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Sometimes, it is not enough to just cope with the problems – they need to be solved.
Most people engage in problem solving every day. It occurs automatically for many of the small decisions that need to be made on a daily basis.
For example, when making a decision about whether to get up now or sleep in for an extra 10 minutes, the possible choices and the relative risks and benefits of obeying the alarm clock or sleeping later come automatically to mind.
Larger problems are addressed in a similar way. For example: “I have tasks that need to be done by the end of the week. How am I going to get them all done on time?”
After considering the possible strategies, 1 is chosen and implemented. If it proves to be ineffective, a different strategy is tried.
People who can define problems, consider options, make choices, and implement a plan have all the basic skills required for effective problem solving.
Sometimes following a step-by-step procedure for defining problems, generating solutions, and implementing solutions can make the process of problem solving seem less overwhelming.
Six step guide to help you solve problems
Step 1: identify and define the problem.
- State the problem as clearly as possible. For example: “I don’t have enough money to pay the bills.”
- Be specific about the behaviour, situation, timing, and circumstances that make it a problem. For example: “I need to pay the phone and gas bills, and I don’t have enough money to cover both this month.”
Step 2: Generate possible solutions
- List all the possible solutions; don’t worry about the quality of the solutions at this stage.
- Try to list at least 15 solutions, be creative and forget about the quality of the solution.
- If you allow yourself to be creative you may come up with some solutions that you would not otherwise have thought about.
Step 3: Evaluate alternatives
- The next step is to go through and eliminate less desirable or unreasonable solutions.
- Order the remaining solutions in order of preference.
- Evaluate the remaining solutions in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.
Step 4: Decide on a solution
- Specify who will take action.
- Specify how the solution will be implemented.
- Specify when the solution will be implemented. For example: tomorrow morning, phone the gas company and negotiate to pay the gas bill next month.
Step 5: Implement the solution
- Implement the solution as planned.
Step 6: Evaluate the outcome
- Evaluate how effective the solution was.
- Decide whether the existing plan needs to be revised, or whether a new plan is needed to better address the problem.
- If you are not pleased with the outcome, return to step 2 to select a new solution or revise the existing solution, and repeat the remaining steps.
Problem solving is something we do every day.
Some problems are small or easily solved - others are more complicated and can seem overwhelming.
One way of tackling problems is to use a specific and systematic problem solving procedure. If you’ve tried to solve certain problems without much success, try these steps out and see if they help.
Learning to solve problems effectively will help you to minimise the level of stress in your life and improve your overall sense of well-being.
Try it out and see.
Where to get help
Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)
- 9.00am – 5.00pm, Monday to Friday
- Phone: (08) 9227 4399
- Email: [email protected]
- Read more about the Centre for Clinical Interventions
See your doctor
Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222, mental health emergency response line (mherl).
- Metro callers: 1300 55 788
- Peel: 1800 676 822
- Rural and remote areas 1800 552 002
- Most people engage in problem solving daily.
- Sometimes following a step-by-step process to define problems, consider options and make choices can make problem solving less overwhelming.
- You can always talk to your doctor or mental health practitioner and ask for help.
This information provided by
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
- Centre for Clinical Interventions
- Unhelpful thinking styles
- Depression – reversing the vicious cycle
- Anxiety – reversing the vicious cycle
- Centre for Clinical Interventions (external site)
- Head to Health (external site)
- Patients' rights
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.
- About Problem Solving
- Related Topics
Problem Solving Resources
Case studies, problem solving related topics.
- Continuous Improvement
- Eight Disciplines (8D)
- Fishbone Diagram
- Nine Windows
- Shainin System™
- Total Quality Management (TQM)
- Quality Resources /
- Problem Solving
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.
5 Steps to Make your Problem-Solving Process Easier
No matter what kind of job you have, the chances of a problem arising at some point is almost inevitable. If the problem isn’t taken care of immediately with proper action, it could potentially get worse. No one wants to be in a hostile work environment, so it’s crucial to be aware of how to properly solve an issue. Here are five steps guaranteed to make your problem-solving process easier.
