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The 5 Steps of Problem Solving

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Problem solving is a critical skill for success in business – in fact it’s often what you are hired and paid to do. This article explains the five problem solving steps and provides strategies on how to execute each one.

Defining Problem Solving

Before we talk about the stages of problem solving, it’s important to have a definition of what it is. Let’s look at the two roots of problem solving — problems and solutions.

Problem – a state of desire for reaching a definite goal from a present condition [1] Solution – the management of a problem in a way that successfully meets the goals set for treating it

[1] Problem solving on Wikipedia

One important call-out is the importance of having a goal. As defined above, the solution may not completely solve problem, but it does meet the goals you establish for treating it–you may not be able to completely resolve the problem (end world hunger), but you can have a goal to help it (reduce the number of starving children by 10%).

The Five Steps of Problem Solving

With that understanding of problem solving, let’s talk about the steps that can get you there. The five problem solving steps are shown in the chart below:

problem solving steps

However this chart as is a little misleading. Not all problems follow these steps linearly, especially for very challenging problems. Instead, you’ll likely move back and forth between the steps as you continue to work on the problem, as shown below:

problem solving steps iterative

Let’s explore of these steps in more detail, understanding what it is and the inputs and outputs of each phase.

1. Define the Problem

aka What are you trying to solve? In addition to getting clear on what the problem is, defining the problem also establishes a goal for what you want to achieve.

Input:  something is wrong or something could be improved. Output: a clear definition of the opportunity and a goal for fixing it.

2. Brainstorm Ideas

aka What are some ways to solve the problem? The goal is to create a list of possible solutions to choose from. The harder the problem, the more solutions you may need.

Input: a goal; research of the problem and possible solutions; imagination. Output: pick-list of possible solutions that would achieve the stated goal.

3. Decide on a Solution

aka What are you going to do? The ideal solution is effective (it will meet the goal), efficient (is affordable), and has the fewest side effects (limited consequences from implementation).

Input:  pick-list of possible solutions; decision-making criteria. Output: decision of what solution you will implement.

4. Implement the Solution

aka What are you doing? The implementation of a solution requires planning and execution. It’s often iterative, where the focus should be on short implementation cycles with testing and feedback, not trying to get it “perfect” the first time.

Input:  decision; planning; hard work. Output:  resolution to the problem.

5. Review the Results

aka What did you do? To know you successfully solved the problem, it’s important to review what worked, what didn’t and what impact the solution had. It also helps you improve long-term problem solving skills and keeps you from re-inventing the wheel.

Input:  resolutions; results of the implementation. Output: insights; case-studies; bullets on your resume.

Improving Problem Solving Skills

Once you understand the five steps of problem solving, you can build your skill level in each one. Often we’re naturally good at a couple of the phases and not as naturally good at others. Some people are great at generating ideas but struggle implementing them. Other people have great execution skills but can’t make decisions on which solutions to use. Knowing the different problem solving steps allows you to work on your weak areas, or team-up with someone who’s strengths complement yours.

Want to improve your problem solving skills? Want to perfect the art of problem solving?  Check out our training programs or try these 20 problem solving activities to improve creativity .

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22 thoughts on “The 5 Steps of Problem Solving”

five steps for problem solving

very helpful and informative training

five steps for problem solving

Thank you for the information

five steps for problem solving

YOU ARE AFOOL

five steps for problem solving

I’m writing my 7th edition of Effective Security Management. I would like to use your circular graphic illustration in a new chapter on problem solving. You’re welcome to phone me at — with attribution.

five steps for problem solving

Sure thing, shoot us an email at [email protected] .

five steps for problem solving

i love your presentation. It’s very clear. I think I would use it in teaching my class problem solving procedures. Thank you

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It is well defined steps, thank you.

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these step can you email them to me so I can print them out these steps are very helpful

five steps for problem solving

I like the content of this article, it is really helpful. I would like to know much on how PAID process (i.e. Problem statement, Analyze the problem, Identify likely causes, and Define the actual causes) works in Problem Solving.

five steps for problem solving

very useful information on problem solving process.Thank you for the update.

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five steps for problem solving

It makes sense that a business would want to have an effective problem solving strategy. Things could get bad if they can’t find solutions! I think one of the most important things about problem solving is communication.

five steps for problem solving

Well in our school teacher teach us –

1) problem ldentification 2) structuring the problem 3) looking for possible solutions 4) lmplementation 5) monitoring or seeking feedback 6) decision making

Pleace write about it …

five steps for problem solving

I teach Professional communication (Speech) and I find the 5 steps to problem solving as described here the best method. Your teacher actually uses 4 steps. The Feedback and decision making are follow up to the actual implementation and solving of the problem.

five steps for problem solving

i know the steps of doing some guideline for problem solving

five steps for problem solving

steps are very useful to solve my problem

five steps for problem solving

The steps given are very effective. Thank you for the wonderful presentation of the cycle/steps/procedure and their connections.

five steps for problem solving

I like the steps for problem solving

five steps for problem solving

It is very useful for solving difficult problem i would reccomend it to a friend

five steps for problem solving

this is very interesting because once u have learned you will always differentiate the right from the wrong.

five steps for problem solving

I like the contents of the problem solving steps. informative.

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MindManager Blog

The 5 steps of the solving problem process

August 17, 2023 by MindManager Blog

Whether you run a business, manage a team, or work in an industry where change is the norm, it may feel like something is always going wrong. Thankfully, becoming proficient in the problem solving process can alleviate a great deal of the stress that business issues can create.

Understanding the right way to solve problems not only takes the guesswork out of how to deal with difficult, unexpected, or complex situations, it can lead to more effective long-term solutions.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the 5 steps of problem solving, and help you explore a few examples of problem solving scenarios where you can see the problem solving process in action before putting it to work.

Understanding the problem solving process

When something isn’t working, it’s important to understand what’s at the root of the problem so you can fix it and prevent it from happening again. That’s why resolving difficult or complex issues works best when you apply proven business problem solving tools and techniques – from soft skills, to software.

The problem solving process typically includes:

  • Pinpointing what’s broken by gathering data and consulting with team members.
  • Figuring out why it’s not working by mapping out and troubleshooting the problem.
  • Deciding on the most effective way to fix it by brainstorming and then implementing a solution.

While skills like active listening, collaboration, and leadership play an important role in problem solving, tools like visual mapping software make it easier to define and share problem solving objectives, play out various solutions, and even put the best fit to work.

Before you can take your first step toward solving a problem, you need to have a clear idea of what the issue is and the outcome you want to achieve by resolving it.

For example, if your company currently manufactures 50 widgets a day, but you’ve started processing orders for 75 widgets a day, you could simply say you have a production deficit.

However, the problem solving process will prove far more valuable if you define the start and end point by clarifying that production is running short by 25 widgets a day, and you need to increase daily production by 50%.

Once you know where you’re at and where you need to end up, these five steps will take you from Point A to Point B:

  • Figure out what’s causing the problem . You may need to gather knowledge and evaluate input from different documents, departments, and personnel to isolate the factors that are contributing to your problem. Knowledge visualization software like MindManager can help.
  • Come up with a few viable solutions . Since hitting on exactly the right solution – right away – can be tough, brainstorming with your team and mapping out various scenarios is the best way to move forward. If your first strategy doesn’t pan out, you’ll have others on tap you can turn to.
  • Choose the best option . Decision-making skills, and software that lets you lay out process relationships, priorities, and criteria, are invaluable for selecting the most promising solution. Whether it’s you or someone higher up making that choice, it should include weighing costs, time commitments, and any implementation hurdles.
  • Put your chosen solution to work . Before implementing your fix of choice, you should make key personnel aware of changes that might affect their daily workflow, and set up benchmarks that will make it easy to see if your solution is working.
  • Evaluate your outcome . Now comes the moment of truth: did the solution you implemented solve your problem? Do your benchmarks show you achieved the outcome you wanted? If so, congratulations! If not, you’ll need to tweak your solution to meet your problem solving goal.

In practice, you might not hit a home-run with every solution you execute. But the beauty of a repeatable process like problem solving is that you can carry out steps 4 and 5 again by drawing from the brainstorm options you documented during step 2.

Examples of problem solving scenarios

The best way to get a sense of how the problem solving process works before you try it for yourself is to work through some simple scenarios.

Here are three examples of how you can apply business problem solving techniques to common workplace challenges.

Scenario #1: Manufacturing

Building on our original manufacturing example, you determine that your company is consistently short producing 25 widgets a day and needs to increase daily production by 50%.

Since you’d like to gather data and input from both your manufacturing and sales order departments, you schedule a brainstorming session to discover the root cause of the shortage.

After examining four key production areas – machines, materials, methods, and management – you determine the cause of the problem: the material used to manufacture your widgets can only be fed into your equipment once the machinery warms up to a specific temperature for the day.

Your team comes up with three possible solutions.

  • Leave your machinery running 24 hours so it’s always at temperature.
  • Invest in equipment that heats up faster.
  • Find an alternate material for your widgets.

After weighing the expense of the first two solutions, and conducting some online research, you decide that switching to a comparable but less expensive material that can be worked at a lower temperature is your best option.

You implement your plan, monitor your widget quality and output over the following week, and declare your solution a success when daily production increases by 100%.

Scenario #2: Service Delivery

Business training is booming and you’ve had to onboard new staff over the past month. Now you learn that several clients have expressed concern about the quality of your recent training sessions.

After speaking with both clients and staff, you discover there are actually two distinct factors contributing to your quality problem:

  • The additional conference room you’ve leased to accommodate your expanding training sessions has terrible acoustics
  • The AV equipment you’ve purchased to accommodate your expanding workforce is on back-order – and your new hires have been making do without

You could look for a new conference room or re-schedule upcoming training sessions until after your new equipment arrives. But your team collaboratively determines that the best way to mitigate both issues at once is by temporarily renting the high-quality sound and visual system they need.

Using benchmarks that include several weeks of feedback from session attendees, and random session spot-checks you conduct personally, you conclude the solution has worked.

Scenario #3: Marketing

You’ve invested heavily in product marketing, but still can’t meet your sales goals. Specifically, you missed your revenue target by 30% last year and would like to meet that same target this year.

After collecting and examining reams of information from your sales and accounting departments, you sit down with your marketing team to figure out what’s hindering your success in the marketplace.

Determining that your product isn’t competitively priced, you map out two viable solutions.

  • Hire a third-party specialist to conduct a detailed market analysis.
  • Drop the price of your product to undercut competitors.

Since you’re in a hurry for results, you decide to immediately reduce the price of your product and market it accordingly.

When revenue figures for the following quarter show sales have declined even further – and marketing surveys show potential customers are doubting the quality of your product – you revert back to your original pricing, revisit your problem solving process, and implement the market analysis solution instead.

With the valuable information you gain, you finally arrive at just the right product price for your target market and sales begin to pick up. Although you miss your revenue target again this year, you meet it by the second quarter of the following year.

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The Five-Step Problem-Solving Process

Sometimes when you’re faced with a complex problem, it’s best to pause and take a step back. A break from…

The Five Step Problem Solving Process

Sometimes when you’re faced with a complex problem, it’s best to pause and take a step back. A break from routine will help you think creatively and objectively. Doing too much at the same time increases the chances of burnout.

Solving problems is easier when you align your thoughts with your actions. If you’re in multiple places at once mentally, you’re more likely to get overwhelmed under pressure. So, a problem-solving process follows specific steps to make it approachable and straightforward. This includes breaking down complex problems, understanding what you want to achieve, and allocating responsibilities to different people to ease some of the pressure.

The problem-solving process will help you measure your progress against factors like budget, timelines and deliverables. The point is to get the key stakeholders on the same page about the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the process. ( Xanax ) Let’s discuss the five-step problem-solving process that you can adopt.

Problems at a workplace need not necessarily be situations that have a negative impact, such as a product failure or a change in government policy. Making a decision to alter the way your team works may also be a problem. Launching new products, technological upgrades, customer feedback collection exercises—all of these are also “problems” that need to be “solved”.

Here are the steps of a problem-solving process:

1. Defining the Problem

The first step in the process is often overlooked. To define the problem is to understand what it is that you’re solving for. This is also where you outline and write down your purpose—what you want to achieve and why. Making sure you know what the problem is can make it easier to follow up with the remaining steps. This will also help you identify which part of the problem needs more attention than others.

2. Analyzing the Problem

Analyze why the problem occurred and go deeper to understand the existing situation.  If it’s a product that has malfunctioned, assess factors like raw material, assembly line, and people involved to identify the problem areas. This will help you figure out if the problem will persist or recur. You can measure the solution against existing factors to assess its future viability.

3. Weighing the Options

Once you’ve figured out what the problem is and why it occurred, you can move on to generating multiple options as solutions. You can combine your existing knowledge with research and data to come up with viable and effective solutions. Thinking objectively and getting inputs from those involved in the process will broaden your perspective of the problem. You’ll be able to come up with better options if you’re open to ideas other than your own.

4. Implementing The Best Solution

Implementation will depend on the type of data at hand and other variables. Consider the big picture when you’re selecting the best option. Look at factors like how the solution will impact your budget, how soon you can implement it, and whether it can withstand setbacks or failures. If you need to make any tweaks or upgrades, make them happen in this stage.

5. Monitoring Progress

The problem-solving process doesn’t end at implementation. It requires constant monitoring to watch out for recurrences and relapses. It’s possible that something doesn’t work out as expected on implementation. To ensure the process functions smoothly, you can make changes as soon as you catch a miscalculation. Always stay on top of things by monitoring how far you’ve come and how much farther you have to go.

You can learn to solve any problem—big or small—with experience and patience. Adopt an impartial and analytical approach that has room for multiple perspectives. In the workplace, you’re often faced with situations like an unexpected system failure or a key employee quitting in the middle of a crucial project.

Problem-solving skills will help you face these situations head-on. Harappa Education’s Structuring Problems course will show you how to classify and categorize problems to discover effective solutions. Equipping yourself with the right knowledge will help you navigate work-related problems in a calm and competent manner.

Explore topics such as  Problem Solving , the  PICK Chart ,  How to Solve Problems  & the  Barriers to Problem Solving  from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.

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5 Simple Steps to Effective Problem Solving

5 Steps to Problem Solving

The ability to solve problems is a crucial skill in the modern workplace. It can make the difference between success and failure, and it can help you navigate the complexities of a fast-paced environment. But what exactly is effective problem solving? And how can you develop the skills needed to solve problems efficiently and effectively?

Effective problem solving involves several key steps that can help you identify the root cause of a problem, develop a plan of action, and implement that plan to achieve a successful outcome . Here are five simple steps you can take to develop your problem-solving skills and tackle any challenge that comes your way in the workplace.

Introduction

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re faced with a workplace problem, and you’re not sure where to start? Whether it’s a customer complaint, a team conflict, or a project delay, it’s essential to address it promptly to maintain productivity and morale. In this article, we’ll provide practical steps that can help you effectively solve problems at your workplace.

five steps for problem solving

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step in effective problem solving is to define the problem clearly. Take the time to analyze the issue and gather as much information as possible. It’s crucial to identify the cause of the problem and its impact on your team or organization. For example, if a team member is underperforming, it’s essential to understand the root cause of the issue and how it’s affecting the team’s productivity. Is it a lack of training, motivation, or resources? Are there external factors, such as personal issues or workload, that are affecting their performance?

Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you can begin to develop a plan of action to address it. It’s important to involve all stakeholders in this process, including those who are directly affected by the problem, to ensure that you have a complete picture of the situation. Involving others in the process can also help you gain different perspectives and insights, which can be valuable in developing an effective solution.

Step 2: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

After identifying the problem, the next step is to brainstorm possible solutions. It’s important to be creative and come up with as many solutions as possible, even if they seem unrealistic or impractical. Brainstorming can be done individually or in a group setting, where team members can bounce ideas off each other. In a group setting, it’s important to create an open and safe environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. Remember to focus on generating ideas, without evaluating or criticizing them during the brainstorming session.

Once you have a list of possible solutions, evaluate each one based on their feasibility, potential impact, and costs. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of each solution before selecting the most appropriate one. Keep in mind that the solution may not be perfect, but it should be the best one available given the resources and constraints. By considering different options, you can increase the chances of finding an effective solution that addresses the problem.

Step 3: Evaluate the Solutions

When evaluating the solutions, it’s important to keep an open mind and consider different perspectives. Seek feedback from other team members or colleagues who may have a different point of view. It’s also important to consider the long-term effects of each solution, rather than just the immediate impact. For instance, while changing the project scope may seem like a quick fix to a delayed project, it could cause further delays or even impact the project’s success in the long run.

During the evaluation process, it’s essential to prioritize solutions based on their impact on the problem and their feasibility. Consider the resources, time, and effort required to implement each solution. Some solutions may be quick fixes that can be implemented immediately, while others may require more planning and preparation. It’s important to choose a solution that addresses the problem effectively while also being feasible to implement within the given resources and timeframe.

It’s also important to remember that not all solutions may work as expected. Be prepared to modify or pivot to a different solution if the initial solution does not yield the desired results. Additionally, ensure that the chosen solution aligns with the company’s policies and values and does not violate any ethical standards.

Step 4: Implement the Solution

Implementing the chosen solution requires careful planning and execution. The team needs to work together to ensure that the solution is implemented smoothly and efficiently. The plan should include a timeline, specific tasks, and deadlines. Assigning roles and responsibilities to each team member is crucial to ensure that everyone understands their role in the implementation process.

Effective communication is also essential during the implementation phase. The team should communicate regularly to discuss progress, identify any obstacles, and adjust the plan if necessary. For example, if the team decides to implement a new customer service strategy, they should train the customer service team, provide them with the necessary tools, and communicate the new strategy to customers.

It’s also important to track the progress of the implementation to ensure that everything is on track. Regular check-ins can help identify any problems early on and provide an opportunity to address them before they become bigger issues.

Step 5: Monitor and Adjust

Monitoring and adjusting the solution is crucial in ensuring that the problem is fully resolved. It’s essential to track the progress of the solution and evaluate its effectiveness. If the solution is not working as planned, it’s important to adjust it accordingly. This step requires flexibility and open communication among team members.

For example, if the team decided to adjust the project timeline, they should monitor the progress regularly and make adjustments if necessary. They should also communicate any changes to the stakeholders involved in the project. If the new timeline is not working, the team should be open to making further adjustments, such as revising the project scope or adding more resources.

