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11 Brilliant Problem Solving Techniques Nobody Taught You
No one likes problems, especially at work. However, they’re part of our everyday work routine. If you take a look at job ads online, many of them will list “problem solvin g techniques” as a necessity for the job role. The truth is that every job in the world requires the art of problem solving.
From managing tasks to managing people, we don’t like feeling stuck, at work or outside of it. The good news is, that there are lots of tried and tested problem solving techniques that you can use to easily solve difficult situations at work or in your personal life.
Here are some of those problem solving skills and how you can use them in practice.
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The art of problem solving
Let’s start with the basics. No matter how bad the problem or how serious the situation, you can do one simple thing: breathe in, breathe out, and let’s begin with the art of problem solving.
Most people get stressed out at the mere mention of a problem. They feel like they need to come up with an answer immediately; they look for someone to blame, and they want a quick and easy exit. All of a sudden, facing a problem becomes a problem of its own.
For this very reason, it’s important to slow down and take a breather. When we are stressed out, we make one critical mistake—we resort to something called binary problem-solving . In other words, we limit our options by trying out proven problem solving skills instead of something new and more efficient.
For this reason alone, slow down and breathe; you will come up with more ways to tackle a problem.
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Ask great questions as the first
Asking questions is part of the pre-problem-solving stage. When you ask questions, your brain can come up with different scenarios and ways to make a decision. For example, a child will usually ask questions like “What if,” “Why not,” “Can we?,” “How about?” and many others. What rules should you break? Are there any beliefs we should drop? The more questions you ask, the easier it will be to find a solution to your problem.
Don’t just trust yourself
One of the many reasons why problems come up and stay unsolved is because we are too lazy or busy to distance ourselves from them. In other words, we just think from our own perspective instead of zooming out and looking at the bigger picture , where we can utilize our problem solving skills.
For example, if you’re in our industry (SaaS), you may have a situation where people sign up for your app and disappear after the trial period. Sure, you could try generating more traffic to your website , but there are other things you can do. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Has my business industry changed?
- Does my app really meet my customers’ needs?
- Does my sales strategy need improvement?
In another scenario, your employee shows up late for work, despite several of your warnings. Before taking any actions, try to understand their perspective and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they have any non-work-related problems in their life?
- What is (literally) stopping them from getting to work?
- How can I help them with problems solving?
Both situations have one thing in common – they look at the big picture before trying to tackle a specific problem.
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Do some heavy brainstorming to help the problem solving process.
A brainstorming session is one of the most effective ways to learn the art of problem solving. The gist of it is to generate as many ideas as you can and in the problem solving process, come up with a way to solve a problem. Of course, the prerequisite for any brainstorming session is a nonjudgmental, friendly environment.
If you want to brainstorm like a pro, you need to take the following steps:
- HMW or How Might We
Start the session with a question such as “How might we…?” to inspire creativity among your team. The question should be open enough to inspire and foster creativity. However, it should also be focused and narrow enough to keep your session participants focused on the problem at hand.
- Write down everything
Every member of your brainstorming session should write down all of their ideas, either on a board or on sticky notes. Once you have all of your ideas, put them down on a common board. If you are unable to generate sufficient ideas, repeat the session with the same question to master the art of problem solving.
- Discuss your ideas
To discuss each of the ideas you and your team came up with, use phrases like “I like…”, “I wish…”, “What if…”, and others.
- Select the best ideas
Now that you have all of your ideas in one place, it’s time to find the best one. For example, you could let the participants vote using sticky notes. You can also create buckets for ideas, such as “Rational choice”, “The best solution for everyone”, and others.
Using this approach, you’ll be able to save some ideas that at first seem crazy but actually make a lot of sense in the long run.
- Figure out the problem-solving process
At this stage, you have your best brainstorming ideas. This is the time to choose the best ones and come up with a plan on how to bring them to life .
You may also like:
The round-robin technique for brainstorming.
If traditional brainstorming just doesn’t work for you, there are other things you can try. If your team members sit and listen and hope that someone else will fix things for them, you need to try out the Round-Robin problem-solving method. In simple terms, this technique will require every participant to be actively involved in the brainstorming session. There is a lot of different brainstorming tools and apps .
There are just two rules:
– Participants take turns to contribute ideas, using the option to “pass” if they have nothing to contribute in that round.
– The brainstorming session is over once everyone makes a pass.
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The silent brainstorming technique
The problem with most brainstorming sessions is that the loudest people are the most likely to have their idea chosen as a solution. The quiet ones may have an excellent idea but they just sit around and never have a chance to be heard. You get the feeling that it’s more important to be active and loud than have a great idea.
If you see that happening a lot, maybe it’s time for a silent brainstorming session. You can make it happen online or in the office, the process is the same. The entire team develops ideas on their own and shares them without sitting at the same table. The main idea is that everyone’s opinion has the same weight. If you choose to do it online, it’s actually even easier to come up with a decision.
