11 Brilliant Problem Solving Techniques Nobody Taught You
No one likes problems, especially at work. However, they’re part of our everyday work routine. If you take a look at job ads online, many of them will list “problem solvin g techniques” as a necessity for the job role. The truth is that every job in the world requires the art of problem solving.
From managing tasks to managing people, we don’t like feeling stuck, at work or outside of it. The good news is, that there are lots of tried and tested problem solving techniques that you can use to easily solve difficult situations at work or in your personal life.
Here are some of those problem solving skills and how you can use them in practice.
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The art of problem solving
Let’s start with the basics. No matter how bad the problem or how serious the situation, you can do one simple thing: breathe in, breathe out, and let’s begin with the art of problem solving.
Most people get stressed out at the mere mention of a problem. They feel like they need to come up with an answer immediately; they look for someone to blame, and they want a quick and easy exit. All of a sudden, facing a problem becomes a problem of its own.
For this very reason, it’s important to slow down and take a breather. When we are stressed out, we make one critical mistake—we resort to something called binary problem-solving . In other words, we limit our options by trying out proven problem solving skills instead of something new and more efficient.
For this reason alone, slow down and breathe; you will come up with more ways to tackle a problem.
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Ask great questions as the first
Asking questions is part of the pre-problem-solving stage. When you ask questions, your brain can come up with different scenarios and ways to make a decision. For example, a child will usually ask questions like “What if,” “Why not,” “Can we?,” “How about?” and many others. What rules should you break? Are there any beliefs we should drop? The more questions you ask, the easier it will be to find a solution to your problem.
Don’t just trust yourself
One of the many reasons why problems come up and stay unsolved is because we are too lazy or busy to distance ourselves from them. In other words, we just think from our own perspective instead of zooming out and looking at the bigger picture , where we can utilize our problem solving skills.
For example, if you’re in our industry (SaaS), you may have a situation where people sign up for your app and disappear after the trial period. Sure, you could try generating more traffic to your website , but there are other things you can do. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Has my business industry changed?
- Does my app really meet my customers’ needs?
- Does my sales strategy need improvement?
In another scenario, your employee shows up late for work, despite several of your warnings. Before taking any actions, try to understand their perspective and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they have any non-work-related problems in their life?
- What is (literally) stopping them from getting to work?
- How can I help them with problems solving?
Both situations have one thing in common – they look at the big picture before trying to tackle a specific problem.
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Do some heavy brainstorming to help the problem solving process.
A brainstorming session is one of the most effective ways to learn the art of problem solving. The gist of it is to generate as many ideas as you can and in the problem solving process, come up with a way to solve a problem. Of course, the prerequisite for any brainstorming session is a nonjudgmental, friendly environment.
If you want to brainstorm like a pro, you need to take the following steps:
- HMW or How Might We
Start the session with a question such as “How might we…?” to inspire creativity among your team. The question should be open enough to inspire and foster creativity. However, it should also be focused and narrow enough to keep your session participants focused on the problem at hand.
- Write down everything
Every member of your brainstorming session should write down all of their ideas, either on a board or on sticky notes. Once you have all of your ideas, put them down on a common board. If you are unable to generate sufficient ideas, repeat the session with the same question to master the art of problem solving.
- Discuss your ideas
To discuss each of the ideas you and your team came up with, use phrases like “I like…”, “I wish…”, “What if…”, and others.
- Select the best ideas
Now that you have all of your ideas in one place, it’s time to find the best one. For example, you could let the participants vote using sticky notes. You can also create buckets for ideas, such as “Rational choice”, “The best solution for everyone”, and others.
Using this approach, you’ll be able to save some ideas that at first seem crazy but actually make a lot of sense in the long run.
- Figure out the problem-solving process
At this stage, you have your best brainstorming ideas. This is the time to choose the best ones and come up with a plan on how to bring them to life .
You may also like:
The round-robin technique for brainstorming.
If traditional brainstorming just doesn’t work for you, there are other things you can try. If your team members sit and listen and hope that someone else will fix things for them, you need to try out the Round-Robin problem-solving method. In simple terms, this technique will require every participant to be actively involved in the brainstorming session. There is a lot of different brainstorming tools and apps .
There are just two rules:
– Participants take turns to contribute ideas, using the option to “pass” if they have nothing to contribute in that round.
– The brainstorming session is over once everyone makes a pass.
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The silent brainstorming technique
The problem with most brainstorming sessions is that the loudest people are the most likely to have their idea chosen as a solution. The quiet ones may have an excellent idea but they just sit around and never have a chance to be heard. You get the feeling that it’s more important to be active and loud than have a great idea.
If you see that happening a lot, maybe it’s time for a silent brainstorming session. You can make it happen online or in the office, the process is the same. The entire team develops ideas on their own and shares them without sitting at the same table. The main idea is that everyone’s opinion has the same weight. If you choose to do it online, it’s actually even easier to come up with a decision.
Wear the six thinking hats
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you know the Sorting Hat very well. It’s a hat that students wear and it appoints them to a house in Hogwarts that best matches their personality. Along those lines, there is a technique that Edward de Bono came up with, called The Six Hats . Using this problem solving technique, you can wear six different hats with six different perspectives.
Here are the hats that you can wear to learn the art of problem solving.
- White hat. This is the neutral hat that uses facts and figures required to solve a problem. When the problem just comes up, this is the hat that you want to wear.
- Red hat. This hat is all about emotion and intuition. When you wear this hat, you can show your gut reactions to ideas and freely express exactly how you feel.
- Black hat. When you want to show caution and express a critical viewpoint, this is the hat you want to wear. The black hat will make sure that you steer clear of bad decisions.
- Yellow hat. When you want to be positive, this hat is the one you should choose. It helps you identify the positive sides of an idea and an excellent counterweight to the black hat.
- Green hat. To explore creativity, possibilities, alternatives and fresh ideas, wear a hat in green. Contributing new ideas and options is crucial, which is why everyone should wear a green hat.
- Blue hat. This is the hat that organizes all others. This is the person that manages the entire decision-making process and makes sure that all other hats follow the rules and guidelines.
The six hat problem-solving process is excellent because it lets you see the same problem from several different angles, very quickly and easily.
When you quickly want to get to the root of a problem, try out this technique. All you need to do is ask the question “Why” five times. Start with the problem at hand and ask why it happened, making sure that your answer is objective. Continue asking “Why” for four more times. At some point, you’ll reach the true answer to your question and you can start looking for a solution.
The biggest challenge with this technique is giving rational, objective answers to each “why”. Fight the urge to answer from your own point of you. Instead, think of the logical reason why something happened. Remember, admitting that you don’t know something is far better than giving an answer that is subjective.
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Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
Want to solve problems like the big boys at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors? This advanced problem solving process lets you solve problems easily. You can use it to analyze each element of your strategy and tear it apart to see how and when it can fail. By looking into the effect of each failure and how likely it is to happen, you’ll get to the best problem solving techniques. In the end, come up with a list of actions to take to prevent each of the failures you listed in the previous steps.
The wanderer problem-solving technique
When I write articles such as this one, I have one way to make them better. Once they’re done, I let them sit for a day without taking a look at them. When I get back to the article, I take a look at it with a fresh set of eyes.
You can use the same approach with your problems. Take a step back and walk away from it. Get some rest, walk outside for a bit, watch some cat videos on YouTube. In other words, remove yourself from the situation. You just may find the answer to your problem the moment your brain relaxes.
Leave room for imagination
If nothing I listed above helps you solve a problem, this is the time to get creative. If you have a way to problem solving outside of work, it may be a good idea to apply it at work too.
For example, there is an extreme case of Yoshiro Nakamotso. The name may not sound familiar, but you probably used one of this man’s patents today. He has more than 3,300 patents to his name, including a digital wristwatch, karaoke machine, a floppy disk, and many others. He came up with a crazy problem-solving technique called The Calm Room.
His Calm Room is actually a bathroom filled with 24-karat gold. This material blocks radio waves and TV signals which according to him are harmful to solving problems. He also considers oxygen to be detrimental to problem-solving . Apparently, too much oxygen means that there will be an inspiration and this is his idea of using imagination for problem-solving.
You can try and use the Calm Room method for solving problems or you can find other ways that let you use your imagination instead of cold, hard facts to solve an issue at work.
What problem solving method is best for you?
The most important point to remember is that problems happen all the time and they will keep happening. Moreover, if a problem happens at work, it will also give us information on things we need to fix. The goal of each of the problem solving process mentioned is to make your company more open to friendly conflicts and open problem-solving.
To summarize, the following are the key takea ways from these problem-solving techniques.
– Keep calm and avoid high and dry approaches to problem solving
– Ask great questions, a lot of them
– Take a look at the bigger picture and the overall context of a situation
– Try out unconventional brainstorming techniques: Round-Robin and silent brainstorming
– Wear each of the Six Hats to take a look at different approaches to a problem solving
– Ask the 5 Whys
– Prevent any potential problems with the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis
– Leave some room for imagination at the end.
Depending on the context, you may use one or more of these problem-solving process – make sure to choose one that works best for your situation, team and personality. Good luck!
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This is a very good article. I find it useful for my adult learners.
Hi Antonette. We try our best to be useful for our readers. Glad you enjoyed reading this post.
I find this to be very resourceful both personal use and grooming future managers as they develop their skills.
Thanks for this great work.
Hey Daniel! Nice to hear your feedback, we’ll do our best to keep on writing good post.
The article is no doubt useful . I observed that many people at the higher management level are afraid to accept the true cause of the problem as they fear of action against them. As management strategy there has to be a rule that any body accepting truth should not be punished on the contrary he must be empowered to solve the problem at his level only. Many problems can be solved the moment you accept the truth. I have solved many problems by using this theory during my 32 years of service in the engineering management field.
This article was very , Very , very much helpful for my college assignment. I’d say thanks trillion times to you 🙂
Hello Pruthviraj, that’s so great to hear! Thank you.
This is a very depth and resourceful article.
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Effective Problem-Solving Techniques in Business
January 20, 2023
Problem solving is an increasingly important soft skill for those in business. The Future of Jobs Survey by the World Economic Forum drives this point home. According to this report, complex problem solving is identified as one of the top 15 skills that will be sought by employers in 2025, along with other soft skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and leadership.