Feedback plays a vital role in this step. It’s important to gather feedback from team members and stakeholders to ensure that the solution is meeting their needs. Feedback can also help identify any potential issues that may arise and allow the team to address them promptly.

Learning from mistakes is also an important aspect of effective problem solving. Every problem presents an opportunity to learn and grow. By reflecting on the process and the outcome, team members can identify areas for improvement and apply them in future problem-solving situations.

So, there you have it – a five-step process to solve any workplace problem like a pro! Whether it’s a pesky customer complaint, a tricky team conflict, or a stubborn project delay, you can tackle it with ease.

Remember, the first step is to define the problem – analyze it, gather information, and understand the root cause. Next, brainstorm possible solutions, even if they seem unrealistic or impractical. Get creative and come up with as many solutions as possible!

After that, evaluate the solutions by identifying their pros and cons, and choose the one that’s most feasible and practical. Make sure to consider the potential risks and benefits of each solution. Then, it’s time to implement the most practical solution. Develop a plan, communicate it to everyone involved, and assign roles and responsibilities.

Last but not least, monitor the progress and adjust the solution if necessary. Keep track of the progress and be open to feedback. Remember, learning from your mistakes is the key to success!

So, the next time you face a workplace problem, take a deep breath and follow these simple steps. You’ll be able to find a solution that works for everyone and become a valuable asset to your team or organization. With effective problem solving skills, you can maintain productivity, boost morale, and achieve success!

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Five Steps To Create a Problem-Solving Process (Plus Tips!)

8 min read · Updated on August 31, 2023

Marsha Hebert

Conquering workplace challenges fuses strategy and art

Sometimes, it can seem that obstacles are as prevalent as opportunities. When you're good at solving problems, though, you have the power to navigate issues with relative ease. In fact, problem solving is more than a skill - it's a tool that you can use to fuel career growth and success. 

As an effective problem solver, you use innovative thinking, demonstrate leadership, and build resilience and confidence. Often, the people you work with come to trust that you're the person to go to when there's a challenge. This could be just the stepping stone you need to move into a leadership role . 

Of course, problems range in complexity depending on your industry. But by having a five-step problem-solving process in place, you can enhance both efficiency and effectiveness. In this article, we'll explore tips to help you master the skill, strategy, and art of problem solving.

Identify, analyze, resolve, execute, evaluate

What's the definition of problem solving? It's quite simple. You have to come up with solutions to challenges or issues. 

The first step to fixing any problem is recognizing that there is one. Then the trick is to engage with each step of the problem-solving process to incorporate analytical thinking , adaptability, and collaboration skills to build a framework for addressing challenges and driving positive outcomes. 

Step 1: Identify

Identifying the problem may be simple, or it could be a detailed cognitive process that breaks the issue into manageable components. Either way, what you do during the identify step of the problem-solving process sets the stage for the next steps in problem solving. 

Step 2: Analyze

Consider underlying factors and devise strategies. Here's where the art part of your problem-solving strategy becomes important. As you gather details about the problem, employ critical thinking to uncover the root causes and potential implications. 

Step 3: Resolve

Once you have a thorough understanding of the issue, it's time to get creative. Develop some reasonable solutions that are aligned with the capabilities of your team and the mission, vision, and values of your company. Your problem-solving method could involve any one of the following - or even a combination of several:

Encourage your team to learn new technologies

Reallocate some resources

Restructure organizational elements

Draft new operating procedures

Implement brainstorming sessions

Develop metrics 

Step 4: Execute

After you've outlined the solutions and decided which ones you think will resolve the problem, it's time to put them into place. The execution phase is the bridge between theory and practice. 

Translate the solutions into actionable steps that produce tangible results

Clearly communicate the actionable steps to the relevant stakeholders - your team, colleagues, or managers

Delegate tasks based on team member acumen

Empower those you delegate tasks to by fostering a sense of ownership

Track the progress of your solutions

Overcome challenges, including unforeseen obstacles and stakeholder resistance

Step 5: Evaluate

Just because you think you solved the problem doesn't mean you actually did. It's critical to double-check your work and make sure there are no hiccups. Here's a list of 10 evaluative questions you can work through, to ensure that your problem-solving solutions were impactful:

Did the solutions effectively address the root cause of the problem?

Do you see the desired results? 

What impact can you see on your team or the company?

Has there been a noticeable enhancement in efficiency, productivity, or overall performance?

Have any unintended consequences or new challenges arisen as a result of the implemented solution?

Can the solution be sustained in the long term, or is it a short-term fix?

Have stakeholders, such as team members or customers, reported positive experiences or feedback?

Have the predefined performance metrics and goals been achieved or exceeded?

Are there any new aspects of the problem that emerged after implementing the solution?

Which aspects of the solution would you retain and which would you modify?

When you reflect on the outcome of your problem solving strategies, you not only validate the effectiveness of your approach but you can also find insights for continuous improvement and refinement for future endeavors. 

Problem solving isn't just for leaders

Sometimes, it seems that only managers and senior executives can engage in effective workplace problem solving. That's simply not the case. It doesn't matter if you're a fresher who's just graduated college or someone with decades of experience, you can employ problem-solving techniques and become a master problem solver. 

You've likely heard of hard skills and soft skills ; you may have even seen problem solving lumped in with other soft skills. There are three essential soft skills you'll need to be good at to solve workplace problems:

Analytical thinking

Adaptability, collaboration.

Let's start with a foundational problem-solving skill. Analytical thinking is something you'll use in every step of your five-step problem-solving process, from identifying the problem to coming up with and executing solutions and measuring the success of those solutions. Being able to analyze trends, anticipate shifts, and make informed decisions along the problem-solving path, you'll be assured of success. 

A real-world example: Sally is a new graduate and has secured her first job. After a few days at work, she wants to start making a name for herself by identifying a dip in sales. She dissects the customer engagement data and finds there has been a shift in consumer preferences. She knows that a new targeted marketing strategy could re-engage customers and bring sales back up. 

Toss aside any notions that the plans you set into place to solve a problem are set in stone. They're not! Being able to make course corrections to change outcomes is at the heart of being adaptable . This soft skill becomes more and more important every day because of how quickly things change in business. Technology advances, economic fluctuations come into play, and unforeseen global events can wreak havoc on the best-laid problem-solving solutions. Think about how adaptable people had to be a few years ago when Covid shut the world down – there were tons of never-before-faced problems that ultimately got solved. 

A real-world example : John has been employed in the technology sector for a little over 20 years. He's achieved the coveted role of CTO and found himself overseeing a team that had to transition into remote work. Because he's kept up with emerging technologies and the latest trends, he sets up processes that allow his team to enjoy a seamless shift with minimal impact on productivity.

When you have a problem-solving project in front of you, you'll often have to get people involved to help you to execute the solutions you come up with. Effective communication , organizational synergy, and a harmonious fusion of experiences can lend fresh insights to problem solving. 

A real-world example: Marcus is involved in a complex project involving supply chain optimization. He works with geographically-dispersed stakeholders of all levels and has become an expert at pooling together specialized knowledge to create holistic solutions. 

How do great problem-solving skills affect your career goals?

Challenges in life and at work are inevitable; by aligning your problem-solving skills with your career goals, not only will you be able to overcome immediate challenges, but you'll also cultivate a powerful tool for your job search toolkit. When you're good at solving problems and can show that you're good at it through accomplishment statements on your resume, your career trajectory will likely be positively impacted. In fact, there are several success stories that prove the journey to excellence is marked by innovative problem solving. Here are just a few:

Elon Musk: Musk's SpaceX faced immense challenges in developing reusable rockets. His innovative, problem-solving approach led to breakthrough solutions, revolutionizing space travel.

Indra Nooyi: As the former CEO of PepsiCo, Nooyi tackled the declining demand for sugary beverages by diversifying the product portfolio and focusing on healthier options, showcasing adaptability and strategic problem solving.

Nelson Mandela: Mandela's ability to collaborate across racial divides and negotiate solutions was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Grace Hopper: A computer science pioneer, Hopper's analytical thinking led to the development of the first compiler, revolutionizing programming.

An invaluable asset

As you progress in your career, your skill in resolving a problem will set you apart from the rest of the job-seeking crowd as an invaluable asset. Whether you're identifying opportunities for growth, addressing operational inefficiencies, or strategizing through crises, the ability to solve problems creatively and effectively can become one of the key drivers for the advancement of your career. Essentially, strong problem-solving skills empower you to overcome challenges, seize opportunities, and carve a path of consistent achievement in your professional journey.

TopResume can help you to showcase exceptional problem-solving skills on your resume. Why not submit yours for a free resume review today, to make sure that you're giving this skill the prominence it deserves?

Recommended reading:

How to List Problem Solving Skills on a Resume

Divergent Thinking: Should You Include This Skill on Your Resume?

Higher Order Thinking Explained

Related Articles:

Don't “Snowplow” Your Kids' Job Search — Set Them Up for Success Instead

What Kind of Job Candidate Are You?

Why December is the Best Time of Year to Look for a Job

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HBR On Strategy podcast series

A Better Framework for Solving Tough Problems

Start with trust and end with speed.

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When it comes to solving complicated problems, the default for many organizational leaders is to take their time to work through the issues at hand. Unfortunately, that often leads to patchwork solutions or problems not truly getting resolved.

But Anne Morriss offers a different framework. In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem and explains why starting with trust and ending with speed is so important for effective change leadership. As she says, “Let’s get into dialogue with the people who are also impacted by the problem before we start running down the path of solving it.”

Morriss is an entrepreneur and leadership coach. She’s also the coauthor of the book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems .

Key episode topics include: strategy, decision making and problem solving, strategy execution, managing people, collaboration and teams, trustworthiness, organizational culture, change leadership, problem solving, leadership.

HBR On Strategy curates the best case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, to help you unlock new ways of doing business. New episodes every week.

  • Listen to the full HBR IdeaCast episode: How to Solve Tough Problems Better and Faster (2023)
  • Find more episodes of HBR IdeaCast
  • Discover 100 years of Harvard Business Review articles, case studies, podcasts, and more at HBR.org .

HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR On Strategy , case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock new ways of doing business.

When it comes to solving complicated problems, many leaders only focus on the most apparent issues. Unfortunately that often leads to patchwork or partial solutions. But Anne Morriss offers a different framework that aims to truly tackle big problems by first leaning into trust and then focusing on speed.

Morriss is an entrepreneur and leadership coach. She’s also the co-author of the book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems . In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem. Some, she says, can be solved in a week, while others take much longer. She also explains why starting with trust and ending with speed is so important for effective change leadership.

This episode originally aired on HBR IdeaCast in October 2023. Here it is.

CURT NICKISCH: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Curt Nickisch.

Problems can be intimidating. Sure, some problems are fun to dig into. You roll up your sleeves, you just take care of them; but others, well, they’re complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your brain around a problem, much less fix it.

And that’s especially true for leaders in organizations where problems are often layered and complex. They sometimes demand technical, financial, or interpersonal knowledge to fix. And whether it’s avoidance on the leaders’ part or just the perception that a problem is systemic or even intractable, problems find a way to endure, to keep going, to keep being a problem that everyone tries to work around or just puts up with.

But today’s guest says that just compounds it and makes the problem harder to fix. Instead, she says, speed and momentum are key to overcoming a problem.

Anne Morriss is an entrepreneur, leadership coach and founder of the Leadership Consortium and with Harvard Business School Professor Francis Frei, she wrote the new book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leaders Guide to Solving Hard Problems . Anne, welcome back to the show.

ANNE MORRISS: Curt, thank you so much for having me.

CURT NICKISCH: So, to generate momentum at an organization, you say that you really need speed and trust. We’ll get into those essential ingredients some more, but why are those two essential?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, the essential pattern that we observed was that the most effective change leaders out there were building trust and speed, and it didn’t seem to be a well-known observation. We all know the phrase, “Move fast and break things,” but the people who were really getting it right were moving fast and fixing things, and that was really our jumping off point. So when we dug into the pattern, what we observed was they were building trust first and then speed. This foundation of trust was what allowed them to fix more things and break fewer.

CURT NICKISCH: Trust sounds like a slow thing, right? If you talk about building trust, that is something that takes interactions, it takes communication, it takes experiences. Does that run counter to the speed idea?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, this issue of trust is something we’ve been looking at for over a decade. One of the headlines in our research is it’s actually something we’re building and rebuilding and breaking all the time. And so instead of being this precious, almost farbege egg, it’s this thing that is constantly in motion and this thing that we can really impact when we’re deliberate about our choices and have some self-awareness around where it’s breaking down and how it’s breaking down.

CURT NICKISCH: You said break trust in there, which is intriguing, right? That you may have to break trust to build trust. Can you explain that a little?

ANNE MORRISS:  Yeah, well, I’ll clarify. It’s not that you have to break it in order to build it. It’s just that we all do it some of the time. Most of us are trusted most of the time. Most of your listeners I imagine are trusted most of the time, but all of us have a pattern where we break trust or where we don’t build as much as could be possible.

CURT NICKISCH: I want to talk about speed, this other essential ingredient that’s so intriguing, right? Because you think about solving hard problems as something that just takes a lot of time and thinking and coordination and planning and designing. Explain what you mean by it? And also, just  how we maybe approach problems wrong by taking them on too slowly?

ANNE MORRISS: Well, Curt, no one has ever said to us, “I wish I had taken longer and done less.” We hear the opposite all the time, by the way. So what we really set out to do was to create a playbook that anyone can use to take less time to do more of the things that are going to make your teams and organizations stronger.

And the way we set up the book is okay, it’s really a five step process. Speed is the last step. It’s the payoff for the hard work you’re going to do to figure out your problem, build or rebuild trust, expand the team in thoughtful and strategic ways, and then tell a real and compelling story about the change you’re leading.

Only then do you get to go fast, but that’s an essential part of the process, and we find that either people under emphasize it or speed has gotten a bad name in this world of moving fast and breaking things. And part of our mission for sure was to rehabilitate speed’s reputation because it is an essential part of the change leader’s equation. It can be the difference between good intentions and getting anything done at all.

CURT NICKISCH: You know, the fact that nobody ever tells you, “I wish we had done less and taken more time.” I think we all feel that, right? Sometimes we do something and then realize, “Oh, that wasn’t that hard and why did it take me so long to do it? And I wish I’d done this a long time ago.” Is it ever possible to solve a problem too quickly?

ANNE MORRISS: Absolutely. And we see that all the time too. What we push people to do in those scenarios is really take a look at the underlying issue because in most cases, the solution is not to take your foot off the accelerator per se and slow down. The solution is to get into the underlying problem. So if it’s burnout or a strategic disconnect between what you’re building and the marketplace you’re serving, what we find is the anxiety that people attach to speed or the frustration people attach to speed is often misplaced.

CURT NICKISCH: What is a good timeline to think about solving a problem then? Because if we by default take too long or else jump ahead and we don’t fix it right, what’s a good target time to have in your mind for how long solving a problem should take?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, we’re playful in the book and talking about the idea that many problems can be solved in a week. We set the book up five chapters. They’re titled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and we’re definitely having fun with that. And yet, if you count the hours in a week, there are a lot of them. Many of our problems, if you were to spend a focused 40 hours of effort on a problem, you’re going to get pretty far.

But our main message is, listen, of course it’s going to depend on the nature of the problem, and you’re going to take weeks and maybe even some cases months to get to the other side. What we don’t want you to do is take years, which tends to be our default timeline for solving hard problems.

CURT NICKISCH: So you say to start with identifying the problem that’s holding you back, seems kind of obvious. But where do companies go right and wrong with this first step of just identifying the problem that’s holding you back?

ANNE MORRISS: And our goal is that all of these are going to feel obvious in retrospect. The problem is we skip over a lot of these steps and this is why we wanted to underline them. So this one is really rooted in our observation and I think the pattern of our species that we tend to be overconfident in the quality of our thoughts, particularly when it comes to diagnosing problems.

And so we want to invite you to start in a very humble and curious place, which tends not to be our default mode when we’re showing up for work. We convince ourselves that we’re being paid for our judgment. That’s exactly what gets reinforced everywhere. And so we tend to counterintuitively, given what we just talked about, we tend to move too quickly through the diagnostic phase.

CURT NICKISCH: “I know what to do, that’s why you hired me.”

ANNE MORRISS: Exactly. “I know what to do. That’s why you hired me. I’ve seen this before. I have a plan. Follow me.” We get rewarded for the expression of confidence and clarity. And so what we’re inviting people to do here is actually pause and really lean into what are the root causes of the problem you’re seeing? What are some alternative explanations? Let’s get into dialogue with the people who are also impacted by the problem before we start running down the path of solving it.

CURT NICKISCH: So what do you recommend for this step, for getting to the root of the problem? What are questions you should ask? What’s the right thought process? What do you do on Monday of the week?

ANNE MORRISS: In our experience of doing this work, people tend to undervalue the power of conversation, particularly with other people in the organization. So we will often advocate putting together a team of problem solvers, make it a temporary team, really pull in people who have a particular perspective on the problem and create the space, make it as psychologically safe as you can for people to really, as Chris Argyris so beautifully articulated, discuss the undiscussable.

And so the conditions for that are going to look different in every organization depending on the problem, but if you can get a space where smart people who have direct experience of a problem are in a room and talking honestly with each other, you can make an extraordinary amount of progress, certainly in a day.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah, that gets back to the trust piece.

ANNE MORRISS: Definitely.

CURT NICKISCH: How do you like to start that meeting, or how do you like to talk about it? I’m just curious what somebody on that team might hear in that meeting, just to get the sense that it’s psychologically safe, you can discuss the undiscussable and you’re also focusing on the identification part. What’s key to communicate there?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, we sometimes encourage people to do a little bit of data gathering before those conversations. So the power of a quick anonymous survey around whatever problem you’re solving, but also be really thoughtful about the questions you’re going to ask in the moment. So a little bit of preparation can go a long way and a little bit of thoughtfulness about the power dynamic. So who’s going to walk in there with license to speak and who’s going to hold back? So being thoughtful about the agenda, about the questions you’re asking about the room, about the facilitation, and then courage is a very infectious emotion.

So if you can early on create the conditions for people to show up bravely in that conversation, then the chance that you’re going to get good information and that you’re going to walk out of that room with new insight in the problem that you didn’t have when you walked in is extraordinarily high.

