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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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  • The Three Stages of the Problem-Solving Cycle

Essentially every problem-solving heuristic in mathematics goes back to George Polya’s How to Solve It ; my approach is no exception. However, this cyclic description might help to keep the process cognitively present.

A few months ago, I produced a video describing this the three stages of the problem-solving cycle: Understand, Strategize, and Implement. That is, we must first understand the problem, then we think of strategies that might help solve the problem, and finally we implement those strategies and see where they lead us. During two decades of observing myself and others in the teaching and learning process, I’ve noticed that the most neglected phase is often the first one—understanding the problem.

cycle-3

The Three Stages Explained

  • What am I looking for?
  • What is the unknown?
  • Do I understand every word and concept in the problem?
  • Am I familiar with the units in which measurements are given?
  • Is there information that seems missing?
  • Is there information that seems superfluous?
  • Is the source of information bona fide? (Think about those instances when a friend gives you a puzzle to solve and you suspect there’s something wrong with the way the puzzle is posed.)
  • Logical reasoning
  • Pattern recognition
  • Working backwards
  • Adopting a different point of view
  • Considering extreme cases
  • Solving a simpler analogous problem
  • Organizing data
  • Making a visual representation
  • Accounting for all possibilities
  • Intelligent guessing and testing

I have produced videos explaining each one of these strategies individually using problems we have solved at the Chapel Hill Math Circle.

  • Implementing : We now implement our strategy or set of strategies. As we progress, we check our reasoning and computations (if any). Many novice problem-solvers make the mistake of “doing something” before understanding (or at least thinking they understand) the problem. For instance, if you ask them “What are you looking for?”, they might not be able to answer. Certainly, it is possible to have an incorrect understanding of the problem, but that is different from not even realizing that we have to understand the problem before we attempt to solve it!

As we implement our strategies, we might not be able to solve the problem, but we might refine our understanding of the problem. As we refine our understanding of the problem, we can refine our strategy. As we refine our strategy and implement a new approach, we get closer to solving the problem, and so on. Of course, even after several iterations of this cycle spanning across hours, days, or even years, one may still not be able to solve a particular problem. That’s part of the enchanting beauty of mathematics.

I invite you to observe your own thinking—and that of your students—as you move along the problem-solving cycle!

[1] Problem-Solving Strategies in Mathematics , Posamentier and Krulik, 2015.

About the author: You may contact Hector Rosario at [email protected].

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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!

LOOKING FOR ASSISTANCE WITH YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS?

There's a lot to take in here, but following some of these methods are sure to improve your problem-solving process. However, if you really want to take problem-solving to the next level, InitiativeOne can come alongside your team to help you solve problems much faster than you ever have before.

There are several parts to this leadership transformation process provided by InitiativeOne, including a personal profile assessment, cognitive learning, group sessions with real-world challenges, personal discovery, and a toolkit to empower leaders to perform at their best.

There are really only two things stopping good teams from being great. One is how they make decisions and two is how they solve problems. Contact us today to grow your team’s leadership performance by making decisions and solving problems more swiftly than ever before!

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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."

steps in the problem solving cycle

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

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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.

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20

Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9

Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579

Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517

Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7

Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality .  Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050

Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition .  Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .

Mayer RE. Thinking, problem solving, cognition, 2nd ed .

Schooler JW, Ohlsson S, Brooks K. Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight. J Experiment Psychol: General . 1993;122:166-183. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.2.166

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

Psychological Steps Involved in Problem Solving

steps in the problem solving cycle

A mental process or a phenomenon dedicated towards solving problems by discovering and analyzing the problem is referred to as problem-solving. It is a process dedicated to finding not just any solution, but the best solution to resolve any problems. There is no such thing as one best way to solve every kind of problem, since there are unique problems depending upon the situation there are unique solutions too.

Steps involved in problem solving

In psychology, problem solving doesn’t necessarily refer to solving psychological/mental issues of the brain. The process simply refers to solving every kind of problems in life in a proper manner. The idea of including the subject in psychology is because psychology deals with the overall mental process. And, tactfully using our thought process is what leads to the solution of any problems.

There are number of rigid psychological steps involved in problem solving, which is also referred as problem-solving cycle. The steps are in sequential order, and solving any problem requires following them one after another. But, we tend to avoid following this rigid set of steps, which is why it often requires us to go through the same steps over and over again until a satisfactory solution is reached.

Here are the steps involved in problem solving, approved by expert psychologists.

1. Identifying the Problem

Identifying the problem seems like the obvious first stem, but it’s not exactly as simple as it sounds. People might identify the wrong source of a problem, which will render the steps thus carried on useless.

For instance , let’s say you’re having trouble with your studies. identifying the root of your failure is your first priority. The problem here could be that you haven’t been allocating enough time for your studies, or you haven’t tried the right techniques. But, if you make an assumption that the problem here is the subject being too hard, you won’t be able to solve the problem.

2. Defining/Understanding the Problem

Defining the problem

It’s vital to properly define the problem once it’s been identified. Only by defining the problem, further steps can be taken to solve it. While at it, you also need to take into consideration different perspectives to understand any problem; this will also help you look for solutions with different perspectives.

Now, following up with the previous example . Let’s say you have identified the problem as not being able to allocate enough time for your studies. You need to sort out the reason behind it. Have you just been procrastinating? Have you been too busy with work? You need to understand the whole problem and reasons behind it, which is the second step in problem solving.

3. Forming a Strategy

Developing a strategy is the next step to finding a solution. Each different situation will require formulating different strategies, also depending on individual’s unique preferences.

Now, you have identified and studied your problem. You can’t just simply jump into trying to solve it. You can’t just quit work and start studying. You need to draw up a strategy to manage your time properly. Allocate less time for not-so-important works, and add them to your study time. Your strategy should be well thought, so that in theory at least, you are able to manage enough time to study properly and not fail in the exams.

4. Organizing Information

Organizing information when solving a problem

Organizing the available information is another crucial step to the process. You need to consider

  • What do you know about the problem?
  • What do you not know about the problem?

Accuracy of the solution for your problem will depend on the amount of information available.

The hypothetical strategy you formulate isn’t the all of it either. You need to now contemplate on the information available on the subject matter. Use the aforementioned questions to find out more about the problem. Proper organization of the information will force you to revise your strategy and refine it for best results.

5. Allocating Resources

Time, money and other resources aren’t unlimited. Deciding how high the priority is to solve your problem will help you determine the resources you’ll be using in your course to find the solution. If the problem is important, you can allocate more resources to solving it. However, if the problem isn’t as important, it’s not worth the time and money you might spend on it if not for proper planning.

For instance , let’s consider a different scenario where your business deal is stuck, but it’s few thousand miles away. Now, you need to analyze the problem and the resources you can afford to expend to solve the particular problem. If the deal isn’t really in your favor, you could just try solving it over the phone, however, more important deals might require you to fly to the location in order to solve the issue.