Dr. Amy David , clinical associate professor of management for supply chain and operations management, spoke about business problem-solving methods and how the Purdue University Online MBA program prepares students to be business decision-makers.
Why Are Problem-Solving Skills Essential in Leadership Roles?
Every business will face challenges at some point. Those that are successful will have people in place who can identify and solve problems before the damage is done.
“The business world is constantly changing, and companies need to be able to adapt well in order to produce good results and meet the needs of their customers,” David says. “They also need to keep in mind the triple bottom line of ‘people, profit and planet.’ And these priorities are constantly evolving.”
To that end, David says people in management or leadership need to be able to handle new situations, something that may be outside the scope of their everyday work.
“The name of the game these days is change—and the speed of change—and that means solving new problems on a daily basis,” she says.
The pace of information and technology has also empowered the customer in a new way that provides challenges—or opportunities—for businesses to respond.
“Our customers have a lot more information and a lot more power,” she says. “If you think about somebody having an unhappy experience and tweeting about it, that’s very different from maybe 15 years ago. Back then, if you had a bad experience with a product, you might grumble about it to one or two people.”
David says that this reality changes how quickly organizations need to react and respond to their customers. And taking prompt and decisive action requires solid problem-solving skills.
What Are Some of the Most Effective Problem-Solving Methods?
David says there are a few things to consider when encountering a challenge in business.
“When faced with a problem, are we talking about something that is broad and affects a lot of people? Or is it something that affects a select few? Depending on the issue and situation, you’ll need to use different types of problem-solving strategies,” she says.
There are a number of techniques that businesses use to problem solve. These can include:
- Five Whys : This approach is helpful when the problem at hand is clear but the underlying causes are less so. By asking “Why?” five times, the final answer should get at the potential root of the problem and perhaps yield a solution.
- Gap Analysis : Companies use gap analyses to compare current performance with expected or desired performance, which will help a company determine how to use its resources differently or adjust expectations.
- Gemba Walk : The name, which is derived from a Japanese word meaning “the real place,” refers to a commonly used technique that allows managers to see what works (and what doesn’t) from the ground up. This is an opportunity for managers to focus on the fundamental elements of the process, identify where the value stream is and determine areas that could use improvement.
- Porter’s Five Forces : Developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter, applying the Five Forces is a way for companies to identify competitors for their business or services, and determine how the organization can adjust to stay ahead of the game.
- Six Thinking Hats : In his book of the same name, Dr. Edward de Bono details this method that encourages parallel thinking and attempting to solve a problem by trying on different “thinking hats.” Each color hat signifies a different approach that can be utilized in the problem-solving process, ranging from logic to feelings to creativity and beyond. This method allows organizations to view problems from different angles and perspectives.
- SWOT Analysis : This common strategic planning and management tool helps businesses identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
“We have a lot of these different tools,” David says. “Which one to use when is going to be dependent on the problem itself, the level of the stakeholders, the number of different stakeholder groups and so on.”
Each of the techniques outlined above uses the same core steps of problem solving:
- Identify and define the problem
- Consider possible solutions
- Evaluate options
- Choose the best solution
- Implement the solution
- Evaluate the outcome
Data drives a lot of daily decisions in business and beyond. Analytics have also been deployed to problem solve.
“We have specific classes around storytelling with data and how you convince your audience to understand what the data is,” David says. “Your audience has to trust the data, and only then can you use it for real decision-making.”
Data can be a powerful tool for identifying larger trends and making informed decisions when it’s clearly understood and communicated. It’s also vital for performance monitoring and optimization.
How Is Problem Solving Prioritized in Purdue’s Online MBA?
The courses in the Purdue Online MBA program teach problem-solving methods to students, keeping them up to date with the latest techniques and allowing them to apply their knowledge to business-related scenarios.
“I can give you a model or a tool, but most of the time, a real-world situation is going to be a lot messier and more valuable than what we’ve seen in a textbook,” David says. “Asking students to take what they know and apply it to a case where there’s not one single correct answer is a big part of the learning experience.”
Make Your Own Decision to Further Your Career
An online MBA from Purdue University can help advance your career by teaching you problem-solving skills, decision-making strategies and more. Reach out today to learn more about earning an online MBA with Purdue University .
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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.
Problem-Solving Techniques and Tips (That Actually Work)
Solving complex problems may be difficult but it doesn't have to be excruciating. You just need the right frame of mind and a process for untangling the problem at hand.
Luckily for you, there are plenty of techniques available to solve whatever problems come at you in the workplace.
When faced with a doozy of a problem, where do you start? And what problem-solving techniques can you use right now that can help you make good decisions?
Today's post will give you tips and techniques for solving complex problems so you can untangle any complication like an expert.
How many steps are there in problem-solving?
At its core, problem-solving is a methodical four-step process. You may even recall these steps from when you were first introduced to the Scientific Method.
- First, you must define the problem . What is its cause? What are the signs there's a problem at all?
- Next, you identify various options for solutions. What are some good ideas to solve this?
- Then, evaluate your options and choose from among them. What is the best option to solve the problem? What's the easiest option? How should you prioritize?
- Finally, implement the chosen solution . Does it solve the problem? Is there another option you need to try?
When applying problem-solving techniques, you will be using a variation of these steps as your foundation.
Takeaway: Before you can solve a problem, seek to understand it fully.
Creative problem-solving techniques
Time to get creative! You might think this will just be a list of out-of-the-box ways to brainstorm ideas. Not exactly.
Creative problem solving (CPS) is actually a formal process formulated by Sidney Parnes and Alex Faickney Osborn , who is thought of as the father of traditional brainstorming (and the "O" in famous advertising agency BBDO).
Their creative problem solving process emphasizes several things, namely:
- Separate ideation from evaluation . When you brainstorm creative ideas, have a separate time for writing it all down. Focus on generating lots of ideas. Don't prioritize or evaluate them until everything is captured.
- Judging will shut it down . Nothing stops the flow of creative ideas faster than judging them on the spot. Wait until the brainstorming is over before you evaluate.
- Restate problems as questions . It's easier to entice a group into thinking of creative ideas when challenges are stated as open-ended questions.
- Use "Yes and" to expand ideas . Here's one of the basic tenets of improv comedy. It's way too easy to shut down and negate ideas by using the word "but" (i.e. "But I think this is better..."). Avoid this at all costs. Instead, expand on what was previously introduced by saying "Yes, and..." to keep ideas flowing and evolving.
Takeaway: When brainstorming solutions, generate ideas first by using questions and building off of existing ideas. Do all evaluating and judging later.
Problem-solving tips from psychology
If you take a look at the history of problem-solving techniques in psychology, you'll come across a wide spectrum of interesting ideas that could be helpful.
Take it from experience
In 1911, the American psychologist Edward Thorndike observed cats figuring out how to escape from the cage he placed them in. From this, Thorndike developed his law of effect , which states: If you succeed via trial-and-error, you're more likely to use those same actions and ideas that led to your previous success when you face the problem again.
Takeaway: Your past experience can inform and shed light on the problem you face now. Recall. Explore.
Barriers to reproductive thinking
The Gestalt psychologists built on Thorndike's ideas when they proposed that problem-solving can happen via reproductive thinking — which is not about sex, but rather solving a problem by using past experience and reproducing that experience to solve the current problem.
What's interesting about Gestalt psychology is how they view barriers to problem-solving. Here are two such barriers:
- Are you entrenched? Look up mental set or entrenchment . This is when you're fixated on a solution that used to work well in the past but has no bearing to your current problem. Are you so entrenched with a method or idea that you use it even when it doesn't work? As Queen Elsa sang, "Let it go!"
- Are you thinking of alternative uses? There is a cognitive bias called functional fixedness which could thwart any of your critical thinking techniques by having you only see an object's conventional function. For example, say you need to cut a piece of paper in half but only have a ruler. Functional fixedness would lead you to think the ruler is only good for measuring things. (You could also use the ruler to crease the paper, making it easier to tear it in half.)
Takeaway: Think outside of the box! And by box, we mean outside of the past experience you're holding on to, or outside any preconceived ideas on how a tool is conventionally used.
More problem-solving tools
Hurson's productive thinking model.
In his book "Think Better," author and creativity guru Tim Hurson proposed a six-step model for solving problems creatively. The steps in his Productive Thinking Model are:
- Ask, "What is going on?" Define the problem and its impact on your company, then clarify your vision for the future.
- Ask, "What is success?" Define what the solution must do, what resources it needs, its scope , and the values it must uphold.
- Ask, "What is the question?" Generate a long list of questions that, when answered, will solve the problem.
- Generate answers . Answer the questions from step three.
- Forge the solution . Evaluate the ideas with potential based on the criteria from step two. Pick a solution.
- Align resources . Identify people and resources to execute the solution.
Use a fishbone diagram to see cause and effect
The most important part of defining the problem is looking at the possible root cause. You'll need to ask yourself questions like: Where and when is it happening? How is it occurring? With whom is it happening? Why is it happening?
You can get to the root cause with a fishbone diagram (also known as an Ishikawa diagram or a cause and effect diagram).
Basically, you put the effect on the right side as the problem statement. Then you list all possible causes on the left, grouped into larger cause categories. The resulting shape resembles a fish skeleton. Which is a perfect way to say, "This problem smells fishy."
Use analogies to get to a solution
Analogical thinking uses information from one area to help with a problem in a different area. In short, solving a different problem can lead you to find a solution to the actual problem. Watch out though! Analogies are difficult for beginners and take some getting used to.
An example: In the "radiation problem," a doctor has a patient with a tumor that cannot be operated on. The doctor can use rays to destroy the tumor but it also destroys healthy tissue.
Two researchers, Gick and Holyoak , noted that people solved the radiation problem much more easily after being asked to read a story about an invading general who must capture the fortress of a king but be careful to avoid landmines that will detonate if large forces traverse the streets. The general then sends small forces of men down different streets so the army can converge at the fortress at the same time and can capture it at full force.
Ask "12 what elses"
In her book " The Architecture of All Abundance ," author Lenedra J. Carroll (aka the mother of pop star Jewel) talks about a question-and-answer technique for getting out of a problem.
When faced with a problem, ask yourself a question about it and brainstorm 12 answers ("12 what elses") to that problem. Then you can go further by taking one answer, turning it into a question and generating 12 more "what elses." Repeat until the solution is golden brown, fully baked, and ready to take out of the oven.