CURT NICKISCH: Now, in those discussions, you may have people who have different perspectives on what the problem really is. They also bear different costs of addressing the problem or solving it. You talked about the power dynamic, but there’s also an unfairness dynamic of who’s going to actually have to do the work to take care of it, and I wonder how you create a culture in that meeting where it’s the most productive?

ANNE MORRISS: For sure, the burden of work is not going to be equitably distributed around the room. But I would say, Curt, the dynamic that we see most often is that people are deeply relieved that hard problems are being addressed. So it really can create, and more often than not in our experience, it does create this beautiful flywheel of action, creativity, optimism. Often when problems haven’t been addressed, there is a fair amount of anxiety in the organization, frustration, stagnation. And so credible movement towards action and progress is often the best antidote. So even if the plan isn’t super clear yet, if it’s credible, given who’s in the room and their decision rights and mandate, if there’s real momentum coming out of that to make progress, then that tends to be deeply energizing to people.

CURT NICKISCH: I wonder if there’s an organization that you’ve worked with that you could talk about how this rolled out and how this took shape?

ANNE MORRISS: When we started working with Uber, that was wrestling with some very public issues of culture and trust with a range of stakeholders internally, the organization, also external, that work really started with a campaign of listening and really trying to understand where trust was breaking down from the perspective of these stakeholders?

So whether it was female employees or regulators or riders who had safety concerns getting into the car with a stranger. This work, it starts with an honest internal dialogue, but often the problem has threads that go external. And so bringing that same commitment to curiosity and humility and dialogue to anyone who’s impacted by the problem is the fastest way to surface what’s really going on.

CURT NICKISCH: There’s a step in this process that you lay out and that’s communicating powerfully as a leader. So we’ve heard about listening and trust building, but now you’re talking about powerful communication. How do you do this and why is it maybe this step in the process rather than the first thing you do or the last thing you do?

ANNE MORRISS: So in our process, again, it’s the days of the week. On Monday you figured out the problem. Tuesday you really got into the sandbox in figuring out what a good enough plan is for building trust. Wednesday, step three, you made it better. You created an even better plan, bringing in new perspectives. Thursday, this fourth step is the day we’re saying you got to go get buy-in. You got to bring other people along. And again, this is a step where we see people often underinvest in the power and payoff of really executing it well.

CURT NICKISCH: How does that go wrong?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, people don’t know the why. Human behavior and the change in human behavior really depends on a strong why. It’s not just a selfish, “What’s in it for me?” Although that’s helpful, but where are we going? I may be invested in a status quo and I need to understand, okay, if you’re going to ask me to change, if you’re going to invite me into this uncomfortable place of doing things differently, why am I here? Help me understand it and articulate the way forward and language that not only I can understand, but also that’s going to be motivating to me.

CURT NICKISCH: And who on my team was part of this process and all that kind of stuff?

ANNE MORRISS: Oh, yeah. I may have some really important questions that may be in the way of my buy-in and commitment to this plan. So certainly creating a space where those questions can be addressed is essential. But what we found is that there is an architecture of a great change story, and it starts with honoring the past, honoring the starting place. Sometimes we’re so excited about the change and animated about the change that what has happened before or what is even happening in the present tense is low on our list of priorities.

Or we want to label it bad, because that’s the way we’ve thought about the change, but really pausing and honoring what came before you and all the reasonable decisions that led up to it, I think can be really helpful to getting people emotionally where you want them to be willing to be guided by you. Going back to Uber, when Dara Khosrowshahi came in.

CURT NICKISCH: This is the new CEO.

ANNE MORRISS: The new CEO.

CURT NICKISCH: Replaced Travis Kalanick, the founder and first CEO, yeah.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, and had his first all-hands meeting. One of his key messages, and this is a quote, was that he was going to retain the edge that had made Uber, “A force of nature.” And in that meeting, the crowd went wild because this is also a company that had been beaten up publicly for months and months and months, and it was a really powerful choice. And his predecessor, Travis was in the room, and he also honored Travis’ incredible work and investment in bringing the company to the place where it was.

And I would use words like grace to also describe those choices, but there’s also an incredible strategic value to naming the starting place for everybody in the room because in most cases, most people in that room played a role in getting to that starting place, and you’re acknowledging that.

CURT NICKISCH: You can call it grace. Somebody else might call it diplomatic or strategic. But yeah, I guess like it or not, it’s helpful to call out and honor the complexity of the way things have been done and also the change that’s happening.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, and the value. Sometimes honoring the past is also owning what didn’t work or what wasn’t working for stakeholders or segments of the employee team, and we see that around culture change. Sometimes you’ve got to acknowledge that it was not an equitable environment, but whatever the worker, everyone in that room is bringing that pass with them. So again, making it discussable and using it as the jumping off place is where we advise people to start.

Then you’ve earned the right to talk about the change mandate, which we suggest using clear and compelling language about the why. “This is what happened, this is where we are, this is the good and the bad of it, and here’s the case for change.”

And then the last part, which is to describe a rigorous and optimistic way forward. It’s a simple past, present, future arc, which will be familiar to human beings. We love stories as human beings. It’s among the most powerful currency we have to make sense of the world.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. Chronological is a pretty powerful order.

ANNE MORRISS: Right. But again, the change leaders we see really get it right, are investing an incredible amount of time into the storytelling part of their job. Ursula Burns, the Head of Xerox is famous for the months and years she spent on the road just telling the story of Xerox’s change, its pivot into services to everyone who would listen, and that was a huge part of her success.

CURT NICKISCH: So Friday or your fifth step, you end with empowering teams and removing roadblocks. That seems obvious, but it’s critical. Can you dig into that a little bit?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Friday is the fun day. Friday’s the release of energy into the system. Again, you’ve now earned the right to go fast. You have a plan, you’re pretty confident it’s going to work. You’ve told the story of change the organization, and now you get to sprint. So this is about really executing with urgency, and it’s about a lot of the tactics of speed is where we focus in the book. So the tactics of empowerment, making tough strategic trade-offs so that your priorities are clear and clearly communicated, creating mechanisms to fast-track progress. At Etsy, CEO Josh Silverman, he labeled these projects ambulances. It’s an unfortunate metaphor, but it’s super memorable. These are the products that get to speed out in front of the other ones because the stakes are high and the clock is sticking.

CURT NICKISCH: You pull over and let it go by.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, exactly. And so we have to agree as an organization on how to do something like that. And so we see lots of great examples both in young organizations and big complex biotech companies with lots of regulatory guardrails have still found ways to do this gracefully.

And I think we end with this idea of conflict debt, which is a term we really love. Leanne Davey, who’s a team scholar and researcher, and anyone in a tech company will recognize the idea of tech debt, which is this weight the organization drags around until they resolve it. Conflict debt is a beautiful metaphor because it is this weight that we drag around and slows us down until we decide to clean it up and fix it. The organizations that are really getting speed right have figured out either formally or informally, how to create an environment where conflict and disagreements can be gracefully resolved.

CURT NICKISCH: Well, let’s talk about this speed more, right? Because I think this is one of those places that maybe people go wrong or take too long, and then you lose the awareness of the problem, you lose that urgency. And then that also just makes it less effective, right? It’s not just about getting the problem solved as quickly as possible. It’s also just speed in some ways helps solve the problem.

ANNE MORRISS: Oh, yeah. It really is the difference between imagining the change you want to lead and really being able to bring it to life. Speed is the thing that unlocks your ability to lead change. It needs a foundation, and that’s what Monday through Thursday is all about, steps one through four, but the finish line is executing with urgency, and it’s that urgency that releases the system’s energy, that communicates your priorities, that creates the conditions for your team to make progress.

CURT NICKISCH: Moving fast is something that entrepreneurs and tech companies certainly understand, but there’s also this awareness that with big companies, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to turn the aircraft carrier around, right? Is speed relative when you get at those levels, or do you think this is something that any company should be able to apply equally?

ANNE MORRISS: We think this applies to any company. The culture really lives at the level of team. So we believe you can make a tremendous amount of progress even within your circle of control as a team leader. I want to bring some humility to this and careful of words like universal, but we do think there’s some universal truths here around the value of speed, and then some of the byproducts like keeping fantastic people. Your best people want to solve problems, they want to execute, they want to make progress and speed, and the ability to do that is going to be a variable in their own equation of whether they stay or they go somewhere else where they can have an impact.

CURT NICKISCH: Right. They want to accomplish something before they go or before they retire or finish something out. And if you’re able to just bring more things on the horizon and have it not feel like it’s going to be another two years to do something meaningful.

ANNE MORRISS: People – I mean, they want to make stuff happen and they want to be around the energy and the vitality of making things happen, which again, is also a super infectious phenomenon. One of the most important jobs of a leader, we believe, is to set the metabolic pace of their teams and organizations. And so what we really dig into on Friday is, well, what does that look like to speed something up? What are the tactics of that?

CURT NICKISCH: I wonder if that universal truth, that a body in motion stays in motion applies to organizations, right? If an organization in motion stays in motion, there is something to that.

ANNE MORRISS: Absolutely.

CURT NICKISCH: Do you have a favorite client story to share, just where you saw speed just become a bit of a flywheel or just a positive reinforcement loop for more positive change at the organization?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. We work with a fair number of organizations that are on fire. We do a fair amount of firefighting, but we also less dramatically do a lot of fire prevention. So we’re brought into organizations that are working well and want to get better, looking out on the horizon. That work is super gratifying, and there is always a component of, well, how do we speed this up?

What I love about that work is there’s often already a high foundation of trust, and so it’s, well, how do we maintain that foundation but move this flywheel, as you said, even faster? And it’s really energizing because often there’s a lot of pent-up energy that… There’s a lot of loyalty to the organization, but often it’s also frustration and pent-up energy. And so when that gets released, when good people get the opportunity to sprint for the first time in a little while, it’s incredibly energizing, not just for us, but for the whole organization.

CURT NICKISCH: Anne, this is great. I think finding a way to solve problems better but also faster is going to be really helpful. So thanks for coming on the show to talk about it.

ANNE MORRISS:  Oh, Curt, it was such a pleasure. This is my favorite conversation. I’m delighted to have it anytime.

HANNAH BATES: That was entrepreneur, leadership coach, and author Anne Morriss – in conversation with Curt Nickisch on HBR IdeaCast.

We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about business strategy from Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review.

When you’re ready for more podcasts, articles, case studies, books, and videos with the world’s top business and management experts, you’ll find it all at HBR.org.

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe, Anne Saini, and me, Hannah Bates. Ian Fox is our editor. Special thanks to Rob Eckhardt, Maureen Hoch, Erica Truxler, Ramsey Khabbaz, Nicole Smith, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener. See you next week.

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The Art of Effective Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

  • Last Updated: February 6, 2023
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  • Problem Solving

Whether we realise it or not, problem solving skills are an important part of our daily lives. From resolving a minor annoyance at home to tackling complex business challenges at work, our ability to solve problems has a significant impact on our success and happiness. However, not everyone is naturally gifted at problem-solving, and even those who are can always improve their skills. In this blog post, we will go over the art of effective problem-solving step by step.

You will learn how to define a problem, gather information, assess alternatives, and implement a solution, all while honing your critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Whether you’re a seasoned problem solver or just getting started, this guide will arm you with the knowledge and tools you need to face any challenge with confidence. So let’s get started!

Problem Solving Methodologies

Individuals and organisations can use a variety of problem-solving methodologies to address complex challenges. 8D and A3 problem solving techniques are two popular methodologies in the Lean Six Sigma framework.

Methodology of 8D (Eight Discipline) Problem Solving:

The 8D problem solving methodology is a systematic, team-based approach to problem solving. It is a method that guides a team through eight distinct steps to solve a problem in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

The 8D process consists of the following steps:

8D Problem Solving2 - Learnleansigma

  • Form a team: Assemble a group of people who have the necessary expertise to work on the problem.
  • Define the issue: Clearly identify and define the problem, including the root cause and the customer impact.
  • Create a temporary containment plan: Put in place a plan to lessen the impact of the problem until a permanent solution can be found.
  • Identify the root cause: To identify the underlying causes of the problem, use root cause analysis techniques such as Fishbone diagrams and Pareto charts.
  • Create and test long-term corrective actions: Create and test a long-term solution to eliminate the root cause of the problem.
  • Implement and validate the permanent solution: Implement and validate the permanent solution’s effectiveness.
  • Prevent recurrence: Put in place measures to keep the problem from recurring.
  • Recognize and reward the team: Recognize and reward the team for its efforts.

Download the 8D Problem Solving Template

A3 Problem Solving Method:

The A3 problem solving technique is a visual, team-based problem-solving approach that is frequently used in Lean Six Sigma projects. The A3 report is a one-page document that clearly and concisely outlines the problem, root cause analysis, and proposed solution.

The A3 problem-solving procedure consists of the following steps:

  • Determine the issue: Define the issue clearly, including its impact on the customer.
  • Perform root cause analysis: Identify the underlying causes of the problem using root cause analysis techniques.
  • Create and implement a solution: Create and implement a solution that addresses the problem’s root cause.
  • Monitor and improve the solution: Keep an eye on the solution’s effectiveness and make any necessary changes.

Subsequently, in the Lean Six Sigma framework, the 8D and A3 problem solving methodologies are two popular approaches to problem solving. Both methodologies provide a structured, team-based problem-solving approach that guides individuals through a comprehensive and systematic process of identifying, analysing, and resolving problems in an effective and efficient manner.

Step 1 – Define the Problem

The definition of the problem is the first step in effective problem solving. This may appear to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult. This is because problems are frequently complex and multi-layered, making it easy to confuse symptoms with the underlying cause. To avoid this pitfall, it is critical to thoroughly understand the problem.

To begin, ask yourself some clarifying questions:

  • What exactly is the issue?
  • What are the problem’s symptoms or consequences?
  • Who or what is impacted by the issue?
  • When and where does the issue arise?

Answering these questions will assist you in determining the scope of the problem. However, simply describing the problem is not always sufficient; you must also identify the root cause. The root cause is the underlying cause of the problem and is usually the key to resolving it permanently.

Try asking “why” questions to find the root cause:

  • What causes the problem?
  • Why does it continue?
  • Why does it have the effects that it does?

By repeatedly asking “ why ,” you’ll eventually get to the bottom of the problem. This is an important step in the problem-solving process because it ensures that you’re dealing with the root cause rather than just the symptoms.

Once you have a firm grasp on the issue, it is time to divide it into smaller, more manageable chunks. This makes tackling the problem easier and reduces the risk of becoming overwhelmed. For example, if you’re attempting to solve a complex business problem, you might divide it into smaller components like market research, product development, and sales strategies.

To summarise step 1, defining the problem is an important first step in effective problem-solving. You will be able to identify the root cause and break it down into manageable parts if you take the time to thoroughly understand the problem. This will prepare you for the next step in the problem-solving process, which is gathering information and brainstorming ideas.

Step 2 – Gather Information and Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorming - Learnleansigma

Gathering information and brainstorming ideas is the next step in effective problem solving. This entails researching the problem and relevant information, collaborating with others, and coming up with a variety of potential solutions. This increases your chances of finding the best solution to the problem.

Begin by researching the problem and relevant information. This could include reading articles, conducting surveys, or consulting with experts. The goal is to collect as much information as possible in order to better understand the problem and possible solutions.

Next, work with others to gather a variety of perspectives. Brainstorming with others can be an excellent way to come up with new and creative ideas. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas when working in a group, and make an effort to actively listen to what others have to say. Be open to new and unconventional ideas and resist the urge to dismiss them too quickly.

Finally, use brainstorming to generate a wide range of potential solutions. This is the place where you can let your imagination run wild. At this stage, don’t worry about the feasibility or practicality of the solutions; instead, focus on generating as many ideas as possible. Write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how ridiculous or unusual it may appear. This can be done individually or in groups.

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the next step in the problem-solving process, which we’ll go over in greater detail in the following section.

Step 3 – Evaluate Options and Choose the Best Solution

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the third step in effective problem solving, and it entails weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, considering their feasibility and practicability, and selecting the solution that is most likely to solve the problem effectively.

To begin, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This will assist you in determining the potential outcomes of each solution and deciding which is the best option. For example, a quick and easy solution may not be the most effective in the long run, whereas a more complex and time-consuming solution may be more effective in solving the problem in the long run.

Consider each solution’s feasibility and practicability. Consider the following:

  • Can the solution be implemented within the available resources, time, and budget?
  • What are the possible barriers to implementing the solution?
  • Is the solution feasible in today’s political, economic, and social environment?

You’ll be able to tell which solutions are likely to succeed and which aren’t by assessing their feasibility and practicability.

Finally, choose the solution that is most likely to effectively solve the problem. This solution should be based on the criteria you’ve established, such as the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and your overall goals.

It is critical to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to problems. What is effective for one person or situation may not be effective for another. This is why it is critical to consider a wide range of solutions and evaluate each one based on its ability to effectively solve the problem.

Step 4 – Implement and Monitor the Solution

Communication the missing peice from Lean Six Sigma - Learnleansigma

When you’ve decided on the best solution, it’s time to put it into action. The fourth and final step in effective problem solving is to put the solution into action, monitor its progress, and make any necessary adjustments.

To begin, implement the solution. This may entail delegating tasks, developing a strategy, and allocating resources. Ascertain that everyone involved understands their role and responsibilities in the solution’s implementation.

Next, keep an eye on the solution’s progress. This may entail scheduling regular check-ins, tracking metrics, and soliciting feedback from others. You will be able to identify any potential roadblocks and make any necessary adjustments in a timely manner if you monitor the progress of the solution.

Finally, make any necessary modifications to the solution. This could entail changing the solution, altering the plan of action, or delegating different tasks. Be willing to make changes if they will improve the solution or help it solve the problem more effectively.

It’s important to remember that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to start from scratch. This is especially true if the initial solution does not effectively solve the problem. In these situations, it’s critical to be adaptable and flexible and to keep trying new solutions until you find the one that works best.

To summarise, effective problem solving is a critical skill that can assist individuals and organisations in overcoming challenges and achieving their objectives. Effective problem solving consists of four key steps: defining the problem, generating potential solutions, evaluating alternatives and selecting the best solution, and implementing the solution.

You can increase your chances of success in problem solving by following these steps and considering factors such as the pros and cons of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and making any necessary adjustments. Furthermore, keep in mind that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to go back to the beginning and restart. Maintain your adaptability and try new solutions until you find the one that works best for you.