Wear the six thinking hats
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you know the Sorting Hat very well. It’s a hat that students wear and it appoints them to a house in Hogwarts that best matches their personality. Along those lines, there is a technique that Edward de Bono came up with, called The Six Hats . Using this problem solving technique, you can wear six different hats with six different perspectives.
Here are the hats that you can wear to learn the art of problem solving.
- White hat. This is the neutral hat that uses facts and figures required to solve a problem. When the problem just comes up, this is the hat that you want to wear.
- Red hat. This hat is all about emotion and intuition. When you wear this hat, you can show your gut reactions to ideas and freely express exactly how you feel.
- Black hat. When you want to show caution and express a critical viewpoint, this is the hat you want to wear. The black hat will make sure that you steer clear of bad decisions.
- Yellow hat. When you want to be positive, this hat is the one you should choose. It helps you identify the positive sides of an idea and an excellent counterweight to the black hat.
- Green hat. To explore creativity, possibilities, alternatives and fresh ideas, wear a hat in green. Contributing new ideas and options is crucial, which is why everyone should wear a green hat.
- Blue hat. This is the hat that organizes all others. This is the person that manages the entire decision-making process and makes sure that all other hats follow the rules and guidelines.
The six hat problem-solving process is excellent because it lets you see the same problem from several different angles, very quickly and easily.
When you quickly want to get to the root of a problem, try out this technique. All you need to do is ask the question “Why” five times. Start with the problem at hand and ask why it happened, making sure that your answer is objective. Continue asking “Why” for four more times. At some point, you’ll reach the true answer to your question and you can start looking for a solution.
The biggest challenge with this technique is giving rational, objective answers to each “why”. Fight the urge to answer from your own point of you. Instead, think of the logical reason why something happened. Remember, admitting that you don’t know something is far better than giving an answer that is subjective.
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Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
Want to solve problems like the big boys at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors? This advanced problem solving process lets you solve problems easily. You can use it to analyze each element of your strategy and tear it apart to see how and when it can fail. By looking into the effect of each failure and how likely it is to happen, you’ll get to the best problem solving techniques. In the end, come up with a list of actions to take to prevent each of the failures you listed in the previous steps.
The wanderer problem-solving technique
When I write articles such as this one, I have one way to make them better. Once they’re done, I let them sit for a day without taking a look at them. When I get back to the article, I take a look at it with a fresh set of eyes.
You can use the same approach with your problems. Take a step back and walk away from it. Get some rest, walk outside for a bit, watch some cat videos on YouTube. In other words, remove yourself from the situation. You just may find the answer to your problem the moment your brain relaxes.
Leave room for imagination
If nothing I listed above helps you solve a problem, this is the time to get creative. If you have a way to problem solving outside of work, it may be a good idea to apply it at work too.
For example, there is an extreme case of Yoshiro Nakamotso. The name may not sound familiar, but you probably used one of this man’s patents today. He has more than 3,300 patents to his name, including a digital wristwatch, karaoke machine, a floppy disk, and many others. He came up with a crazy problem-solving technique called The Calm Room.
His Calm Room is actually a bathroom filled with 24-karat gold. This material blocks radio waves and TV signals which according to him are harmful to solving problems. He also considers oxygen to be detrimental to problem-solving . Apparently, too much oxygen means that there will be an inspiration and this is his idea of using imagination for problem-solving.
You can try and use the Calm Room method for solving problems or you can find other ways that let you use your imagination instead of cold, hard facts to solve an issue at work.
What problem solving method is best for you?
The most important point to remember is that problems happen all the time and they will keep happening. Moreover, if a problem happens at work, it will also give us information on things we need to fix. The goal of each of the problem solving process mentioned is to make your company more open to friendly conflicts and open problem-solving.
To summarize, the following are the key takea ways from these problem-solving techniques.
– Keep calm and avoid high and dry approaches to problem solving
– Ask great questions, a lot of them
– Take a look at the bigger picture and the overall context of a situation
– Try out unconventional brainstorming techniques: Round-Robin and silent brainstorming
– Wear each of the Six Hats to take a look at different approaches to a problem solving
– Ask the 5 Whys
– Prevent any potential problems with the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis
– Leave some room for imagination at the end.
Depending on the context, you may use one or more of these problem-solving process – make sure to choose one that works best for your situation, team and personality. Good luck!
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This is a very good article. I find it useful for my adult learners.
Hi Antonette. We try our best to be useful for our readers. Glad you enjoyed reading this post.
I find this to be very resourceful both personal use and grooming future managers as they develop their skills.
Thanks for this great work.
Hey Daniel! Nice to hear your feedback, we’ll do our best to keep on writing good post.
The article is no doubt useful . I observed that many people at the higher management level are afraid to accept the true cause of the problem as they fear of action against them. As management strategy there has to be a rule that any body accepting truth should not be punished on the contrary he must be empowered to solve the problem at his level only. Many problems can be solved the moment you accept the truth. I have solved many problems by using this theory during my 32 years of service in the engineering management field.