Start using these techniques today
Hopefully you find these different techniques useful and they get your imagination rolling with ideas on how to solve different problems.
And if that's the case, then you have four different takeaways to use the next time a problem gets you tangled up:
- Don't start by trying to solve the problem. First, aim to understand the root of the problem.
- Use questions to generate ideas for solving the problem.
- Look to previous problems to find the answers to new ones.
- Clear your preconceived ideas and past experiences before attempting to tackle the problem.
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Want to streamline your processes and ease future problem-solving? Get started with a free two-week trial of Wrike today.
What are your favorite problem-solving techniques?
Do you have a problem-solving technique that has worked wonders for your organization? Hit the comments below and share your wisdom!
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Types of Problem Solving Techniques in Business | How To Solve Problems
How To Solve Problems - Techniques of Problem Solving
As the owner of your own business you deal with problems on an almost daily basis. Being familiar with effective Problem Solving Techniques can dramatically affect the growth of your business.
Although you find solutions to your problems, many businessmen and women are not really skilled in the methods of problem solving, and when solutions fail, they fault themselves for misjudgment. The problem is typically not misjudgment but rather a lack of skill.
This guide instructs you in some problem solving techniques. Crucial to the success of a business faced with problems is your understanding of just what the problems are, defining them, finding solutions, and selecting the best solutions for the situations.
This guide explains the following.
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Introduction to the different types of problem solving techniques in business
What is a problem. A problem is a situation that presents difficulty or perplexity. Problems come in many shapes and sizes. For example, it can be:
Where do problems come from? Problems arise from every facet of human and mechanical functions as well as from nature. Some problems we cause ourselves (e.g., a hasty choice was made and the wrong person was selected for the job); other problems are caused by forces beyond our control (e.g., a warehouse is struck by lightning and burns down).
Problems are a natural, everyday occurrence of life, and in order to suffer less from the tensions and frustrations they cause, we must learn how to deal with them in a rational, logical fashion.
If we accept the fact that problems will arise on a regular basis, for a variety of reasons, and from a variety of sources, we can:
learn to approach problems from an objective point of view; learn how to anticipate some of them; and prevent some of them from becoming larger problems.
To accomplish this, you need to learn the process of problem solving .
Here, we will instruct you in the basic methods of problem-solving. It is a step by step guide which you can easily follow and practice. As you follow this guide, you will eventually develop some strategies of your own that work in concert with the problem-solving process described in this guide.
Keep in mind, though, as you read that this is not a comprehensive analysis of the art of problem-solving but rather a practical, systematic, and simplified, yet effective, way to approach problems considering the limited time and information most business owners and managers have. In addition, some problems are so complex that they require the additional help of experts in the field, so be prepared to accept the fact that some problems are beyond one person's ability, skill, and desire to succeed.
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1. Identifying The Problem
Before a problem can be solved, you must first recognize that a problem exists. Here is where your approach to problem-solving is crucial. You should not allow the problem to intimidate you. You should approach it rationally and remind yourself that every problem is solvable if it is tackled appropriately.
Fear can block your ability to think clearly, but if you:
1. Follow a workable procedure for finding solutions;
2. Accept the fact that you can't foresee everything;
3. Assume that the solution you select is your best option at the time; and
4. Accept the possibility that things may change and your solution fail;
you will then enter the problem-solving process rationally, You should try to view it as an intellectual exercise. Once you recognize that a problem exists, your next step is to identify the problem. First, you need to discover how the problem occurred. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Did something go wrong?
2. Did something breakdown?
3. Were there unexpected results or outcome?
4. Is something that once worked no longer working?
Second, you need to know the nature of the problem:
1. Is it people, operational, technical, etc.?
2. Is it with a particular department, product or service, etc.?
3. Is it something tangible or intangible?
4. Is it an external or internal problem?
Third, you need to decide how significant the problem is. Based on the level of significance, you may choose to deal with the problem or not to deal with it. Sometimes what you think is a small problem, when analyzed, proves to be a major problem. The reverse is also true. To determine this, you should ask yourself the following types of questions:
1. Is it disrupting operations?
2. Is it hampering sales?
3. Is it causing conflict among people?
4. Is it an everyday occurrence or is it infrequent?
5. Is it affecting personnel and their productivity?
6. Is it common or unusual?
7. Is it affecting goals, and if yes, which ones?
8. Is it affecting customers, vendors, and any other external people?
Fourth, you should narrow down the type of problem:
1. Is it basically a problem which occurred in the past and the main concern is to make certain that it doesn't occur again?
2. Is it a problem which currently exists and the main concern is to clear up the situation?
3. Is it a problem which might occur in the future and the basic concern is planning and taking action before the problem arises?
The answer to all of the above questions will help you focus on the true problem. You cannot effectively research the causes of a problem until you have a clear understanding of what the problem is. Sometimes, people spend many hours on what they perceive as a problem only to find out, after seeking the causes, that something else was really the problem.
In order to appropriately identify the problem and its causes, you must do some research. To do this, simply list all the previous questions in checklist form, and keeping the checklist handy, go about gathering as much information as you possibly can. Keep in mind the relative importance and urgency of the problem, as well as your own time limitations. Then interview the people involved with the problem, asking them the questions on your checklist.
After you've gathered the information and reviewed it, you will have a pretty clear understanding of the problem and what the major causes of the problem are. At this point, you can research the causes further through observation and additional interviewing. Now, you should summarize the problem as briefly as possible, list all the causes you have identified, and list all the areas the problem seems to be affecting.
Before proceeding to finding solutions, there is some additional research that could be done. If possible and if warranted, you might wish to find out:
1. What has previously been done in regards to this problem.
2. What have other companies done.
3. What formal knowledge might you need to acquire.
4. What has been learned from past experience.
5. What do experts say about the problem.
2. Roadblocks to Problem Solving
Many of us serve as our own roadblocks in solving problems. There are a variety of roadblocks to watch for in order to effectively use the technique of problem solving:
1. Watch out for old habits.
2. Check your perceptions.
3. Overcome your fears.
4. Be careful of assumptions.
5. Don't be tied to a problem; try to look at it with detachment.
6. Don't let yourself procrastinate.
7. Control your inclination for reactive solutions.
8. Control your inclination for rash solutions.
9. Avoid emotional responses and always attempt to be rational.
10. Be aware that the nature of a problem can change.
11. Do not skip steps in the problem solving process.
At this point, you are ready to check your understanding of the problem. You've already identified the problem, broken it all down into all its facets, narrowed it down, done research on it, and you are avoiding typical roadblocks. On a large pad, write down the problem, including all of the factors, the areas it affects, and what the effects are. For a better visual understanding, you may also wish to diagram the problem showing cause and effect.
Study what you have written down and/or diagrammed. Call in your employees and discuss your analysis with them. Based on their feedback, you may decide to revise. Once you think you fully understand the causes and effects of the problem, summarize the problem as succinctly and as simply as possible.
3. How to Find Solutions
There are a number of methods for finding solutions. We will describe five thinking methods below, but we recommend that you use a number of them in finding solutions. The first four methods described are unconventional and more innovative. They allow you the possibility of arriving at a novel solution. The fifth method is a more typical and straightforward method.
1. Association: There are three types of associative thinking. This type of thinking is basically a linking process either through similarity, difference, or contiguity. For example, contiguity finds solutions from things that are connected through proximity, sequence, and cause and effect. The process works as follows: List as many parts of the problem you can think of. Then giving yourself a short time limit, list as many words or ideas that have either proximity, sequence, or related cause and effect to the ones you have listed. For example, a contiguous association might be "misplaced work - cluttered desk" (proximity); "misplaced work - rushing" (sequence); "misplaced work - irate customer" (cause and effect).
Associative thinking taps the resources of the mind. It brings into focus options you might not have considered if you stuck to ideas only directly related to the problem. As a result of associative thinking, you might find other relationships embedded in the problem that will lead to a better solution.
2. Analogy: This thinking method is a way of finding solutions through comparisons. The process is based on comparing the different facets of the problem with other problems that may or may not have similar facets. An analogy might go like this: "Employees have been coming in late to work quite often; how can I get them to be at work on time? This to me is like soldiers being late for a battle. Would soldiers come late to a battle? Why not?" By, comparing the situation of workers to the situation of soldiers, you may find a solution for a way to motivate employees to come to work on time.
3. Brainstorming: This thinking method is based on a free, non-threatening, anything goes atmosphere. You can brainstorm alone or with a group of people. Most often a group of people from diverse backgrounds is preferable. The process works like this: The problem is explained to the group and each member is encouraged to throw out as many ideas for solutions as he or she can think of no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched they may sound. All the ideas are discussed among the group, revised, tossed out, expanded, etc. based on the group's analysis of them. Based on the group's grasp of the effectiveness of each idea, the best ones are selected for closer review. For example, the group of people might throw out for consideration any thoughts they might have on how to increase sales or improve profits.
4. Intuition: This mode of thinking is based on hunches. It is not, as some think, irrational. Intuition or hunches are built on a strong foundation of facts and experiences that are buried somewhere in the subconscious. All the things you know and have experienced can lead you to believe that something might be true although you've never actually experienced that reality. Use your intuition as much as possible but check it against the reality of the situation.
5. Analytical Thinking: This thinking method is based on analysis. It is the most conventional and logical of all the methods and follows a step by step pattern.
a. Examine each cause of the problem. Then for each cause, based on your direct knowledge and experience, list the solutions that logically would seem to solve the problem.
b. Check the possible solutions you arrive at with the research you have compiled on how the problem was solved by others.
Using each thinking technique, search for solutions. Keep a running list of all of them, even the ones that seem far out, too simple, or even impossible. The effect of this is to give you a rich pool of ideas that will lead you to the best solution.
4. Sorting Out the Best Solution
Go through your long list of solutions and cross-out those that obviously won't work. Those ideas are not wasted for they impact on those ideas that remain. In other words, the best ideas you select may be revised based on the ideas that wouldn't work. With the remaining solutions, use what is called the "Force Field Analysis Technique." This is basically an analysis technique which breaks the solution down into its positive effects and negative effects. To do this, write each solution you are considering on a separate piece of paper. Below the solution, draw a line vertically down the center of the paper. Label one column advantages and one column disadvantages.
Now, some more analytical thinking comes into play. Analyzing each facet of the solution and its effect on the problem, listing each of the advantages and disadvantages you can think of.