6. Monitoring Progress

Monitoring progress of solution of a problem

You need to document your progress as you are finding a solution. Don’t rely on your memory, no matter how good your memory is. Effective problem-solvers have been known to monitor their progress regularly. And, if they’re not making as much progress as they’re supposed to, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies.

Problem solving isn’t an overnight feat. You can’t just have a body like that of Brad Pitt after a single session in the gym. It takes time and patience. Likewise, you need to work towards solving any problem every day until you finally achieve the results. Looking back at the previous example , if everything’s according to plan, you will be allocating more and more time for your studies until finally you are confident that you’re improving. One way to make sure that you’re on a right path to solving a problem is by keeping track of the progress. To solve the problem illustrated in the first example, you can take self-tests every week or two and track your progress.

7. Evaluating the Results

Your job still isn’t done even if you’ve reached a solution. You need to evaluate the solution to find out if it’s the best possible solution to the problem. The evaluation might be immediate or might take a while. For instance , answer to a math problem can be checked then and there, however solution to your yearly tax issue might not be possible to be evaluated right there.

  • Take time to identify the possible sources of the problem. It’s better to spend a substantial amount of time on something right, than on something completely opposite.
  • Ask yourself questions like What, Why, How to figure out the causes of the problem. Only then can you move forward on solving it.
  • Carefully outline the methods to tackle the problem. There might be different solutions to a problem, record them all.
  • Gather all information about the problem and the approaches. More, the merrier.
  • From the outlined methods, choose the ones that are viable to approach. Try discarding the ones that have unseen consequences.
  • Track your progress as you go.
  • Evaluate the outcome of the progress.

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7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

September 1, 2016 | Leadership Articles

7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

An effective problem-solving process is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones.

Being a successful leader doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems. Rather, it means that you know how to solve problems effectively as they arise. If you never had to deal with any problems, chances are pretty high that your company doesn’t really need you. They could hire an entry-level person to do your job!

Unfortunately, there are many examples of leaders out there who have been promoted to management or leadership positions because they are competent and excel in the technical skills needed to do the work. These people find themselves suddenly needing to “think on their feet” and solve problems that are far more high-level and complicated than they’ve ever really had to deal with before. Are there tools available to these people to help them solve the problem correctly and effectively? Absolutely!

Today, I am going to introduce you to the Seven Steps of Effective Problem Solving that Bullet Proof® Managers are learning about, developing, and implementing in their teams.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

What are things like when they are the way we want them to be?

This question helps you find the standard against which we’re going to measure where we are now. If things were going the way we want them to go, what does that look like? If this person were doing the job we want him or her to do, what would they be doing?

And then ask this important question: How much variation from the norm is tolerable?

Therein lies the problem. From an engineering perspective, you might have very little tolerance. From a behavioral perspective, you might have more tolerance. You might say it’s okay with me when this person doesn’t do it exactly as I say because I’m okay with them taking some liberty with this. Some other issue you may need 100% compliance.

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

At what stage is this problem? This helps you identify the urgency of the problem, and there are generally three stages.

The emergent stage is where the problem is just beginning to happen. It does not cause an immediate threat to the way business operates every day. It is just beginning to happen and you have time on your side to be able to correct it without it causing much damage to the processes it is affecting. The mature stage is where this problem is causing more than just minor damage. Some amount of damage has been done, and you need to jump on it immediately to fix it before it becomes a problem where the consequences may be greater, deeper, and more expensive if we don’t solve this problem fast.

The third stage is the crisis stage, when the problem is so serious it must be corrected immediately. At this stage, real damage has been done to company processes, reputation, finances, etc. that will have potentially long-term effects on your ability to do business.

Step 3: Describe the Problem

You should be able to describe a problem by writing it in the form of a statement and you should do it in 12 words or less, assuming it’s not a complicated, scientific problem. This way, you have clarity exactly what the issue is. Then, perhaps try distributing it to your team to ensure they agree that this is the root of the problem, that it makes sense, and everyone that is working toward a solution is working toward the same goal.

The most important question of all, when describing your problem: Is your premise correct?

Let me give you an example of what I mean. We’ve all heard – or read – the story of the engineer’s take on the old “half empty, half full” question. A speaker holds up the glass of water and asks if the glass is half empty or half full, a discussion within the group ensues, and you generally expect some sort of lesson in optimism, etc. from it. In this version, an engineer is in the room and answers, “I see this glass of water as being twice the size it needs to be.”

You see, sometimes when you are the one in charge of the problem, you tend to set the premise of the problem from your own perspective. But, that premise may not be accurate, or it may just need an alternate perspective from which to see it. If your premise is not correct, or at least incomplete, you are not fully understanding the problem and considering all the best options for a solution.

Step 4: Look for Root Causes

This step involves asking and answering a lot of questions. Ask questions like: What caused this problem? Who is responsible for this problem? When did this problem first emerge? Why did this happen? How did this variance from the standard come to be? Where does it hurt us the most? How do we go about resolving this problem?

Also, ask the most important question: Can we solve this problem for good so it will never occur again? Because an important aspect to leadership is coming up with solutions that people can use for a long-term benefit, rather than having to deal with the same problems over and over and over.

Step 5: Develop Alternate Solutions

Just about any problem you have to deal with has more solutions to it than the one that you think of first. So, it is best to develop a list of alternate solutions that you and your team can assess and decide which one will be the best for the particular problem. I often use the ⅓ + 1 Rule to create consensus around one – or the top two or three solutions – that will be best for everyone involved.

Then rank those solutions based on efficiency, cost, long-term value, what resources you have and that you can commit to the solution of the problem. Then, look at every one of those solutions carefully and decide what you believe to be the best solution to this problem at this time.

Step 6: Implement the Solution

Implementing the solution you decide on can include creating an implementation plan. It could also include planning on what happens next if something goes wrong with the solution if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. Implementation means that everyone on your team knows and understands their part in making the solution work, that there are timelines for execution, and also that you have a system in place to track whether or not the solution has corrected the problem.

Step 7: Measure the Results

From your implementation plan in step 6, make sure you track and measure the results so you can answer questions such as: Did it work? Was this a good solution? Did we learn something here in the implementation that we could apply to other potential problems?

These seven simple steps will help you become a more effective, efficient problem solver in your organization. As you practice this process and develop the skills, these steps will become more natural to you until the point that you are using them without noticing!

About Crestcom International, LLC.

Crestcom International, LLC is an international leadership development organization, training more than one million leaders for 25,000 businesses in over 60 countries across the globe. Crestcom achieves this through a blend of live-facilitated multimedia video, interactive exercises, and shared learning experiences. Crestcom implements action plans and coaching accountability sessions to ensure measured development in key leadership competency areas. For more information, please contact your local Crestcom representative found here .