This article was very , Very , very much helpful for my college assignment. I’d say thanks trillion times to you 🙂
Hello Pruthviraj, that’s so great to hear! Thank you.
This is a very depth and resourceful article.
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- About Problem Solving
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Problem Solving Resources
Case studies, problem solving related topics.
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What is Problem Solving?.
Quality Glossary Definition: Problem solving
Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.
- The problem-solving process
- Problem solving resources
Problem Solving Chart
The Problem-Solving Process
In order to effectively manage and run a successful organization, leadership must guide their employees and develop problem-solving techniques. Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below.
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. These steps support the involvement of interested parties, the use of factual information, comparison of expectations to reality, and a focus on root causes of a problem. You should begin by:
- Reviewing and documenting how processes currently work (i.e., who does what, with what information, using what tools, communicating with what organizations and individuals, in what time frame, using what format).
- Evaluating the possible impact of new tools and revised policies in the development of your "what should be" model.
2. Generate alternative solutions
Postpone the selection of one solution until several problem-solving alternatives have been proposed. Considering multiple alternatives can significantly enhance the value of your ideal solution. Once you have decided on the "what should be" model, this target standard becomes the basis for developing a road map for investigating alternatives. Brainstorming and team problem-solving techniques are both useful tools in this stage of problem solving.
Many alternative solutions to the problem should be generated before final evaluation. A common mistake in problem solving is that alternatives are evaluated as they are proposed, so the first acceptable solution is chosen, even if it’s not the best fit. If we focus on trying to get the results we want, we miss the potential for learning something new that will allow for real improvement in the problem-solving process.
3. Evaluate and select an alternative
Skilled problem solvers use a series of considerations when selecting the best alternative. They consider the extent to which:
- A particular alternative will solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems.
- All the individuals involved will accept the alternative.
- Implementation of the alternative is likely.
- The alternative fits within the organizational constraints.
4. Implement and follow up on the solution
Leaders may be called upon to direct others to implement the solution, "sell" the solution, or facilitate the implementation with the help of others. Involving others in the implementation is an effective way to gain buy-in and support and minimize resistance to subsequent changes.
Regardless of how the solution is rolled out, feedback channels should be built into the implementation. This allows for continuous monitoring and testing of actual events against expectations. Problem solving, and the techniques used to gain clarity, are most effective if the solution remains in place and is updated to respond to future changes.
You can also search articles , case studies , and publications for problem solving resources.
Innovative Business Management Using TRIZ
Introduction To 8D Problem Solving: Including Practical Applications and Examples
The Quality Toolbox
Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action
One Good Idea: Some Sage Advice ( Quality Progress ) The person with the problem just wants it to go away quickly, and the problem-solvers also want to resolve it in as little time as possible because they have other responsibilities. Whatever the urgency, effective problem-solvers have the self-discipline to develop a complete description of the problem.
Diagnostic Quality Problem Solving: A Conceptual Framework And Six Strategies ( Quality Management Journal ) This paper contributes a conceptual framework for the generic process of diagnosis in quality problem solving by identifying its activities and how they are related.
Weathering The Storm ( Quality Progress ) Even in the most contentious circumstances, this approach describes how to sustain customer-supplier relationships during high-stakes problem solving situations to actually enhance customer-supplier relationships.
The Right Questions ( Quality Progress ) All problem solving begins with a problem description. Make the most of problem solving by asking effective questions.
Solving the Problem ( Quality Progress ) Brush up on your problem-solving skills and address the primary issues with these seven methods.
Refreshing Louisville Metro’s Problem-Solving System ( Journal for Quality and Participation ) Organization-wide transformation can be tricky, especially when it comes to sustaining any progress made over time. In Louisville Metro, a government organization based in Kentucky, many strategies were used to enact and sustain meaningful transformation.
Quality Improvement Associate Certification--CQIA
Certified Quality Improvement Associate Question Bank
Lean Problem-Solving Tools
Problem Solving Using A3
NEW Root Cause Analysis E-Learning
Making the Connection In this exclusive QP webcast, Jack ReVelle, ASQ Fellow and author, shares how quality tools can be combined to create a powerful problem-solving force.
Adapted from The Executive Guide to Improvement and Change , ASQ Quality Press.
Problem-Solving Techniques and Tips (That Actually Work)
Solving complex problems may be difficult but it doesn't have to be excruciating. You just need the right frame of mind and a process for untangling the problem at hand.
Luckily for you, there are plenty of techniques available to solve whatever problems come at you in the workplace.
When faced with a doozy of a problem, where do you start? And what problem-solving techniques can you use right now that can help you make good decisions?
Today's post will give you tips and techniques for solving complex problems so you can untangle any complication like an expert.
How many steps are there in problem-solving?
