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How to Solve Problems
- Laura Amico
To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.
Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.
First, think of the last time you had to solve a problem. Maybe it was a big one: A major trade route is blocked and your product is time sensitive and must make it to market on time. Maybe it was a small one: A traffic jam on your way to work means you’re going to be late for your first meeting of the day. Whatever the size of the impact, in solving your problem you moved through five stages, according to “ Why Groups Struggle to Solve Problems Together ,” by Al Pittampalli.
Pittampalli finds that most of us, when working individually, move through these stages intuitively. It’s different when you’re working in a team, however. You need to stop and identify these different stages to make sure the group is aligned. For example, while one colleague might join a problem-solving discussion ready to evaluate assumptions (Stage 3), another might still be defining the problem (Stage 1). By defining each stage of your problem-solving explicitly, you increase the odds of your team coming to better solutions more smoothly.
This problem-solving technique gains extra power when applied to Alison Reynold’s and David Lewis’ research on problem-solving teams. In their article, “ The Two Traits of the Best Problem-Solving Teams ,” they find that highly effective teams typically have a pair of common features: They are cognitively diverse and they are psychologically safe. They also exhibit an array of characteristics associated with learning and confidence; these teammates tend to be curious, experimental, and nurturing, for example.
As you and your colleagues consider these ideas, think about the last problem you had to solve as a team. First, map out what you remember from each step of your problem-solving. Were all of you on the same page at each stage? What aspects of the problem did you consider — or might you have missed — as a result? What can you do differently the next time you have a problem to solve? Second, ask where your team sees themselves on the chart. What kinds of behaviors could your team adopt to help you move into that top-right quadrant?
- Laura Amico is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review.
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.
11 Brilliant problem-solving techniques nobody taught you Click To Tweet
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.
There is an ocean of creative problem-solving techniques for tackling any workplace issue Click To Tweet
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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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)
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- Patients' rights
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How to Solve a Problem
Last Updated: December 20, 2022 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Rachel Clissold . Rachel Clissold is a Life Coach and Consultant in Sydney, Australia. With over six years of coaching experience and over 17 years of corporate training, Rachel specializes in helping business leaders move through internal roadblocks, gain more freedom and clarity, and optimize their company’s efficiency and productivity. Rachel uses a wide range of techniques including coaching, intuitive guidance, neuro-linguistic programming, and holistic biohacking to help clients overcome fear, break through limitations, and bring their epic visions to life. Rachel is an acclaimed Reiki Master Practitioner, Qualified practitioner in NLP, EFT, Hypnosis & Past Life Regression. She has created events with up to 500 people around Australia, United Kingdom, Bali, and Costa Rica. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 14 testimonials and 91% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 1,277,369 times.
How you deal with challenges will often determine your success and happiness. If you’re stuck on how to solve a problem, try defining it and breaking it into smaller pieces. Choose whether to approach the problem logically or whether you should think about how the outcome might make you feel. Find ways to creatively approach your problems by working with other people and approaching the problem from a different perspective.
Approaching the Problem
- For example, if your room is constantly messy, the problem might not be that you’re a messy person. It might be that you lack containers or places to put your items in an organized way.
- Try to be as clear and thorough as possible when defining the problem. If it is a personal issue, be honest with yourself as to the causes of the problem. If it is a logistics problem, determine exactly where and when the problem occurs.
- Determine whether the problem is real or self-created. Do you need to solve this problem or is this about something you want? Putting things in perspective can help you navigate the problem-solving process.
- For example, you might have several problems to solve and need to decide which ones to tackle first. Solving one problem may ease tension or take stress off of another problem.
- Once you make a decision, don’t doubt yourself. Be willing to look forward from that point on without wondering what would have happened had you chosen something else.
- For example, if you need to turn in many assignments to pass a class, focus on how many you have to do and approach them one by one.
- Try to combine and solve problems together whenever possible. For example, if you're running out of time to study, try listening to a recorded lecture while walking to class or flip through note cards as you're waiting for dinner.
- For example, if you’re trying to pass a cumulative test, figure out what you already know and what you need to study for. Review everything you already know, then start learning more information from your notes, textbook, or other resources that may help you.
- Pay attention to know these scenarios make you feel.
- For example, if you have a deadline, you may skip cooking dinner or going to the gym so that you can give that time to your project.
- Cut down on unnecessary tasks whenever possible. For example, you might get your groceries delivered to you to save on shopping time. You can spend that time instead on other tasks.
Taking a Creative Approach
- If you’re making a complex decision, write down your alternatives. This way, you won’t forget any options and will be able to cross off any that aren’t plausible.
- For example, you might be hungry and need something to eat. Think about whether you want to cook food, get fast food, order takeout, or sit down at a restaurant.
- Problems like accepting the job across the country that offers good pay but takes you away from your family may require different ways of approach. Consider the logical solution, but also consider your thoughts, feelings, and the way the decision affects others.
- For example, if you’re buying a home and not sure how to make your final decision, talk to other homeowners about their thoughts or regrets about buying a home.
- For example, if you’re having financial difficulties, notice how your efforts are affecting the money coming in and the money you’re spending. If keeping a budget helps, keep with it. If using cash exclusively is a headache, try something else.
- Keep a journal where you record your progress, successes, and challenges. You can look at this for motivation when you are feeling discouraged.
Managing Your Emotions While Confronting Difficulties
- The first step is often the scariest. Try doing something small to start. For example, if you're trying to become more active, start going for daily walks.
- For example, if you’re overwhelmed by having a long to-do list, maybe the problems isn’t the list, but not saying “no” to things you can’t do.
- If you're feeling stressed, angry, or overwhelmed, you may be burned out. Make a list of things that cause stress or frustration. Try to cut down on these in the future. If you start feeling overwhelmed again, it may be a sign that you need to cut back.
- Find a therapist by calling your local mental health clinic or your insurance provider. You can also get a recommendation from a physician or friend.
Expert Q&A Did you know you can get expert answers for this article? Unlock expert answers by supporting wikiHow
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- If you start feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, take a breather. Realize that every problem has a solution, but sometimes you're so wrapped up in it that you can't see anything but the problem. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Don't turn away from your problems. It will come back sooner or later and it will be more difficult to solve. Common sense can help to reduce the size of the problem. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
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- ↑ https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-you-define-the-problem-determines-whether-you-solve-it
- ↑ https://www.cuesta.edu/student/resources/ssc/study_guides/critical_thinking/106_think_decisions.html
- ↑ https://au.reachout.com/articles/a-step-by-step-guide-to-problem-solving
- ↑ Rachel Clissold. Certified Life Coach. Expert Interview. 26 August 2020.
- ↑ https://serc.carleton.edu/geoethics/Decision-Making
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positive-psychology-in-the-classroom/201303/visualize-the-good-and-the-bad
- ↑ https://www.britannica.com/topic/operations-research/Resource-allocation
- ↑ https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide/brainstorming.shtml
- ↑ https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
- ↑ https://www.collegetransfer.net/Home/ChangeSwitchTransfer/I-want-to/Earn-My-College-Degree/Overcoming-Obstacles
- ↑ https://psychcentral.com/lib/5-ways-to-solve-all-your-problems/
- ↑ https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/understanding
About This Article
To solve a problem, start by brainstorming and writing down any solutions you can think of. Then, go through your list of solutions and cross off any that aren't plausible. Once you know what realistic options you have, choose one of them that makes the most sense for your situation. If the solution is long or complex, try breaking it up into smaller, more manageable steps so you don't get overwhelmed. Then, focus on one step at a time until you've solved your problem. To learn how to manage your emotions when you're solving a particularly difficult problem, scroll down. Did this summary help you? Yes No
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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.
More From Forbes
The 4 most effective ways leaders solve problems.