What is Problem Solving?
Before we can even begin to explain what problem-solving is, we need to define what a problem is. A problem is any type of disturbance from normality that is hindering progress. A problem can be time-consuming and energy wasting. They can be as little as a disagreement, to as big as miscommunication that costs millions of dollars to fix. Another problem-solving technique is identifying if whether it prevents you from reaching your goal. No matter the size of the issue, it is always solved using a similar process in which you identify it at hand, gather possible solutions, choose the best possible outcome, and implement it moving forward. That is commonly known as the problem-solving process. If a company neglects any problems in the workplace, it could potentially get worse and cause failure.
Problem-solving and failure go hand in hand. If there are any hiccups in that process, everything can easily go awry. For example, if a sales team isn’t aware of the latest quota change from the last quarter, the team’s expectations might not be met. That is why we spend so much time and attention on problem-solving because it can be the difference in a successful business and a failure. According to Forbes.com , some common barriers that will prevent companies from being successful problem-solvers include the inability to see a problem, lack of respect, and failure to include all parts involved with the problem, among others. Here are some other ways a business can fail:
- Training employees is not a priority
- Employees not following proper policies and procedures
- Poorly written guidelines
- Employees placed in the wrong position
- Quality control practices aren’t met
- Maintenance of equipment is ignored
- Poor design or engineering of a product or machinery
- Cheap or low-quality materials
There are certain skills required by any individual who partakes in the problem-solving process. These skills include being able to do research and make not only rational decisions but decisions involved with emotional intelligence . Risk management is another skill that is imperative to making a successful decision in business. Your team should all be able to work together in the problem-solving process. It’s very possible your problems start at one of these skills if anyone in your team is lacking them. In fact, in 2013 the Association of American Colleges and Universities released a report claiming that 93 percent of employers agree, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Here are a few more skills required to problem-solve:
- Team building
- Good communication
- Active listening
There are many benefits to problem-solving in an organization. First, it creates an environment that is hostile-free and encourages everyone to speak their mind when a problem occurs. Team building can be stronger when resolving problems together as a team. Ultimately, problem-solving increases confidence and empowerment within the workforce. If an entire organization can problem-solve efficiently, they can spend their time more wisely.
5 Steps to Better Problem-Solving
Step 1: identify the problem.
As obvious as it may sound, the first step in the problem-solving process is to identify the root of the issue. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t always easily identifiable and requires extra analysis to get the source. One method used in this step is Toyota’s “Five Whys” technique . In the event of a problem, ask yourself the five whys: Who, What, When, Why, and Where. By asking yourself these questions in associations with the problem, you will discover exactly where the problem is coming from. If that isn’t enough, there are three steps you can take to better identify a problem.
- Explore the situation : Expand on the problem to try to get to the bottom of it. If the source of the problem is coming from an individual, try putting yourself in their shoes
- Draft a problem statement : Reduce the problem into the simplest of terms and put it on paper
- Try to answer the question : “why is this current situation a problem?”- Once you’ve boiled it down to one source, you will then be able to better assess the situation better
Let’s take a coffee shop for example. Say the coffee shop has slowly been losing business in the last quarter, despite having a very successful two years prior. The owners of the restaurant want to better understand why they are suddenly losing business. First, the owner explores the situation and looks at all the possible reasons this is happening. They look at their employees, their daily routines, and training procedures; while also observing the local competition and any regional situations, such as being in a college town. After looking at every single possible reason, the owners figure out what is causing the problem and write it down: It’s the summer and most of their clientele (students) are away for the summer. Finally, the owners answer the question “why is this current situation a problem?” After further evaluation, they realize the problem is a limited market and must expand to get more business.
Step 2: Generate potential solutions
The next step is to create a list of possible solutions to the problem you’ve discovered. There are many ways to generate solutions. Brainstorming is the first way to think of a potential answer. This can be done individually or in a group setting. The latter is recommended, because the more input, the better, simply because different perspectives can lead to different solutions. There are more models for this situation that can help you create solutions, including:
- Means-End Analysis – An artificial intelligence analysis that looks at the ultimate goal and finds the best possible way of attaining that goal
- PDSA Model – Also known as the Plan Do Study Act Model. This is the shorthand version of the problem-solving method, where you start with planning, test the theory, study the results, and act based upon observations. This process is done several times
- Root Cause Analysis – This method is used to get to the root of the problem. There are four steps to find the root cause. Identify the problem, establish a timeline, distinguish between root causes and other factors, and create a cause graph
- Lean Prioritization Method – This method is created within a two by two matrix with the X and Y-axis ranging from low to high. The X-axis is labeled as effort, while the Y-axis is labeled value. Inside the two by two matrix label the four squares with quick wins, big bets, maybes, and time sinks. Evaluate all of the problems and situations and put them in the appropriate categories to figure out where to focus your attention
Step 3: Choose one solution
Once a list of possible solutions has been made, it’s time to put your decision-making skills to the test. In order to find the best solution for the problem, analyze every possible resolution and decide which is best for the situation you are in. One might want to consider many elements before choosing one solution. These elements include efficacy, practicality, timeliness, resources, and cost. Also, consider who is involved before making any final decisions. The process of elimination is another good way to narrow your choices down. This is also where risk management will be used to help make a decision. Like brainstorming, choosing a solution doesn’t have to be done alone.
Step 4: Implement the solution you’ve chosen
Now that a solution has been chosen, it’s time to implement it throughout the necessary departments, areas, or people. On average, it takes about 66 days for a new habit to become automatic, according to a recent study that was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. In other words, change doesn’t happen overnight. To make a new change to any business, planning, patience, and persistence are all required.
- Planning- Understand that timing is everything, and when a company implements a new strategy, they often take a lot of time to implement the new idea. Decide on clear goals, address any issues or possible obstacles, and create a plan. It’s also very important to practice proper communication skills across the entire organization so that everyone knows what is expected
- Patience – Change is scary and not everyone is always acceptable to the idea, that’s why it’s important to stay patient throughout this process. Try implementing the plan little by little so that employees aren’t overwhelmed. Encourage each other and make sure everyone understands the goal behind this change, and that everyone is participating in making that change possible
- Persistence – Finally, continuous application and monitorization of these changes are crucial. As an employer, you must make sure all of your employees are practicing the changes every week, so that old habits can fall behind. If an employee is being inconsistent, you might have another problem on your hands
Step 5: Evaluate results
The final part of the problem-solving process is to analyze the results. This can be done after a couple of weeks, months, or years, depending on what you are trying to change or achieve. It’s important to remember why this problem started in the first place and how it was affecting the company. Ask yourself any of the following questions to better evaluate results:
- Are any of our processes being interrupted by the previous problem?
- Are there any new problems to arise since this process has begun?
- Is there a possibility the issue can return?
- Is everyone aware of the original problem, the solution created, and why it was created?
- Do you need to change any policy, procedure, or personnel to avoid this from happening again?
Sometimes it is necessary to start the process completely over. To make the problem-solving process easier, it’s best to simplify the solution as much as possible. Try to focus on the solution rather than the problem. Finally, be in the correct mentality to want to change. This includes having the right mindset language, both are positive and open-minded. With enough practice, any problem can be solved.
Problems will always occur no matter what situation you are in, so it’s important to know how to conquer them before they get out of hand. Do you want to learn more about the process of problem-solving and how you can apply it to fix any problem in your company? You can learn about different strategies that will help alleviate any workplace problems in KnowledgeCity’s course on Problem Solving in 5 Easy Steps . Use this information to take control of any problems in the work-life, or even at home.
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Thanks for this terrific article! I am a mentor to undergraduate students and I was researching problem solving philosophies, methodologies, and techniques. This was a perfect resource! I like the way that you provided practical examples and also provided various methodologies and systems for problem solving. I think that’s always good to provide people options as certain methodologies may be best geared for certain disciplines, industries, or situations.
I took special note of these key quotes:
“because the more input, the better, simply because different perspectives can lead to different solutions.”
“It’s important to remember why this problem started in the first place and how it was affecting the company.”
Thanks again for making this great information publicly available.
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7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process
September 1, 2016 | Leadership Articles
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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- Problem solving
A step-by-step guide to problem solving
Let’s face it, having to deal with problems can really suck, making you feel paralysed and out of control. Whatever the scale of your issues, there are steps you can take to feel more in control. And while you might not always make the right choice, you can learn how to feel comfortable with the decisions you make.
This can help if:
- you’re facing a difficult problem or decision
- you’re feeling overwhelmed by your options
- you want to learn how to make better decisions.
Why problem solving is useful
Whether you’re at a crossroads with a decision, or you’ve got a problem that’s wearing you down, if you approach the issue proactively, you can avoid those crappy feelings of self-doubt and hopelessness. Focus on what you can do, instead of the things that are out of your control, and feel satisfied that you’ve done the best you can.
8 steps to problem solving
Step 1 . Define the problem. What exactly is going on? Sometimes a problem just seems too big to tackle. However, if you make a list and break it down into smaller parts that you can make a start on solving, it’ll feel more manageable.
Step 2 . Set some goals. Focus on the steps you can take to resolve things, rather than just thinking about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you wish you had more money. Make a list of all the ways you can save or earn more. It could mean walking to school rather than taking the bus, or applying for a part-time job.
Step 3. Brainstorm possible solutions. Be creative and come up with as many solutions as you can think of. Some ideas may be way out there, but don’t worry about evaluating them yet. If you want to solve a conflict you’re having with your parents by escaping on a rainbow unicorn, write it down! Keep an open mind and list anything that comes to mind, plausible or not.
Step 4. Rule out any obvious poor options. Okay, reality check. Evaluate your list of ideas and rule out the ones that are unrealistic or unhelpful. Bye-bye, rainbow unicorn. But how about trying to see things from your parents’ point of view? That option should probably stay on your list.
Step 5. Examine the consequences. Go through the options you’ve got left and for each one write a list of their pros and cons.
Step 6. Identify the best solutions . Now it’s time to make a decision. Look at your list of options, and pick out the ones that are most practical and helpful. There may be one obvious solution, or some might work in combination.
Step 7. Put your solutions into practice. Have faith in yourself and make the commitment to try out one of your solutions.
Step 8. How did it go? So, you tried it out. What happened? If you had more than one solution and the first didn’t work, move on to another one.
What to do when you can’t fix the issue
Despite your best efforts, you may still not be able to fix something. If you’ve tried a few strategies but haven’t had any success, you might try to focus on your coping skills instead, to help you deal with things as they are.
If you’re experiencing a lot of negative feelings because of your issue, it’s important to look after yourself. Take time out to do something you enjoy. You might also find it helpful to talk to someone you trust who can give you moral support. If your situation is interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to get some professional help .
What can I do now?
- Grab a notebook and start brainstorming ideas for solving the problem.
- If a solution is proving to be elusive, focus on your coping skills .
- Talk to someone you trust about your problem and see if they have any insights to offer.
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Ten Simple Rules For Solving Any Problem
Welcome! Take three deep breaths, each time expel the air through your nose with force. Now you are ready for this adventure. Let us dive right in and reflect on the premise of this blog post.
I, personally, dislike the word “solve”. What does it even mean? And that is already the second time I have used that word. The word solve implies all kinds of nonsense, such as completion or the existence of a solution. Let us recast it as: new insights, positive reframing or simply “ah-ha!” . These “problems” can be anything too: emotional ones (external or internal), scientific or research ones, artistic ones, writing ones. If you feel like it, just call it a problem.
Whoever is writing this blog post, he certainly does talk a lot … We should really get going or we will run out of time. You know what, let us start again. Welcome to:
Ten Simple Rules for Sol.. (cough) Ten simple Rules For Saying “ah-ha!” more often
The ideas in this blogpost are not original. Many more people have written on the so-called pedagogy of problem solving. There is no intention or desire to be exhaustive or evenly represent the ideas in the literature. I chose to highlight ideas I find curious, interesting and useful. Some other people and places you can find these ideas:
Polya – How To Solve It
Zeitz – The Art And Craft Of Problem Solving
Engel – Problem-Solving Strategies
Newport – Deep Work
Newport – So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Steinhardt – Research As A Stochastic Decision Process
Darwin – Life and Letters, An Autobiographical Chapter
Arthur Conan Doyle – Various works
Rule 1: Know That You Are Stuck
To solve a problem, we need to know that we have a problem. This may be a frivolous point but it is not always obvious that we are in the jaws of a problem. For example, I rewrote that last sentence about twenty times before I realised I was stuck on what I wanted to say. Key signs that you are stuck:
- I do not know how to proceed.
- I haven’t got a clue.
- Why is this not working?
However, it can be more subtle than that. Repeatedly trying over and over again without progress is also being stuck. One scenario of which I am guilty is the following: I want to solve a problem but I am doing other things instead. I refer to this last point as being passively stuck . To know that we are stuck, we have to realise a solution is not immediate. To get better at this, I recommend saying out loud “I am stuck” whenever it is relevant. Others might prefer to write it down on a post-it note or in a lab book, record it on their dictaphone or shout it at their therapist. So to summarise: identify you have a problem, be aware the solution is not immediate, state that you are stuck.
Rule 2: Understand The Problem
Often a problem is hard because we are unsure what we are being asked, or asking ourselves, to do. Poorly defined problems rarely lead to quick “ah-has!” . Spending time to understand the problem is a neglected part of the problem solving process, despite many nostalgic memories of “I don’t even understand the problem”. Typically, there are many strategies for demystification. One way is to rephrase the problem in several manners, each time using simpler and simpler language. Another is drawing a picture or diagram. I often ask myself: Do I have enough information to move forward? Finally, refactoring a problem can be useful; that is, changing the structure of the problem to make it more understandable.
Rule 3: Picture The Solution
Even if you found the solution, would you know it? Suppose someone asked you what seven multiplied by eight was and you scratched your head. They then proceed to say fifty-six. Would you then go “yeah of course” or “ah-ha!”. Drawing a picture of the solution can be surprisingly insightful. It does not matter if the solution ends up being different to what you draw – just ask Da Vinci – it can still be useful. Picturing the solution helps us know when we have found the treasure. It also facilitates backward problem solving. For example, suppose I did not know the answer to seven multiplied by eight. I picture the answer as a number, say, 100. I do know that 100 is 10 multiplied by 10. I have already learnt several things. I am looking for a number and that number is probably less than 100.
Rule 4: Simplifying And Specialising
Few recipe books say: “well just now make the cake”. There is usually a list of ingredients and a list of maneuvers. Ingredients without any instructions or instructions without any ingredients would be infuriating. It is unlikely that we would quickly arrive at a cake by randomly using the ingredients. Breaking a problem down into smaller steps can be illuminating and solving each sub-problem one at time is a more manageable task. You might want to make a 7 tiered wedding cake. Instead of embarking on this challenge, why not attempt a 1 layered victoria sponge first? Considering a specific scenario of your problem can expose its constituent parts. Mathematicians will often call these special cases or basis cases.
Rule 5: Think Like A Scientist
Despite not all problems being scientific ones, thinking like a scientist can be rewarding. As a (good) scientist you generate hypotheses about your problem. For each one, rank them by how plausible they might be. Example: (1) I found a specific edge case that broke c++ (2) I spelt lnegth incorrectly. Another example (1) My sister is mad specifically at me (2) My sister is mad at something and I just happen to be present. I let you decide which are more likely. Begin with the simplest avenues and eliminate those that are unreasonable or unlikely. Finally, have a plan and execute it. Know what you are going to do and have a reason for doing it.
Rule 6: Guess And Check
We can simply be paralysed by not knowing which direction to take. First, return to rule 5 before trying anything else. If we are still stuck, then let us just try something at least. Someone had to be the first person to mix flour and water, or eggs and sugar together. Trying something we have little confidence in can raise uncomfortable feelings. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable or silly – a bad answer can still be useful. We may miss the mark but then we can orient ourselves around this. Once you have taken a guess remember to check if we have made any progress – have we learnt anything new about the problem?
Rule 7: Auxiliary Problems
For somewhat challenging tasks it may be that we have made little progress thus far. In this scenario, we may consider solving a different problem. Here, we look for analogous or related problems which might have already been solved by someone else or the path might be more amenable to the previous rules. On the other hand, we can vary the current problem. We can ask ourselves if a variation of the problem is easier. For example, if we are practising a piano piece, perhaps we can try it really slowly at first.
Rule 8: Go For A Walk
Our environment influences how we think and perceive. Many humans have argued they generate their best ideas in specific places – the shower comes to mind. Others recommend a long walk. If you do go for a walk notice how hard it is to hold abstract ideas. Allow yourself to be distracted and notice things that are both near, as well as far. Find out what works for you by trying different perturbation to your environment. Find a Watson and take them on a walk – explain to them your problem. This is also an opportunity to upset your rhythms. Even something as benign as writing with a pencil rather than a pen can shift your thinking.
Rule 9: Meditate
Problem solving can lead to unwanted or distracting emotions. Frustration, anger and helplessness are just a few. Lack of mindful clarity or attention can hold you back from focusing on your problem. Try to reframe emotions. You are likely angry because you expected to solve the problem by this point. Appreciating that this means you underestimated the problem and it was more substantial that you first thought – and hence more exciting – might refocus the mind. Notice your feelings and be mindful of your thought processes. How did you arrive? I recommend picking up a book on meditation or mindfulness. Here is a quick exercise for beginners: Three deep breaths – forcefully pushing the air out through the nose. Now, breath in, for a count of four, through the nose. Notice the feeling of the breath on the inside of the nostrils and the pressure on the outside of the nostrils. Be aware of the movement of the diaphragm. Hold the breath for a count of four and breath out for a count of six. Notice this time the pressure on the diaphragm and on the inside of the nostrils. During the whole process try to be aware of the continuity of the breath and clarify the end of a breath in and the end start of a breath out. Notice distractions and send them away.
Rule 10: Reflection
Now it is time to reflect and review the process. Where did you have your “ah-ha!” moments? Did they follow from anything in particular? Did anything trigger an “ah-ha!” moment? Which strategies did and do not work for you? When did you fail to move forward? At what points were you set back? Be critical with your review process, but do not discount something simply because it did not work this time. The goal is to get to a point where you can predict the strategy for future problems.
So those were my 10 simple rules . Now you have the recipe, it is time to write your own.
By Oliver Crook, feedback warmly welcomed at oliver.crook at stats.ox.ac.uk.
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Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace
Problem-solving and decision-making. Ask anyone in the workplace if these activities are part of their day and they answer ‘Yes!’ But how many of us have had training in problem-solving? We know it’s a critical element of our work, but do we know how to do it effectively?
People tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the right answer; and they look for someone to blame. Being faced with a problem becomes a problem. And that’s a problem because, in fact, there are always going to be problems!
There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem: it has to be solved and we’re not sure how to find the best solution, and there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is. Most of us tend to be “conflict-averse”. We don’t feel comfortable dealing with conflict and we tend to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen. The goal of a good problem-solving process is to make us and our organization more “conflict-friendly” and “conflict-competent”.
There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job. Looked at in this way, we can almost begin to welcome problems! (Well, almost.)
Because people are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. Let me say that again. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That’s a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process.
Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.
1. Identify the issues.
- Be clear about what the problem is.
- Remember that different people might have different views of what the issues are.
- Separate the listing of issues from the identification of interests (that’s the next step!).
2. Understand everyone’s interests.
- This is a critical step that is usually missing.
- Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution.
- The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests.
- This is the time for active listening. Put down your differences for awhile and listen to each other with the intention to understand.
- Separate the naming of interests from the listing of solutions.
3. List the possible solutions (options)
- This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity.
- Separate the listing of options from the evaluation of the options.
4. Evaluate the options.
- What are the pluses and minuses? Honestly!
- Separate the evaluation of options from the selection of options.
5. Select an option or options.
- What’s the best option, in the balance?
- Is there a way to “bundle” a number of options together for a more satisfactory solution?
6. Document the agreement(s).
- Don’t rely on memory.
- Writing it down will help you think through all the details and implications.
7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.
- Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (If-then!).
- How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?
- Create opportunities to evaluate the agreements and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)
Effective problem solving does take some time and attention more of the latter than the former. But less time and attention than is required by a problem not well solved. What it really takes is a willingness to slow down. A problem is like a curve in the 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.
Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you’re having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests.
This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision. The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and necessary it is to use a disciplined process. If you’re just trying to decide where to go out for lunch, you probably don’t need to go through these seven steps!
Don’t worry if it feels a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice!
Tim Hicks is a conflict management professional providing mediation, facilitation, training, coaching, and consulting to individuals and organizations. From 2006 to 2014 he led the Master’s degree program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon as its first director. He returned to private practice in 2015. Tim is… MORE >
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4 Steps to Efficiently Solve Problems
Published On: January 26, 2021
Categories: Career, Problem Solving 0
Problems—we all have to deal with minor or major problems in our personal or professional lives. Having a consistent problem-solving approach can be very helpful, and demonstrating strong problem-solving skills can help you stand out in your career.
In this blog post, I'm going to cover a simple problem-solving framework. Although much of what I discuss can be applied to any type of problem, I'll focus on using the framework from a professional standpoint.
"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein
Categories of Problems
Work-related problems can generally be categorized by the area they impact most. That's not to say a problem can't impact multiple areas, but usually there is an area of primary impact. I find it useful to categorize problems into the following three categories:
- People —These problems center around people, their expectations, and their interactions with other people.
- Product —These problems are related to what you produce at work. The "product" can be tangible or intangible. If you're a home builder, your product would be houses. If you're a software developer, the product would be the application you work on. If you're a sales professional, you produce sales. Problems in this category are often related to the "product" not meeting the expectations of the customer or stakeholder.
- Process —These problems are related to the processes you use at work, generally in the context of producing the work product. The problem could be the process isn't producing the desired result, the process isn't being followed, or the process doesn't account for enough scenarios.
Although the framework described in the sections below works with each of these categories, the specific approaches you take might vary. For example, if you're dealing with a process-related problem, a group discussion to analyze the problem likely makes sense. If it's a people problem, group discussions can be counterproductive, particularly in the early stages.
The Steps (and the Pre-Step)
The framework consists of four steps and a very important pre-step. The four steps are as follows:
- Analyze —Understand the root cause.
- Plan —Determine how to resolve the problem.
- Implement —Put the resolution in place.
- Evaluate —Determine if the resolution is producing the desired results.
I'll discuss these steps further below, but first I want to discuss an important precursor—triage. In emergency medical situations, the triage process is used to prioritize patients: do they need immediate attention to survive, or do they have injuries that aren't immediately life threatening? Sometimes, we're faced with more problems than we can immediately solve, so it's helpful to prioritize them. I find the following questions to be useful in this process:
- Is there an immediate action I need to take to reduce the impact of the problem?
- Is there a reasonable degree of likelihood I can solve this problem?
- If I can solve the problem, can I solve it in a timely manner?
- If I can solve the problem, will it make a significant difference?
The answers to these questions can help you prioritize the order in which you should focus on particular problems. If a problem is causing significant and immediate pain, then you need to stabilize the situation first—often by addressing the symptoms.
For example, if a customer is upset, you need to address their immediate pain before attempting to resolve the root problem. Once you've done so, you can move on to prioritization. If a problem is solvable, can be solved quickly, and has a significant impact, you should focus on it first. If you aren't sure the problem can be solved, or solving it won't have a positive impact, then it should be lower on the priority list.
Once this prioritization has been completed, you can analyze the problem.