At its core, problem-solving is a methodical four-step process. You may even recall these steps from when you were first introduced to the Scientific Method.
- First, you must define the problem . What is its cause? What are the signs there's a problem at all?
- Next, you identify various options for solutions. What are some good ideas to solve this?
- Then, evaluate your options and choose from among them. What is the best option to solve the problem? What's the easiest option? How should you prioritize?
- Finally, implement the chosen solution . Does it solve the problem? Is there another option you need to try?
When applying problem-solving techniques, you will be using a variation of these steps as your foundation.
Takeaway: Before you can solve a problem, seek to understand it fully.
Creative problem-solving techniques
Time to get creative! You might think this will just be a list of out-of-the-box ways to brainstorm ideas. Not exactly.
Creative problem solving (CPS) is actually a formal process formulated by Sidney Parnes and Alex Faickney Osborn , who is thought of as the father of traditional brainstorming (and the "O" in famous advertising agency BBDO).
Their creative problem solving process emphasizes several things, namely:
- Separate ideation from evaluation . When you brainstorm creative ideas, have a separate time for writing it all down. Focus on generating lots of ideas. Don't prioritize or evaluate them until everything is captured.
- Judging will shut it down . Nothing stops the flow of creative ideas faster than judging them on the spot. Wait until the brainstorming is over before you evaluate.
- Restate problems as questions . It's easier to entice a group into thinking of creative ideas when challenges are stated as open-ended questions.
- Use "Yes and" to expand ideas . Here's one of the basic tenets of improv comedy. It's way too easy to shut down and negate ideas by using the word "but" (i.e. "But I think this is better..."). Avoid this at all costs. Instead, expand on what was previously introduced by saying "Yes, and..." to keep ideas flowing and evolving.
Takeaway: When brainstorming solutions, generate ideas first by using questions and building off of existing ideas. Do all evaluating and judging later.
Problem-solving tips from psychology
If you take a look at the history of problem-solving techniques in psychology, you'll come across a wide spectrum of interesting ideas that could be helpful.
Take it from experience
In 1911, the American psychologist Edward Thorndike observed cats figuring out how to escape from the cage he placed them in. From this, Thorndike developed his law of effect , which states: If you succeed via trial-and-error, you're more likely to use those same actions and ideas that led to your previous success when you face the problem again.
Takeaway: Your past experience can inform and shed light on the problem you face now. Recall. Explore.
Barriers to reproductive thinking
The Gestalt psychologists built on Thorndike's ideas when they proposed that problem-solving can happen via reproductive thinking — which is not about sex, but rather solving a problem by using past experience and reproducing that experience to solve the current problem.
What's interesting about Gestalt psychology is how they view barriers to problem-solving. Here are two such barriers:
- Are you entrenched? Look up mental set or entrenchment . This is when you're fixated on a solution that used to work well in the past but has no bearing to your current problem. Are you so entrenched with a method or idea that you use it even when it doesn't work? As Queen Elsa sang, "Let it go!"
- Are you thinking of alternative uses? There is a cognitive bias called functional fixedness which could thwart any of your critical thinking techniques by having you only see an object's conventional function. For example, say you need to cut a piece of paper in half but only have a ruler. Functional fixedness would lead you to think the ruler is only good for measuring things. (You could also use the ruler to crease the paper, making it easier to tear it in half.)
Takeaway: Think outside of the box! And by box, we mean outside of the past experience you're holding on to, or outside any preconceived ideas on how a tool is conventionally used.
More problem-solving tools
Hurson's productive thinking model.
In his book "Think Better," author and creativity guru Tim Hurson proposed a six-step model for solving problems creatively. The steps in his Productive Thinking Model are:
- Ask, "What is going on?" Define the problem and its impact on your company, then clarify your vision for the future.
- Ask, "What is success?" Define what the solution must do, what resources it needs, its scope , and the values it must uphold.
- Ask, "What is the question?" Generate a long list of questions that, when answered, will solve the problem.
- Generate answers . Answer the questions from step three.
- Forge the solution . Evaluate the ideas with potential based on the criteria from step two. Pick a solution.
- Align resources . Identify people and resources to execute the solution.
Use a fishbone diagram to see cause and effect
The most important part of defining the problem is looking at the possible root cause. You'll need to ask yourself questions like: Where and when is it happening? How is it occurring? With whom is it happening? Why is it happening?
You can get to the root cause with a fishbone diagram (also known as an Ishikawa diagram or a cause and effect diagram).
Basically, you put the effect on the right side as the problem statement. Then you list all possible causes on the left, grouped into larger cause categories. The resulting shape resembles a fish skeleton. Which is a perfect way to say, "This problem smells fishy."
Use analogies to get to a solution
Analogical thinking uses information from one area to help with a problem in a different area. In short, solving a different problem can lead you to find a solution to the actual problem. Watch out though! Analogies are difficult for beginners and take some getting used to.