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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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Six Steps to Develop an Effective Problem-Solving Process

by Rawzaba Alhalabi Published on November 1, 2017

Problem-solving involves thought and understanding. Although it may appear simple, identifying a problem may be a challenging process.

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes”, says American industrialist Henry Kaiser. According to Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995), a problem is “ doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution” and “something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with.” Such situations are at the center of what many people do at work every day.

Whether to help a client solve a problem, support a problem-solver, or to discover new problems, problem-solving is a crucial element to the workplace ingredients. Everyone can benefit from effective problem-solving skills that would make people happier. Everyone wins. Hence, this approach is a critical element but how can you do it effectively? You need to find a solution, but not right away. People tend to put the solution at the beginning of the process but they actually needed it at the end of the process.

Here are six steps to an effective problem-solving process:

Identify the issues, understand everyone’s interests, list the possible solutions, make a decision, implement the solution.

By following the whole process, you will be able to enhance your problem-solving skills and increase your patience. Keep in mind that effective problem solving does take some time and attention. You have to always be ready to hit the brakes and slow down. A problem is like a bump road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape.

Case study 1:

According to Real Time Economics, there are industries that have genuinely evolved, with more roles for people with analytical and problem-solving skills. In healthcare, for example, a regulatory change requiring the digitization of health records has led to greater demand for medical records technicians. Technological change in the manufacturing industry has reduced routine factory jobs while demanding more skilled workers who can operate complex machinery.

Case study 2:

Yolanda was having a hard time dealing with difficult clients and dealing with her team at the office, so she decided to take a problem-solving course. “I was very pleased with the 2-day Problem Solving program at RSM.  It is an excellent investment for anyone involved in the strategic decision-making process—be it in their own company or as a consultant charged with supporting organizations facing strategic challenges.“

Yolanda Barreros Gutiérrez, B&C Consulting

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Mastering Problem-Solving: Essential Steps and Skills

Written by Salary.com Staff

July 15, 2024

Mastering Problem-Solving: Essential Steps and Skills Hero

Problem-solving skills are essential in both personal and work situations. They help you handle challenges well and get the results you want. Good problem-solving improves decision-making and resilience in handling conflicts and helps businesses succeed. Continue reading to learn the essential steps and skills required for efficient problem-solving.

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Define and Understand the Problem

Good problem-solving starts by clearly defining the issue and understanding it completely. This involves:

Identifying Specific Challenges

Start by clearly defining the specific problems affecting the situation or process, taking the time to understand what exactly is going wrong and why. For example, when your team is missing project deadlines, identify the specific issues causing delays. Is it a lack of resources, poor communication, or unrealistic timelines? By getting specific about what's wrong, you can target your efforts more effectively.

Distinguishing Symptoms vs. Root Causes

Symptoms are the signs that something is wrong. They are often the most obvious part of the problem and are what initially draw your attention. For example, low sales can show lower revenue, unsold products, and fewer customer inquiries.

Root causes, on the other hand, are the fundamental issues that lead to the symptoms. Identifying root causes requires digging deeper and asking why the symptoms are occurring. For example, low sales can be due to low product quality, high prices, or bad customer service. Addressing these root causes is necessary to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.

Importance of Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis reveals the true reasons behind a problem, not just the surface symptoms. By finding and fixing root causes, you stop problems from recurring, which leads to better processes and efficiency. Root cause analysis promotes a culture of continuous improvement. When team members focus on root causes, they become better at identifying and solving potential issues.

Generate and Evaluate Solutions

Once you spot the problem and root cause, it's time to think about the solution. Effective problem-solving often starts with generating and evaluating a variety of solutions. Here are some practical techniques to help you brainstorm and generate ideas:

Brainstorming Sessions

Gather a diverse group of individuals to generate ideas collectively. Encourage participants to freely contribute ideas without criticism or judgment. Quantity is key initially; aim to generate as many ideas as possible.

Mind Mapping

Create visual diagrams that start with the central problem or idea in the middle. Branch out with related concepts, solutions, and implications. This technique helps visualize connections and explore different avenues.

SWOT Analysis

Assess the problem by considering its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. SWOT analysis looks at a problem by examining its internal strengths and weaknesses and evaluates external opportunities and threats. This approach helps understand the problem and generates solutions based on strengths and opportunities.

Technology and Tools

Digital tools and software designed for ideation and problem-solving are widely available. Use these tools to simplify working with your team. You can use online collaboration platforms, idea management software, and virtual brainstorming tools. These tools can simplify brainstorming sessions and idea generation across teams and locations.

Prioritization and Evaluation

Once you've got ideas, check each one against the criteria. Verify its feasibility, cost, suitability for your goals, and potential impact. Rank them based on how effective they are in solving the main problem and producing the desired outcome.

Using these techniques helps individuals and teams be more creative. Brainstorming helps them see problems from different angles and come up with fresh ideas. The key is to establish a collaborative, encouraging atmosphere where people can think creatively and are receptive to new ideas. Evaluating Options

After brainstorming for solutions, it’s now time to evaluate your options. When choosing solutions, it's important to check each one against key criteria to ensure that they effectively address the issue at hand. Here’s how:

Feasibility

Think about whether the solution is doable with the resources, skills, and time you have. For instance, using a new technology may need a lot of money and training at the start.

Cost-Effectiveness

You need to consider the budget as well. Look at how much each solution will cost, both upfront and in the long run. Think about whether it saves money over time and check how well each solution lasts over time. It's best to choose solutions that bring long-term benefits and can handle future changes. For example, a quick and cheap fix might look good now, but it has to be sustainable to maximize its effectiveness.

Alignment with Goals

Assess how each solution aligns with your main goals and strategic priorities. Solutions must help achieve these goals, not work against them. For instance, if you want to make customers happier, the solutions need to directly improve their experience.

Root Cause Addressing

Focus on solutions that solve the main problem, not just the symptoms. Fixing the root cause stops the problem from happening again. If products fail due to manufacturing issues, improve the production process—this solution is better than repeatedly replacing faulty items.

By comparing potential solutions to these criteria, you can choose the most effective solution for the problem. This methodical approach enhances decision-making and increases the likelihood of achieving sustainable results.

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Implementing the Solution

Now it's time to put your solution in place. Implementing a chosen solution involves more than just putting it into action. It requires careful planning and systematic monitoring to ensure its effectiveness and success.

Planning Implementation

Develop a detailed implementation plan that outlines specific steps, responsibilities, and timelines. The plan must include an explanation of how to roll out the solution, who will be involved, and what resources you need. For example, if you are upgrading software, the plan needs to include details on installation, testing, and training processes.