One way to help you think of the advantages and disadvantages is to role-play each solution. Call in a few of your employees and play out each solution. Ask them for their reactions. Based on what you observe and on their feedback, you will have a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each solution you are considering.
After you complete this process for each solution, select those solutions which have the most advantages. At this point, you should be considering only two or three. In order to select the most appropriate solution, you should check each solution against the following criteria:
Before you actually implement the solution, you should evaluate it. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are the objectives of the solution sound and clear and not complex?
2. Will the solution achieve the objectives?
3. What are the possibilities it will fail and in what way?
5. The Plan of Action
Finding the solution does not mean the problem is solved. Now, you need to design a plan of action so that the solution gets carried out properly. Designing and carrying out the plan of action is equally as important as the solution. The best solution can fail because it is not implemented correctly. When designing the plan of action, consider the following:
Design a plan of action chart including all the details you need to consider to carry it out and when each phase should happen. Keep in mind, though, that the best plans have setbacks for any number of reasons - from a key person being out for illness to a supplier shipping material late. So remember that your dates are only target dates. Solutions and plans of action must be flexible. Expect some things to be revised.
6. Evaluating the Plan of Action
Before you implement the plan of action, you should analyze it to see if you've considered as many of the variables as possible. Some questions you might ask yourself are:
1. Is there adequate staff to carry it out?
2. Is the plan detailed yet simple enough for those affected to know what to expect and how to carry it out?
3. Will it embarrass anyone - manager, employee, customer, vendor, etc.?
4. Is the time frame realistic and feasible?
5. Are there special conditions which may have been overlooked?
6. Who should be informed?
7. Who should be involved?
8. Who should be responsible for each aspect and/or phase?
9. Is the plan of action cost effective?
10. Does the plan have a public relations component?
7. Obstacles You May Encounter
There are a number of obstacles you may encounter when you implement your plan of action. It is, therefore, advisable that you devise ways to overcome them. Try not to allow obstacles to prevent you from reaching your goals. Some obstacles to watch for are:
1. Not receiving material and/or equipment on time;
2. Other situations which might arise and deflect your attention from this problem;
4. A power struggle among managers and/or employees;
5. Resistance to change - a natural human condition.
Resistance to change and company-wide acceptance is typically the biggest obstacle. The best way to overcome them is to build a public relations component into your plan of action. The key question to ask yourself is, "How will I get my people to support the solution and make it work?" Some effective methods for accomplishing this are:
1. Have as many managers and employees involved in the problem solving process as possible.
2. Advertise the problem and solution to your employees through memos, newsletters, and posters, showing the advantages and disadvantages of the solution but proving it is better than the conditions which currently exist.
3. Establish a schedule of meetings where different groups of employees can be exposed to the solution and ask them for their feedback.
4. If necessary, develop a training program so that managers and employees feel competent in carrying out the solution.
5. Involve key leaders who wield impact and influence others.
The key to a successful PR campaign is involving, as much as possible, the people who are affected by the problem. The benefits of doing so is that they will understand the problem better and why the solution is an effective one. The result will be that they will be more likely to not only support your solution but also make sure that it works. Many times the solutions we select for problems don't work because employees sabotage them, not because they are not inherently good solutions. Employees may resist change, especially if they feel threatened. Involving employees will assuage their fears.
8. Simulating the Solution / Plan of Action
Before you implement the plan of action on a full scale, you should select a small group of managers and employees and role play the solution in the work setting. Observe the group as they carry out the solution and take note of:
1. How they carry out the solution;
2. Their reactions to the solution;
3. Their understanding of the solution;
4. The effectiveness of the tools they are using in carrying out the solution;
5. Their resistance to change and reverting back to the previous behaviors.
Based on what you observe, you may need to revise some of your plans.
9. Successful Implementation
To assure the successful implementation successful implementation of your solution and plan of action, remember the following:
1. Prepare your staff well in advance;
2. Train your staff well in advance;
3. Order equipment, material, etc., well in advance;
4. If necessary, hire new staff and do so well in advance;
5. Use PR at every meeting and in memos as much as possible;
6. Evaluate the effects of each phase as it is implemented and make the necessary adjustments;
7. Attempt to remain flexible and open-minded.
Evaluating the Success of Your Solution
As each phase of your plan of action is implemented, you should ask yourself whether your goals were achieved, how well they were achieved, and did it work smoothly. To check your own perceptions of the results, get as much feedback as possible from your managers and from your employees. What you may think is working may not be working well in the eyes of your people. Always remember that they are one of your most valuable tools in successfully carrying out your solution.
Other Topics in the 'Management Skills' Section
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4 Problem Solving Techniques: How to Solve Problems at Work
Table of Contents
Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity. —Gerhard Gschwandtner
All life is problem solving. —Karl Popper
W hen you think about it, most jobs are all about problem solving.
Customers or clients have a problem, and it’s up to the business and employees to solve it.
These problems can be relatively simple (“I am hungry and need something good to eat”) or very complicated (“ I don’t know what to do with my life , and I need someone to teach me”).
No matter where you end up working in the future, knowing how to tackle and solve problems will serve you well.
In fact, problem solving is one of the most important soft skills for a lot of employers—which means that if you hone your ability to solve complex problems efficiently and intelligently, it will be much easier to get ahead in your career.
And if you ever plan to start your own business , you better believe your problem solving skills will come in handy.
Here’s the catch: There is no single problem solving method that can be applied to every issue you’ll encounter at work. Different issues require different solutions.
In this article, I’m going to show you some of the most common problem solving techniques and how you can start applying them to your work (or day-to-day life) right away.
1. Rubber duck problem solving
In software engineering, rubber duck debugging or rubber ducking is a method of debugging code.
The name references to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer, where a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck.
Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects. Still, the point is the same: Taking the time to explain your problem out loud—to a rubber duck, your dog, or just yourself—is a good way to see the problem from a new angle and eventually solve it. If talking out loud to yourself doesn’t work for you, you can also try writing out the problem in detail.
The key is to slow down and think your way through the problem before you run to someone else for a solution.
Your future bosses will love you for this. When you encounter a problem at your job, if you work through it and think of solutions before bringing it up to your boss, you’ll be practicing the fine art of managing up . (Another great way to advance your career.)
The critical part of rubber duck problem solving is to commit to asking thorough, detailed questions of an imaginary person or inanimate object .
Try this process:
1. Describe the problem in detail. Imagine how you’d explain the issue to a friend or colleague. Don’t think about solutions yet—just get the issue all laid out.
2. Explain what you’ve already discovered. Assuming you’ve already researched the issue, explain everything you already know that will factor into a solution.
3. List out the questions you still have. Now explain to the inanimate object where there’s missing information—what don’t you know or understand that prevents you from getting to the root of the problem?
4. Explain why some solutions won’t work. What solutions to your problem can be ruled out because they won’t work? What have you tried already, and why didn’t it work out?
Now take a break, and come back to read over your notes. If you haven’t already, you’ll probably be struck by a few ideas (and maybe even full solutions) that you didn’t think of previously.
2. Lateral thinking
Here’s a common brainteaser, originated in Shane Snow’s book Smartcuts :
“Pretend you are driving a car in the middle of a thunderstorm, and you happen upon three people on the side of the road.
One of them is a frail old woman who looks on the verge of collapse. Another is a friend who once saved your life. The other is the romantic interest of your dreams, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet them.
You have only one other seat in the car.
Who do you pick up?
There’s a good reason to choose any of the three.
The old woman needs help.
The friend deserves your payback.
And clearly, a happy future with the person of your dreams will have an enormous long-term impact on your life.
So, who should you pick?
The old woman, of course. Then, give the car keys to your friend, and stay behind with the romantic interest to wait for the bus! ”
This puzzle is one of the greatest examples of the problem solving method known as lateral thinking. That’s a fancy term for using creative, unexpected solutions to solve a problem, rather than more traditional and pragmatic methods.
Lateral thinking can be tricky because it requires you to cast aside assumptions (and it’s not always easy to know when you have made an assumption).
But if you’re able to do that, then new solutions to the problem you’re facing will emerge. In the example above, you may have assumed that you can only put one person in your car or that only you can drive your car. Remove these assumptions, and suddenly the problem is much easier to see.
So how do you put this into practice? Let’s use a work-related example.
Imagine your boss has put you in charge of a project that requires you to coordinate meetings between the marketing team and the tech support team.
But there’s a problem: The marketing team is in Dubai, and the tech support team is in Dallas. There are over 100 people on those two teams, and there’s no easy way to get them in the same room, let alone the same time zone.
That problem might seem impossible until you pause and consider some of the assumptions already being made:
Assumption 1: The meetings have to be held in person.
Assumption 2: The meetings have to happen live.
Assumption 3: All team members have to be present for all meetings.
Assumption 4: These meetings are necessary to complete the project.
Now, take each of these assumptions, and see what happens when you take them out of the equation.
What would happen if the meetings were held virtually? Or using collaboration software?
Could you pre-record some of the sessions to cut down on meetings?
What if your company flew a few representatives from each team to a central location rather than making everyone travel?
What if you skipped these meetings altogether, and instead…
You get the idea. The more assumptions you can find in the problem, as you’ve approached it, the more solutions you can come up with until you find the right one.
3. Trial and error
So far, the tactics on this list have required you to be patient and thoughtful, but the problem solving method commonly known as trial and error is far more action-oriented (even if it is more tedious and time-consuming).
When you take the trial and error approach, you commit to simply going ahead and trying different options to solve any given problem. When one fails, you stop and start over with another option.
The trial and error method is incredibly common, and you may sometimes make use of it without realizing it. For example, let’s imagine you’re starting a new job, and you’re trying to find the most efficient way to get there on time.
The first day you walk through the park…
The next day you take your bike…
Then you try the bus route…
Eventually, you’ve tried every option (that’s the trial) and discovered which ones take too long (that’s the error).
A word of warning: Stay away from this method if your situation has too many options because it won’t be feasible to test every single solution. Depending on the task, trial and error can either be the fastest way to do something or the slowest. So, think carefully before you decide this is how you want to solve a problem.
While the trial and error approach affords you numerous chances to find a solution, it’s not meant to help you learn why something works a certain way. That being said, the underlying cause can often reveal itself once you hit on the right solution.
So who uses this technique?