An example: In the "radiation problem," a doctor has a patient with a tumor that cannot be operated on. The doctor can use rays to destroy the tumor but it also destroys healthy tissue.
Two researchers, Gick and Holyoak , noted that people solved the radiation problem much more easily after being asked to read a story about an invading general who must capture the fortress of a king but be careful to avoid landmines that will detonate if large forces traverse the streets. The general then sends small forces of men down different streets so the army can converge at the fortress at the same time and can capture it at full force.
Ask "12 what elses"
In her book " The Architecture of All Abundance ," author Lenedra J. Carroll (aka the mother of pop star Jewel) talks about a question-and-answer technique for getting out of a problem.
When faced with a problem, ask yourself a question about it and brainstorm 12 answers ("12 what elses") to that problem. Then you can go further by taking one answer, turning it into a question and generating 12 more "what elses." Repeat until the solution is golden brown, fully baked, and ready to take out of the oven.
Start using these techniques today
Hopefully you find these different techniques useful and they get your imagination rolling with ideas on how to solve different problems.
And if that's the case, then you have four different takeaways to use the next time a problem gets you tangled up:
- Don't start by trying to solve the problem. First, aim to understand the root of the problem.
- Use questions to generate ideas for solving the problem.
- Look to previous problems to find the answers to new ones.
- Clear your preconceived ideas and past experiences before attempting to tackle the problem.
How to solve problems with Wrike
Empower your team to be even more productive with Wrike's project management and collaboration tools. With documents, revisions, and project -related communication all in one place, employees can use Wrike as a single source of truth for all project information.
Get 360-degree visibility of all your work and identify problems before they occur — see schedule or resource conflicts on Gantt charts, easily view progress with custom statuses, and move work along with automated approvals.
Want to streamline your processes and ease future problem-solving? Get started with a free two-week trial of Wrike today.
What are your favorite problem-solving techniques?
Do you have a problem-solving technique that has worked wonders for your organization? Hit the comments below and share your wisdom!
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University Human Resources
8-step problem solving process, organizational effectiveness.
121 University Services Building, Suite 50 Iowa City , IA 52242-1911 United States
Step 1: Define the Problem
- What is the problem?
- How did you discover the problem?
- When did the problem start and how long has this problem been going on?
- Is there enough data available to contain the problem and prevent it from getting passed to the next process step? If yes, contain the problem.
Step 2: Clarify the Problem
- What data is available or needed to help clarify, or fully understand the problem?
- Is it a top priority to resolve the problem at this point in time?
- Are additional resources required to clarify the problem? If yes, elevate the problem to your leader to help locate the right resources and form a team.
- Consider a Lean Event (Do-it, Burst, RPI, Project).
- ∙Ensure the problem is contained and does not get passed to the next process step.
Step 3: Define the Goals
- What is your end goal or desired future state?
- What will you accomplish if you fix this problem?
- What is the desired timeline for solving this problem?
Step 4: Identify Root Cause of the Problem
- Identify possible causes of the problem.
- Prioritize possible root causes of the problem.
- What information or data is there to validate the root cause?
Step 5: Develop Action Plan
- Generate a list of actions required to address the root cause and prevent problem from getting to others.
- Assign an owner and timeline to each action.
- Status actions to ensure completion.
Step 6: Execute Action Plan
- Implement action plan to address the root cause.
- Verify actions are completed.
Step 7: Evaluate the Results
- Monitor and Collect Data.
- Did you meet your goals defined in step 3? If not, repeate th 8-Step Process.
- Were there any unforeseen consequences?
- If problem is resolved, remove activities that were added previously to contain the problem.
Step 8: Continuously Improve
- Look for additional opportunities to implement solution.
- Ensure problem will not come back and communicate lessons learned.
- If needed, repeat the 8-Step Problem Solving Process to drive further improvements.
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Problem solving techniques: Steps and methods
Posted on May 29, 2019
Constant disruption has become a hallmark of the modern workforce and organisations want problem solving skills to combat this. Employers need people who can respond to change – be that evolving technology, new competitors, different models for doing business, or any of the other transformations that have taken place in recent years.
In addition, problem solving techniques encompass many of the other top skills employers seek . For example, LinkedIn’s list of the most in-demand soft skills of 2019 includes creativity, collaboration and adaptability, all of which fall under the problem-solving umbrella.
Despite its importance, many employees misunderstand what the problem solving method really involves.
What constitutes effective problem solving?
Effective problem solving doesn’t mean going away and coming up with an answer immediately. In fact, this isn’t good problem solving at all, because you’ll be running with the first solution that comes into your mind, which often isn’t the best.
Instead, you should look at problem solving more as a process with several steps involved that will help you reach the best outcome. Those steps are:
- Define the problem
- List all the possible solutions
- Evaluate the options
- Select the best solution
- Create an implementation plan
- Communicate your solution
Let’s look at each step in a little more detail.