Executing the Solution

Execute the implementation plan with precision. Make sure that team members carry out each step as intended. This may involve training team members, updating procedures, or integrating new technologies. For example, if the manager introduces a new workflow, make sure everyone is aware of and understands their roles.

Monitoring Progress

Monitor the performance of the solution. Collect data such as customer feedback, productivity, or financial performance. For example, after a new marketing campaign, check website traffic, sales, and customer inquiries to see if it's working.

Adjusting as Needed

Be prepared to make adjustments based on monitoring results. If the data shows the solution isn't working, figure out why and make changes. This keeps the solution on track and adaptable to changes.

Ensuring Sustainability

Implement measures to sustain the solution's effectiveness over time. This may include ongoing training, regular performance reviews, or periodic evaluations. For example, if the managers introduce a new quality control process, set up regular audits and improvement routines.

Reviewing progress during implementation ensures that efforts align with objectives. It enables quick adjustments, encourages responsibility, and supports ongoing improvement. Monitoring is crucial for achieving success and keeping momentum during implementation.

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To sum up, effective problem-solving comes down to a few key steps and skills. It's important to first have a thorough awareness of the issue. After that, you generate concepts and make informed judgments.  And finally, you carefully put your plans into action and keep track of their progress.

These strategies aren't just for work—they're tools you can use in everyday life too. Whether you're handling a project at work or facing a challenge in your personal life, keep these steps in mind. They'll help you navigate complexities and find solutions that actually work. By mastering these skills, you're not just solving problems; you're also gaining confidence and achieving your goals effectively.

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Psychology Spot

All About Psychology

The 5 phases of problem solving

phases of problem solving

Problem solving is a complex psychological process through which we try to find the best way to overcome an obstacle or face a challenge. Unfortunately, this process is not always linear, but can follow tortuous paths, plunging us into a situation of psychological anguish when we believe that there is no possible solution.

On the other hand, knowing the phases of problem solving will save us a lot of headaches. Providing a coherent structure to the situation that concerns us, and having a common thread that guides us along the way, will help us to put some order in the mental chaos that problems usually generate.

To Solve a Problem, Experience Does not Always Work in Our Favor

Experience can be a plus or, on the contrary, become an impediment to solving problems. Psychologists from the universities of Hong Kong and Princeton examined how we implement problem-solving strategies by asking a group of people to solve a series of problems with matches.

Participants were presented with a series of linked squares. Each square in the matrix was made up of separate pieces, and people had to remove a certain number of matches while keeping a specified number of squares intact. The interesting thing about these types of problems is that they generally have more than one solution, different strategies can be used and these must change according to the configuration of the matrix, just as it usually happens with life problems.

These researchers found that participants went through two major stages in problem solving. At first they let themselves be carried away by the perceptual characteristics of the problem and began to explore different strategies, some successful and others not.

In a second moment they used the accumulated experience to narrow their options of strategies, focusing on those that were more successful. The problem is that the more the participants trusted their strategic knowledge, the more difficulties they had in solving problems that demanded the application of novel strategies. In practice, they suffered from a kind of functional fixation.

These series of experiments show us that to solve a problem we must keep an open mind because along the way circumstances are likely to change and we need the mental flexibility necessary to change our problem-solving strategies.

The Stages of Problem Solving We Can All Apply

1. Identify the problem

It may seem like a truism, but the truth is that identifying the real problem is not as easy as it seems, especially when it comes to a situation that affects us emotionally. In fact, when the problem is too scary or we sense that we do not have the psychological tools to solve it, we usually put into practice defense mechanisms such as displacement that allow us to erase the problematic situation from our conscious mind.

Instead, being able to identify the problem is the first step in finding a solution. Many times that means stopping looking outside for the culprits and searching within, wondering why a situation is particularly bothering or hindering us.

2. Understand the problem

Many times the problem brings with it the seed of the solution. So one of the steps in solving a problem is making sure we understand it. It is not enough to identify the problem, we need to define it. For this we need to analyze it from different perspectives.

For example, if we are trying to carry out a professional project that does not finish taking off, we have to clarify the reasons. Do we need more training? Are we in an overly competitive sector? Do we have enough resources? We need to understand the source of the problem.

Organizing the information available is another crucial step in the problem-solving process. We have to ask ourselves both, what we know about the problem and everything we do not know. Ultimately, the accuracy of the solution will largely depend on the amount of information available.

3. Assume a psychological distance

Most of the major problems in life have the potential to generate an emotional tsunami. However, many times that affective involvement obfuscates and prevents us from thinking clearly. That is why on many occasions one of the most important but least known phases for solving problems consists of moving away from what concerns us. To assume a psychological distance , we can take a few days away from the problematic environment or try to stop thinking about what worries us for a while.

During that time the unconscious mind will continue to work and is likely to generate creative and perfectly valid insights that lead to the solution of the problem. That distance to allow us to overcome the functional fixations that prevent us from thinking outside the box, giving way to a mental restructuring that will allow us to see the problem from another perspective.

4. Find solutions and develop strategies

Each problem is different, so it will require a specific solution. A solution cannot always be reached by insight, so it will be necessary to think of possible alternatives to solve the problem. Synectics , for example, is a problem-solving method that uses creativity to find original solutions.

The next step is to develop a strategy, since solutions that do not materialize in concrete steps are very difficult to implement. Therefore, we must ask ourselves how we are going to implement our solution. In this phase of problem solving it is important to be honest with ourselves and “land” that strategy taking into account our resources and real availability. It is useless to develop a great strategy if we cannot apply it later.

5. Evaluation of progress

Very few problems are solved overnight. These are generally complex situations that we must patiently “unwind” over time. Therefore, another of the phases to solve a problem consists of monitoring the results that we are achieving. This way we make sure that we are on the right track and we are not wasting energy and time uselessly.

In this last stage of problem solving it is important to be able to adapt our expectations. It is difficult for a professional project to take off in the blink of an eye, so we must focus on the small steps that indicate that the solution is paying off. To do this, it is important to sit down and reflect on the impact of the solution from time to time.

We must also bear in mind that circumstances often change, so we may need to make adjustments to our initial solution. This requires great mental flexibility to change course when we realize that the strategy is not as effective as we would like.

Fedor, A. et. Al. (2015) Problem solving stages in the five square problem.  Front. Psychol ; 6: 1050.

Louis Lee, N. Y. & Johnson-Laird, P. N. (2013) Strategic changes in problem solving.  Journal of Cognitive Psychology ; 25: 165–173. 

Gillen, G. (2009) Managing Executive Function Impairments to Optimize Function.  Cognitive and Perceptual Rehabilitation ; 245-283.

Jennifer Delgado

Psychologist Jennifer Delgado

I am a psychologist and I spent several years writing articles for scientific journals specialized in Health and Psychology. I want to help you create great experiences. Learn more about me .

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Seven Step Problem Solving Technique

What's the problem?