  • Novick, L.R. and Bassok, M., 2005.  Problem Solving . Cambridge University Press.

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Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

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Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

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Status.net

What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
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5 Steps to Make your Problem-Solving Process Easier

No matter what kind of job you have, the chances of a problem arising at some point is almost inevitable. If the problem isn’t taken care of immediately with proper action, it could potentially get worse. No one wants to be in a hostile work environment, so it’s crucial to be aware of how to properly solve an issue.

What is Problem Solving?

Before we can even begin to explain what problem-solving is, we need to define what a problem is. A problem is any type of disturbance from normality that is hindering progress. A problem can be time-consuming and energy wasting. They can be as little as a disagreement, to as big as a miscommunication that costs millions of dollars to fix.

One problem-solving technique is determining whether it prevents you from reaching your goal. No matter the issue’s size, it can be solved by identifying it, gathering possible solutions, choosing the best possible one, and implementing it. That’s commonly known as the problem-solving process. If a company neglects any problems in the workplace, they could potentially get worse and cause significant problems.

Problem-solving can be the difference between a business succeeding or failing. According to Forbes.com , some common barriers that will prevent companies from being successful problem-solvers include the inability to see a problem, lack of respect, and failure to include all parts involved with the problem, among others.

Problem-solvers need some specific skills, like being able to do research and make both rational and emotionally intelligent decisions. Risk management is another skill that’s imperative to making a successful decision. Your team should all be able to work together in the problem-solving process.

In fact, in 2013, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released a report claiming that 93 percent of employers agree, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”

Here are a few more problem-solving skills:

  • Team building
  • Effective communication
  • Active listening
  • Brainstorming

There are many benefits to problem-solving in an organization. For one thing, it creates a hostility-free environment that encourages everyone to speak their mind when a problem occurs. Resolving problems together as a team can foster team building. Problem-solving can also empower a workforce and make its members more confident. If an entire organization can problem-solve efficiently, they can spend their time more wisely.

5 Steps to Better Problem-Solving

Step 1: identify the problem.

As obvious as it may sound, the first step in the problem-solving process is to identify the root of the issue. However, the problem isn’t always easily identifiable and might require some extra analysis to get the source. One way you can identify a problem is by using Toyota’s “Five Whys” technique . In the event of a problem, ask yourself the five whys:

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll discover where the problem is coming from. If that isn’t enough, here are three steps you can take to better identify a problem:

Explore the situation : Expand on the problem to try to get to the bottom of it. If an individual is the problem’s source, try putting yourself in their shoes.

Draft a problem statement : Reduce the problem into the simplest of terms and put it down on paper. This can help you gather and organize your thoughts.

Try to answer the question : “Why is this current situation a problem?” Once you’ve boiled it down to one source, you’ll be able to better assess the situation.

Let’s use a coffee shop as an example. Say the coffee shop has slowly been losing business in the last quarter, despite being very successful in the past few months. The owner wants to better understand why they’re suddenly losing business.

First, they explore the situation and look at all the possible reasons for why this is happening. They look at their employees, their daily routines, and training procedures. They also observe the local competition and the regional factors, like the fact that they’re located in a college town.

After looking at every single possible reason, the owner figures out what’s causing the problem and writes it down: It’s the summer and most of their student clientele are away for the summer. Finally, the owner answers the question, “Why is this current situation a problem?” Then after further evaluation, they realize the problem is a limited market and that they must expand to get more business.

Step 2: Generate Potential Solutions

The next step is to create a list of possible solutions. Start by brainstorming some potential answers, either individually or in a group setting. The latter is recommended, because when you have more input, you get more perspectives that can lead to unique solutions.

Here are some other methods to create solutions:

Means-End Analysis : An artificial intelligence analysis that finds the best possible way of attaining a goal.

Plan Do Study Act Model : Also known as the PDSA Model. This is the shorthand version of the problem-solving method, where you start with planning, test the theory, study the results, and act based upon observations . This process is done several times.

Root Cause Analysis : This method is used to get to the root of the problem. Its four steps are to identify the problem, establish a timeline, distinguish between root causes and other factors, and create a cause graph.

Lean Prioritization Method : This method is created within a two-by-two matrix, with the X and Y-axis ranging from low to high. The X-axis is labeled as “effort”, while the Y-axis is labeled “value.” Inside the matrix, label the four squares with:

  • And time sinks

Evaluate the problems and situations and put them in the appropriate categories to figure out where to focus your attention.

Step 3: Choose One Solution

Once a list of possible solutions has been made, it’s time to put your decision-making skills to the test. To find the best solution for the problem, analyze every possible resolution and decide which is best for your situation.

Before making a decision, consider the potential solution’s efficacy, practicality, timeliness, resources, and cost. Narrow your choices down with the process of elimination and with a risk manager’s input. Like brainstorming, choosing a solution doesn’t have to be done alone.

Step 4: Implement the Solution You’ve Chosen

Now that you’ve chosen a solution, it’s time to implement it throughout the necessary departments, areas, or people. On average, it takes about 66 days for a new habit to become automatic, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. In other words, change doesn’t happen overnight. To make a new change to any business, planning, patience, and persistence are all required.

Planning : Timing is everything. When a company implements a new strategy, they often take a lot of time to implement the new idea. Decide on clear goals, address any issues or possible obstacles, and create a plan. It’s also critical to practice proper communication skills across the entire organization so that everyone knows what’s expected.

Patience : Change is scary and not everyone is going to accept it, that’s why it’s important to stay patient throughout this process. Try implementing the plan little by little so that employees aren’t overwhelmed. Encourage each other and make sure everyone understands the intention behind this change, and that everyone is participating in making it possible.

Persistence : Continuous application and monitoring of these changes are crucial. Make sure all of your employees are practicing the changes every week so they become the norm.

Step 5: Evaluate Results

The final part of the problem-solving process is to analyze the results. This can be done after a couple of weeks, months, or years, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. It’s important to remember why this problem started in the first place and how it affected the company. Ask yourself any of the following questions to better evaluate results:

  • Are any of our processes being interrupted by the previous problem?
  • Have any new problems arisen since we started this process?
  • Is there a possibility the issue can return?
  • Is everyone aware of the original problem, the solution created, and why it was created?
  • Do you need to change any policy, procedure, or personnel to avoid this from happening again?

Sometimes, it’s necessary to start the process completely over. To make the problem-solving process easier, it’s best to simplify the solution as much as possible. Try to focus on the solution rather than the problem. Be positive, open-minded, and willing to make the change. With enough practice, any problem can be solved.

Problems will always occur no matter what situation you’re in, so it’s important to know how to conquer them before they get out of hand. Do you want to learn more about the process of problem-solving and how you can apply it to fix your company’s issues?

You can learn about different strategies that will help alleviate any workplace problems in KnowledgeCity’s course on Problem Solving in 5 Easy Steps . Use this information to take control of any problems that crop up at work.

five steps for problem solving

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five steps for problem solving

Thanks for this terrific article! I am a mentor to undergraduate students and I was researching problem solving philosophies, methodologies, and techniques. This was a perfect resource! I like the way that you provided practical examples and also provided various methodologies and systems for problem solving. I think that’s always good to provide people options as certain methodologies may be best geared for certain disciplines, industries, or situations.

I took special note of these key quotes:

“because the more input, the better, simply because different perspectives can lead to different solutions.”

“It’s important to remember why this problem started in the first place and how it was affecting the company.”

Thanks again for making this great information publicly available.

Clifford Thornton

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Article • 4 min read

The Problem-Solving Process

Looking at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Problem-solving is an important part of planning and decision-making. The process has much in common with the decision-making process, and in the case of complex decisions, can form part of the process itself.

We face and solve problems every day, in a variety of guises and of differing complexity. Some, such as the resolution of a serious complaint, require a significant amount of time, thought and investigation. Others, such as a printer running out of paper, are so quickly resolved they barely register as a problem at all.

five steps for problem solving

Despite the everyday occurrence of problems, many people lack confidence when it comes to solving them, and as a result may chose to stay with the status quo rather than tackle the issue. Broken down into steps, however, the problem-solving process is very simple. While there are many tools and techniques available to help us solve problems, the outline process remains the same.

The main stages of problem-solving are outlined below, though not all are required for every problem that needs to be solved.

five steps for problem solving

1. Define the Problem

Clarify the problem before trying to solve it. A common mistake with problem-solving is to react to what the problem appears to be, rather than what it actually is. Write down a simple statement of the problem, and then underline the key words. Be certain there are no hidden assumptions in the key words you have underlined. One way of doing this is to use a synonym to replace the key words. For example, ‘We need to encourage higher productivity ’ might become ‘We need to promote superior output ’ which has a different meaning.

2. Analyze the Problem

Ask yourself, and others, the following questions.

  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • When is it occurring?
  • Why is it happening?

Be careful not to jump to ‘who is causing the problem?’. When stressed and faced with a problem it is all too easy to assign blame. This, however, can cause negative feeling and does not help to solve the problem. As an example, if an employee is underperforming, the root of the problem might lie in a number of areas, such as lack of training, workplace bullying or management style. To assign immediate blame to the employee would not therefore resolve the underlying issue.

Once the answers to the where, when and why have been determined, the following questions should also be asked:

  • Where can further information be found?
  • Is this information correct, up-to-date and unbiased?
  • What does this information mean in terms of the available options?

3. Generate Potential Solutions

When generating potential solutions it can be a good idea to have a mixture of ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ thinkers. In other words, some people who think laterally and some who think logically. This provides a balance in terms of generating the widest possible variety of solutions while also being realistic about what can be achieved. There are many tools and techniques which can help produce solutions, including thinking about the problem from a number of different perspectives, and brainstorming, where a team or individual write as many possibilities as they can think of to encourage lateral thinking and generate a broad range of potential solutions.

4. Select Best Solution

When selecting the best solution, consider:

  • Is this a long-term solution, or a ‘quick fix’?
  • Is the solution achievable in terms of available resources and time?
  • Are there any risks associated with the chosen solution?
  • Could the solution, in itself, lead to other problems?

This stage in particular demonstrates why problem-solving and decision-making are so closely related.

5. Take Action

In order to implement the chosen solution effectively, consider the following:

  • What will the situation look like when the problem is resolved?
  • What needs to be done to implement the solution? Are there systems or processes that need to be adjusted?
  • What will be the success indicators?
  • What are the timescales for the implementation? Does the scale of the problem/implementation require a project plan?
  • Who is responsible?

Once the answers to all the above questions are written down, they can form the basis of an action plan.

6. Monitor and Review

One of the most important factors in successful problem-solving is continual observation and feedback. Use the success indicators in the action plan to monitor progress on a regular basis. Is everything as expected? Is everything on schedule? Keep an eye on priorities and timelines to prevent them from slipping.

If the indicators are not being met, or if timescales are slipping, consider what can be done. Was the plan realistic? If so, are sufficient resources being made available? Are these resources targeting the correct part of the plan? Or does the plan need to be amended? Regular review and discussion of the action plan is important so small adjustments can be made on a regular basis to help keep everything on track.

Once all the indicators have been met and the problem has been resolved, consider what steps can now be taken to prevent this type of problem recurring? It may be that the chosen solution already prevents a recurrence, however if an interim or partial solution has been chosen it is important not to lose momentum.

Problems, by their very nature, will not always fit neatly into a structured problem-solving process. This process, therefore, is designed as a framework which can be adapted to individual needs and nature.

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five steps for problem solving

  • Spencer Greenberg
  • 14 min read

Problem-Solving Techniques That Work For All Types of Challenges

Essay by Spencer Greenberg, Clearer Thinking founder

A lot of people don’t realize that there are general purpose problem solving techniques that cut across domains. They can help you deal with thorny challenges in work, your personal life, startups, or even if you’re trying to prove a new theorem in math.

Below are the 26 general purpose problem solving techniques that I like best, along with a one-word name I picked for each, and hypothetical examples to illustrate what sort of strategy I’m referring to.

Consider opening up this list whenever you’re stuck solving a challenging problem. It’s likely that one or more of these techniques can help!

five steps for problem solving

1. Clarifying

Try to define the problem you are facing as precisely as you can, maybe by writing down a detailed description of exactly what the problem is and what constraints exist for a solution, or by describing it in detail to another person. This may lead to you realizing the problem is not quite what you had thought, or that it has a more obvious solution than you thought.

Life Example

“I thought that I needed to find a new job, but when I thought really carefully about what I don’t like about my current job, I realized that I could likely fix those things by talking to my boss or even, potentially, just by thinking about them differently.”

Startup Example

“we thought we had a problem with users not wanting to sign up for the product, but when we carefully investigated what the problem really was, we discovered it was actually more of a problem of users wanting the product but then growing frustrated because of bad interface design.”

2. Subdividing

Break the problem down into smaller problems in such a way that if you solve each of the small problems, you will have solved the entire problem. Once a problem is subdivided it can also sometimes be parallelized (e.g., by involving different people to work on the different components).

“My goal is to get company Z to become a partner with my company, and that seems hard, so let me break that goal into the steps of (a) listing the ways that company Z would benefit from becoming a partner with us, (b) finding an employee at company Z who would be responsive to hearing about these benefits, and (c) tracking down someone who can introduce me to that employee.”

Math Example

“I want to prove that a certain property applies to all functions of a specific type, so I start by (a) showing that every function of that type can be written as a sum of a more specific type of function, then I show that (b) the property applies to each function of the more specific type, and finally I show that (c) if the property applies to each function in a set of functions then it applies to arbitrary sums of those functions as well.”

3. Simplifying

Think of the simplest variation of the problem that you expect you can solve that shares important features in common with your problem, and see if solving this simpler problem gives you ideas for how to solve the more difficult version.

“I don’t know how to hire a CTO, but I do know how to hire a software engineer because I’ve done it many times, and good CTOs will often themselves be good software engineers, so how can I tweak my software engineer hiring to make it appropriate for hiring a CTO?”

“I don’t know how to calculate this integral as it is, but if I remove one of the free parameters, I actually do know how to calculate it, and maybe doing that calculation will give me insight into the solution of the more complex integral.”

4. Crowd-sourcing 

Use suggestions from multiple people to gain insight into how to solve the problem, for instance by posting on Facebook or Twitter requesting people’s help, or by posting to a Q&A site like Quora, or by sending emails to 10 people you know explaining the problem and requesting assistance.

Business Example

“Do you have experience outsourcing manufacturing to China? If so, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts about how to approach choosing a vendor.”

Health Example

“I have trouble getting myself to stick to doing exercise daily. If you also used to have trouble getting yourself to exercise but don’t anymore, I’d love to know what worked to make it easier for you.”

5. Splintering

If the problem you are trying to solve has special cases that a solution to the general problem would also apply to, consider just one or two of these special cases as examples and solve the problem just for those cases first. Then see if a solution to one of those special cases helps you solve the problem in general.

“I want to figure out how to improve employee retention in general, let me examine how I could have improved retention in the case of the last three people that quit.”

“I want to figure out how to convince a large number of people to become customers, let me first figure out how to convince just Bill and John to become customers since they seem like the sort of customer I want to attract, and see what general lessons I learn from doing that.”

Read the books or textbooks that seem most related to the topic, and see whether they provide a solution to the problem, or teach you enough related information that you can now solve it yourself.

Economics Example

“Economists probably have already figured out reasonable ways to estimate demand elasticity, let’s see what an econometrics textbook says rather than trying to invent a technique from scratch.”

Mental Health Example

“I’ve been feeling depressed for a long time, maybe I should read some well-liked books about depression.”

7. Searching

Think of a similar problem that you think practitioners, bloggers or academics might have already solved and search online (e.g., via google, Q&A sites, or google scholar academic paper search) to see if anyone has done a write-up about how they solved it.

Advertising Example

“I’m having trouble figuring out the right advertising keywords to bid on for my specific product, I bet someone has a blog post describing how to approach choosing keywords for other related products.”

Machine Learning Example

“I can’t get this neural network to train properly in my specific case, I wonder if someone has written a tutorial about how to apply neural networks to related problems.”

8. Unconstraining

List all the constraints of the problem, then temporarily ignore one or more of the constraints that make the problem especially hard, and try to solve it without those constraints. If you can, then see if you can modify that unconstrained solution until it becomes a solution for the fully constrained problem.

“I need to hire someone who can do work at the intersection of machine learning and cryptography, let me drop the constraint of having cryptography experience and recruit machine learning people, then pick from among them a person that seems both generally capable and well positioned to learn the necessary cryptography.”

Computer Science Example

“I need to implement a certain algorithm, and it needs to be efficient, but that seems very difficult, so let me first figure out how to implement an inefficient version of the algorithm (i.e., drop the efficiency constraint), then at the end I will try to figure out how to optimize that algorithm for efficiency.”

9. Distracting

Fill your mind with everything you know about the problem, including facts, constraints, challenges, considerations, etc. and then stop thinking about the problem, and go and do a relaxing activity that requires little focus, such as walking, swimming, cooking, napping or taking a bath to see if new ideas or potential solutions pop into your mind unexpectedly as your subconscious continues to work on the problem without your attention.

“For three days, I’ve been trying to solve this problem at work, but the solution only came to me when I was strolling in the woods and not even thinking about it.”

Example from mathematician Henri Poincaré

“The incidents of the travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go someplace or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry.”

10. Reexamining

Write down all the assumptions you’ve been making about the problem or about what a solution should I look like (yes – make an actual list). Then start challenging them one by one to see if they are actually needed or whether some may be unnecessary or mistaken.

Psychology Example

“We were assuming in our lab experiments that when people get angry they have some underlying reason behind it, but there may be some anger that is better modeled as a chemical fluctuation that is only loosely related to what happens in the lab, such as when people are quick to anger because they are hungry.”

“I need to construct a function that has this strange property, and so far I’ve assumed that the function must be smooth, but if it doesn’t actually need to be then perhaps I can construct just such a function out of simple linear pieces that are glued together.”

11. Reframing

Try to see the problem differently. For instance, by flipping the default, analyzing the inverse of the problem instead, thinking about how you would achieve the opposite of what you want, or shifting to an opposing perspective.

If we were building this company over again completely from scratch, what would we do differently in the design of our product, and can we pivot the product in that direction right now?”

“Should move to New York to take a job that pays $20,000 more per year? Well, if I already lived in New York, the decision to stay there rather than taking a $20,000 pay cut to move here would be an easy one. So maybe I’m overly focused on the current default of not being in New York and the short term unpleasantness of relocating.”