1. Define the problem
The first step to solving a problem is defining what the problem actually is – sounds simple, right? Well no. An effective problem solver will take the thoughts of everyone involved into account, but different people might have different ideas on what the root cause of the issue really is. It’s up to you to actively listen to everyone without bringing any of your own preconceived notions to the conversation. Learning to differentiate facts from opinion is an essential part of this process.
An effective problem solver will take the opinions of everyone involved into account
The same can be said of data. Depending on what the problem is, there will be varying amounts of information available that will help you work out what’s gone wrong. There should be at least some data involved in any problem, and it’s up to you to gather as much as possible and analyse it objectively.
2. List all the possible solutions
Once you’ve identified what the real issue is, it’s time to think of solutions. Brainstorming as many solutions as possible will help you arrive at the best answer because you’ll be considering all potential options and scenarios. You should take everyone’s thoughts into account when you’re brainstorming these ideas, as well as all the insights you’ve gleaned from your data analysis. It also helps to seek input from others at this stage, as they may come up with solutions you haven’t thought of.
Depending on the type of problem, it can be useful to think of both short-term and long-term solutions, as some of your options may take a while to implement.
3. Evaluate the options
Each option will have pros and cons, and it’s important you list all of these, as well as how each solution could impact key stakeholders. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to three or four, it’s often a good idea to go to other employees for feedback just in case you’ve missed something. You should also work out how each option ties in with the broader goals of the business.
There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.
4. Select an option
Only now should you choose which solution you’re going to go with. What you decide should be whatever solves the problem most effectively while also taking the interests of everyone involved into account. There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.
5. Create an implementation plan
At this point you might be thinking it’s time to sit back and relax – problem solved, right? There are actually two more steps involved if you want your problem solving method to be truly effective. The first is to create an implementation plan. After all, if you don’t carry out your solution effectively, you’re not really solving the problem at all.
Create an implementation plan on how you will put your solution into practice. One problem solving technique that many use here is to introduce a testing and feedback phase just to make sure the option you’ve selected really is the most viable. You’ll also want to include any changes to your solution that may occur in your implementation plan, as well as how you’ll monitor compliance and success.
6. Communicate your solution
There’s one last step to consider as part of the problem solving methodology, and that’s communicating your solution . Without this crucial part of the process, how is anyone going to know what you’ve decided? Make sure you communicate your decision to all the people who might be impacted by it. Not everyone is going to be 100 per cent happy with it, so when you communicate you must give them context. Explain exactly why you’ve made that decision and how the pros mean it’s better than any of the other options you came up with.
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4 Problem Solving Techniques: How to Solve Problems at Work
Table of Contents
Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity. —Gerhard Gschwandtner
All life is problem solving. —Karl Popper
W hen you think about it, most jobs are all about problem solving.
Customers or clients have a problem, and it’s up to the business and employees to solve it.
These problems can be relatively simple (“I am hungry and need something good to eat”) or very complicated (“ I don’t know what to do with my life , and I need someone to teach me”).
No matter where you end up working in the future, knowing how to tackle and solve problems will serve you well.
In fact, problem solving is one of the most important soft skills for a lot of employers—which means that if you hone your ability to solve complex problems efficiently and intelligently, it will be much easier to get ahead in your career.
And if you ever plan to start your own business , you better believe your problem solving skills will come in handy.
Here’s the catch: There is no single problem solving method that can be applied to every issue you’ll encounter at work. Different issues require different solutions.
In this article, I’m going to show you some of the most common problem solving techniques and how you can start applying them to your work (or day-to-day life) right away.
1. Rubber duck problem solving
In software engineering, rubber duck debugging or rubber ducking is a method of debugging code.
The name references to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer, where a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck.
Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects. Still, the point is the same: Taking the time to explain your problem out loud—to a rubber duck, your dog, or just yourself—is a good way to see the problem from a new angle and eventually solve it. If talking out loud to yourself doesn’t work for you, you can also try writing out the problem in detail.
The key is to slow down and think your way through the problem before you run to someone else for a solution.
Your future bosses will love you for this. When you encounter a problem at your job, if you work through it and think of solutions before bringing it up to your boss, you’ll be practicing the fine art of managing up . (Another great way to advance your career.)
The critical part of rubber duck problem solving is to commit to asking thorough, detailed questions of an imaginary person or inanimate object .
Try this process:
1. Describe the problem in detail. Imagine how you’d explain the issue to a friend or colleague. Don’t think about solutions yet—just get the issue all laid out.
2. Explain what you’ve already discovered. Assuming you’ve already researched the issue, explain everything you already know that will factor into a solution.
3. List out the questions you still have. Now explain to the inanimate object where there’s missing information—what don’t you know or understand that prevents you from getting to the root of the problem?
4. Explain why some solutions won’t work. What solutions to your problem can be ruled out because they won’t work? What have you tried already, and why didn’t it work out?
Now take a break, and come back to read over your notes. If you haven’t already, you’ll probably be struck by a few ideas (and maybe even full solutions) that you didn’t think of previously.
2. Lateral thinking
Here’s a common brainteaser, originated in Shane Snow’s book Smartcuts :
“Pretend you are driving a car in the middle of a thunderstorm, and you happen upon three people on the side of the road.
One of them is a frail old woman who looks on the verge of collapse. Another is a friend who once saved your life. The other is the romantic interest of your dreams, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet them.
You have only one other seat in the car.
Who do you pick up?
There’s a good reason to choose any of the three.
The old woman needs help.
The friend deserves your payback.
And clearly, a happy future with the person of your dreams will have an enormous long-term impact on your life.
So, who should you pick?
The old woman, of course. Then, give the car keys to your friend, and stay behind with the romantic interest to wait for the bus! ”
This puzzle is one of the greatest examples of the problem solving method known as lateral thinking. That’s a fancy term for using creative, unexpected solutions to solve a problem, rather than more traditional and pragmatic methods.
Lateral thinking can be tricky because it requires you to cast aside assumptions (and it’s not always easy to know when you have made an assumption).
But if you’re able to do that, then new solutions to the problem you’re facing will emerge. In the example above, you may have assumed that you can only put one person in your car or that only you can drive your car. Remove these assumptions, and suddenly the problem is much easier to see.
So how do you put this into practice? Let’s use a work-related example.
Imagine your boss has put you in charge of a project that requires you to coordinate meetings between the marketing team and the tech support team.
But there’s a problem: The marketing team is in Dubai, and the tech support team is in Dallas. There are over 100 people on those two teams, and there’s no easy way to get them in the same room, let alone the same time zone.
That problem might seem impossible until you pause and consider some of the assumptions already being made:
Assumption 1: The meetings have to be held in person.
Assumption 2: The meetings have to happen live.
Assumption 3: All team members have to be present for all meetings.
Assumption 4: These meetings are necessary to complete the project.
Now, take each of these assumptions, and see what happens when you take them out of the equation.
What would happen if the meetings were held virtually? Or using collaboration software?
Could you pre-record some of the sessions to cut down on meetings?
What if your company flew a few representatives from each team to a central location rather than making everyone travel?
What if you skipped these meetings altogether, and instead…
You get the idea. The more assumptions you can find in the problem, as you’ve approached it, the more solutions you can come up with until you find the right one.
3. Trial and error
So far, the tactics on this list have required you to be patient and thoughtful, but the problem solving method commonly known as trial and error is far more action-oriented (even if it is more tedious and time-consuming).
When you take the trial and error approach, you commit to simply going ahead and trying different options to solve any given problem. When one fails, you stop and start over with another option.
The trial and error method is incredibly common, and you may sometimes make use of it without realizing it. For example, let’s imagine you’re starting a new job, and you’re trying to find the most efficient way to get there on time.
The first day you walk through the park…
The next day you take your bike…
Then you try the bus route…
Eventually, you’ve tried every option (that’s the trial) and discovered which ones take too long (that’s the error).
A word of warning: Stay away from this method if your situation has too many options because it won’t be feasible to test every single solution. Depending on the task, trial and error can either be the fastest way to do something or the slowest. So, think carefully before you decide this is how you want to solve a problem.
While the trial and error approach affords you numerous chances to find a solution, it’s not meant to help you learn why something works a certain way. That being said, the underlying cause can often reveal itself once you hit on the right solution.
So who uses this technique?
- Chemists. It’s how they discover new drugs, such as antibiotics. They simply try chemicals randomly until they find one with the desired effect.
- Gamers. Video game players often use trial and error to succeed in a game.
- Sports teams. They use it to qualify for and/or progress through the playoffs and win the championship by testing different tactics—plays, lineups, and formations—to defeat everyone along the way to victory. This is especially crucial in playoff series in which multiple wins are required to advance. A team that loses a game will have the opportunity to try new tactics to find a way to win, if they are not eliminated.
- Scientists. The scientific method is regarded as a trial and error strategy because scientists create and test hypotheses.
4. The 5 Whys
If you have little siblings or have spent time babysitting, then you’ll be familiar with how infuriating the question, “Why?” can be.
But there’s a reason little kids are constantly asking why . They’re relatively new here on planet Earth, and there are A LOT of problems to understand and solve!
Asking “why” is one of the most effective ways to solve a tricky problem, and it’s even been developed into an official problem solving technique known as “The 5 Whys.”
The concept was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, for the Toyota Industries Corporation, according to a report from Asian Development Bank .
Unlike the trial and error problem solving method, “The 5 Whys” is all about getting to the very root cause of any given issue, so you can solve it once and for all.
The concept is pretty simple. You take any given problem, and you ask yourself, “Why is this problem happening?”
From there, you ask, “Why is that problem happening?”