Our seven step problem solving technique provides a structured basis to help deliver outcomes and solutions to your problems. (But if you’re in hurry, click here for our “manage in a minute” tip: 7 Problem Solving Steps ).

Ever heard people say (or perhaps said yourself) things like :

“I wished we hadn’t jumped to that solution so quickly.”

“I think we may have solved the wrong problem.”

“It was only at the end that I realised we had acted too quickly with too little information.”

“The solution we went ahead with turned out to be impractical and too expensive.”

A structured process helps ensure you stay on track with what you really need to do, to solve a problem.

The seven step problem solving technique covers:

  • Finding the right problem to solve
  • Defining the problem
  • Analysing the problem
  • Developing possibilities
  • Selecting the best solution
  • Implementing
  • Evaluating and learning

You’ll find a brief explanation of these points below. Once you’ve read these, you can find more details, in our comprehensive guide to problem solving: What’s the Problem (with a tool for each or our problem solving steps).

1 Find the Right Problems to Solve

Surprised to start with this step? Not many problem solving processes include this step, yet it is absolutely crucial. Think how often we spend time and resources on problems which don’t necessarily demand such attention. Ask yourself “Is it the right problem to solve?”. This is also one of the most important stages in our seven step problem solving technique. Why?

Well too often our approach to problem solving is reactive, we wait for the problems to arise. So firstly in our seven step problem solving process, we advocate taking a proactive approach, go and find problems to solve; important and valuable problems. The real starting point then for any problem solving process is to find the right problem to solve.

How do you go about finding the right problems to solve?

That’s what we set to answer in our problem solving skill article: “Finding the Right problems to Solve”. You will find useful management tips in this activity to start the problem solving process by looking firstly at the possibilities in your current issues and then secondly looking to the future.

2 Define the Problem

It is very tempting to gloss over this step and move to analysis and solutions. However, like the first step, it is one of the secrets of effective problem solving and helps to differentiate our seven step problem solving technique. Combining problems that are valuable to solve, with defining exactly what you are trying to solve, can dramatically improve the effectiveness of the problem solving process. The secret to defining the problem, is really about attitude. Try to see every problem as an opportunity.

This is the crucial attitude which will then help you define the problem in a way which focuses on the potential and opportunity in the situation. Peter Drucker advocates that we should starve problems and start feeding opportunities. Perhaps because we don’t see the right problems to solve or the opportunity in solving them. Essentially Drucker suggests that we should move from a problem focus to an opportunity focus.

Define your problem as an opportunity! Our problem solving activity tool does just that, providing a process to frame your problem as an opportunity and a question checklist to help you define what exactly the problem is, and why it is worth your while solving it. The question checklist also leads you through a structured set of questions to start the analysis of the problem. Which is the next step in the seven step problem solving technique.

3 Analyse the Problem

Analysis is a process of discovery of the facts, finding out what you know about the situation. The problem solving activity question checklist leads you through a set of questions to identify the nature of the problem and to analyse what it is and what it isn’t.

One of the most important aspects of analysing any situation is involving the right people.

In “ the best management tools ever: a good question ” we suggest using Reg Revans approach of asking three questions:

  • Who knows? – about the situation/opportunity, or who has the information we need to solve it/realise it
  • Who cares? – that something is done about it
  • Who can? – do something about the solution

These questions are fundamental management tips. They help us to identify the people who need to come together, in order to take appropriate action to solve an issue or realise an opportunity.

Analysis often requires a detailed examination of the situation. This is an important element in seven step problem solving.

An excellent approach to detailed examination is adopted in our structured problem solving technique which uses four steps to improve processes in your organisation. This management tool firstly helps you define the current situation, then challenges all aspects of that current process. The third and fourth steps are to develop options and then seek an optimal solution. The tool leads us from analysis to the next two stages in our seven step problem solving technique, that is developing options and selecting a solution.

4 Develop Possibilities

The previous steps will have already revealed plenty of possibilities for solving the problem and realising the opportunities. At this stage it is important to give time and space for creative solutions. Placing a high value on the ideas of others is a crucial leadership concept and facilitator skill when generating ideas to solve problems.

We have already suggested that for effective problem solving you need to ensure that you find the right problems to solve and then ask yourself what opportunities are created by solving this problem. But how do you focus on opportunities?

We have developed a tool, the power of positive thinking , which helps you to focus on those opportunities, using 5 questions that create opportunities. A group process is recommended to help get possible solutions from a wide range of people – solutions which can create significant opportunities for the organisation.

A second resource provides a great process to explore new possibilities and potential. In “ the best management tools ever: a good question ” there is a tool which groups questions to help you:

  • focus collective attention on the situation
  • connect ideas and deeper insight
  • create forward momentum and move to action

A rich range of possible solutions opens up the opportunities. When you consider you have plenty of ideas with potential it’s time to make a decision.

5 Select the Best Solution

The next phase in our seven step problem solving technique is to consider the number of solutions found. It’s likely that more than one will be viable so how do you decide which solution to select? There will be constraints restricting what you can do, issues about whether solutions fit within what is currently done, and various stakeholders views to consider. Solutions therefore need to be evaluated. A powerful way to do this has been proposed by Peter Drucker. In our business planning tool, “ business goal setting “, we suggest using Drucker’s three criteria as a filter to select ideas to take forward. To screen your ideas apply the three filter tests:

  • Operational validity – Can you take action on this idea, or can you only talk about it? Can you really do something right away to bring about the kind of future you desire?
  • Economic validity – Will the idea produce economic result? What would be the early indicators that it was working?
  • Personal commitment – Do you really believe in the idea? Do you really want to be that kind of people, do that kind of work, and run that kind of business?

Take you time answering these questions. You may well find that many of the other stages in our business goal setting article can help in the problem solving process. Especially if the problem is of organisational significance and its solution could impact the direction the business or unit takes.

6 Implement

Implementing the seven step problem solving technique moves to a project implementation process. But before putting your decision into effect check that you have:

  • carefully defined the problem, and the desired outcome
  • analysed the problem at length
  • collected every available item of information about it
  • explored all possible avenues, and generated every conceivable option
  • chosen the best alternative after considerable deliberation.

To implement first make sure that you follow project management guidelines , particularly to be clear on the outcomes, ask yourself what will be different when you solve the problem and realise the opportunity.

Secondly what are the objectives, these should clearly demonstrate how you will get to the outcomes. Gaining clarity on these, and acceptance from the various stakeholders is crucial to succeeding.

The implementation process can then effectively follow a project management model of:

  • Do it – carry out activities to implement
  • Deliver it – test and ensure it has met the outcomes

Make sure that the three “who’s” are with you!

During the seven step problem solving process you should build the commitment of those:

  • who care – they want to see a solution,
  • who can – they are able to make it happen
  • who know – they can help you implement effectively.