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With as many problems as we are all faced with in our work and life, it seems as if there is never enough time to solve each one without dealing with some adversity along the way. Problems keep mounting so fast that we find ourselves taking short-cuts to temporarily alleviate the tension points – so we can move onto the next problem. In the process, we fail to solve the core of each problem we are dealt; thus we continuously get caught in the trap of a never-ending cycle that makes it difficult to find any real resolutions. Sound familiar?
Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do. As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems – which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand. We must be resilient in our quest to create and sustain momentum for the organization and people we serve. But the reality of the workplace finds us dealing with people that complicate matters with their corporate politicking, self-promotion, power-plays and ploys, and envy. Silos, lack of budgets and resources, and many other random acts or circumstances also make it harder for people to be productive.
Competitors equally create problems for us when they unexpectedly convert a long-standing client, establish a new industry relationship, or launch a new product, brand or corporate strategy. Mergers & acquisitions keep us on our toes and further distract us from solving existing problems by creating new ones.
As Karl Popper , one of the most influential 20 th century philosophers of science, once eloquently stated, “All life is problem solving.” I’ve often contended that the best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem at-hand through broadened observation; circular vision. They see around, beneath and beyond the problem itself. They see well-beyond the obvious. The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity .
Leaders who lack this wisdom approach problems with linear vision – thus only seeing the problem that lies directly in front of them and blocking the possibilities that lie within the problem. As such, they never see the totality of what the problem represents; that it can actually serve as an enabler to improve existing best practices, protocols and standard operating procedures for growing and competing in the marketplace. They never realize that, in the end, all problems are the same – just packaged differently .
A leader must never view a problem as a distraction, but rather as a strategic enabler for continuous improvement and opportunities previously unseen.
When I launched my first venture in the food industry , we had a problem with the adhesion of the labels to the glass jar packaging of our products that affected nearly 20% of an initial shipment. As circumstances would have it, this was the first shipment to a new client that was “testing” our new products in 200 stores with an opportunity to expand our distribution to over 2500 stores nationally. Instead of panicking, we took a problem solving approach that involved multiple steps and resulted in a full-blown change management effort with our label supplier, manufacturer, trucking company and client. Rather than viewing this problem simply as a hurdle that could potentially lose us the client, we took proactive measures (and a financial investment) to show our new client that we were capable of not only solving the problem – but earning their trust by responding promptly and efficiently with a comprehensive step-by-step incident report that included our change management efforts.
This experience taught us many lessons about our company and helped us to avoid many unforeseen problems. The ROI from how we handled this problem helped open our eyes to many elements that were previously being overlooked – and in the long run it helped enable us to grow the business.
Whether you are a leader for a large corporation or a small business owner, here are the four most effective ways to solve problems.
1. Transparent Communication
Problem solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed. I’ve seen one too many times how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak-up.
Yes, communication is a fundamental necessity. That is why when those involved in the problem would rather not express themselves – fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrong-doing – the problem solving process becomes a treasure hunt. Effective communication towards problem solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions.
Once all voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader (with her team) can collectively map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution. As fundamental as communication may sound, don’t ever assume that people are comfortable sharing what they really think . This is where a leader must trust herself and her intuition enough to challenge the team until accountability can be fairly enforced and a solution can been reached.
2. Break Down Silos
Transparent communication requires you to break down silos and enable a boundary-less organization whose culture is focused on the betterment of a healthier whole. Unnecessary silos invite hidden agendas rather than welcome efficient cross-functional collaboration and problem solving.
Organizational silos are the root cause of most workplace problems and are why many of them never get resolved. This is why today’s new workplace must embrace an entrepreneurial spirit where employees can freely navigate and cross-collaborate to connect the problem solving dots; where everyone can be a passionate explorer who knows their own workplace dot and its intersections . When you know your workplace dot, you have a much greater sense of your sphere of influence . This is almost impossible to gauge when you operate in silos that potentially keep you from having any influence at all.