The goal for analyzing the problem is to understand the root cause(s). (Yes, problems can have more than one root cause.) If you can address the root cause, you can prevent the problem from recurring. It's important during this process to get multiple perspectives on why the problem occurs. If the problem is in the Product or Process categories, I like to use a group of approximately five people to discuss the root causes. If it's a person problem, a group setting might be counterproductive and individual conversations are better. However, for Person problems, it's critical to get multiple perspectives.
There are many techniques for getting to the root cause of problems. One popular and effective approach is the " 5 whys ." With this approach, you iteratively ask "Why?" about the problem and then each answer until you get to a root cause. For example:
- Why did the upgrade fail? -> The prerequisite updates weren't installed.
- Why weren't the prerequisites installed? -> The person performing the install didn't know there were prerequisites.
- Why didn't the person performing the install know there were prerequisites? -> They didn't read the release notes.
- Why didn't they read the release notes? -> The release notes aren't included or linked to from the installer.
- Why aren't the release notes included or linked to from the installer? -> Because the release notes aren't always required reading for an upgrade.
When using the "5 whys" approach, it's important to look for process failures as the root cause. In many cases, it's easy to get to a why such as "There wasn't enough time" or "We didn't have enough people." If you want to fix the root cause, you need to get to "Why did the process fail to alert us of the problem?"
Once you have one or more root causes, you can start looking at how to resolve them going forward. This is another great time in the process to involve multiple people. Having multiple perspectives can produce innovative approaches to address the root causes. It's also important to remember you might need multiple solutions if you have multiple root causes.
Brainstorming is a good way to generate ideas, but it's helpful to have a method to manage all the ideas that can be produced. Affinity Grouping is an approach that has been around for a long time, and for good reason—it works well. After generating ideas, you group and potentially combine the similar ones. The various ideas in each group can lead to a better, more rounded solution.
An important aspect of the solution(s) you develop is that you can measure the outcomes. I've seen many great ideas that simply didn't result in the desired outcomes for reasons that couldn't be anticipated. If you're able to measure successful outcomes (and unsuccessful outcomes), it helps you adjust more quickly and pivot to different solutions if needed.
Now it's time to put the solution in place. How you do so can vary significantly depending on what the solution is. However, a key consideration should be how the solution will be monitored. This is why it's important to define what success looks like in the planning stage. Those measurements are what you will monitor.
It's important to allow some time before moving to the next step. How much time? It depends—it can be helpful to look at how many times the new solution has been used when determining this. For the example above about release notes, imagine you decided to add an "IMPORTANT" note in a new version of an installer to link people to the release notes. If a week has passed, but only one person has downloaded the new version, then you probably don't have a large enough sample size to evaluate the solution yet. Conversely, if it's only been 24 hours, but 50 people have downloaded the new version, you have a much better sample to work with.
Evaluating the solution requires looking at the outcomes objectively and determining if they match expectations. Often, you will find the solution did improve things, but perhaps not as much as you would have liked. If that's the case, you can refine and iterate on the solution. It might take a few iterations to get the outcomes you would like.
What if the outcomes really don't match expectations? This scenario often indicates the root cause wasn't fully understood, and you might need to jump back to the Analyze step. Revisiting the problem with the additional insight of what did not work can help you uncover other root causes.
The next time you're faced with a problem at work, think TAPIE :
Problem solving is a process—and it's one we need to be able to carry out in a thoughtful and timely manner throughout our careers. Our ability to consistently and efficiently address problems can be what sets us apart.
John Welch is the Chief Technology Officer at SentryOne, where he leads a team in the development of a suite of data and BI products that make monitoring, building, testing, and documenting data solutions faster and more efficient. John has been working with data, business intelligence, and data warehousing technologies since 2001. He was awarded as a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) 2009 - 2016 due to his commitment to sharing his knowledge with the IT community, and is an SSAS Maestro. John is an experienced speaker, having given presentations at Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conferences, the Microsoft Business Intelligence conference, Software Development West (SD West), Software Management Conference (ASM/SM), SQL Bits, and others. He has also contributed to multiple books on SQL Server and business intelligence.
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The Steps (and the Pre-Step) · Analyze—Understand the root cause. · Plan—Determine how to resolve the problem. · Implement—Put the resolution in