- Chemists. It’s how they discover new drugs, such as antibiotics. They simply try chemicals randomly until they find one with the desired effect.
- Gamers. Video game players often use trial and error to succeed in a game.
- Sports teams. They use it to qualify for and/or progress through the playoffs and win the championship by testing different tactics—plays, lineups, and formations—to defeat everyone along the way to victory. This is especially crucial in playoff series in which multiple wins are required to advance. A team that loses a game will have the opportunity to try new tactics to find a way to win, if they are not eliminated.
- Scientists. The scientific method is regarded as a trial and error strategy because scientists create and test hypotheses.
4. The 5 Whys
If you have little siblings or have spent time babysitting, then you’ll be familiar with how infuriating the question, “Why?” can be.
But there’s a reason little kids are constantly asking why . They’re relatively new here on planet Earth, and there are A LOT of problems to understand and solve!
Asking “why” is one of the most effective ways to solve a tricky problem, and it’s even been developed into an official problem solving technique known as “The 5 Whys.”
The concept was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, for the Toyota Industries Corporation, according to a report from Asian Development Bank .
Unlike the trial and error problem solving method, “The 5 Whys” is all about getting to the very root cause of any given issue, so you can solve it once and for all.
The concept is pretty simple. You take any given problem, and you ask yourself, “Why is this problem happening?”
From there, you ask, “Why is that problem happening?”
As you follow this line of questioning, you’ll eventually come to a point where you can no longer ask “why” and still get a meaningful answer. When that happens, you know you’ve found the root cause of the issue—and discovering that is half the battle in finding a solution.
Face problems head-on
Look at your problems as fun puzzles that always have a solution, no matter how hard it may be to find it.
By not bugging your co-workers or boss and solving problems yourself, you’ll become the most loved problem solver in the office.
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Problem solving techniques: Steps and methods
Posted on May 29, 2019
Constant disruption has become a hallmark of the modern workforce and organisations want problem solving skills to combat this. Employers need people who can respond to change – be that evolving technology, new competitors, different models for doing business, or any of the other transformations that have taken place in recent years.
In addition, problem solving techniques encompass many of the other top skills employers seek . For example, LinkedIn’s list of the most in-demand soft skills of 2019 includes creativity, collaboration and adaptability, all of which fall under the problem-solving umbrella.
Despite its importance, many employees misunderstand what the problem solving method really involves.
What constitutes effective problem solving?
Effective problem solving doesn’t mean going away and coming up with an answer immediately. In fact, this isn’t good problem solving at all, because you’ll be running with the first solution that comes into your mind, which often isn’t the best.
Instead, you should look at problem solving more as a process with several steps involved that will help you reach the best outcome. Those steps are:
- Define the problem
- List all the possible solutions
- Evaluate the options
- Select the best solution
- Create an implementation plan
- Communicate your solution
Let’s look at each step in a little more detail.
1. Define the problem
The first step to solving a problem is defining what the problem actually is – sounds simple, right? Well no. An effective problem solver will take the thoughts of everyone involved into account, but different people might have different ideas on what the root cause of the issue really is. It’s up to you to actively listen to everyone without bringing any of your own preconceived notions to the conversation. Learning to differentiate facts from opinion is an essential part of this process.
An effective problem solver will take the opinions of everyone involved into account
The same can be said of data. Depending on what the problem is, there will be varying amounts of information available that will help you work out what’s gone wrong. There should be at least some data involved in any problem, and it’s up to you to gather as much as possible and analyse it objectively.
2. List all the possible solutions
Once you’ve identified what the real issue is, it’s time to think of solutions. Brainstorming as many solutions as possible will help you arrive at the best answer because you’ll be considering all potential options and scenarios. You should take everyone’s thoughts into account when you’re brainstorming these ideas, as well as all the insights you’ve gleaned from your data analysis. It also helps to seek input from others at this stage, as they may come up with solutions you haven’t thought of.
Depending on the type of problem, it can be useful to think of both short-term and long-term solutions, as some of your options may take a while to implement.
3. Evaluate the options
Each option will have pros and cons, and it’s important you list all of these, as well as how each solution could impact key stakeholders. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to three or four, it’s often a good idea to go to other employees for feedback just in case you’ve missed something. You should also work out how each option ties in with the broader goals of the business.
There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.
4. Select an option
Only now should you choose which solution you’re going to go with. What you decide should be whatever solves the problem most effectively while also taking the interests of everyone involved into account. There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.
5. Create an implementation plan
At this point you might be thinking it’s time to sit back and relax – problem solved, right? There are actually two more steps involved if you want your problem solving method to be truly effective. The first is to create an implementation plan. After all, if you don’t carry out your solution effectively, you’re not really solving the problem at all.
Create an implementation plan on how you will put your solution into practice. One problem solving technique that many use here is to introduce a testing and feedback phase just to make sure the option you’ve selected really is the most viable. You’ll also want to include any changes to your solution that may occur in your implementation plan, as well as how you’ll monitor compliance and success.
6. Communicate your solution
There’s one last step to consider as part of the problem solving methodology, and that’s communicating your solution . Without this crucial part of the process, how is anyone going to know what you’ve decided? Make sure you communicate your decision to all the people who might be impacted by it. Not everyone is going to be 100 per cent happy with it, so when you communicate you must give them context. Explain exactly why you’ve made that decision and how the pros mean it’s better than any of the other options you came up with.
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10 Step Process for Effective Business Problem Solving
Posted august 3, 2021 by harriet genever.
When you start a small business or launch a startup, the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. No matter how thoroughly you plan, forecast , and test, problems are bound to arise. This is why as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to solve business problems effectively.
What is problem solving in business?
Problem solving in business relates to establishing processes that mitigate or remove obstacles currently preventing you from reaching strategic goals . These are typically complex issues that create a gap between actual results and your desired outcome. They may be present in a single team, operational process, or throughout your entire organization, typically without an immediate or obvious solution.
To approach problem solving successfully, you need to establish consistent processes that help you evaluate, explore solutions, prioritize execution, and measure success. In many ways, it should be similar to how you review business performance through a monthly plan review . You work through the same documentation, look for gaps, dig deeper to identify the root cause, and hash out options. Without this process, you simply cannot expect to solve problems efficiently or effectively.
Why problem solving is important for your business
While some would say problem-solving comes naturally, it’s actually a skill you can grow and refine over time. Problem solving skills will help you and your team tackle critical issues and conflicts as they arise. It starts from the top. You as the business owner or CEO needing to display the type of level-headed problem solving that you expect to see from your employees.
Doing so will help you and your staff quickly deal with issues, establish and refine a problem solving process, turn challenges into opportunities, and generally keep a level head. Now, the best business leaders didn’t just find a magic solution to solve their problems, they built processes and leveraged tools to find success. And you can do the same.
By following this 10-step process, you can develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue that arises with confidence.
1. Define the problem
When a problem arises, it can be very easy to jump right into creating a solution. However, if you don’t thoroughly examine what led to the problem in the first place, you may create a strategy that doesn’t actually solve it. You may just be treating the symptoms.
For instance, if you realize that your sales from new customers are dropping, your first inclination might be to rush into putting together a marketing plan to increase exposure. But what if decreasing sales are just a symptom of the real problem?
When you define the problem, you want to be sure you’re not missing the forest for the trees. If you have a large issue on your hands, you’ll want to look at it from several different angles:
Is a competitor’s promotion or pricing affecting your sales? Are there new entrants in your market? How are they marketing their product or business?
Is your business model sustainable? Is it realistic for how fast you want to grow? Should you explore different pricing or cost strategies?
How are world events and the nation’s economy affecting your customers and your sales?
Are there any issues affecting your team? Do they have the tools and resources they need to succeed?
Is everyone on your team working toward the same goal ? Have you communicated your short-term and long-term business goals clearly and often?
There are a lot of ways to approach the issue when you’re facing a serious business problem. The key is to make sure you’re getting a full snapshot of what’s going on so you don’t waste money and resources on band-aid solutions.
Going back to our example, by looking at every facet of your business, you may discover that you’re spending more on advertising than your competitors already. And instead, there’s a communication gap within your team that’s leading to the mishandling of new customers and therefore lost sales.
If you jumped into fixing the exposure of your brand, you would have been dumping more money into an area you’re already winning. Potentially leading to greater losses as more and more new customers are dropped due to poor internal communication.
This is why it’s so vital that you explore your blind spots and track the problem to its source.
2. Conduct a SWOT analysis
All good businesses solve some sort of problem for customers. What if your particular business problem is actually an opportunity, or even a strength if considered from a different angle? This is when you’d want to conduct a SWOT analysis to determine if that is in fact the case.
SWOT is a great tool for strategic planning and bringing multiple viewpoints to the table when you’re looking at investing resources to solve a problem. This may even be incorporated in your attempts to identify the source of your problem, as it can quickly outline specific strengths and weaknesses of your business. And then by identifying any potential opportunities or threats, you can utilize your findings to kickstart a solution.
3. Identify multiple solutions with design thinking
As you approach solving your problem, you may want to consider using the design thinking approach . It’s often used by organizations looking to solve big, community-based problems. One of its strengths is that it requires involving a wide range of people in the problem-solving process. Which leads to multiple perspectives and solutions arising.
This approach—applying your company’s skills and expertise to a problem in the market—is the basis for design thinking.
It’s not about finding the most complex problems to solve, but about finding common needs within the organization and in the real world and coming up with solutions that fit those needs. When you’re solving business problems, this applies in the sense that you’re looking for solutions that address underlying issues—you’re looking at the big picture.
4. Conduct market research and customer outreach
Market research and customer outreach aren’t the sorts of things small business owners and startups can do once and then cross off the list. When you’re facing a roadblock, think back to the last time you did some solid market research or took a deep dive into understanding the competitive landscape .
Market research and the insights you get from customer outreach aren’t a silver bullet. Many companies struggle with what they should do with conflicting data points. But it’s worth struggling through and gathering information that can help you better understand your target market . Plus, your customers can be one of the best sources of criticism. It’s actually a gift if you can avoid taking the negatives personally .
The worst thing you can do when you’re facing challenges is isolating yourself from your customers and ignore your competition. So survey your customers. Put together a competitive matrix .
5. Seek input from your team and your mentors
Don’t do your SWOT analysis or design thinking work by yourself. The freedom to express concerns, opinions, and ideas will allow people in an organization to speak up. Their feedback is going to help you move faster and more efficiently. If you have a team in place, bring them into the discussion. You hired them to be experts in their area; use their expertise to navigate and dig deeper into underlying causes of problems and potential solutions.
