 5, while low receptivity would correlate with a 1. Determine scales for each criterion. (4) As a group, evaluate every alternative (one at a time) against each of the criteria. Strive for consensus in the evaluation; however, compromise may be required at times. Alternatively, there may be a need to get further information. In this situation, leave the item blank and come back to it after assigning an action item to get cost or other data to make an informed evaluation. (5) Total the score horizontally in a final sum column. The highest-ranking alternative may "win," but discussion among the group is necessary in order to achieve consensus."


The effectiveness of the solution could be impacted by both external and internal influences. The credit card companies are one influence. They determine the amount of credit, synonymous to the amount of vendor payments that could be charged, that the organization will possess. The vendors have influence over this decision. They may require the Cajun Café to provide different credit cards as influenced by their internal process for credit card payment. If the team standardizes payments on an American Express Card, for example, a vendor's non-acceptance of this card means a cash payment may be necessary, or an alternate card must be used. The third influencer on the solution would be the accounts payable department. This department has stake in the process. Their willingness to accept the changes and support the new process is critical.

The plan that the Cajun Café chose to implement is the credit card system. With this system, the organization will be paying vendors with a selected credit card and then just sending one check every month to the credit card company. To implement the credit card process we will need to select a credit card that will have an available credit limit that will be feasible for the organizations monthly vendor deliveries. We then must set up delivery times so that the authorized personnel will be present to make the purchases. This could be done by either an on-site credit card authorization or a call could be made from the delivery driver to the vendors account manager to complete the sale.

Having considered the time and expense of issuing checks and purchase orders, we decided to use the Visa Purchasing Card. The Visa Purchasing Card can be customized to work harder and smarter than a standard Visa Corporate Card. You can set specific purchasing card spending controls. You are able to evaluate employee-spending data promptly and access reports, over the Internet. The cards are issued through Élan Financial Services, an official Visa issuer.

The Visa Purchasing Card Program offers companies whose annual sales volume exceeds $10,000,000 or charge over $250,000 annually great benefits such as:

1. Reduce check volume including the cost of checks, postage, reconciliation, and time.

2. Reduce administrative costs associated with purchasing procedures.

3. Interface with company's accounting system virtually eliminates manual data entry.

4. Corporate liability insurance to help protect against misuse and fraudulent use of a lost or stolen card.

5. Flexible spending limits, merchant controls and fraud prevention.

6. Over 30 different report options detailing spending habits at all company levels.

7. Internet access to transaction data.

8. Online Cardholder maintenance via PVS Net.

The vendors may show a resistance to change, because they are use to having the cash, rather than having to carry a credit card machine. In addition, if the cards are worn than it could become demagnetized and cash however, continues in circulation until it is worn to a point where it cannot be used.

The use of credit cards will help simplify small purchase procedures and also improve the cash management. By using one universally accepted payment tool, you can eliminate the difficulty to reconcile vendor billings. All activity is captured, documented, and reported back to you on detailed reports so you can control spending and negotiate volume discounts with vendors.


Evaluation is the last step in the decision-making process. This is also the process that receives the least attention. After implementation, a decision-maker is usually ready to begin another task. This action is a premature one that may end up having disastrous results. One not evaluating one's decision divests one's organization of the learning process that should take place to ensure that the initial problem or similar problems do not arise in the future.

According to Making Tough Decisions: Tactics for Improving Managerial Decision Making, "Decision makers must address three issues as they analyze decisions to promote learning."

1. Hidden Assumptions

2. Policy Focus

3. Dealing with Cognitive Overload

(McCall, M.W., Kaplan, R.E. 1990)

The hidden assumptions in the case of Cajun Café deals with the facts dealing with vendor acceptance of this system when use to receiving cash. Will vendors be receptive of carrying around credit card machines or calling in to an account manager to complete sales, or on site credit card authorizations? Are there alternatives that would satisfy these issues if they should arise? These issues versus the company incurring the expense of paying a Visa Purchasing Card company, using the company are an advantage to the issues that may arise. The vendors were a part of the reason for the problem by not providing the company with accurate receipts after cash payment for deliveries. The vendors that do not want to go along with the new policy, either an exception can be made for them, following new policy guidelines of providing receipt of payment of delivery or find another vendor that provides the same service that will comply with the company's new policy of using the Visa Purchasing Card. Using the Visa Purchasing Card Program will also save the company in check and bank fees and time in an employee keeping up with bank reconciliation.

The policy focus in the case of Cajun Café correlates to paying for deliveries using a Visa Purchasing Card Program as opposed to cash, which generates a problem. Other alternatives were considered, but none was as efficient as the decision made. These alternatives still proposed some chance of error where as the decision that was made proposed little or no chance of error.


DeJanasz-Dowd-Schneider (2001), Chapter 19: Problem Solving Using Tools, Processes and creative Approaches, Interpersonal Skills in Organizations, @McGraw-Hill

Golub, Andrew Lang (1997), Decision Analysis, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New Jersey: Wiley & sons, Inc. Chapter 6 p3

McCall, M.W. & Kaplan, R.E. (1990), Whatever It Takes; The Realities Of Managerial Decision Making. Mgt. 350 Supplement. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Nut, P. C. (1989) Making Tough Decisions: Tactics for Improving Managerial Decision Making (p.p. 505-511) Jossey-Bass

Pollitt, David (2003), Mind mapping your way to a better career, Career Development International, 8(5), p253

Tippett, J. 2003. Design Ways to Creativity. Accessed December 12, 2004.