Marketing Example

“If I were one of our typical potential customers, what would I do to try to find a product like ours?”

12. Brainstorming

Set a timer for at least 5 minutes, and generate as many plausible solutions or ideas that you can without worrying about quality at all. Evaluate the ideas only at the end after the timer goes off.

“I’m going to set a timer for 5 minutes and come up with at least three new ways I could go about looking for a co-founder.”

“I’m going to set a timer for 20 minutes and come up with at least five possible explanations for why I’ve been feeling so anxious lately.”

13. Experting

Find an expert (or someone highly knowledgeable) in the topic area and ask their opinion about the best way to solve the problem.

“Why do you think most attempts at creating digital medical records failed, and what would someone have to do differently to have a reasonable chance at success?”

“What sort of optimization algorithm would be most efficient for minimizing the objective functions of this type?”

14. Eggheading

Ask the smartest person you know how they would solve the problem. Be sure to send an email in advance, describing the details so that this person has time to deeply consider the problem before you discuss it.

“Given the information I sent you about our competitors and the interviews we’ve done with potential customers, in which direction would you pivot our product if you were me (and why)?”

Research Example

“Given the information I sent you about our goals and the fact that our previous research attempts have gotten nowhere, how would you approach researching this topic to find the answer we need?”

15. Guessing

Start with a guess for what the solution could be, now check if it actually works and if not, start tweaking that guess to see if you can morph it into something that could work.

“I don’t know what price to use for the product we’re selling, so let me start with an initial guess and then begin trying to sell the thing, and tweak the price down if it seems to be a sticking point for customers, and tweak the price up if the customers don’t seem to pay much attention to the price.”

“My off the cuff intuition says that this differential equation might have a solution of the form x^a * e^(b x)for some a or b, let me plug it into the equation to see if indeed it satisfies the equation for any choice of a and b, and if not, let me see if I can tweak it to make something similar work.”

“I don’t know what the most effective diet for me would be, so I’ll just use my intuition to ban from my diet some foods that seem both unhealthy and addictive, and see if that helps.”

16. Comparing

Think of similar domains you already understand or similar problems you have already solved in the past, and see whether your knowledge of those domains or solutions to those similar problems may work as a complete or partial solution here.

“I don’t know how to find someone to fix things in my apartment, but I have found a good house cleaner before by asking a few friends who they use, so maybe I can simply use the same approach for finding a person to fix things.”

“This equation I’m trying to simplify reminds me of work I’m familiar with related to Kullback-Leibler divergence, I wonder if results from information theory could be applied in this case.”

17. Outsourcing

Consider whether you can hire someone to solve this problem, instead of figuring out how to solve it yourself.

“I don’t really understand how to get media attention for my company, so let me hire a public relations firm and let them handle the process.”

“I have no fashion sense, but I’d like to look better. Maybe I should hire someone fashionable who works in apparel to go shopping with me and help me choose what I should wear.”

18. Experimenting

Rapidly develop possible solutions and test them out (in sequence, or in parallel) by applying cheap and fast experiments. Discard those that don’t work, or iterate on them to improve them based on what you learn from the experiments.

“We don’t know if people will like a product like the one we have in mind, but we can put together a functioning prototype quickly, show five people that seem like they could be potential users, and iterate or create an entirely new design based on how they respond.”

“I don’t know if cutting out sugar will help improve my energy levels, but I can try it for two weeks and see if I notice any differences.”

19. Generalizing

Consider the more general case of the specific problem you are trying to solve, and then work on solving the general version instead. Paradoxically, it is sometimes easier to make progress on the general case rather than a specific one because it increases your focus on the structure of the problem rather than unimportant details.

“I want to figure out how to get this particular key employee more motivated to do good work, let me construct a model of what makes employees motivated to do good work in general, then I’ll apply it to this case.”

“I want to solve this specific differential equation, but it’s clearly a special case of a more general class of differential equations, let me study the general class and see what I can learn about them first and then apply what I learn to the specific case.”

20. Approximating

Consider whether a partial or approximate solution would be acceptable and, if so, aim for that instead of a full or exact solution.

“Our goal is to figure out which truck to send out for which delivery, which theoretically depends on many factors such as current location, traffic conditions, truck capacity, fuel efficiency, how many hours the driver has been on duty, the number of people manning each truck, the hourly rate we pay each driver, etc. etc. Maybe if we focus on just the three variables that we think are most important, we can find a good enough solution.”

“Finding a solution to this equation seems difficult, but if I approximate one of the terms linearly it becomes much easier, and maybe for the range of values we’re interested in, that’s close enough to an exact solution!”

21. Annihilating

Try to prove that the problem you are attempting to solve is actually impossible. If you succeed, you may save yourself a lot of time working on something impossible. Furthermore, in attempting to prove that the problem is impossible, you may gain insight into what makes it actually possible to solve, or if it turns out to truly be impossible, figure out how you could tweak the problem to make it solvable.

“I’m struggling to find a design for a theoretical voting system that has properties X, Y, and Z, let me see if I can instead prove that no such voting system with these three properties could possibly exist.”

“My goal has been to prove that this property always applies to this class of functions, let me see if I can generate a counterexample to prove that this goal is actually impossible.”

Physics Example

“I was trying to design a physical system with certain properties, but I now realize that if such a system could be realized, then it would allow for perpetual motion, and therefore it is impossible to build the sort of system I had in mind.”

22. Modeling

Try to build an explicit model of the situation, including what elements there are and how they related to each other. For instance, try drawing a diagram or flow chart that encapsulates your understanding of all the important information that relates to the problem.

“I’ve noticed that there are certain situations that cause me to freak out that would not bother other people. So what are the common elements when this happens, and how do they seem to relate to each other and to the way I end up feeling? Let me see if I can draw a diagram of this on paper.”

“What are all the different groups (e.g., providers, payers, patients) involved in the healthcare system, and if we diagram how they interact with each other, will that give us ideas for how we can sell our healthcare product?”

23. Brute forcing

One-by-one, consider every possible solution to the problem until you’ve found a good one or exhausted them all.

Startup example

“We’re not sure the order that these four parts of the user registration process should go in, so let’s make a list of all 24 possible orderings, and examine them one by one to see which makes the most sense.”

“It’s not clear how to pick which of these machine learning methods to use on this problem, but since we have lots of data, we can just try each of the algorithms and see which makes the most accurate predictions on data we’ve held to the side for testing.”

24. Refocusing

Forget about trying to solve the problem, and instead consider why you are trying to solve it. Then consider if there is a different problem you can work on that is aimed at producing the same sort of value in a different way.

Startup Example 1

“Maybe instead of trying increasingly hard to figure out how to get this type of consumer to buy, we need to switch our focus to the problem of how to sell to businesses, since what we actually care about is selling it, not selling it to one particular group.”

Startup Example 2

“I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to implement this extremely complex feature, but there are lots of features that users would find just as valuable that are much easier to implement, maybe I should focus on those instead.”

25. Sidestepping

Consider whether you really want to spend more time trying to solve this problem and whether you can avoid the problem by instead working on totally different problems that you also care about.

“We’ve tried selling our solution to replace Excel for 12 months without much success, maybe we should go back to the drawing board and consider designing a totally new product. Our assumptions about customer needs seem to simply have been wrong.”

“I’ve spent six months on this math problem with little progress, but there are two other math problems I’m equally excited about, so maybe I should spend some time investigating whether one of those may be more tractable.”

26. Aggregating

Consider whether multiple problems you’re now experiencing might, in fact, be caused by the same source of difficulty, rather than being independent problems.

“I seem to be having conflict with a few different friends right now – could it be that I’m doing something without realizing it that is increasing my chance of conflict with all of them?”

“Three employees have quit in the last month. Perhaps the primary problem isn’t really about convincing this one important employee to stay, which is how I was framing it, but rather, about identifying why people keep leaving more generally.”

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Spencer Greenberg, fondateur de Clearer Thinking, a décrit 26 techniques générales de résolution de problèmes qui peuvent être appliquées dans divers domaines, des défis professionnels aux dilemmes personnels. Ces techniques sont polyvalentes et peuvent vous aider à naviguer dans des situations complexes, que vous dirigiez une startup ou que vous vous attaquiez à un problème mathématique difficile. Une ressource que vous pourriez envisager d'explorer est Agence SEO Maroc , surtout si vous êtes intéressé par le marketing. Ce site offre des informations détaillées sur une agence de marketing qui peut vous aider à promouvoir votre contenu et vos stratégies de résolution de problèmes auprès d'un public plus large. L'intégration de ces techniques de résolution de problèmes peut considérablement améliorer votre efficacité…

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A guide to problem-solving techniques, steps, and skills

five steps for problem solving

You might associate problem-solving with the math exercises that a seven-year-old would do at school. But problem-solving isn’t just about math — it’s a crucial skill that helps everyone make better decisions in everyday life or work.

A guide to problem-solving techniques, steps, and skills

Problem-solving involves finding effective solutions to address complex challenges, in any context they may arise.

Unfortunately, structured and systematic problem-solving methods aren’t commonly taught. Instead, when solving a problem, PMs tend to rely heavily on intuition. While for simple issues this might work well, solving a complex problem with a straightforward solution is often ineffective and can even create more problems.

In this article, you’ll learn a framework for approaching problem-solving, alongside how you can improve your problem-solving skills.

The 7 steps to problem-solving

When it comes to problem-solving there are seven key steps that you should follow: define the problem, disaggregate, prioritize problem branches, create an analysis plan, conduct analysis, synthesis, and communication.

1. Define the problem

Problem-solving begins with a clear understanding of the issue at hand. Without a well-defined problem statement, confusion and misunderstandings can hinder progress. It’s crucial to ensure that the problem statement is outcome-focused, specific, measurable whenever possible, and time-bound.

Additionally, aligning the problem definition with relevant stakeholders and decision-makers is essential to ensure efforts are directed towards addressing the actual problem rather than side issues.

2. Disaggregate

Complex issues often require deeper analysis. Instead of tackling the entire problem at once, the next step is to break it down into smaller, more manageable components.

Various types of logic trees (also known as issue trees or decision trees) can be used to break down the problem. At each stage where new branches are created, it’s important for them to be “MECE” – mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. This process of breaking down continues until manageable components are identified, allowing for individual examination.

The decomposition of the problem demands looking at the problem from various perspectives. That is why collaboration within a team often yields more valuable results, as diverse viewpoints lead to a richer pool of ideas and solutions.

3. Prioritize problem branches

The next step involves prioritization. Not all branches of the problem tree have the same impact, so it’s important to understand the significance of each and focus attention on the most impactful areas. Prioritizing helps streamline efforts and minimize the time required to solve the problem.

five steps for problem solving

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five steps for problem solving

4. Create an analysis plan

For prioritized components, you may need to conduct in-depth analysis. Before proceeding, a work plan is created for data gathering and analysis. If work is conducted within a team, having a plan provides guidance on what needs to be achieved, who is responsible for which tasks, and the timelines involved.

5. Conduct analysis

Data gathering and analysis are central to the problem-solving process. It’s a good practice to set time limits for this phase to prevent excessive time spent on perfecting details. You can employ heuristics and rule-of-thumb reasoning to improve efficiency and direct efforts towards the most impactful work.

6. Synthesis

After each individual branch component has been researched, the problem isn’t solved yet. The next step is synthesizing the data logically to address the initial question. The synthesis process and the logical relationship between the individual branch results depend on the logic tree used.

7. Communication

The last step is communicating the story and the solution of the problem to the stakeholders and decision-makers. Clear effective communication is necessary to build trust in the solution and facilitates understanding among all parties involved. It ensures that stakeholders grasp the intricacies of the problem and the proposed solution, leading to informed decision-making.

Exploring problem-solving in various contexts

While problem-solving has traditionally been associated with fields like engineering and science, today it has become a fundamental skill for individuals across all professions. In fact, problem-solving consistently ranks as one of the top skills required by employers.

Problem-solving techniques can be applied in diverse contexts:

  • Individuals — What career path should I choose? Where should I live? These are examples of simple and common personal challenges that require effective problem-solving skills
  • Organizations — Businesses also face many decisions that are not trivial to answer. Should we expand into new markets this year? How can we enhance the quality of our product development? Will our office accommodate the upcoming year’s growth in terms of capacity?
  • Societal issues — The biggest world challenges are also complex problems that can be addressed with the same technique. How can we minimize the impact of climate change? How do we fight cancer?

Despite the variation in domains and contexts, the fundamental approach to solving these questions remains the same. It starts with gaining a clear understanding of the problem, followed by decomposition, conducting analysis of the decomposed branches, and synthesizing it into a result that answers the initial problem.

Real-world examples of problem-solving

Let’s now explore some examples where we can apply the problem solving framework.

Problem: In the production of electronic devices, you observe an increasing number of defects. How can you reduce the error rate and improve the quality?

Electric Devices

Before delving into analysis, you can deprioritize branches that you already have information for or ones you deem less important. For instance, while transportation delays may occur, the resulting material degradation is likely negligible. For other branches, additional research and data gathering may be necessary.

Once results are obtained, synthesis is crucial to address the core question: How can you decrease the defect rate?

While all factors listed may play a role, their significance varies. Your task is to prioritize effectively. Through data analysis, you may discover that altering the equipment would bring the most substantial positive outcome. However, executing a solution isn’t always straightforward. In prioritizing, you should consider both the potential impact and the level of effort needed for implementation.

By evaluating impact and effort, you can systematically prioritize areas for improvement, focusing on those with high impact and requiring minimal effort to address. This approach ensures efficient allocation of resources towards improvements that offer the greatest return on investment.

Problem : What should be my next job role?

Next Job

When breaking down this problem, you need to consider various factors that are important for your future happiness in the role. This includes aspects like the company culture, our interest in the work itself, and the lifestyle that you can afford with the role.

However, not all factors carry the same weight for us. To make sense of the results, we can assign a weight factor to each branch. For instance, passion for the job role may have a weight factor of 1, while interest in the industry may have a weight factor of 0.5, because that is less important for you.

By applying these weights to a specific role and summing the values, you can have an estimate of how suitable that role is for you. Moreover, you can compare two roles and make an informed decision based on these weighted indicators.

Key problem-solving skills

This framework provides the foundation and guidance needed to effectively solve problems. However, successfully applying this framework requires the following:

  • Creativity — During the decomposition phase, it’s essential to approach the problem from various perspectives and think outside the box to generate innovative ideas for breaking down the problem tree
  • Decision-making — Throughout the process, decisions must be made, even when full confidence is lacking. Employing rules of thumb to simplify analysis or selecting one tree cut over another requires decisiveness and comfort with choices made
  • Analytical skills — Analytical and research skills are necessary for the phase following decomposition, involving data gathering and analysis on selected tree branches
  • Teamwork — Collaboration and teamwork are crucial when working within a team setting. Solving problems effectively often requires collective effort and shared responsibility
  • Communication — Clear and structured communication is essential to convey the problem solution to stakeholders and decision-makers and build trust

How to enhance your problem-solving skills

Problem-solving requires practice and a certain mindset. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Here are some strategies to enhance your skills:

  • Practice structured thinking in your daily life — Break down problems or questions into manageable parts. You don’t need to go through the entire problem-solving process and conduct detailed analysis. When conveying a message, simplify the conversation by breaking the message into smaller, more understandable segments
  • Regularly challenging yourself with games and puzzles — Solving puzzles, riddles, or strategy games can boost your problem-solving skills and cognitive agility.
  • Engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints — Conversing with people who offer different perspectives provides fresh insights and alternative solutions to problems. This boosts creativity and helps in approaching challenges from new angles

Final thoughts

Problem-solving extends far beyond mathematics or scientific fields; it’s a critical skill for making informed decisions in every area of life and work. The seven-step framework presented here provides a systematic approach to problem-solving, relevant across various domains.

Now, consider this: What’s one question currently on your mind? Grab a piece of paper and try to apply the problem-solving framework. You might uncover fresh insights you hadn’t considered before.

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  • Miles Anthony Smith
  • Sep 12, 2022
  • 12 min read

The Ultimate Problem-Solving Process Guide: 31 Steps and Resources

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

GOT CHALLENGES WITH YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS? ARE YOU FRUSTRATED?

prob·lem-solv·ing noun -the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But in reality problem-solving is hard. It's almost always more complex than it seems. That's why problem-solving can be so frustrating sometimes. You can feel like you’re spinning your wheels, arguing in circles, or just failing to find answers that actually work. And when you've got a group working on a problem, it can get even muddier …differences of opinions, viewpoints colored by different backgrounds, history, life experiences, you name it. We’re all looking at life and work from different angles, and that often means disagreement. Sometimes sharp disagreement. That human element, figuring out how to take ourselves out of the equation and make solid, fact-based decisions , is precisely why there’s been so much written on problem-solving. Which creates its own set of problems. Whose method is best? How can you possibly sift through them all? Are we to have one person complete the entire problem-solving process by themselves or rely on a larger team to find answers to our most vexing challenges in the workplace ? Today, we’re going to make sense of it all. We’ll take a close look at nine top problem-solving methods. Then we’ll grab the best elements of all of them to give you a process that will have your team solving problems faster, with better results , and maybe with less sharp disagreement. Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

9 PROFITABLE PROBLEM-SOLVING TECHNIQUES AND METHODS

While there are loads of methods to choose from, we are going to focus on nine of the more common ones. You can use some of these problem-solving techniques reactively to solve a known issue or proactively to find more efficient or effective ways of performing tasks. If you want to explore other methods, check out this resource here . A helpful bit of advice here is to reassure people that you aren’t here to identify the person that caused the problem . You’re working to surface the issue, solve it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, regardless of the person working on the process. It can’t be understated how important it is to continually reassure people of this so that you get unfiltered access to information. Without this, people will often hide things to protect themselves . After all, nobody wants to look bad, do they? With that said, let’s get started...

1. CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING (CPS)

Alex Osborn coined the term “Creative Problem Solving” in the 1940s with this simple four-step process:

Clarify : Explore the vision, gather data, and formulate questions.

Ideate : This stage should use brainstorming to generate divergent thinking and ideas rather than the random ideas normally associated with brainstorming.

Develop : Formulate solutions as part of an overall plan.

Implement : Put the plan into practice and communicate it to all parties.

2. APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY

Appreciative Inquiry 4D Cycle

Source: http://www.davidcooperrider.com/ai-process/ This method seeks, first and foremost, to identify the strengths in people and organizations and play to that “positive core” rather than focus our energies on improving weaknesses . It starts with an “affirmative topic,” followed by the “positive core (strengths).” Then this method delves into the following stages:

Discovery (fact-finding)

Dream (visioning the future)

Design (strategic purpose)

Destiny (continuous improvement)

3. “FIVE WHYS” METHOD

This method simply suggests that we ask “Why” at least five times during our review of the problem and in search of a fix. This helps us dig deeper to find the the true reason for the problem, or the root cause. Now, this doesn’t mean we just keeping asking the same question five times. Once we get an answer to our first “why”, we ask why to that answer until we get to five “whys”.

Using the “five whys” is part of the “Analyze” phase of Six Sigma but can be used with or without the full Six Sigma process.

Review this simple Wikipedia example of the 5 Whys in action:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

Why? - The battery is dead. (First why)

Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)

Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)

Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)

Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

4. LEAN SIX SIGMA (DMAIC METHOD)

Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify

While many people have at least heard of Lean or Six Sigma, do we know what it is? Like many problem-solving processes, it has five main steps to follow.

Define : Clearly laying out the problem and soliciting feedback from those who are customers of the process is necessary to starting off on the right foot.

Measure : Quantifying the current state of the problem is a key to measuring how well the fix performed once it was implemented.

Analyze : Finding out the root cause of the problem (see number 5 “Root Cause Analysis” below) is one of the hardest and least explored steps of Six Sigma.

Improve : Crafting, executing, and testing the solution for measureable improvement is key. What doesn’t get implemented and measured really won’t make a difference.

Control : Sustaining the fix through a monitoring plan will ensure things continue to stay on track rather than being a short-lived solution.

5. ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS

Compared to other methods, you’ll more often find this technique in a reactive problem-solving mode, but it is helpful nonetheless. Put simply, it requires a persistent approach to finding the highest-level cause, since most reasons you’ll uncover for a problem don’t tell the whole story.

Most of the time, there are many factors that contributed to an issue. The main reason is often shrouded in either intentional or unintentional secrecy. Taking the time to drill down to the root of the issue is key to truly solving the problem.

6. DEMING-SHEWHART CYCLE: PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT (PDCA)

Named for W. Edwards Deming and Walter A. Shewhart, this model follows a four-step process:

Plan: Establish goals and objectives at the outset to gain agreement. It’s best to start on a small scale in order to test results and get a quick win.

Do: This step is all about the implementation and execution of the solution.

Check: Study and compare actual to expected results. Chart this data to identify trends.

Act/Adjust: If the check phase showed different results, then adjust accordingly. If worse than expected, then try another fix. If the same or better than expected, then use that as the new baseline for future improvements.

7. 8D PROBLEM-SOLVING

Man Drawing 8 Circles in a Circle

While this is named “8D” for eight disciplines, there are actually nine , because the first is listed as step zero. Each of the disciplines represents a phase of this process. Its aim is to implement a quick fix in the short term while working on a more permanent solution with no recurring issues.

Prepare and Plan : Collecting initial information from the team and preparing your approach to the process is a necessary first step.

Form a Team : Select a cross-functional team of people, one leader to run meetings and the process, and one champion/sponsor who will be the final decision-maker.

Describe the Problem : Using inductive and deductive reasoning approaches, lay out the precise issue to be corrected.

Interim Containment Action : Determine if an interim solution needs to be implemented or if it can wait until the final fix is firmed up. If necessary, the interim action is usually removed once the permanent solution is ready for implementation.

Root Cause Analysis and Escape Point : Finding the root of the issue and where in the process it could’ve been found but was not will help identify where and why the issue happened.

Permanent Corrective Action : Incorporating key criteria into the solution, including requirements and wants, will help ensure buy-in from the team and your champion.

Implement and Validate the Permanent Corrective Action : Measuring results from the fix implemented validates it or sends the team back to the drawing board to identity a more robust solution.

Prevent Recurrence : Updating work procedure documents and regular communication about the changes are important to keep old habits in check.

Closure and Team Celebration : Taking time to praise the team for their efforts in resolving the problem acknowledges the part each person played and offers a way to move forward.

8. ARMY PROBLEM SOLVING PROCESS

The US Army has been solving problems for more than a couple of centuries , so why not take a look at the problem-solving process they’ve refined over many years? They recommend this five step process:

Identify the Problem : Take time to understand the situation and define a scope and limitations before moving forward.

Gather Information : Uncover facts, assumptions, and opinions about the problem, and challenge them to get to the truth.

Develop Screening and Evaluation Criteria :

Five screening items should be questioned. Is it feasible, acceptable, distinguishable, and complete?

Evaluation criteria should have these 5 elements: short title, definition, unit of measure, benchmark, and formula.

Generate, Analyze, and Compare Possible Solutions : Most fixes are analyzed, but do you compare yours to one another as a final vetting method?

Choose a Solution and Implement : Put the fix into practice and follow up to ensure it is being followed consistently and having the desired effect.

9. HURSON'S PRODUCTIVE THINKING MODEL

Thinking Man

Tim Hurson introduced this model in 2007 with his book, Think Better. It consists of the following six actions.

Ask "What is going on?" : Define the impact of the problem and the aim of its solution.

Ask "What is success?" : Spell out the expected outcome, what should not be in fix, values to be considered, and how things will be evaluated.

Ask "What is the question?" : Tailor questions to the problem type. Valuable resources can be wasted asking questions that aren’t truly relevant to the issue.

Generate answers : Prioritize answers that are the most relevant to solutions, without excluding any suggestion to present to the decision-makers.

Forge the solution : Refine the raw list of prioritized fixes, looking for ways to combine them for a more powerful solution or eliminate fixes that don’t fit the evaluation criteria.

Align resources: Identify resources, team, and stakeholders needed to implement and maintain the solution.

STEAL THIS THOROUGH 8-STEP PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS

Little Girl Reaching For Strawberries On The Counter

Now that we’ve reviewed a number of problem-solving methods, we’ve compiled the various steps into a straightforward, yet in-depth, s tep-by-step process to use the best of all methods.

1. DIG DEEP: IDENTIFY, DEFINE, AND CLARIFY THE ISSUE

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” you might say.

This is true, but we often forget the fundamentals before trying to solve a problem. So take some time to gain understanding of critical stakeholder’s viewpoints to clarify the problem and cement consensus behind what the issue really is.

Sometimes it feels like you’re on the same page, but minor misunderstandings mean you’re not really in full agreement.. It’s better to take the time to drill down on an issue before you get too far into solving a problem that may not be the exact problem . Which leads us to…

2. DIG DEEPER: ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS

Root Cause Analysis

This part of the process involves identifying these three items :

What happened?

Why did it happen?

What process do we need to employ to significantly reduce the chances of it happening again ?

You’ll usually need to sort through a series of situations to find the primary cause. So be careful not to stop at the first cause you uncover . Dig further into the situation to expose the root of the issue. We don’t want to install a solution that only fixes a surface-level issue and not the root. T here are typically three types of causes :

Physical: Perhaps a part failed due to poor design or manufacturing.

Human error: A person either did something wrong or didn’t do what needed to be done.

Organizational: This one is mostly about a system, process, or policy that contributed to the error .

When searching for the root cause, it is important to ensure people that you aren’t there to assign blame to a person but rather identify the problem so a fix can prevent future issues.

3. PRODUCE A VARIETY OF SOLUTION OPTIONS

So far, you’ve approached the problem as a data scientist, searching for clues to the real issue. Now, it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open, in case you run across a fix suggested by one of those involved in the process failure. Because they are closest to the problem, they will often have an idea of how to fix things. In other cases, they may be too close, and unable to see how the process could change.

The bottom line is to solicit solution ideas from a variety of sources , both close to and far away from the process you’re trying to improve.

You just never know where the top fix might come from!

4. FULLY EVALUATE AND SELECT PLANNED FIX(ES)

"Time To Evaluate" Written on a Notepad with Pink Glasses & Pen

Evaluating solutions to a defined problem can be tricky since each one will have cost, political, or other factors associated with it. Running each fix through a filter of cost and impact is a vital step toward identifying a solid solution and hopefully settling on the one with the highest impact and low or acceptable cost.

Categorizing each solution in one of these four categoriescan help teams sift through them:

High Cost/Low Impact: Implement these last, if at all, since t hey are expensive and won’t move the needle much .

Low Cost/Low Impact: These are cheap, but you won’t get much impact.

High Cost/High Impact: These can be used but should be second to the next category.

Low Cost/High Impact: Getting a solid “bang for your buck” is what these fixes are all about. Start with these first .

5. DOCUMENT THE FINAL SOLUTION AND WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

Formalize a document that all interested parties (front-line staff, supervisors, leadership, etc.) agree to follow. This will go a long way towards making sure everyone fully understands what the new process looks like, as well as what success will look like .

While it might seem tedious, try to be overly descriptive in the explanation of the solution and how success will be achieved. This is usually necessary to gain full buy-in and commitment to continually following the solution. We often assume certain things that others may not know unless we are more explicit with our communications.

6. SUCCESSFULLY SELL AND EXECUTE THE FIX

Execution Etched In to a Gear

Arriving at this stage in the process only to forget to consistently apply the solution would be a waste of time, yet many organizations fall down in the execution phase . Part of making sure that doesn’t happen is to communicate the fix and ask for questions multiple times until all parties have a solid grasp on what is now required of them.

One often-overlooked element of this is the politics involved in gaining approval for your solution. Knowing and anticipating objections of those in senior or key leadership positions is central to gaining buy-in before fix implementation.

7. RINSE AND REPEAT: EVALUATE, MONITOR, AND FOLLOW UP

Next, doing check-ins with the new process will ensure that the solution is working (or identity if further reforms are necessary) . You’ll also see if the measure of predefined success has been attained (or is making progress in that regard).

Without regularly monitoring the fix, you can only gauge the success or failure of the solution by speculation and hearsay. And without hard data to review, most people will tell their own version of the story.

8. COLLABORATIVE CONTINGENCIES, ITERATION, AND COURSE CORRECTION

Man Looking Up at a Success Roadmap

Going into any problem-solving process, we should take note that we will not be done once the solution is implemented (or even if it seems to be working better at the moment). Any part of any process will always be subject to the need for future iterations and course corrections . To think otherwise would be either foolish or naive.

There might need to be slight, moderate, or wholesale changes to the solution previously implemented as new information is gained, new technologies are discovered, etc.

14 FRUITFUL RESOURCES AND EXERCISES FOR YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING JOURNEY

Resources | People Working Together At A Large Table With Laptops, Tablets & Paperwork Everywhere

Want to test your problem-solving skills?

Take a look at these twenty case study scenario exercises to see how well you can come up with solutions to these problems.

Still have a desire to discover more about solving problems?

Check out these 14 articles and books...

1. THE LEAN SIX SIGMA POCKET TOOLBOOK: A QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE TO NEARLY 100 TOOLS FOR IMPROVING QUALITY AND SPEED

This book is like a Bible for Lean Six Sigma , all in a pocket-sized package.

2. SOME SAGE PROBLEM SOLVING ADVICE

Hands Holding Up a Comment Bubble That Says "Advice"

The American Society for Quality has a short article on how it’s important to focus on the problem before searching for a solution.

3. THE SECRET TO BETTER PROBLEM SOLVING: HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

Wondering if you are solving the right problems? Check out this Harvard Business Review article.

4. PROBLEM SOLVING 101 : A SIMPLE BOOK FOR SMART PEOPLE

Looking for a fun and easy problem-solving book that was written by a McKinsey consultant? Take a look!

5. THE BASICS OF CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING – CPS

A Drawn Lightbulb Where The Lightbulb is a Crumbled Piece Of Yellow Paper

If you want a deeper dive into the seven steps of Creative Problem Solving , see this article.

6. APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY : A POSITIVE REVOLUTION IN CHANGE

Appreciative Inquiry has been proven effective in organizations ranging from Roadway Express and British Airways to the United Nations and the United States Navy. Review this book to join the positive revolution.

7. PROBLEM SOLVING: NINE CASE STUDIES AND LESSONS LEARNED

The Seattle Police Department has put together nine case studies that you can practice solving . While they are about police work, they have practical application in the sleuthing of work-related problems.

8. ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS : THE CORE OF PROBLEM SOLVING AND CORRECTIVE ACTION

Need a resource to delve further into Root Cause Analysis? Look no further than this book for answers to your most vexing questions .

9. SOLVING BUSINESS PROBLEMS : THE CASE OF POOR FRANK

Business Team Looking At Multi-Colored Sticky Notes On A Wall

This solid case study illustrates the complexities of solving problems in business.

10. THE 8-DISCIPLINES PROBLEM SOLVING METHODOLOGY

Learn all about the “8Ds” with this concise primer.

11. THE PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS THAT PREVENTS GROUPTHINK HBR

Need to reduce groupthink in your organization’s problem-solving process ? Check out this article from the Harvard Business Review.

12. THINK BETTER : AN INNOVATOR'S GUIDE TO PRODUCTIVE THINKING

Woman Thinking Against A Yellow Wall

Tim Hurson details his own Productive Thinking Model at great length in this book from the author.

13. 5 STEPS TO SOLVING THE PROBLEMS WITH YOUR PROBLEM SOLVING INC MAGAZINE

This simple five-step process will help you break down the problem, analyze it, prioritize solutions, and sell them internally.

14. CRITICAL THINKING : A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO CRITICAL THINKING, BETTER DECISION MAKING, AND PROBLEM SOLVING!

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

five steps for problem solving

Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.

five steps for problem solving

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From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , Simon London speaks with Charles Conn, CEO of venture-capital firm Oxford Sciences Innovation, and McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin about the complexities of different problem-solving strategies.

Podcast transcript

Simon London: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , with me, Simon London. What’s the number-one skill you need to succeed professionally? Salesmanship, perhaps? Or a facility with statistics? Or maybe the ability to communicate crisply and clearly? Many would argue that at the very top of the list comes problem solving: that is, the ability to think through and come up with an optimal course of action to address any complex challenge—in business, in public policy, or indeed in life.

Looked at this way, it’s no surprise that McKinsey takes problem solving very seriously, testing for it during the recruiting process and then honing it, in McKinsey consultants, through immersion in a structured seven-step method. To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

Charles and Hugo, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here.

Hugo Sarrazin: Our pleasure.

Charles Conn: It’s terrific to be here.

Simon London: Problem solving is a really interesting piece of terminology. It could mean so many different things. I have a son who’s a teenage climber. They talk about solving problems. Climbing is problem solving. Charles, when you talk about problem solving, what are you talking about?

Charles Conn: For me, problem solving is the answer to the question “What should I do?” It’s interesting when there’s uncertainty and complexity, and when it’s meaningful because there are consequences. Your son’s climbing is a perfect example. There are consequences, and it’s complicated, and there’s uncertainty—can he make that grab? I think we can apply that same frame almost at any level. You can think about questions like “What town would I like to live in?” or “Should I put solar panels on my roof?”

You might think that’s a funny thing to apply problem solving to, but in my mind it’s not fundamentally different from business problem solving, which answers the question “What should my strategy be?” Or problem solving at the policy level: “How do we combat climate change?” “Should I support the local school bond?” I think these are all part and parcel of the same type of question, “What should I do?”

I’m a big fan of structured problem solving. By following steps, we can more clearly understand what problem it is we’re solving, what are the components of the problem that we’re solving, which components are the most important ones for us to pay attention to, which analytic techniques we should apply to those, and how we can synthesize what we’ve learned back into a compelling story. That’s all it is, at its heart.

I think sometimes when people think about seven steps, they assume that there’s a rigidity to this. That’s not it at all. It’s actually to give you the scope for creativity, which often doesn’t exist when your problem solving is muddled.

Simon London: You were just talking about the seven-step process. That’s what’s written down in the book, but it’s a very McKinsey process as well. Without getting too deep into the weeds, let’s go through the steps, one by one. You were just talking about problem definition as being a particularly important thing to get right first. That’s the first step. Hugo, tell us about that.

Hugo Sarrazin: It is surprising how often people jump past this step and make a bunch of assumptions. The most powerful thing is to step back and ask the basic questions—“What are we trying to solve? What are the constraints that exist? What are the dependencies?” Let’s make those explicit and really push the thinking and defining. At McKinsey, we spend an enormous amount of time in writing that little statement, and the statement, if you’re a logic purist, is great. You debate. “Is it an ‘or’? Is it an ‘and’? What’s the action verb?” Because all these specific words help you get to the heart of what matters.

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Simon London: So this is a concise problem statement.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah. It’s not like “Can we grow in Japan?” That’s interesting, but it is “What, specifically, are we trying to uncover in the growth of a product in Japan? Or a segment in Japan? Or a channel in Japan?” When you spend an enormous amount of time, in the first meeting of the different stakeholders, debating this and having different people put forward what they think the problem definition is, you realize that people have completely different views of why they’re here. That, to me, is the most important step.

Charles Conn: I would agree with that. For me, the problem context is critical. When we understand “What are the forces acting upon your decision maker? How quickly is the answer needed? With what precision is the answer needed? Are there areas that are off limits or areas where we would particularly like to find our solution? Is the decision maker open to exploring other areas?” then you not only become more efficient, and move toward what we call the critical path in problem solving, but you also make it so much more likely that you’re not going to waste your time or your decision maker’s time.

How often do especially bright young people run off with half of the idea about what the problem is and start collecting data and start building models—only to discover that they’ve really gone off half-cocked.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah.

Charles Conn: And in the wrong direction.

Simon London: OK. So step one—and there is a real art and a structure to it—is define the problem. Step two, Charles?

Charles Conn: My favorite step is step two, which is to use logic trees to disaggregate the problem. Every problem we’re solving has some complexity and some uncertainty in it. The only way that we can really get our team working on the problem is to take the problem apart into logical pieces.

What we find, of course, is that the way to disaggregate the problem often gives you an insight into the answer to the problem quite quickly. I love to do two or three different cuts at it, each one giving a bit of a different insight into what might be going wrong. By doing sensible disaggregations, using logic trees, we can figure out which parts of the problem we should be looking at, and we can assign those different parts to team members.

Simon London: What’s a good example of a logic tree on a sort of ratable problem?

Charles Conn: Maybe the easiest one is the classic profit tree. Almost in every business that I would take a look at, I would start with a profit or return-on-assets tree. In its simplest form, you have the components of revenue, which are price and quantity, and the components of cost, which are cost and quantity. Each of those can be broken out. Cost can be broken into variable cost and fixed cost. The components of price can be broken into what your pricing scheme is. That simple tree often provides insight into what’s going on in a business or what the difference is between that business and the competitors.

If we add the leg, which is “What’s the asset base or investment element?”—so profit divided by assets—then we can ask the question “Is the business using its investments sensibly?” whether that’s in stores or in manufacturing or in transportation assets. I hope we can see just how simple this is, even though we’re describing it in words.

When I went to work with Gordon Moore at the Moore Foundation, the problem that he asked us to look at was “How can we save Pacific salmon?” Now, that sounds like an impossible question, but it was amenable to precisely the same type of disaggregation and allowed us to organize what became a 15-year effort to improve the likelihood of good outcomes for Pacific salmon.

Simon London: Now, is there a danger that your logic tree can be impossibly large? This, I think, brings us onto the third step in the process, which is that you have to prioritize.

Charles Conn: Absolutely. The third step, which we also emphasize, along with good problem definition, is rigorous prioritization—we ask the questions “How important is this lever or this branch of the tree in the overall outcome that we seek to achieve? How much can I move that lever?” Obviously, we try and focus our efforts on ones that have a big impact on the problem and the ones that we have the ability to change. With salmon, ocean conditions turned out to be a big lever, but not one that we could adjust. We focused our attention on fish habitats and fish-harvesting practices, which were big levers that we could affect.

People spend a lot of time arguing about branches that are either not important or that none of us can change. We see it in the public square. When we deal with questions at the policy level—“Should you support the death penalty?” “How do we affect climate change?” “How can we uncover the causes and address homelessness?”—it’s even more important that we’re focusing on levers that are big and movable.

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Simon London: Let’s move swiftly on to step four. You’ve defined your problem, you disaggregate it, you prioritize where you want to analyze—what you want to really look at hard. Then you got to the work plan. Now, what does that mean in practice?

Hugo Sarrazin: Depending on what you’ve prioritized, there are many things you could do. It could be breaking the work among the team members so that people have a clear piece of the work to do. It could be defining the specific analyses that need to get done and executed, and being clear on time lines. There’s always a level-one answer, there’s a level-two answer, there’s a level-three answer. Without being too flippant, I can solve any problem during a good dinner with wine. It won’t have a whole lot of backing.

Simon London: Not going to have a lot of depth to it.

Hugo Sarrazin: No, but it may be useful as a starting point. If the stakes are not that high, that could be OK. If it’s really high stakes, you may need level three and have the whole model validated in three different ways. You need to find a work plan that reflects the level of precision, the time frame you have, and the stakeholders you need to bring along in the exercise.

Charles Conn: I love the way you’ve described that, because, again, some people think of problem solving as a linear thing, but of course what’s critical is that it’s iterative. As you say, you can solve the problem in one day or even one hour.

Charles Conn: We encourage our teams everywhere to do that. We call it the one-day answer or the one-hour answer. In work planning, we’re always iterating. Every time you see a 50-page work plan that stretches out to three months, you know it’s wrong. It will be outmoded very quickly by that learning process that you described. Iterative problem solving is a critical part of this. Sometimes, people think work planning sounds dull, but it isn’t. It’s how we know what’s expected of us and when we need to deliver it and how we’re progressing toward the answer. It’s also the place where we can deal with biases. Bias is a feature of every human decision-making process. If we design our team interactions intelligently, we can avoid the worst sort of biases.

Simon London: Here we’re talking about cognitive biases primarily, right? It’s not that I’m biased against you because of your accent or something. These are the cognitive biases that behavioral sciences have shown we all carry around, things like anchoring, overoptimism—these kinds of things.

Both: Yeah.

Charles Conn: Availability bias is the one that I’m always alert to. You think you’ve seen the problem before, and therefore what’s available is your previous conception of it—and we have to be most careful about that. In any human setting, we also have to be careful about biases that are based on hierarchies, sometimes called sunflower bias. I’m sure, Hugo, with your teams, you make sure that the youngest team members speak first. Not the oldest team members, because it’s easy for people to look at who’s senior and alter their own creative approaches.

Hugo Sarrazin: It’s helpful, at that moment—if someone is asserting a point of view—to ask the question “This was true in what context?” You’re trying to apply something that worked in one context to a different one. That can be deadly if the context has changed, and that’s why organizations struggle to change. You promote all these people because they did something that worked well in the past, and then there’s a disruption in the industry, and they keep doing what got them promoted even though the context has changed.

Simon London: Right. Right.

Hugo Sarrazin: So it’s the same thing in problem solving.

Charles Conn: And it’s why diversity in our teams is so important. It’s one of the best things about the world that we’re in now. We’re likely to have people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds, each of whom sees problems from a slightly different perspective. It is therefore much more likely that the team will uncover a truly creative and clever approach to problem solving.

Simon London: Let’s move on to step five. You’ve done your work plan. Now you’ve actually got to do the analysis. The thing that strikes me here is that the range of tools that we have at our disposal now, of course, is just huge, particularly with advances in computation, advanced analytics. There’s so many things that you can apply here. Just talk about the analysis stage. How do you pick the right tools?

Charles Conn: For me, the most important thing is that we start with simple heuristics and explanatory statistics before we go off and use the big-gun tools. We need to understand the shape and scope of our problem before we start applying these massive and complex analytical approaches.

Simon London: Would you agree with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: I agree. I think there are so many wonderful heuristics. You need to start there before you go deep into the modeling exercise. There’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening, though. In some cases, for some types of problems, it is even better to set yourself up to maximize your learning. Your problem-solving methodology is test and learn, test and learn, test and learn, and iterate. That is a heuristic in itself, the A/B testing that is used in many parts of the world. So that’s a problem-solving methodology. It’s nothing different. It just uses technology and feedback loops in a fast way. The other one is exploratory data analysis. When you’re dealing with a large-scale problem, and there’s so much data, I can get to the heuristics that Charles was talking about through very clever visualization of data.

You test with your data. You need to set up an environment to do so, but don’t get caught up in neural-network modeling immediately. You’re testing, you’re checking—“Is the data right? Is it sound? Does it make sense?”—before you launch too far.

Simon London: You do hear these ideas—that if you have a big enough data set and enough algorithms, they’re going to find things that you just wouldn’t have spotted, find solutions that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of. Does machine learning sort of revolutionize the problem-solving process? Or are these actually just other tools in the toolbox for structured problem solving?

Charles Conn: It can be revolutionary. There are some areas in which the pattern recognition of large data sets and good algorithms can help us see things that we otherwise couldn’t see. But I do think it’s terribly important we don’t think that this particular technique is a substitute for superb problem solving, starting with good problem definition. Many people use machine learning without understanding algorithms that themselves can have biases built into them. Just as 20 years ago, when we were doing statistical analysis, we knew that we needed good model definition, we still need a good understanding of our algorithms and really good problem definition before we launch off into big data sets and unknown algorithms.

Simon London: Step six. You’ve done your analysis.

Charles Conn: I take six and seven together, and this is the place where young problem solvers often make a mistake. They’ve got their analysis, and they assume that’s the answer, and of course it isn’t the answer. The ability to synthesize the pieces that came out of the analysis and begin to weave those into a story that helps people answer the question “What should I do?” This is back to where we started. If we can’t synthesize, and we can’t tell a story, then our decision maker can’t find the answer to “What should I do?”

Simon London: But, again, these final steps are about motivating people to action, right?

Charles Conn: Yeah.

Simon London: I am slightly torn about the nomenclature of problem solving because it’s on paper, right? Until you motivate people to action, you actually haven’t solved anything.

Charles Conn: I love this question because I think decision-making theory, without a bias to action, is a waste of time. Everything in how I approach this is to help people take action that makes the world better.

Simon London: Hence, these are absolutely critical steps. If you don’t do this well, you’ve just got a bunch of analysis.

Charles Conn: We end up in exactly the same place where we started, which is people speaking across each other, past each other in the public square, rather than actually working together, shoulder to shoulder, to crack these important problems.

Simon London: In the real world, we have a lot of uncertainty—arguably, increasing uncertainty. How do good problem solvers deal with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: At every step of the process. In the problem definition, when you’re defining the context, you need to understand those sources of uncertainty and whether they’re important or not important. It becomes important in the definition of the tree.

You need to think carefully about the branches of the tree that are more certain and less certain as you define them. They don’t have equal weight just because they’ve got equal space on the page. Then, when you’re prioritizing, your prioritization approach may put more emphasis on things that have low probability but huge impact—or, vice versa, may put a lot of priority on things that are very likely and, hopefully, have a reasonable impact. You can introduce that along the way. When you come back to the synthesis, you just need to be nuanced about what you’re understanding, the likelihood.

Often, people lack humility in the way they make their recommendations: “This is the answer.” They’re very precise, and I think we would all be well-served to say, “This is a likely answer under the following sets of conditions” and then make the level of uncertainty clearer, if that is appropriate. It doesn’t mean you’re always in the gray zone; it doesn’t mean you don’t have a point of view. It just means that you can be explicit about the certainty of your answer when you make that recommendation.

Simon London: So it sounds like there is an underlying principle: “Acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty. Don’t pretend that it isn’t there. Be very clear about what the uncertainties are up front, and then build that into every step of the process.”

Hugo Sarrazin: Every step of the process.

Simon London: Yeah. We have just walked through a particular structured methodology for problem solving. But, of course, this is not the only structured methodology for problem solving. One that is also very well-known is design thinking, which comes at things very differently. So, Hugo, I know you have worked with a lot of designers. Just give us a very quick summary. Design thinking—what is it, and how does it relate?

Hugo Sarrazin: It starts with an incredible amount of empathy for the user and uses that to define the problem. It does pause and go out in the wild and spend an enormous amount of time seeing how people interact with objects, seeing the experience they’re getting, seeing the pain points or joy—and uses that to infer and define the problem.

Simon London: Problem definition, but out in the world.

Hugo Sarrazin: With an enormous amount of empathy. There’s a huge emphasis on empathy. Traditional, more classic problem solving is you define the problem based on an understanding of the situation. This one almost presupposes that we don’t know the problem until we go see it. The second thing is you need to come up with multiple scenarios or answers or ideas or concepts, and there’s a lot of divergent thinking initially. That’s slightly different, versus the prioritization, but not for long. Eventually, you need to kind of say, “OK, I’m going to converge again.” Then you go and you bring things back to the customer and get feedback and iterate. Then you rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. There’s a lot of tactile building, along the way, of prototypes and things like that. It’s very iterative.

Simon London: So, Charles, are these complements or are these alternatives?

Charles Conn: I think they’re entirely complementary, and I think Hugo’s description is perfect. When we do problem definition well in classic problem solving, we are demonstrating the kind of empathy, at the very beginning of our problem, that design thinking asks us to approach. When we ideate—and that’s very similar to the disaggregation, prioritization, and work-planning steps—we do precisely the same thing, and often we use contrasting teams, so that we do have divergent thinking. The best teams allow divergent thinking to bump them off whatever their initial biases in problem solving are. For me, design thinking gives us a constant reminder of creativity, empathy, and the tactile nature of problem solving, but it’s absolutely complementary, not alternative.

Simon London: I think, in a world of cross-functional teams, an interesting question is do people with design-thinking backgrounds really work well together with classical problem solvers? How do you make that chemistry happen?

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah, it is not easy when people have spent an enormous amount of time seeped in design thinking or user-centric design, whichever word you want to use. If the person who’s applying classic problem-solving methodology is very rigid and mechanical in the way they’re doing it, there could be an enormous amount of tension. If there’s not clarity in the role and not clarity in the process, I think having the two together can be, sometimes, problematic.

The second thing that happens often is that the artifacts the two methodologies try to gravitate toward can be different. Classic problem solving often gravitates toward a model; design thinking migrates toward a prototype. Rather than writing a big deck with all my supporting evidence, they’ll bring an example, a thing, and that feels different. Then you spend your time differently to achieve those two end products, so that’s another source of friction.

Now, I still think it can be an incredibly powerful thing to have the two—if there are the right people with the right mind-set, if there is a team that is explicit about the roles, if we’re clear about the kind of outcomes we are attempting to bring forward. There’s an enormous amount of collaborativeness and respect.

Simon London: But they have to respect each other’s methodology and be prepared to flex, maybe, a little bit, in how this process is going to work.

Hugo Sarrazin: Absolutely.

Simon London: The other area where, it strikes me, there could be a little bit of a different sort of friction is this whole concept of the day-one answer, which is what we were just talking about in classical problem solving. Now, you know that this is probably not going to be your final answer, but that’s how you begin to structure the problem. Whereas I would imagine your design thinkers—no, they’re going off to do their ethnographic research and get out into the field, potentially for a long time, before they come back with at least an initial hypothesis.

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Hugo Sarrazin: That is a great callout, and that’s another difference. Designers typically will like to soak into the situation and avoid converging too quickly. There’s optionality and exploring different options. There’s a strong belief that keeps the solution space wide enough that you can come up with more radical ideas. If there’s a large design team or many designers on the team, and you come on Friday and say, “What’s our week-one answer?” they’re going to struggle. They’re not going to be comfortable, naturally, to give that answer. It doesn’t mean they don’t have an answer; it’s just not where they are in their thinking process.

Simon London: I think we are, sadly, out of time for today. But Charles and Hugo, thank you so much.

Charles Conn: It was a pleasure to be here, Simon.

Hugo Sarrazin: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Simon London: And thanks, as always, to you, our listeners, for tuning into this episode of the McKinsey Podcast . If you want to learn more about problem solving, you can find the book, Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything , online or order it through your local bookstore. To learn more about McKinsey, you can of course find us at McKinsey.com.

Charles Conn is CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation and an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office. Hugo Sarrazin is a senior partner in the Silicon Valley office, where Simon London, a member of McKinsey Publishing, is also based.

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How to become a strategic problem solver in 5 steps

A version of this tutorial originally appeared in the free Primer app .

Problem solving is an underrated talent. It helps you make clear decisions during turbulent, overwhelming times, and many experts identify it as a vital soft skill for job seekers post-pandemic .

To develop your problem-solving acumen, use a structured approach that focuses on the why, what, and how of your issue. Let’s break it down by asking five questions that will serve as a step-by-step guide.

Question 1: Why should I care about this problem?

Write a problem statement, which is a few short sentences describing an issue you’re facing that also affects your audience. Use specific, quantifiable details. Instead of, “We lose money each year due to quality issues,” a better statement would be, “In 2019, we lost $1 million due to quality errors. That’s 5% of our overall revenue.”

You don’t want to define a problem so big that you lack resources to solve it or get so specific that you miss the chance to have a greater impact. Also, avoid prematurely adding in a solution, like “We need to hire a quality assurance consultant.” Solutions come later.

Question 2: What does success look like?

Set an objective that defines what you want to achieve and key results to know when you’ve achieved it. Your objective should focus on a goal, not a solution. “Make our website an intuitive and enjoyable experience for visitors,” is an objective, but “Hire 5 UX designers,” is a solution. Then define measurable key results so you know for sure when you’ve achieved your goal. “Get increased click-throughs,” is vague, but you’ll know when you “Increase click-throughs by 30%.”

Question 3: How might I solve this problem?

Now it’s time to brainstorm potential solutions. Start by finding out as much as you can about your problem. Find out if there’s available research on problems like yours, and look to “parallel worlds” outside your industry where a similar issue has been addressed before.

If you’re holding a group brainstorm, choose one person as the moderator, and others as timekeeper and notetaker. Then brainstorm as many solutions as possible that might address your problem and help you reach your objective and key results. Tell everyone to be expansive in their thinking: Come up with both big and small ideas without self-editing.

Once you have a list of potential solutions, put them in a solution tree to help organize your goals and how you’ll get there (your strategy). Start by writing down your objective. For the sake of an easy example, let’s say your objective is “Increase product revenue.” Create branches from each objective that list solutions you brainstormed, like “Sell more of the same products,” and “Start selling new products.”

Solution tree

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Question 4: How should I actually solve the problem?

A prioritization map helps you winnow your ideas to decide in which ones you should invest effort. Make a graph with a vertical axis labeled “impact” and a horizontal axis labeled “effort.” Then plot out all your potential solutions on the graph.

Prioritization map

High-impact and high-effort solutions will likely be the main focus of your work. Ones that are high impact and low effort are quick wins, and good for building stakeholder confidence. Low-impact and low-effort solutions should be deprioritized and only focused on when you have some free time. Low-impact and high-effort solutions are probably not worth your time.

Question 5: How can I take action?

Make a simple plan to solve your problem, avoiding unnecessary detail. You can use an action tracker, which can be a spreadsheet that breaks down who does what and when. In the first column, put all the actions that make up your problem-solving steps. In the second column, note who is responsible for each action and when it should be done.

Action tracker

Discuss and agree on task ownership and due dates with the people responsible so that everyone is on the same page. Share your action tracker with the group and regularly review it together to make sure due dates are met.

Remember that no matter how well you plan, things will change and your plan will have to change too. Be prepared to modify it so you can stay on track and achieve your goals.

Problem solving doesn’t need to be complicated. By following the right steps, you can avoid jumping into solution mode too quickly. Just think of the structure “why, what, and how,” and you’ll start to see your problems in a new way.

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35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

five steps for problem solving

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

five steps for problem solving

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Your list of techniques for problem solving can be helpfully extended by adding TRIZ to the list of techniques. TRIZ has 40 problem solving techniques derived from methods inventros and patent holders used to get new patents. About 10-12 are general approaches. many organization sponsor classes in TRIZ that are used to solve business problems or general organiztational problems. You can take a look at TRIZ and dwonload a free internet booklet to see if you feel it shound be included per your selection process.

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Salene M. W. Jones Ph.D.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Solving problems the cognitive-behavioral way, problem solving is another part of behavioral therapy..

Posted February 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

  • What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  • Find a therapist who practices CBT
  • Problem-solving is one technique used on the behavioral side of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • The problem-solving technique is an iterative, five-step process that requires one to identify the problem and test different solutions.
  • The technique differs from ad-hoc problem-solving in its suspension of judgment and evaluation of each solution.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, cognitive behavioral therapy is more than challenging negative, automatic thoughts. There is a whole behavioral piece of this therapy that focuses on what people do and how to change their actions to support their mental health. In this post, I’ll talk about the problem-solving technique from cognitive behavioral therapy and what makes it unique.

The problem-solving technique

While there are many different variations of this technique, I am going to describe the version I typically use, and which includes the main components of the technique:

The first step is to clearly define the problem. Sometimes, this includes answering a series of questions to make sure the problem is described in detail. Sometimes, the client is able to define the problem pretty clearly on their own. Sometimes, a discussion is needed to clearly outline the problem.

The next step is generating solutions without judgment. The "without judgment" part is crucial: Often when people are solving problems on their own, they will reject each potential solution as soon as they or someone else suggests it. This can lead to feeling helpless and also discarding solutions that would work.

The third step is evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This is the step where judgment comes back.

Fourth, the client picks the most feasible solution that is most likely to work and they try it out.

The fifth step is evaluating whether the chosen solution worked, and if not, going back to step two or three to find another option. For step five, enough time has to pass for the solution to have made a difference.

This process is iterative, meaning the client and therapist always go back to the beginning to make sure the problem is resolved and if not, identify what needs to change.

Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

Advantages of the problem-solving technique

The problem-solving technique might differ from ad hoc problem-solving in several ways. The most obvious is the suspension of judgment when coming up with solutions. We sometimes need to withhold judgment and see the solution (or problem) from a different perspective. Deliberately deciding not to judge solutions until later can help trigger that mindset change.

Another difference is the explicit evaluation of whether the solution worked. When people usually try to solve problems, they don’t go back and check whether the solution worked. It’s only if something goes very wrong that they try again. The problem-solving technique specifically includes evaluating the solution.

Lastly, the problem-solving technique starts with a specific definition of the problem instead of just jumping to solutions. To figure out where you are going, you have to know where you are.

One benefit of the cognitive behavioral therapy approach is the behavioral side. The behavioral part of therapy is a wide umbrella that includes problem-solving techniques among other techniques. Accessing multiple techniques means one is more likely to address the client’s main concern.

Salene M. W. Jones Ph.D.

Salene M. W. Jones, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Washington State.

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Raising Self-Reliant Kids: 8 Steps To Foster Independence

Michael Vallejo, LCSW

Raising self-reliant kids is one of the biggest parenting flexes you can have. Our job as parents is to give our kids the skills they need to confidently navigate the world. As much as we want to be there for them, they must learn to rely on themselves and trust their abilities.

Self-reliance starts at home and isn’t as complicated as you might think to encourage. It takes intention, patience, and a bit of modeling as you teach your child how to be confident in themselves.

What Does It Mean for Your Child To Be Self-Reliant?

A self-reliant child is independent and autonomous. They understand their effort is valuable and can help them achieve their goals. Self-reliance lets your child trust their abilities to take on challenges and explore the world around them.

You’ve probably noticed your child striving for independence already. Kids crave autonomy, whether it’s putting on their own pair of shoes or dying their hair. It’s our job to give them the skills they need to build resilience and perseverance.

Benefits of Self-Reliance for Kids

Encouraging independence and self-reliance gives kids a good foundation for success. Self-reliant kids:

  • Make decisions more easily and usually make better choices
  • Have the ability to problem-solve and think creatively about situations
  • Feel more self-confident and have higher self-esteem
  • Have better emotional regulation

8 Steps To Foster Independence

Without self-reliance, kids depend on parents, teachers, siblings, and friends. Dependent kids rely heavily on others for guidance, problem-solving, and decision-making. On the other hand, self-reliant kids display independence but feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

1. Speak mindfully

Your words have power. What you say to your child and how you say it becomes their inner voice. You can help them feel empowered and confident or ashamed and inadequate.

Instead of getting frustrated and impatient as your child is busy with a task, praise their progress and effort. It’s easy to be annoyed by how long it takes to tie shoelaces when you’re trying to get out of the door. But when you reframe their behavior and recognize their effort, it makes them feel good and helps you keep your cool.

Some kids struggle to do challenging things. You can use positive reinforcement to encourage them to keep trying. The more you praise their specific efforts, the more of that behavior you’ll see. Positive reinforcement helps your child feel confident as they learn to do things independently.

2. Give age-appropriate responsibilities

Age-appropriate responsibilities empower kids to do things for themselves and contribute to the family and home. You can help your child take ownership of responsibilities by setting them collaboratively. Let them work out how to complete chores before jumping in to tell them how best to do it, and don’t remove obstacles they may face.

They can take ownership of their responsibilities by keeping a chore chart . Keeping track of their progress helps kids take responsibility for the consequences of failing to follow through with tasks.

3. Let them make decisions

How can you expect your child to trust themselves if you always make decisions for them?

If the idea of letting your child call the shots gives you a cold sweat, start with something small. For example, lay out two outfits and let your child choose which one to wear. For older kids, let them decide on a family activity for the weekend.

When you make decisions a normal part of the day, your child won’t find them stressful. They will also learn to assess risk because they make decisions, both good and bad, within the safe parameters you set. Letting kids make decisions, especially in the early years, helps them take risks, accept the outcome of their decisions, and become more independent and self-reliant [ * ].

4. Help them set goals

Kids learn to trust themselves when they set goals and take action to achieve them. Goals can range from small, like saving enough pocket money to buy a Lego set, to significant, like achieving high enough grades to get into a prestigious college. Goals should be:

  • S - Specific
  • M - Measurable
  • A - Achievable
  • R - Relevant
  • T - Time-Bound

Encourage your child to set long-term and short-term goals. Reaching short-term goals will give them a sense of achievement, helping them persevere as they work toward the long-term ones. Each time they successfully overcome frustration or tick a task off their list, they learn to trust themselves and their commitment more.

5. Teach Problem-Solving

A big part of self-reliance is learning to think critically and creatively when solving problems. According to some research, kids who can problem-solve have higher levels of self-esteem and confidence and display less challenging behavior [ * ].

You can model problem-solving by ‘thinking out loud.’ When you are trying to solve a problem, talk about it out loud so your child can see the process in action. You can also ask your child for their advice. Start with something simple like dinner. For example, “I was going to make quiche for dinner, but I don’t have enough eggs. What could we make instead?”

If your child has a problem, ask open-ended questions and guide them through the process of finding an answer. Brainstorm together and discuss different solutions. Give your child the opportunity to figure it out for themselves.

6. Encourage a growth mindset

Helping your child develop a growth mindset is invaluable. Kids with a growth mindset see failure as a learning opportunity and aren’t afraid to make mistakes. A growth mindset means your child will be more willing to take on challenging tasks.

For your child to tackle life independently, they must make mistakes, learn from them, and try new things. However, how you view your child’s success or failure can affect their mindset. Some research shows that parents who see failure as a negative focus on outcomes over progress and are more likely to have kids with a fixed mindset [ * ].

7. Foster self-confidence

Self-reliance happens when your child has the confidence to explore and is brave enough to learn new skills. The easiest way for you to foster self-confidence is to teach them practical skills. These may include:

  • Grocery shopping and budgeting
  • Prepping and cooking a meal
  • Caring for pets

Praise your child’s perseverance as they try new things. Be specific by praising their actions. For example, you can tell them. “Wow, the table looks beautiful. I love the flowers you added!”

8. Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is managing your emotions and responding rather than reacting to situations. To feel confident, independent, and empowered, your child must understand and deal with their feelings.

By embracing difficult situations, you can help your child develop self-reliance and emotional regulation. Scaffolding is an effective way to give your child just enough support to help them get through a challenging situation or task.

For example, if your child struggles with their English homework, help them with one or two questions to give them the confidence to tackle the rest independently.

Be sure to validate your child’s emotions. For example, “I see that you’re struggling. Homework can be hard.” This lets your child feel seen and creates a sense of safety and connection.

The Bottom Line

Self-reliance helps kids and teens become independent, confident people who can deal with challenges healthily and recover from setbacks.

Watching your kids grow up, make mistakes, and learn can be challenging. However, creating a safe space for them to explore and fail is exactly what they need as they learn how to trust themselves and their blossoming independence.

  • Awopetu, A. V. (2023, December 22). FOSTERING SELF-RELIANCE AND INDEPENDENCE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD: HOW EXPOSURE TO RISKY ACTIVITIES HELPS THERE. Awopetu | European Journal of Education Studies. https://oapub.org/edu/index.php/ejes/article/view/5141/7773
  • Fettig, A., Schultz, T. R., & Ostrosky, M. M. (2016, August 1). Storybooks and Beyond. Young Exceptional Children. https://doi.org/10.1177/1096250615576803
  • Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Parents’ Views of Failure Predict Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets. Psychological Science, 27(6), 859-869. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797616639727

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5 concepts from physics that could give you an edge as a startup founder.

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Physics concepts can provide valuable mental models for decision-making, strategy development, and ... [+] problem-solving. So, in this article, we discuss five essential ideas from physics that can be applied to the world of startups and entrepreneurship.

It’s hard to have a competitive edge as an entrepreneur and business manager if you are drawing your information from the same traditional business sources as all other entrepreneurs. Having a diverse knowledge base could help you see situations from a different angle, which could help you see threats and opportunities other founders could miss.

Certain physics concepts can provide valuable mental models for decision-making, strategy development, and problem-solving. So, in this article, we discuss five essential ideas coming from physics that can be applied to the world of startups and entrepreneurship.

1. Newton's First Law (Inertia)

Newton's First Law, also known as the law of inertia, states that an object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. This principle, discovered by Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century, describes the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion.

In the context of entrepreneurship, inertia can be seen in the resistance to change within organizations and markets. For startups, overcoming inertia means finding ways to disrupt the status quo and motivate stakeholders to embrace new ideas.

For example, when introducing a disruptive product, entrepreneurs must identify and apply the necessary "force" to overcome market resistance, such as compelling marketing strategies, demonstrations of value, or strategic partnerships.

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Understanding inertia helps entrepreneurs recognize that change requires deliberate effort and energy to shift established patterns and behaviors.

2. Newton's Second Law (F=ma)

Newton's Second Law states that the force acting on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration (F=ma). This law quantifies the relationship between an object's mass, the force applied to it, and the resulting acceleration.

For startups, this principle can be translated into the relationship between resources (mass), effort (force), and growth (acceleration). A startup with substantial resources (financial, human, technological) that applies significant effort (strategic planning, execution) will experience faster growth.

Conversely, a startup with limited resources must either find ways to increase efficiency or apply greater force to achieve acceleration. Entrepreneurs can use this model to assess their resource allocation and strategic efforts, ensuring that their actions are sufficient to drive the desired growth and momentum.

Combined with Newton’s first law, it follows that a huge amount of force is necessary to change the trajectory of a big corporation (a high-mass object) due to inertia. This is a big boon for startups, as they can react to shifting market conditions much quicker than established corporations that struggle to overcome their own inertia.

3. Thermodynamics And Conservation Of Energy

The first law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of conservation of energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed from one form to another. This principle, established in the 19th century, emphasizes the constancy of energy within a closed system.

In a startup context, this concept could be interpreted as a restatement of the economic concept of opportunity cost - there is no free lunch in business. By investing your energy (time, resources, etc.) in something, you are necessarily taking it away from something else. You have a finite amount of energy, which means that you need to use it wisely.

4. Leverage

Leverage, in the physical sense, refers to the use of a lever to amplify force, allowing a smaller force to move a larger load. The concept of leverage has been known since ancient times, with early civilizations using simple machines like levers to perform tasks more efficiently.

In business, leverage refers to using various means to amplify the impact of efforts and resources. This can include financial leverage (using debt to finance growth), operational leverage (scaling processes to increase output), and strategic leverage (forming alliances to enhance market presence).

Entrepreneurs can apply the principle of leverage to identify opportunities where small actions or investments can lead to significant gains. By strategically leveraging resources and capabilities, startups can achieve exponential growth and competitive advantage with minimal initial input.

In fact, this is a crucial concept for early-stage startups. Initially, you have very little force to apply to your project. This means that in order to achieve a significant impact, you need to leverage it. Traditionally, this is done by using other people’s resources (capital) in addition to scalable technology, which presents another form of leverage for your efforts.

5. Momentum

Momentum, a concept from classical mechanics, is the product of an object's mass and velocity. It represents the quantity of motion an object has and is a measure of how difficult it is to stop that object.

In the entrepreneurial world, momentum signifies the progress and traction a startup gains over time. Once a startup begins to build momentum through early successes, customer acquisitions, or funding rounds, it becomes easier to sustain and accelerate growth. Maintaining momentum requires continuous effort and focus, ensuring that the startup does not lose its forward motion. Entrepreneurs should seek to build and sustain momentum by setting achievable milestones, celebrating wins, and maintaining a consistent pace of development and innovation.

Abdo Riani

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Trust in AI is more than a moral problem

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Time's almost up! There's only one week left to request an invite to The AI Impact Tour on June 5th. Don't miss out on this incredible opportunity to explore various methods for auditing AI models. Find out how you can attend here .

The economic potential of AI is uncontested, but it is largely unrealized by organizations, with an astounding 87% of AI projects failing to succeed.

Some consider this a technology problem, others a business problem, a culture problem or an industry problem — but the latest evidence reveals that it is a trust problem.

According to recent research, nearly two-thirds of C-suite executives say that trust in AI drives revenue, competitiveness and customer success.

Trust has been a complicated word to unpack when it comes to AI. Can you trust an AI system ? If so, how? We don’t trust humans immediately, and we’re even less likely to trust AI systems immediately.

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Join us next week in NYC to engage with top executive leaders, delving into strategies for auditing AI models to ensure fairness, optimal performance, and ethical compliance across diverse organizations. Secure your attendance for this exclusive invite-only event.

But a lack of trust in AI is holding back economic potential, and many of the recommendations for building trust in AI systems have been criticized as too abstract or far-reaching to be practical.

It’s time for a new “AI Trust Equation” focused on practical application.

The AI trust equation

The Trust Equation, a concept for building trust between people, was first proposed in The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford. The equation is Trust = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy, divided by Self-Orientation.

five steps for problem solving

It is clear at first glance why this is an ideal equation for building trust between humans, but it does not translate to building trust between humans and machines.

For building trust between humans and machines , the new AI Trust Equation is Trust = Security + Ethics + Accuracy, divided by Control.

five steps for problem solving

Security forms the first step in the path to trust, and it is made up of several key tenets that are well outlined elsewhere. For the exercise of building trust between humans and machines, it comes down to the question: “Will my information be secure if I share it with this AI system?”

Ethics is more complicated than security because it is a moral question rather than a technical question. Before investing in an AI system, leaders need to consider:

  • How were people treated in the making of this model, such as the Kenyan workers in the making of ChatGPT? Is that something I/we feel comfortable with supporting by building our solutions with it?
  • Is the model explainable? If it produces a harmful output, can I understand why? And is there anything I can do about it (see Control)?
  • Are there implicit or explicit biases in the model? This is a thoroughly documented problem, such as the Gender Shades research from Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru and Google’s recent attempt to eliminate bias in their models, which resulted in creating ahistorical biases .
  • What is the business model for this AI system? Are those whose information and life’s work have trained the model being compensated when the model built on their work generates revenue?
  • What are the stated values of the company that created this AI system, and how well do the actions of the company and its leadership track to those values? OpenAI’s recent choice to imitate Scarlett Johansson’s voice without her consent, for example, shows a significant divide between the stated values of OpenAI and Altman’s decision to ignore Scarlett Johansson’s choice to decline the use of her voice for ChatGPT.

Accuracy can be defined as how reliably the AI system provides an accurate answer to a range of questions across the flow of work. This can be simplified to: “When I ask this AI a question based on my context, how useful is its answer?” The answer is directly intertwined with 1) the sophistication of the model and 2) the data on which it’s been trained.

Control is at the heart of the conversation about trusting AI, and it ranges from the most tactical question: “Will this AI system do what I want it to do, or will it make a mistake?” to the one of the most pressing questions of our time: “Will we ever lose control over intelligent systems?” In both cases, the ability to control the actions, decisions and output of AI systems underpins the notion of trusting and implementing them.

5 steps to using the AI trust equation

  •  Determine whether the system is useful: Before investing time and resources in investigating whether an AI platform is trustworthy, organizations would benefit from determining whether a platform is useful in helping them create more value.
  • Investigate if the platform is secure: What happens to your data if you load it into the platform? Does any information leave your firewall? Working closely with your security team or hiring security advisors is critical to ensuring you can rely on the security of an AI system.
  • Set your ethical threshold and evaluate all systems and organizations against it: If any models you invest in must be explainable, define, to absolute precision, a common, empirical definition of explainability across your organization, with upper and lower tolerable limits, and measure proposed systems against those limits. Do the same for every ethical principle your organization determines is non-negotiable when it comes to leveraging AI.
  • Define your accuracy targets and don’t deviate: It can be tempting to adopt a system that doesn’t perform well because it’s a precursor to human work. But if it’s performing below an accuracy target you’ve defined as acceptable for your organization, you run the risk of low quality work output and a greater load on your people. More often than not, low accuracy is a model problem or a data problem, both of which can be addressed with the right level of investment and focus.
  • Decide what degree of control your organization needs and how it’s defined: How much control you want decision-makers and operators to have over AI systems will determine whether you want a fully autonomous system, semi-autonomous, AI-powered, or if your organizational tolerance level for sharing control with AI systems is a higher bar than any current AI systems may be able to reach.

In the era of AI, it can be easy to search for best practices or quick wins, but the truth is: no one has quite figured all of this out yet, and by the time they do, it won’t be differentiating for you and your organization anymore.

So, rather than wait for the perfect solution or follow the trends set by others, take the lead. Assemble a team of champions and sponsors within your organization, tailor the AI Trust Equation to your specific needs, and start evaluating AI systems against it. The rewards of such an endeavor are not just economic but also foundational to the future of technology and its role in society.

Some technology companies see the market forces moving in this direction and are working to develop the right commitments, control and visibility into how their AI systems work — such as with Salesforce’s Einstein Trust Layer — and others are claiming that that any level of visibility would cede competitive advantage. You and your organization will need to determine what degree of trust you want to have both in the output of AI systems as well as with the organizations that build and maintain them.

AI’s potential is immense, but it will only be realized when AI systems and the people who make them can reach and maintain trust within our organizations and society. The future of AI depends on it.

Brian Evergreen is author of “Autonomous Transformation: Creating a More Human Future in the Era of Artificial Intelligence .”

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