7 Evaluate and Learn from the seven step problem solving technique

You will have done some things really well by applying this seven step problem solving technique. It would be all too easy to forget them in rushing to solve the next problem, or to implement the solution. You should evaluate at least two areas:

  • How you carried out the seven step problem solving process
  • The effectiveness of the solution you implemented. Did it deliver the outcomes you expected?

You should also ask what you are now able to do, or what you could do next, now that you have improved things by solving the problem. What further opportunities can you now realise that you weren’t able to before?

This seven step problem solving technique ensures you follow a systematic process but it also emphasises two secrets of effective problem solving:

  • Use your problem solving skills to ask: “is it the right problem to solve?”
  • Then ensure that any problem solving activity asks the question: “what opportunities are created by this problem?”

The eighth problem solving step

What's the Problem?

  • Tool 1: When you don’t know what to do
  • Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving
  • Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve
  • Tool 4: Problem solving check-list
  • Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team
  • Tool 5: Problem analysis in 4 steps
  • Tool 5a: Using 4 Step problem analysis with your team
  • Tool 6: Questions that create possibilities
  • Tool 6a: Using the 5 questions with your team
  • Tool 6b: Putting creativity to work – 5 alternate questions
  • Tool 6c: Workshop outline
  • Tool 7: Evaluating alternatives
  • Tool 8: Creative thinking techniques A-Z
  • Tool 9: The 5 Whys technique

Further Reading

>> return to problem solving hub, looking for more resources.

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Classroom Management Toolbox

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Problem Solving Cycle

steps in the problem solving cycle

This tool would be taught to the students at the beginning of the year, and then a poster of the cycle would be put in the room to remind students of the cycle so they can use it when they have a conflict with another student. The cycle is identify the problem, brainstorm ideas, weigh pros and cons, overcome obstacles, action steps, and then to reflect on the whole situation. Each of these steps will allow for students to self-identify the problem, what they think is causing the problem, and steps that need to be taken in order to solve the problem. The teacher should only intervene in the situation if the students are unable to go through the cycle successfully by themselves. This process teaches students to rely on themselves to solve problems rather than just having the teacher solve the problem for them.

This tool is in the corrective phase because it is being used to correct the behaviors and problems between students. This cycle also restores the conflicts in hope of starting a better relationship between students. Students will use this tool to solve problems with a student, and then can use the same steps again when another problem arises with perhaps a different student. This tool is mostly student centered but can become collaborative because it is up to the students the first time through the cycle to try to take all the steps to solving the problems themselves. However, if the students unsuccessfully go through the cycle without coming to an agreement on how to solve the problem, the teacher will then help to complete cycle so the students are able to come to an agreement on how to solve the issue.

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CBSE Class 11 | Problem Solving Methodologies

Problem solving process.

The process of problem-solving is an activity which has its ingredients as the specification of the program and the served dish is a correct program. This activity comprises of four steps : 1. Understanding the problem: To solve any problem it is very crucial to understand the problem first. What is the desired output of the code and how that output can be generated? The obvious and essential need to generate the output is an input. The input may be singular or it may be a set of inputs. A proper relationship between the input and output must be drawn in order to solve the problem efficiently. The input set should be complete and sufficient enough to draw the output. It means all the necessary inputs required to compute the output should be present at the time of computation. However, it should be kept in mind that the programmer should ensure that the minimum number of inputs should be there. Any irrelevant input only increases the size of and memory overhead of the program. Thus Identifying the minimum number of inputs required for output is a crucial element for understanding the problem.

2. Devising the plan: Once a problem has been understood, a proper action plan has to be devised to solve it. This is called devising the plan. This step usually involves computing the result from the given set of inputs. It uses the relationship drawn between inputs and outputs in the previous step. The complexity of this step depends upon the complexity of the problem at hand.

3. Executing the plan: Once the plan has been defined, it should follow the trajectory of action while ensuring the plan’s integrity at various checkpoints. If any inconsistency is found in between, the plan needs to be revised.

4. Evaluation: The final result so obtained must be evaluated and verified to see if the problem has been solved satisfactorily.

Problem Solving Methodology(The solution for the problem)

The methodology to solve a problem is defined as the most efficient solution to the problem. Although, there can be multiple ways to crack a nut, but a methodology is one where the nut is cracked in the shortest time and with minimum effort. Clearly, a sledgehammer can never be used to crack a nut. Under problem-solving methodology, we will see a step by step solution for a problem. These steps closely resemble the software life cycle . A software life cycle involves several stages in a program’s life cycle. These steps can be used by any tyro programmer to solve a problem in the most efficient way ever. The several steps of this cycle are as follows :

Step by step solution for a problem (Software Life Cycle) 1. Problem Definition/Specification: A computer program is basically a machine language solution to a real-life problem. Because programs are generally made to solve the pragmatic problems of the outside world. In order to solve the problem, it is very necessary to define the problem to get its proper understanding. For example, suppose we are asked to write a code for “ Compute the average of three numbers”. In this case, a proper definition of the problem will include questions like : “What exactly does average mean?” “How to calculate the average?”

Once, questions like these are raised, it helps to formulate the solution of the problem in a better way. Once a problem has been defined, the program’s specifications are then listed. Problem specifications describe what the program for the problem must do. It should definitely include :

what is the input set of the program

What is the desired output of the program and in what form the output is desired?

2. Problem Analysis (Breaking down the solution into simple steps): This step of solving the problem follows a modular approach to crack the nut. The problem is divided into subproblems so that designing a solution to these subproblems gets easier. The solutions to all these individual parts are then merged to get the final solution of the original problem. It is like divide and merge approach.

Modular Approach for Programming :

The process of breaking a large problem into subproblems and then treating these individual parts as different functions is called modular programming. Each function behaves independent of another and there is minimal inter-functional communication. There are two methods to implement modular programming :

  • Top Down Design : In this method, the original problem is divided into subparts. These subparts are further divided. The chain continues till we get the very fundamental subpart of the problem which can’t be further divided. Then we draw a solution for each of these fundamental parts.
  • Bottom Up Design : In this style of programming, an application is written by using the pre-existing primitives of programming language. These primitives are then amalgamated with more complicated features, till the application is written. This style is just the reverse of the top-down design style.

3. Problem Designing: The design of a problem can be represented in either of the two forms :

The ways to execute any program are of three categories:

  • Sequence Statements Here, all the instructions are executed in a sequence, that is, one after the another, till the program is executed.
  • Selection Statements As it is self-clear from the name, in these type of statements the whole set of instructions is not executed. A selection has to be made. A selected number of instructions are executed based on some condition. If the condition holds true then some part of the instruction set is executed, otherwise, another part of the set is executed. Since this selection out of the instruction set has to be made, thus these type of instructions are called Selection Statements.