If you’re running your business solo, at least bring in a trusted mentor. SCORE offers a free business mentorship program if you don’t already have one. It can also be helpful to connect with a strategic business advisor , especially if business financials aren’t your strongest suit.
Quoting Stephen Covey, who said that “strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” speaking to the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving in business. The more diverse a team is , the more often innovative solutions to the problems faced by the organization appear.
In fact, it has been found that groups that show greater diversity were better at solving problems than groups made up specifically of highly skilled problem solvers. So whoever you bring in to help you problem-solve, resist the urge to surround yourself with people who already agree with you about everything.
6. Apply lean planning for nimble execution
So you do your SWOT analysis and your design thinking exercise. You come up with a set of strong, data-driven ideas. But implementing them requires you to adjust your budget, or your strategic plan, or even your understanding of your target market.
Are you willing to change course? Can you quickly make adjustments? Well in order to grow, you can’t be afraid to be nimble .
By adopting the lean business planning method —the process of revising your business strategy regularly—you’ll be able to shift your strategies more fluidly. You don’t want to change course every week, and you don’t want to fall victim to shiny object thinking. But you can strike a balance that allows you to reduce your business’s risk while keeping your team heading in the right direction.
Along the way, you’ll make strategic decisions that don’t pan out the way you hoped. The best thing you can do is test your ideas and iterate often so you’re not wasting money and resources on things that don’t work. That’s Lean Planning .
7. Model different financial scenarios
When you’re trying to solve a serious business problem, one of the best things you can do is build a few different financial forecasts so you can model different scenarios. You might find that the idea that seemed the strongest will take longer than you thought to reverse a negative financial trend. At the very least you’ll have better insight into the financial impact of moving in a different direction.
The real benefit here is looking at different tactical approaches to the same problem. Maybe instead of increasing sales right now, you’re better off in the long run if you adopt a strategy to reduce churn and retain your best customers. You won’t know unless you model a few different scenarios. You can do this by using spreadsheets, and a tool like LivePlan can make it easier and quicker.
8. Watch your cash flow
While you’re working to solve a challenging business problem, pay particular attention to your cash flow and your cash flow forecast . Understanding when your company is at risk of running out of cash in the bank can help you be proactive. It’s a lot easier to get a line of credit while your financials still look good and healthy, than when you’re one pay period away from ruin.
If you’re dealing with a serious issue, it’s easy to start to get tunnel vision. You’ll benefit from maintaining a little breathing room for your business as you figure out what to do next.
9. Use a decision-making framework
Once you’ve gathered all the information you need, generated a number of ideas, and done some financial modeling, you might still feel uncertain. It’s natural—you’re not a fortune-teller. You’re trying to make the best decision you can with the information you have.
This article offers a really useful approach to making decisions. It starts with putting your options into a matrix like this one:
Use this sort of framework to put everything you’ve learned out on the table. If you’re working with a bigger team, this sort of exercise can also bring the rest of your team to the table so they feel some ownership over the outcome.
10. Identify key metrics to track
How will you know your problem is solved? And not just the symptom—how will you know when you’ve addressed the underlying issues? Before you dive into enacting the solution, make sure you know what success looks like.
Decide on a few key performance indicators . Take a baseline measurement, and set a goal and a timeframe. You’re essentially translating your solution into a plan, complete with milestones and goals. Without these, you’ve simply made a blind decision with no way to track success. You need those goals and milestones to make your plan real .
Problem solving skills to improve
As you and your team work through this process, it’s worth keeping in mind specific problem solving skills you should continue to develop. Bolstering your ability, as well as your team, to solve problems effectively will only make this process more useful and efficient. Here are a few key skills to work on.
It can be very easy to make quick, emotional responses in a time of crisis or when discussing something you’re passionate about. To avoid making assumptions and letting your emotions get the best of you, you need to focus on empathizing with others. This involves understanding your own emotional state, reactions and listening carefully to the responses of your team. The more you’re able to listen carefully, the better you’ll be at asking for and taking advice that actually leads to effective problem solving.
Jumping right into a solution can immediately kill the possibility of solving your problem. Just like when you start a business , you need to do the research into what the problem you’re solving actually is. Luckily, you can embed research into your problem solving by holding active reviews of financial performance and team processes. Simply asking “What? Where? When? How?” can lead to more in-depth explorations of potential issues.
The best thing you can do to grow your research abilities is to encourage and practice curiosity. Look at every problem as an opportunity. Something that may be trouble now, but is worth exploring and finding the right solution. You’ll pick up best practices, useful tools and fine-tune your own research process the more you’re willing to explore.
Creatively brainstorming with your team is somewhat of an art form. There needs to be a willingness to throw everything at the wall and act as if nothing is a bad idea at the start. This style of collaboration encourages participation without fear of rejection. It also helps outline potential solutions outside of your current scope, that you can refine and turn into realistic action.
Work on breaking down problems and try to give everyone in the room a voice. The more input you allow, the greater potential you have for finding the best solution.
One thing that can drag out acting upon a potential solution, is being indecisive. If you aren’t willing to state when the final cutoff for deliberation is, you simply won’t take steps quickly enough. This is when having a process for problem solving comes in handy, as it purposefully outlines when you should start taking action.
Work on choosing decision-makers, identify necessary results and be prepared to analyze and adjust if necessary. You don’t have to get it right every time, but taking action at the right time, even if it fails, is almost more vital than never taking a step.
Stemming off failure, you need to learn to be resilient. Again, no one gets it perfect every single time. There are so many factors in play to consider and sometimes even the most well-thought-out solution doesn’t stick. Instead of being down on yourself or your team, look to separate yourself from the problem and continue to think of it as a puzzle worth solving. Every failure is a learning opportunity and it only helps you further refine and eliminate issues in your strategy.
Problem solving is a process
The key to effective problem-solving in business is the ability to adapt. You can waste a lot of resources on staying the wrong course for too long. So make a plan to reduce your risk now. Think about what you’d do if you were faced with a problem large enough to sink your business. Be as proactive as you can.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016. It was updated in 2021.
Posted in management.
36 Problem-solving techniques, methods and tools
When it comes to solving problems, getting ideas is the easy part.
But businesses often forget the other four stages of the problem-solving process that will allow them to find the best solution.
Instead of jumping straight to idea generation, your problem-solving framework should look like this:
- Identify the problem
- Reveal why it has occurred
- Brainstorm ideas
- Select the best solution
See how idea generation doesn’t appear until stage 3?!
In this extensive resource, we provide techniques, methodologies and tools to guide you through every stage of the problem-solving process.
Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll possess an extensive problem-solving arsenal that will enable you to overcome your biggest workplace challenges.
11 Problem-solving techniques for clarity and confidence
Before we dive into more comprehensive methodologies for solving problems, there are a few basic techniques you should know.
The following techniques will set you up for a successful problem-solving session with your team, allowing you to take on your biggest challenges with clarity and confidence.
1. Take a moment, take a breath
When a problem or challenge arises, it’s normal to act too quickly or rely on solutions that have worked well in the past. This is known as entrenched thinking.
But acting impulsively, without prior consideration or planning, can cause you to misunderstand the issue and overlook possible solutions to the problem.
Therefore, the first thing you should always do when you encounter a problem is: breathe in and out.
Take a step back and make a clear plan of action before you act. This will help you to take rational steps towards solving a problem.
2. Ask questions to understand the full extent of the issue
Another common mistake people make when attempting to solve a problem is taking action before fully understanding the problem.
Before committing to a theory, ask enough questions to unearth the true root of the issue.
Later in this article, we cover The 5 Why’s problem-solving methodology which you can use to easily identify the root of your problem. Give this a go at your next meeting and see how your initial understanding of a problem can often be wrong.
3. Consider alternative perspectives
A common problem-solving issue is that of myopia—a narrow-minded view or perception of the problem. Myopia can occur when you’re too involved with the problem or your team isn’t diverse enough.
To give yourself the best chance of resolving a problem, gain insight from a wide range of sources. Collaborate with key stakeholders, customers and on-the-ground employees to learn how the problem affects them and whether they have found workarounds or solutions.
To paint the broadest picture, don’t limit your problem-solving team to a specific archetype. Try to include everyone, from the chief executive to the office janitor.
If you’re working with a small team, try the Flip It! problem-solving methodology to view the issue from a fresh angle.
4. Make your office space conducive to problem-solving
The environment in which your host your brainstorming sessions should maximise creativity . When your team members trust each other and feel relaxed, they’re more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to a problem.
Here are a few ways to get your employees’ creative juices flowing:
- Play team-building games that maximise trust and build interpersonal relationships
- Improve your team’s problem-solving skills with games that encourage critical thinking
- Redesign the office with comfortable furniture and collaborative spaces
- Boost job satisfaction by creating a positive work-life balance
- Improve collaborative skills and learn to resolve conflicts
World Café is a problem-solving method that creates a casual environment conducive to creative thinking.
Keep reading to learn more about how World Café can help your team solve complex organisational problems.
5. Use problem-solving methodologies to guide the process
Because problem-solving is a creative process, it can be hard to keep it on track. As more ideas get banded around, conflicts can arise that derail the session.
That’s why problem-solving methodologies are so helpful. They offer you proven problem-solving frameworks to guide your group sessions and keep them on track.
The Six Thinking Hats problem-solving method is a popular technique that guides the process and helps your team analyse a problem from all angles.
We’re going to take a look at our favourite problem-solving methodologies in the next section of this article, XY Tried and tested problem-solving methodologies.
6. Use analogies to solve complex problems
Sometimes, solving a different problem can help you uncover solutions to another problem!
By stripping back a complex issue and framing it as a simplified analogy , you approach a problem from a different angle, enabling you to come up with alternative ideas.
After solving practice problems, your team might be more aptly equipped to solve real-world issues.
However, coming up with an analogy that reflects your issue can be difficult, so don’t worry if this technique doesn’t work for you.
The Speed Boat diagram is a visual tool that helps your employees view existing challenges as anchors holding back a boat which represents your end goals. By assigning a “weight” to each anchor, your team can prioritise which issues to tackle first.
7. Establish clear constraints
Constraints make a big problem more approachable.