As you follow this line of questioning, you’ll eventually come to a point where you can no longer ask “why” and still get a meaningful answer. When that happens, you know you’ve found the root cause of the issue—and discovering that is half the battle in finding a solution.
Face problems head-on
Look at your problems as fun puzzles that always have a solution, no matter how hard it may be to find it.
By not bugging your co-workers or boss and solving problems yourself, you’ll become the most loved problem solver in the office.
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2 Essential Problem-Solving Methods
Life is far from easy. At work, it is rare for projects to be completed without any complications. Whether it be a computer bug, a supplier which provides faulty products, a client that changes their requirements, it is for you and your team to confront these problems of varying importance daily and it is necessary for you as a collective to resolve them in order for the project to progress.
Admittedly problems are inevitable, but you must stay positive. Instead of seeing them as challenges faced but as challenges that drive you and that develop your thinking and creativity.
Some problems resolve themselves quickly, whilst others which are more complicated require to be considered as a mini-project in their own right. However, given that each issue is different,
to tackle them you must uphold the following three qualities: flexibility, adaptability and good communication.
In order to help you confront these delicate situations, there are many different methods and tools readily available to resolve them. Following here is a brief summary of our two preferred methods:
1. The classic 6-Step Method
To resolve the most part of problems, follow these 6 steps:
- Define the problem: This first step is obvious and essential. You must clearly identify the problem in order to be able to resolve it correctly. To do so, use the methods WWWWHW (What, Who, When, Where, How, Why).
- Identify its cause: On knowing the problem, now you must determine what are its causes. The key is to act against what caused the problem and not the problems’ symptoms. If you only react to the symptoms of the problem, you run the risk of the problem reoccurring. To do so, you can make use of the cause-and-effect diagram (also known as the Ishikawa diagram or the fishbone diagram).
- Find alternative solutions: At this time, it is necessary to be creative and consider all the possible solutions to the problem. Brainstorm with your team!
- Choose your selected solution: In order to choose the best solution to resolve a problem you can use tools such as a decision matrix or a decision tree .
- Put in place the selected solution: Have you selected which solution to adopt? It’s time to act. In order to guarantee the success of this stage, you must prepare an action plan so that everything happens under the best conditions possible.
- Implement and effectuate the solution: This stage is crucial to ensure that the solution is effective and allows you to fully resolve the problem. If this is not the case, you must return to stage 3 and reconsider the other planned solutions.
2. The 8D Method
A method developed by the car manufacturer Ford, this method is collaborative and is a multidisciplinary team effort. As its name indicates, it is carried out in the following 8 steps:
- Create the team: Carefully choose competent and experienced collaborators to resolve the problem above others capability.
- Describe the problem: Precisely identify and detail what is the problem you must confront.
- Put in place a temporary solution: Contrasting to other problem-resolving techniques, the 8D method encourages you to impose a “quick-fix”. It must be affordable, easy to install and uninstall in order to easily replace it with the final solution.
- Identify the causes: Now that the problem is temporarily fixed, you must focus on researching what caused the problem.
- Determine the right course of action: Once you have identified the causes, you must find a permanent solution and assure yourself that it will work by testing it.
- Put in place the permanent solution: If the solution is approved, execute it and oversee the results in order to guarantee the problem has been completely eradicated.
- Avoid the problem reoccurring: To avoid the problem reappearing, standardise the used, correct actions and implement preventative measures (i.e. supporting documentation, training etc.)
- Congratulate the team: Don’t forget to be grateful and congratulate your team for their work and success!
Different tools to resolve a problem
As we have already seen before, you can use different tools during the problem-solving process. Here are a few, but don’t forget there are many others that exist too!
What, Who, Where, When, How, Why
Thanks to this popular tool, you can analyse precisely the situation by asking yourself these simple yet important questions:
- What: Describe the problem
- Who: Who does this problem concern?
- Where: Where has the problem taken place?
- When: How long has this problem existed?
- How: How can you proceed? What are the resources that you are able to put in place?
- Why: What are the reasons and cause of the problem?
The Cause and Effect Diagram
Also commonly known as the Ishikawa diagram or the Fishbone Diagram, it is a visual tool which allows you to carry out structured research on what caused the problem.
An ideal method to come up with new ideas, brainstorming is a creative and spontaneous technique carried our as a team allowing them to identify all of the potential solutions to the problem.
As its name indicates, this tool helps you make a decision when you must choose the best solution to resolve a problem. For this reason, you must define the desired solutions criteria and analyse whether each potential solution matches it. The winning solution is that which has the highest score.
The Tree Diagram
Use this tool when you are confronted with a complex situation which requires you to deeply analyse each different option possible in order to make the best decision.
Clearly there is a magnitude of problem-solving methods but usually they follow the same process, such as: defining the problem, identifying the cause, finding the potential solutions, putting in place the best one and monitoring its success. The most important thing required, is to be able to assure yourself that the solution put in place is the most effective long-term and the problem will not arise again
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