Identification of arithmetic and logical operations required for the solution : While writing the algorithm for a problem, the arithmetic and logical operations required for the solution are also usually identified. They help to write the code in an easier manner because the proper ordering of the arithmetic and logical symbols is necessary to determine the correct output. And when all this has been done in the algorithm writing step, it just makes the coding task a smoother one.

  • Flow Chart : Flow charts are diagrammatic representation of the algorithm. It uses some symbols to illustrate the starting and ending of a program along with the flow of instructions involved in the program.

4. Coding: Once an algorithm is formed, it can’t be executed on the computer. Thus in this step, this algorithm has to be translated into the syntax of a particular programming language. This process is often termed as ‘coding’. Coding is one of the most important steps of the software life cycle. It is not only challenging to find a solution to a problem but to write optimized code for a solution is far more challenging.

Writing code for optimizing execution time and memory storage : A programmer writes code on his local computer. Now, suppose he writes a code which takes 5 hours to get executed. Now, this 5 hours of time is actually the idle time for the programmer. Not only it takes longer time, but it also uses the resources during that time. One of the most precious computing resources is memory. A large program is expected to utilize more memory. However, memory utilization is not a fault, but if a program is utilizing unnecessary time or memory, then it is a fault of coding. The optimized code can save both time and memory. For example, as has been discussed earlier, by using the minimum number of inputs to compute the output , one can save unnecessary memory utilization. All such techniques are very necessary to be deployed to write optimized code. The pragmatic world gives reverence not only to the solution of the problem but to the optimized solution. This art of writing the optimized code also called ‘competitive programming’.

5. Program Testing and Debugging: Program testing involves running each and every instruction of the code and check the validity of the output by a sample input. By testing a program one can also check if there’s an error in the program. If an error is detected, then program debugging is done. It is a process to locate the instruction which is causing an error in the program and then rectifying it. There are different types of error in a program : (i) Syntax Error Every programming language has its own set of rules and constructs which need to be followed to form a valid program in that particular language. If at any place in the entire code, this set of rule is violated, it results in a syntax error. Take an example in C Language

In the above program, the syntax error is in the first printf statement since the printf statement doesn’t end with a ‘;’. Now, until and unless this error is not rectified, the program will not get executed.

Once the error is rectified, one gets the desired output. Suppose the input is ‘good’ then the output is : Output:

(ii) Logical Error An error caused due to the implementation of a wrong logic in the program is called logical error. They are usually detected during the runtime. Take an example in C Language:

In the above code, the ‘for’ loop won’t get executed since n has been initialized with the value of 11 while ‘for’ loop can only print values smaller than or equal to 10. Such a code will result in incorrect output and thus errors like these are called logical errors. Once the error is rectified, one gets the desired output. Suppose n is initialised with the value ‘5’ then the output is : Output:

(iii) Runtime Error Any error which causes the unusual termination of the program is called runtime error. They are detected at the run time. Some common examples of runtime errors are : Example 1 :

If during the runtime, the user gives the input value for B as 0 then the program terminates abruptly resulting in a runtime error. The output thus appears is : Output:

Example 2 : If while executing a program, one attempts for opening an unexisting file, that is, a file which is not present in the hard disk, it also results in a runtime error.

6. Documentation : The program documentation involves :

  • Problem Definition
  • Problem Design
  • Documentation of test perform
  • History of program development

7. Program Maintenance: Once a program has been formed, to ensure its longevity, maintenance is a must. The maintenance of a program has its own costs associated with it, which may also exceed the development cost of the program in some cases. The maintenance of a program involves the following :

  • Detection and Elimination of undetected errors in the existing program.
  • Modification of current program to enhance its performance and adaptability.
  • Enhancement of user interface
  • Enriching the program with new capabilities.
  • Updation of the documentation.

Control Structure- Conditional control and looping (finite and infinite)

There are codes which usually involve looping statements. Looping statements are statements in which instruction or a set of instructions is executed multiple times until a particular condition is satisfied. The while loop, for loop, do while loop, etc. form the basis of such looping structure. These statements are also called control structure because they determine or control the flow of instructions in a program. These looping structures are of two kinds :

In the above program, the ‘for’ loop gets executed only until the value of i is less than or equal to 10. As soon as the value of i becomes greater than 10, the while loop is terminated. Output:

In the above code, one can easily see that the value of n is not getting incremented. In such a case, the value of n will always remain 1 and hence the while loop will never get executed. Such loop is called an infinite loop. Output:

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By Teach Educator

Published on: February 4, 2024

7 Steps to Problem-Solving

7 Steps to Problem-Solving is a systematic process that involves analyzing a situation, generating possible solutions, and implementing the best course of action. While different problem-solving models exist, a common approach often involves the following seven steps:

Define the Problem:

  • Clearly articulate and understand the nature of the problem. Define the issue, its scope, and its impact on individuals or the organization.

Gather Information:

  • Collect relevant data and information related to the problem. This may involve research, observation, interviews, or any other method to gain a comprehensive understanding.

Generate Possible Solutions:

  • Brainstorm and generate a variety of potential solutions to the problem. Encourage creativity and consider different perspectives during this phase.

Evaluate Options:

  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of each potential solution. Consider the feasibility, potential risks, and the likely outcomes associated with each option.

Make a Decision:

  • Based on the evaluation, choose the most suitable solution. This decision should align with the goals and values of the individual or organization facing the problem.

Implement the Solution:

  • Put the chosen solution into action. Develop an implementation plan, allocate resources, and carry out the necessary steps to address the problem effectively.

Evaluate the Results:

  • Assess the outcomes of the implemented solution. Did it solve the problem as intended? What can be learned from the process? Use this information to refine future problem-solving efforts.

It’s important to note that these steps are not always linear and may involve iteration. Problem-solving is often an ongoing process, and feedback from the implementation and evaluation stages may lead to adjustments in the chosen solution or the identification of new issues that need to be addressed.

Problem-Solving Example in Education

  • Certainly: Let’s consider a problem-solving example in the context of education.
  • Problem: Declining Student Engagement in Mathematics Classes

Background:

A high school has noticed a decline in student engagement and performance in mathematics classes over the past few years. Students seem disinterested, and there is a noticeable decrease in test scores. The traditional teaching methods are not effectively capturing students’ attention, and there’s a need for innovative solutions to rekindle interest in mathematics.

Steps in Problem-Solving

Identify the problem:.

  • Clearly define the issue: declining student engagement and performance in mathematics classes.
  • Gather data on student performance, attendance, and feedback from teachers and students.

Root Cause Analysis

  • Conduct surveys, interviews, and classroom observations to identify the root causes of disengagement.
  • Identify potential factors such as teaching methods, curriculum relevance, or lack of real-world applications.