Before you tackle a problem, establish clear boundaries and codes of conduct for the session. This allows your team to focus on the current issue without becoming distracted or veering off on a tangent.
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Oguz A. Acar, Murat Tarakci, and Daan van Knippenberg wrote, “Constraints … provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas for new products, services, or business processes.” (Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation, 2019)
Lightning Decision Jam is a prime example of how constraints can assist the creative process. Here, your team are given strict time constraints and isn’t permitted to discuss ideas until the end.
8. Dislodge preconceived ideas
Humans are creatures of habit.
We defer to strategies that have produced positive results in the past. This is typically beneficial because recalling our previous successes means we don’t need to constantly re-learn similar tasks.
But when it comes to problem-solving, this way of thinking can trip us up. We become fixated on a solution that worked in the past, but when this fails we’re dismayed and left wondering what to do next.
To resolve problems effectively, your employees need to escape the precincts of their imaginations. This helps to eliminate functional fixedness—the belief that an item serves only its predefined function.
Alternative Application is an icebreaker game that encourages employees to think outside the box by coming up with different uses for everyday objects. Try this at your next meeting or team-building event and watch your team tap into their creativity.
9. Level the playing field
Having a diverse group of employees at your brainstorming sessions is a good idea, but there’s one problem: the extroverted members of your team will be more vocal than the introverts.
To ensure you’re gaining insight from every member of your team, you need to give your quieter employees equal opportunities to contribute by eliminating personality biases.
Read more: What icebreaker games and questions work best for introverts?
The obvious solution, then, is to “silence” the louder participants (it’s not as sinister as it sounds, promise)—all you have to do is ban your team from debating suggestions during the ideation process.
The Lightning Decision Jam methodology gives your employees equal opportunities to contribute because much of the problem-solving process is carried out in silence.
10. Take a break from the problem
Have you ever noticed how the best ideas seem to come when you’re not actively working on a problem? You may have spent hours slumped over your desk hashing out a solution, only for the “eureka!” moment to come when you’re walking your dog or taking a shower.
In James Webb Young’s book, A Technique for Producing Ideas , phase three of the process is “stepping away from the problem.” Young proclaims that after putting in the hard work, the information needs to ferment in the mind before any plausible ideas come to you.
So next time you’re in a meeting with your team trying to solve a problem, don’t panic if you don’t uncover groundbreaking ideas there and then. Allow everybody to mull over what they’ve learned, then reconvene at a later date.
The Creativity Dice methodology is a quick-fire brainstorming game that allows your team to incubate ideas while concentrating on another.
11. Limit feedback sessions
The way your team delivers feedback at the end of a successful brainstorming session is critical. Left unsupervised, excessive feedback can undo all of your hard work.
Therefore, it’s wise to put a cap on the amount of feedback your team can provide. One great way of doing this is by using the One Breath Feedback technique.
By limiting your employees to one breath, they’re taught to be concise with their final comments.
16 Tried and tested problem-solving methodologies
Problem-solving methodologies keep your brainstorming session on track and encourage your team to consider all angles of the issue.
Countless methods have wiggled their way into the world of business, each one with a unique strategy and end goal.
Here are 12 of our favourite problem-solving methodologies that will help you find the best-fit solution to your troubles.
12. Six Thinking Hats
Six Thinking Hats is a methodical problem-solving framework that helps your group consider all possible problems, causes, solutions and repercussions by assigning a different coloured hat to each stage of the problem-solving process.
The roles of each hat are as follows:
- Blue Hat (Control): This hat controls the session and dictates the order in which the hats will be worn. When wearing the Blue Hat, your group will observe possible solutions, draw conclusions and define a plan of action.
- Green Hat (Idea Generation): The Green Hat signifies creativity. At this stage of the methodology, your team will focus their efforts on generating ideas, imagining solutions and considering alternatives.
- Red Hat (Intuition and Feelings): It’s time for your employees to communicate their feelings. Here, your team listen to their guts and convey their emotional impulses without justification.
- Yellow Hat (Benefits and Values): What are the merits of each idea that has been put forward thus far? What positive impacts could they have?
- Black or Grey Hat (Caution): What are the potential risks or shortcomings of each idea? What negative impacts could result from implicating each idea?
- White Hat (Information and Data): While wearing The White Hat, your team must determine what information is needed and from where it can be obtained.
For Six Thinking Hats to work effectively, ensure your team acts within the confines of each role.
While wearing The Yellow Hat, for example, your team should only discuss the positives . Any negative implications should be left for the Black or Grey hat.
Note: Feel free to alter the hat colours to align with your cultural context.
13. Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)
Lightning Decision Jam is a nine-stage problem-solving process designed to uncover a variety of perspectives while keeping the session on track.
The process starts by defining a general topic like the internal design process, interdepartmental communication, the sales funnel, etc.
Then, armed with pens and post-it notes, your team will work through the nine stages in the following order:
- Write problems (7 minutes)
- Present problems (4 minutes/person)
- Select problems (6 minutes)
- Reframe the problems (6 minutes)
- Offer solutions (7 minutes)
- Vote on solutions (10 minutes)
- Prioritise solutions (30 seconds)
- Decide what to execute (10 minutes)
- Create task lists (5 minutes)
The philosophy behind LDJ is that of constraint. By limiting discussion, employees can focus on compiling ideas and coming to democratic decisions that benefit the company without being distracted or going off on a tangent.
14. The 5 Why’s
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the process of unearthing a problem and finding the underlying cause. To help you through this process, you can use The 5 Why’s methodology.
The idea is to ask why you’re experiencing a problem, reframe the problem based on the answer, and then ask “ why?” again. If you do this five times , you should come pretty close to the root of your original challenge.
While this might not be a comprehensive end-to-end methodology, it certainly helps you to pin down your core challenges.
15. World Café
If you’ve had enough of uninspiring corporate boardrooms, World Café is the solution.
This problem-solving strategy facilitates casual conversations around given topics, enabling players to speak more openly about their grievances without the pressure of a large group.
Here’s how to do it:
- Create a cosy cafe-style setting (try to have at least five or six chairs per table).
- As a group, decide on a core problem and mark this as the session topic.
- Divide your group into smaller teams by arranging five or six players at a table.
- Assign each group a question that pertains to the session topic, or decide on one question for all groups to discuss at once.
- Give the groups about 20 minutes to casually talk over each question.
- Repeat this with about three or four different questions, making sure to write down key insights from each group.
- Share the insights with the whole group.
World Café is a useful way of uncovering hidden causes and pitfalls by having multiple simultaneous conversations about a given topic.
16. Discovery and Action Dialogue (DAD)
Discovery and Actions Dialogues are a collaborative method for employees to share and adopt personal behaviours in response to a problem.
This crowdsourcing approach provides insight into how a problem affects individuals throughout your company and whether some are better equipped than others.
A DAD session is guided by a facilitator who asks seven open-ended questions in succession. Each person is given equal time to participate while a recorder takes down notes and valuable insights.
This is a particularly effective method for uncovering preexisting ideas, behaviours and solutions from the people who face problems daily.
17. Design Sprint 2.0
The Design Sprint 2.0 model by Jake Knapp helps your team to focus on finding, developing measuring a solution within four days . Because theorising is all well and good, but sometimes you can learn more by getting an idea off the ground and observing how it plays out in the real world.
Here’s the basic problem-solving framework:
- Day 1: Map out or sketch possible solutions
- Day 2: Choose the best solutions and storyboard your strategy going forward
- Day 3: Create a living, breathing prototype
- Day 4: Test and record how it performs in the real world
This technique is great for testing the viability of new products or expanding and fixing the features of an existing product.
18. Open Space Technology
Open Space Technology is a method for large groups to create a problem-solving agenda around a central theme. It works best when your group is comprised of subject-matter experts and experienced individuals with a sufficient stake in the problem.
Open Space Technology works like this:
- Establish a core theme for your team to centralise their efforts.
- Ask the participants to consider their approach and write it on a post-it note.
- Everybody writes a time and place for discussion on their note and sticks it to the wall.
- The group is then invited to join the sessions that most interest them.
- Everybody joins and contributes to their chosen sessions
- Any significant insights and outcomes are recorded and presented to the group.
This methodology grants autonomy to your team and encourages them to take ownership of the problem-solving process.
19. Round-Robin Brainstorming Technique
While not an end-to-end problem-solving methodology, the Round-Robin Brainstorming Technique is an effective way of squeezing every last ounce of creativity from your ideation sessions.
Here’s how it works:
- Decide on a problem that needs to be solved
- Sitting in a circle, give each employee a chance to offer an idea
- Have somebody write down each idea as they come up
- Participants can pass if they don’t have anything to contribute
- The brainstorming session ends once everybody has passed
Once you’ve compiled a long list of ideas, it’s up to you how you move forward. You could, for example, borrow techniques from other methodologies, such as the “vote on solutions” phase of the Lightning Decision Jam.
20. Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
Failure Modes and Effects Analysis is a method for preventing and mitigating problems within your business processes.
This technique starts by examining the process in question and asking, “What could go wrong?” From here, your team starts to brainstorm a list of potential failures.
Then, going through the list one by one, ask your participants, “Why would this failure happen?”
Once you’ve answered this question for each list item, ask yourselves, “What would the consequences be of this failure?”
This proactive method focuses on prevention rather than treatment. Instead of waiting for a problem to occur and reacting, you’re actively searching for future shortcomings.
21. Flip It!
The Flip It! Methodology teaches your team to view their concerns in a different light and frame them instead as catalysts for positive change.
The game works like this:
- Select a topic your employees are likely to be concerned about, like market demand for your product or friction between departments.
- Give each participant a pile of sticky notes and ask them to write down all their fears about the topic.
- Take the fears and stick them to an area of the wall marked “fears.”
- Then, encourage your team to look at these fears and ask them to reframe them as “hope” by writing new statements on different sticky notes.
- Take these “hope” statements and stick them to an area of the wall marked “hope.”
- Discuss the statements, then ask them to vote on the areas they feel they can start to take action on. They can do this by drawing a dot on the corner of the sticky note.
- Move the notes with the most votes to a new area of the wall marked “traction.”
- Discuss the most popular statements as a group and brainstorm actionable items related to each.
- Write down the actions that need to be made and discuss them again as a group.
This brainstorming approach teaches your employees the danger of engrained thinking and helps them to reframe their fears as opportunities.