In a workplace where silos exist, problem solving is more difficult because you are more likely dealing with self-promoters – rather than team players fostered by a cross functional environment.. When you operate in a siloed environment where everyone wants to be a star, it becomes increasingly difficult to help make anything or anyone better. This is when problem solving becomes a discouraging task.
Breaking down silos allows a leader to more easily engage their employees to get their hands dirty and solve problems together . It becomes less about corporate politicking and more about finding resolutions and making the organization stronger.
3. Open-minded People
Breaking down silos and communication barriers requires people to be open-minded. In the end, problem solving is about people working together to make the organization and the people it serves better. Therefore, if you are stuck working with people that are closed-minded, effective problem solving becomes a long and winding road of misery.
There are many people in the workplace that enjoy creating unnecessary chaos so that their inefficiencies are never exposed. These are the types of people ( loafers and leeches ) that make it difficult for problems to get solved because they slow the process down while trying to make themselves look more important. Discover the lifters and high-potential leaders within the organization and you will see examples of the benefits of being open-minded and how this eventually leads to more innovation and initiative.
Open-minded people see beyond the obvious details before them and view risk as their best friend . They tackle problems head-on and get on with the business of driving growth and innovation. Close-minded employees turn things around to make it more about themselves and less about what is required to convert a problem into a new opportunity.
With this explanation in mind, carefully observe the actions of others the next time you are dealt a real problem.
4. A Solid Foundational Strategy
Without strategy, change is merely substitution, not evolution. A solid strategy must be implemented in order to solve any problem. Many leaders attempt to dissect a problem rather than identify the strategy for change that lies within the problem itself.
Effective leaders that are comfortable with problem solving always know how to gather the right people, resources, budget and knowledge from past experiences. They inspire people to lift their game by making the problem solving process highly collaborative; for them, it’s an opportunity to bring people closer together. I’ve always believed that you don’t know the true potential and character of a person until you see the way they solve problems.
Effective leaders connect the dots and map-out a realistic plan of action in advance. They have a strategy that serves as the foundation for how the problem will be approached and managed. They anticipate the unexpected and utilize the strengths of their people to assure the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.
Never shoot from the hip when problem solving. Avoid guessing. Take enough time to step back and assess the situation and the opportunities that each problem represents. Make the problem solving process more efficient by recognizing that each problem has its own nuances that may require a distinct strategy towards a viable resolution.
You know that you have great leadership in your organization when problem solving becomes a seamless process that enables the people and the organization to grow and get better. If problem solving creates chaos, you may have a serious leadership deficiency.
Problem solving is the greatest enabler for growth and opportunity. This is why they say failure serves as the greatest lesson in business and in life. Be the leader that shows maturity, acts courageously, and requires accountability. Applying each of these lessons can help you become a master problem solver. Each experience teaches us all new things. Embrace problem solving and the many unseen treasures it represents.
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How to Solve Daily Life Problems
Everyone has problems in life. For the most part, we are able to quickly solve them without much trouble. We either come up with a quick solution or use a strategy that worked in the past. For example, if you overslept in the morning and are going to be late for work, you might decide to call work and explain your situation while getting dressed and ready in half the usual time.
Problems become more difficult when there is no obvious solution and strategies that you have tried in the past don’t work. These types of problems cause a great deal of stress and anxiety and require new and different strategies.
The Steps to Solving Daily Life Problems
Step 1: is there a problem.
As a first step, it is important to realize that there is a problem. Because problems can cause anxiety, many people will try to avoid, ignore or procrastinate when dealing with difficult issues in their lives.
Unfortunately, avoiding your problems usually causes them to come back, and a small problem can become a big problem over time. So, how can you recognize a problem early on?
- Make a list. Get in the habit of writing out a list of the problems in your life. It is easier to work on a problem if you have written it down. This approach will also help you to see how certain problems seem to come up again and again.
Hint : Write it down. When a problem causes you anxiety, it is best to use a pen and paper and to work it out in written form. You are more likely to deal with a problem when it is written down in front of you.
- Use your feelings. We often make the mistake of thinking our negative emotions are the problem. This is false. For example, you might think, “the problem is that I am always stressed at work.” Where as it is more accurate to say there is a problem at work (such as difficulties with coworkers or a huge workload), which is making you feel stressed. Use your negative emotions to guide you: when you are feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, or annoyed in a particular situation, try to find the problem that is making you feel that way.
- Find the challenge. A huge obstacle for most people is the negative way that they look at problems: if you think that problems are completely threatening, or that having them is a sign of weakness or failure, and you see yourself as a bad problem solver, you won’t solve the problem! That is, even if you are good at solving problems, you won’t try to deal with them if you don’t think you can and you don’t see any benefit to it. If you can find some benefit or opportunity in a problem, you are more likely to work on it. For example, if your problem is not getting along with coworkers, the opportunity might be that it is a chance to improve your communication skills and possibly resolve some arguments with your coworkers.
Key Point: There is always a benefit to solving problems. Remember that if you solve a problem, even a difficult one, it is one less thing to worry about, and one less problem on your problem list!
Step 2: What is the problem?
Before trying to solve a problem, you first need to define it. Here are some tips on how to properly define what your problem is:
- What is the situation? (e.g. my boss gives me too much work)
- What would I like the situation to be? (e.g. I would like my boss to give me less work)
- What is the obstacle that is keeping me from my desired situation? (e.g. I’m unsure how to talk to my boss about my work obligations)
You can then put your problem into a sentence. For example, the problem is that my boss gives me too much work; I would like to have less work, but I’m not sure how to ask him to reduce my workload.
- Just the facts: Be careful to avoid putting opinions or assumptions into your definition. For example, thinking that your work problem is that “my boss is a jerk” is an opinion. Besides, it makes the problem almost impossible to solve.
- Be specific and concrete: If you are too vague when defining your problem, it will be difficult to know how to even begin solving it. For example, thinking that, “my problem is my work” is not specific or concrete; what is it about your work that is a problem? How will you even start fixing this kind of problem?
Step 3: What are my goals for this problem?
In order to know whether you have solved your problems, it is important to know ahead of time what a solved problem would look like. Here are some tips for setting goals:
- Be realistic: Make sure that your goals are achievable; if they are unrealistic, you will probably not reach them and you will feel badly. For example, with the work problem, if your goal is to only do your work when you feel like it, you will likely not solve your problem.
- Be specific: If your goals are vague, you won’t know when you have reached them. For example, if you think, “my goal is to be happy at work”, what does that mean? Do you want to be happy all the time? How happy? When will you know when you have reached your “happy” goal?
- Start with short-term goals: If you set goals that can be reached relatively quickly, you are more likely to work on your problem. You can set long-term goals too, but make sure to have short-terms goals as well so you know whether the problem is solved. With the work problem, a long-term goal might be to get another job while a short-term goal might be to reduce your workload.
Step 4: Thinking up solutions
The biggest mistake that we tend to make when finding solutions for our problems is to think about the same old solutions. However, if those old solutions worked, the problem would not still be around. In order to come up with new solutions, you can follow the rules of brainstorming:
- Devise lots of solutions: You are more likely to come up with a good solution if you have a lot of solutions to choose from. Try to come up with at least 10 possible solutions to your problem.
- Don’t judge your solutions: Remember that you aren’t choosing a solution yet, you are just trying to think of as many options as you can; so don’t judge them. Even silly, strange or extreme solutions are good ones at this stage. For the work problem, you might think about solutions like “quit my job” or “organize a strike”. Write them down! You will never come up with new solutions if you aren’t willing to even think about silly ones.
- Have a variety of solutions: Make sure that your solutions are different from each other. For example, with the work problem, there is not much variety if your solutions are to “ask the boss to have lunch with me”, “ask the boss to have coffee with me”, or “ask the boss to come out to dinner”. Although these are 3 solutions, they are basically all the same solution: ask the boss to do something social with you.
REMEMBER : When it comes to difficult problems, the first idea that comes to your mind is not always the best. Take the time to come up with new possibilities.
Some other tips for thinking up lots of different solutions are:
- Be specific: Make sure that your solutions involve specific behaviours, and not general strategies. For example, the solution, “give the boss a list of all the work I am doing now” is very specific, compared to the solution, “be more assertive with my boss”. If you picked the latter solution, you would have a new problem — figuring out how to be more assertive.
- Ask for help: If you are having a hard time coming up with new and different solutions to your problem, ask friends, family or coworkers for advice. Other people might have ideas that you have not even thought of.
Step 5: Deciding on a solution
If you struggle with anxiety, actually picking a solution to your problem can often seem quite difficult. However, it is important to remember that not solving a problem can lead to more anxiety than trying to solve it, no matter how anxious you feel. The following are some guidelines that can help you find the best solution to your problem.
REMEMBER : The goal is to find the best solution to your problem, NOT the perfect solution. If there was a “perfect” solution, you would have already found it.
- Will this solution fix my problem and help me reach my goals? This guideline might seem obvious, however, it is important to make sure that your solution will help you reach your goals. For example, “work harder” as a solution to the work problem will not help you reach your goal of having less work to do in a day.
- How much time and effort does this solution involve? You can expect that any solution will require some time and effort but the amount involved needs to be related to your needs. “Quitting my job” as a solution to the work problem might involve a great deal of effort, since you would have to start looking for a new job.
- How will I feel if I pick this solution? If you think that a solution will make you feel bad, guilty or too anxious, it might not be the best solution. For example, “lie to the boss about how much work I actually did” might make you feel bad.
- You right now and in the future
- Other people in your life right now and in the future
REMEMBER : There is no perfect solution, so when you are judging each potential solution it is unlikely that it will meet all four criteria. That is, it probably won’t solve the problem with no time or effort, make you feel happy while doing it, and have no costs and only benefits. You are looking for a solution that BEST meets the criteria, not perfectly.
STEP 6: Carrying out the solution
This is often the most difficult step because you now have to actually start carrying out the solution you chose. Most people are afraid that they might have picked the wrong solution, or that perhaps there is a better solution if they just think about the problem more. This is not helpful thinking: it is better to act than to do nothing at all.
To help you carry out your solution, you can make an action plan. If you know how you are going to carry out your solution, you are more likely to follow through.
Your plan should include all the steps that you will need to take to carry out the solution, and it should be as specific and concrete as possible. For example, if my solution is to “get a new job”, some of the steps involved in that solution might be:
- Make a list of the types of jobs I would like to have
- Buy a newspaper every day and check the “help wanted” ads
- Contact all the employers who advertise a job that I would like to have
- Rearrange my work schedule so I can go to interviews, if necessary
STEP 7: Checking in on your problem
Now that you have carried out your solution, you need to make sure that it is working. Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t always turn out perfectly, so it is a good idea to have markers that let you know whether you are on the right track. For example, with the work problem, you might use your workload as a marker for tracking your solution. If you notice that your workload is going down, then your solution is probably working.
What do I do if my solution isn’t working?
Because the unexpected happens in life, sometimes even the best solutions don’t work out well, which is unfortunate but normal. The best thing to do is to recycle through the different steps and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I define the problem properly?
- Were my goals realistic?
- Are there other possible solutions?
- Is there a better solution that I could have picked?
- Did I carry it out as planned?
If you work through these steps, you might find that you went wrong somewhere, and then you can fix it and try again.
TIP : Solving the difficult problems in life is hard work, so make sure to reward yourself afterward for a job well done.
Here is a helpful resource for more information on problem solving:
Solving Life’s Problems: A 5-Step Guide to Enhanced Well-Being by A.M. Nezu, C.M. Nezu, and T.J. D’Zurilla. Springer Publishing.
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