Brainstorm Solutions

  • Organize a team of educators, administrators, and even students to brainstorm creative solutions.
  • Consider integrating technology, real-world applications, project-based learning, or other interactive teaching methods.

Evaluate and Prioritize Solutions

  • Evaluate each solution based on feasibility, cost, and potential impact.
  • Prioritize solutions that are likely to address the root causes and have a positive impact on student engagement.

Implement the Chosen Solution

  • Develop an action plan for implementing the chosen solution.
  • Provide training and resources for teachers to adapt to new teaching methods or technologies.

Monitor and Evaluate

  • Continuously monitor the implementation of the solution.
  • Collect feedback from teachers and students to assess the effectiveness of the changes.

Adjust as Needed

  • Be willing to make adjustments based on ongoing feedback and data analysis.
  • Fine-tune the solution to address any unforeseen challenges or issues.

Example Solution

  • Introduce a project-based learning approach in mathematics classes, where students work on real-world problems that require mathematical skills.
  • Incorporate technology, such as educational apps or interactive simulations, to make learning more engaging.
  • Provide professional development for teachers to enhance their skills in implementing these new teaching methods.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Increased student engagement and interest in mathematics.
  • Improvement in test scores and overall academic performance.
  • Positive feedback from both teachers and students.

Final Words

This problem-solving approach in education involves a systematic process of identifying, analyzing, and addressing issues to enhance the learning experience for students.

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IMAGES

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  4. Problem Solving Cycle Steps Powerpoint Slide Rules

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COMMENTS

  1. The Problem-Solving Process

    Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything ...

  2. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    1. Define the problem. Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes.. The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps.

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

    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 ...

  4. What is a problem-solving cycle? With 9 steps to create one

    A problem-solving cycle involves developing a process for identifying and solving business problems. Because it's a cyclical process, you can repeat it as often as necessary. This approach to problem-solving involves a series of well-defined steps and is one of the most popular and effective methods that companies use to solve issues.

  5. The Three Stages of the Problem-Solving Cycle

    Essentially every problem-solving heuristic in mathematics goes back to George Polya's How to Solve It; my approach is no exception. However, this cyclic description might help to keep the process cognitively present. A few months ago, I produced a video describing this the three stages of the problem-solving cycle: Understand, Strategize, and Implement.

  6. How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

    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 ...

  7. The Ultimate Problem-Solving Process Guide: 31 Steps & Resources

    Discovery (fact-finding) Dream (visioning the future) Design (strategic purpose) Destiny (continuous improvement) 3. "FIVE WHYS" METHOD. The 5 Whys of Problem-Solving 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.

  8. The McKinsey guide to problem solving

    Become a better problem solver with insights and advice from leaders around the world on topics including developing a problem-solving mindset, solving problems in uncertain times, problem solving with AI, and much more. ... diverse perspectives and rigorous debate are crucial to determining the best steps to take.

  9. What Is Problem Solving?

    These steps build upon the basic, four-step process described above, and they create a cycle of problem finding and solving that will continually improve your organization. Appreciative Inquiry , which is a uniquely positive way of solving problems by examining what's working well in the areas surrounding them.

  10. Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

    Problem-solving is a vital skill for coping with various challenges in life. This webpage explains the different strategies and obstacles that can affect how you solve problems, and offers tips on how to improve your problem-solving skills. Learn how to identify, analyze, and overcome problems with Verywell Mind.

  11. The 10-Step Problem-Solving Process to Solve Any Problem

    Problems are a fact of life and being effective at problem-solving can help you grow and find success in life. http://bit.ly/3XcDi9xLearn how to implement S...

  12. Psychological Steps Involved in Problem Solving

    Here are the steps involved in problem solving, approved by expert psychologists. 1. Identifying the Problem. Identifying the problem seems like the obvious first stem, but it's not exactly as simple as it sounds. People might identify the wrong source of a problem, which will render the steps thus carried on useless.

  13. 7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

    Step 6: Implement the Solution. Implementing the solution you decide on can include creating an implementation plan. It could also include planning on what happens next if something goes wrong with the solution if it doesn't work out the way you thought it would. Implementation means that everyone on your team knows and understands their part ...

  14. 5 Step Problem Solving Process

    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 ...

  15. Problem-Solving Process in 6 Steps

    Problem-solving involves thought and understanding. Although it may appear simple, identifying a problem may be a challenging process. "Problems are only opportunities in work clothes", says American industrialist Henry Kaiser.According to Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995), a problem is " doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution" and "something hard to understand or ...

  16. PDF The Problem Solving Cycle

    The problem solving cycle is used as steps to work. through that help to break the task down - particularly when it seems overwhelming - and to get. them to check for sense at the end. Introduce the cycle. The problem solving cycle is first explained, with a diagram, as steps to work through to solve a. problem.

  17. Mastering Problem-Solving: Essential Steps and Skills

    Problem-solving skills are essential in both personal and work situations. They help you handle challenges well and get the results you want. Good problem-solving improves decision-making and resilience in handling conflicts and helps businesses succeed. Continue reading to learn the essential steps and skills required for efficient problem ...

  18. The 5 Stages of Problem-Solving

    From Why Groups Struggle to Solve Problems Together , Nov 07, 2019. Find new ideas and classic advice on strategy, innovation and leadership, for global leaders from the world's best business and ...

  19. The Problem-Solving Process

    Get unlimited access to all our career-boosting content and member benefits with our 7-day free trial. Although problem-solving is something everyone does on a daily basis, many people lack confidence in their ability. Here we look at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track.

  20. The 5 phases of problem solving

    Instead, being able to identify the problem is the first step in finding a solution. Many times that means stopping looking outside for the culprits and searching within, wondering why a situation is particularly bothering or hindering us. 2. Understand the problem. Many times the problem brings with it the seed of the solution.

  21. Seven Step Problem Solving Technique

    A comprehensive guide to problem solving, complete with these 9 essential tools: Tool 1: When you don't know what to do. Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving. Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve. Tool 4: Problem solving check-list. Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team.

  22. Problem Solving Cycle

    The problem solving cycle gives students the steps and procedures they need to take in order to solve a problem between them and another student. This tool allows for students to solve problems themselves without teacher interference (unless it is needed) and develops their skills of solving problem. This tool would be taught to the students at ...

  23. CBSE Class 11

    Under problem-solving methodology, we will see a step by step solution for a problem. These steps closely resemble the software life cycle. A software life cycle involves several stages in a program's life cycle. These steps can be used by any tyro programmer to solve a problem in the most efficient way ever. The several steps of this cycle ...

  24. What are the 7 Steps to Problem-Solving? & Its Examples

    7 Steps to Problem-Solving. 7 Steps to Problem-Solving is a systematic process that involves analyzing a situation, generating possible solutions, and implementing the best course of action. While different problem-solving models exist, a common approach often involves the following seven steps: