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Pain Scale for Business Problems

The pain scale is widely used in the medical world to communicate with and to patients about their pain. Care providers typically ask the patient to tell them on the scale of 1 to 10, what their pain level is. They use that information along with other assessment tools to discuss options, prescribe medications, or recommend other procedures. The same concepts apply to businesses since problems and issues inflict pain. In this article, we discuss this concept and describe how this analogy can be used to make better business decisions.

Business Pain

Pain is subjective. Two different individuals might rate the same pain they are experiencing very differently. In business context, it is even more difficult to quantify the level of pain that the business is experiencing. To make it even more subjective, it is important to note that the pain is experienced by people on behalf of the business. For the case of smaller organizations, it could be still one individual who is responsible to rate the pain level, but in larger organizations, the pain is experienced by the CEO, P&L leaders, executives and directors. Of course, the entire organization could be suffering, but for the sake of this article, we will only focus on decision makers who can and should do something about it.

Pain Levels

It is helpful to be able to rate business problems a bit more quantitatively. This is how the pain levels are categorized in the medical field. Note that the descriptions also apply to business pain points and levels.

  • Mild Pain – If the pain is rated at level 3 or below, it is considered mild. Mild pain is nagging and annoying but doesn’t really interfere with daily living activities.

  • Moderate Pain – Pain levels between 4 and 6 are considered moderate. This pain interferes significantly with daily living activities.

  • Severe Pain – Levels 7 through 10 are considered severe. This pain is disabling, so daily living activities cannot be performed.

Reaction to Pain

If you are reading this article, you are probably old enough to know that pain is part of life. In some cases, we can avoid pain, but when it is there, what we can do is to decide how we are going to react to it. In a very simplified form of it, we have 3 options:

  1. Do nothing

  2. Take pain killers

  3. Seek long term solutions

Doing Nothing

As a decision maker in the business, we always accept some level of pain and tolerate it. There are acceptable quality issues, OTD issues, cost issue, etc. that we accept and don't do anything about them. We trust that it might resolve itself or we just accept them and live with them. Doing nothing has not direct cost, but it can cost the business in the long run. It is important to make that decision with long term consequences in mind.

Taking pain killers

Changing the production schedule last minute, using allocated materials to future work orders to address the problem at hand, moving resources around to help with pain points, and other firefighting processes are a few examples of short-term solutions. They work like pain killers. They seem to be a cure, but in most cases, they just postpone the pain to a later time or simply move the pain to a different spot. Of course, dealing with occasional headaches with a pain killer is probably the right decision, but if the issue keeps coming back and is recurring, it needs to be addressed properly. If not, it will always slow the business down.

Long term solutions

To address problems appropriately, one needs to identify the root cause of the problem and come up with a solution that addresses it. We always know what the symptoms are, but we don't always know what is causing the symptoms. That's when we look for expert advice. We look for specialists who are capable of reviewing the symptoms, evaluate our status, and present us with practical options and recommendations. We are then empowered to decide if our internal resources have the capacity and the capability to implement the solution; or external resources need to be contracted to implement the solution in a timely manner.

Final Note

At the end of the day, the decision maker is the one who decides if and how the problem needs to be addressed. Being able to quantify the level of pain helps with deciding if the plan is to tolerate it, just take a pain killer, or seek expert advice and implement a long term solution.


About Techam: Techam Solutions is an operations and engineering consulting firm working with small to medium-sized manufacturers, private equity firms and their portfolio companies across multiple industries. We provide a wide range of operations management and engineering services to drive operational excellence and implement solutions that deliver reduced cost, increased performance, and enhance the company’s bottom line. We aspire to be a trusted advisor and a reliable partner who brings meaningful and sustainable value to our clients. For more information, call 316.768.1856 or email



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