22. The Creativity Dice
The Creativity Dice teaches your team to incubate ideas as they focus on different aspects of a problem. As we mentioned earlier in the article, giving ideas time to mature can be a highly effective problem-solving strategy. Here’s how the game works:
Choose a topic to focus on, It can be as specific or open-ended as you like. Write this down as a word or sentence. Roll the die, start a timer of three minutes and start writing down ideas within the confines of what that number resembles. The roles of each number are as follows:
- Specification: Write down goals you want to achieve.
- Investigation: Write down existing factual information you know about the topic.
- Ideation: Write down creative or practical ideas related to the topic.
- Incubation: Do something else unrelated to the problem.
- Iteration: Look at what you’ve already written and come up with related ideas (roll again if you didn’t write anything yet).
- Integration: Look at everything you have written and try to create something cohesive from your ideas like a potential new product or actionable next step.
Once you’ve finished the activity, review your findings and decide what you want to take with you.
23. SWOT Analysis
The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing method for analysing the current state of your business and considering how this affects the desired end state.
The basic idea is this:
- Before the meeting, come up with a “Desired end state” and draw a picture that represents this on a flipchart or whiteboard.
- Divide a large piece of paper into quadrants marked “Strengths”, “Weaknesses”, “Opportunities” and “Threats.”
- Starting with “Strengths”, work through the quadrants, coming up with ideas that relate to the desired end state.
- Ask your team to vote for the statements or ideas of each category that they feel are most relevant to the desired end state.
- As a group, discuss the implications that these statements have on the desired end state. Spark debate by asking thought-provoking and open-ended questions.
The SWOT Analysis is an intuitive method for understanding which parts of your business could be affecting your long-term goals.
24. The Journalistic Six
When learning to cover every aspect of a story, journalists are taught to ask themselves six essential questions:
Now, this approach has been adopted by organisations to help understand every angle of a problem. All you need is a clear focus question, then you can start working through the six questions with your team until you have a 360-degree view of what has, can and needs to be done.
Gamestorming is a one-stop creative-thinking framework that uses various games to help your team come up with innovative ideas.
Originally published as a book 10 years ago, Gamestorming contained a selection of creative games used by Silicon Valley’s top-performing businesses to develop groundbreaking products and services.
This collection of resources, plucked from the minds of founders and CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, allows you to tap into the potentially genius ideas lying dormant in the minds of your employees.
26. Four-Step Sketch
The Four-Step Sketch is a visual brainstorming that provides an alternative to traditional discussion-based ideation techniques.
This methodology requires prior discussion to clarify the purpose of the activity. Imagine you’re on a startup retreat , for example, and your team is taking part in a design sprint or hackathon.
Once you’ve brainstormed a list of ideas with your team, participants can look at the suggestions and take down any relevant notes. They then take these notes and turn them into rough sketches that resemble the idea.
Then, as a warm-up, give each participant eight minutes to produce eight alternative sketches (eight minutes per sketch) of the idea. These ideas are not to be shared with the group.
Finally, participants create new sketches based on their favourite ideas and share them with the group. The group can then vote on the ideas they think offer the best solution.
27. 15% Solutions
15% Solutions is a problem-solving strategy for motivating and inspiring your employees. By encouraging your team to gain small victories, you pave the way for bigger changes.
First, ask your participants to think about things they can personally do within the confines of their role.
Then, arrange your team into small groups of three to four and give them time to share their ideas and consult with each other.
This simple problem-solving process removes negativity and powerlessness and teaches your team to take responsibility for change.
9 Problem-solving tools for gathering and selecting ideas
Problem-solving tools support your meeting with easy-to-use graphs, visualisations and techniques.
By implementing a problem-solving tool, you break the cycle of mundane verbal discussion, enabling you to maintain engagement throughout the session.
28. Fishbone Diagram
The Fishbone Diagram (otherwise known as the Ishikawa Diagram or Cause and Effect Diagram), is a tool for identifying the leading causes of a problem. You can then consolidate these causes into a comprehensive “Problem Statement.”
The term “Fishbone Diagram” is derived from the diagram’s structure. The problem itself forms the tail, possible causes radiate from the sides to form the fish skeleton while the final “Problem Statement” appears as the “head” of the fish.
Example: A fast-food chain is investigating the declining quality of their food. As the team brainstorms potential causes, they come up with reasons like “poorly trained personnel”, “lack of quality control”, and “incorrect quantity of spices.” Together with other causes, the group summarises that these problems lead to “bad burgers.” They write this as the Problem Statement and set about eliminating the main contributing factors.
29. The Problem Tree
A Problem Tree is a useful tool for assessing the importance or relevance of challenges concerning the core topic. If you’re launching a new product, for example, gather your team and brainstorm the current issues, roadblocks and bottlenecks that are hindering the process.
Then, work together to decide which of these are most pressing. Place the most relevant issues closer to the core topic and less relevant issues farther away.
30. SQUID Diagram
The Squid Diagram is an easy-to-use tool that charts the progress of ideas and business developments as they unfold. Your SQUID Diagram can remain on a wall for your team to add to over time.
- Write down a core theme on a sticky note such as “customer service” or “Innovation”—this will be the “head” of your SQUID.
- Hand two sets of different coloured sticky notes to your participants and choose one colour to represent “questions” and the other to represent “answers.”
- Ask your team to write down questions pertaining to the success of the main topic. In the case of “Innovation,” your team might write things like “How can we improve collaboration between key stakeholders?”
- Then, using the other coloured sticky notes, ask your team to write down possible answers to these questions. In the example above, this might be “Invest in open innovation software.”
- Over time, you’ll develop a spawling SQUID Diagram that reflects the creative problem-solving process.
31. The Speed Boat
The Speed Boat Diagram is a visual metaphor used to help your team identify and solve problems in the way of your goals.
Here’s how it works:
- Draw a picture of a boat and name it after the core objective.
- With your team, brainstorm things that are slowing progress and draw each one as an anchor beneath the boat.
- Discuss possible solutions to each problem on the diagram.
This is an easy-to-use tool that sparks creative solutions. If you like, your team can assign a “weight” to each anchor which determines the impact each problem has on the end goal.
32. The LEGO Challenge
LEGO is an excellent creative-thinking and problem-solving tool used regularly by event facilitators to help teams overcome challenges.
In our article 5 and 10-minute Team-Building Activities , we introduce Sneak a Peek —a collaborative team-building game that develops communication and leadership skills.
33. The Three W’s: What? So What? Now What?
Teams aren’t always aligned when it comes to their understanding of a problem. While the problem remains the same for everyone, they might have differing opinions as to how it occurred at the implications it had.
Asking “ What? So What? Now What?” Helps you to understand different perspectives around a problem.
It goes like this:
- Alone or in small groups, ask your employees to consider and write What happened. This should take between five and 10 minutes.
- Then ask So What? What occurred because of this? Why was what happened important? What might happen if this issue is left unresolved?
- Finally, ask your team Now What? What might be a solution to the problem? What actions do you need to take to avoid this happening again?
This approach helps your team understand how problems affect individuals in different ways and uncovers a variety of ways to overcome them.
34. Now-How-Wow Matrix
Gathering ideas is easy—but selecting the best ones? That’s a different story.
If you’ve got a bunch of ideas, try the Now-How-Wow Matrix to help you identify which ones you should implement now and which ones should wait until later.
Simply draw a two-axis graph with “implementation difficulty” on the Y axis and “idea originality” on the X axis. Divide this graph into quadrants and write “Now!” in the bottom left panel, “Wow!” in the bottom right panel, and “How?” in the top right panel. You can leave the top left panel blank.
Then, take your ideas and plot them on the graph depending on their implementation difficulty and level of originality.
By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of which ideas to ignore, which ones to implement now, and which ones to add to the pipeline for the future.
35. Impact-Effort Matrix
The Impact-Effort Matrix is a variation of the Now-How-Wow Matrix where the Y axis is marked “Impact” and the X axis is marked “Effort.”
Then, divide the graph into quadrants and plot your ideas.
- Top left section = Excellent, implement immediately
- Top right section = Risky, but worth a try
- Bottom left section = Low risk, but potentially ineffective
- Bottom right section = Bad idea, ignore
The Impact-Effort Matrix is a simple way for your team to weigh the benefits of an idea against the amount of investment required.
36. Dot Voting
Once you’ve gathered a substantial list of ideas from your employees, you need to sort the good from the bad.
Dot voting is a simple tool used by problem-solving facilitators as a fast and effective way for large groups to vote on their favourite ideas . You’ll have seen this method used in problem-solving methods like Flip It! and Lightning Decision Jam .
- Participants write their ideas on sticky notes and stick them to the wall or a flipchart.
- When asked, participants draw a small dot on the corner of the idea they like the most.
- Participants can be given as many votes as necessary.
- When voting ends, arrange the notes from “most popular” to “least popular.”
This provides an easy-to-use visual representation of the best and worst ideas put forward by your team.
Give your problems the attention they deserve at an offsite retreat
While working from home or at the office, your team is often too caught up in daily tasks to take on complex problems.
By escaping the office and uniting at an offsite location, you can craft a purposeful agenda of team-building activities and problem-solving sessions. This special time away from the office can prove invaluable when it comes to keeping your business on track.
If you have problems that need fixing (who doesn’t?), reach out to Surf Office and let us put together a fully-customised offsite retreat for you.
Retreat Budget Spreadsheet
Are you organising a company retreat and want to make sure you have all the costs under the control? Get a copy of our free Budget Calculator spreadsheet.
Interviews with more “newly-remote” companies:
From the office to remote: real.digital chooses quality over the location.
Around mid-August of this year Real.Digital announced that they will be operating as a remote first company from now on.They might not be affected by the COVID-19 in economic terms, but the decision to shift their work practices was still a significant one. Fortunately, they’re viewing it as a great opportunity to open up their talent pool to people from all over the world!
How digital product studio Pixelmatters transformed from office to remote
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During these times, many companies are switching to remote work. You may have heard that large companies, like Twitter, Shopify, and Slack are doing so, but we’re also seeing this shift with smaller companies, startups, and digital agencies as well. Perhaps this transition was already in the pipeline, or maybe COVID-19 was the catalyst. Either…
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With knowledge collected from:
Planning a People-First Offsite Experience with Natalie Nagale
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Carlos from Quaderno: Why we work 5 hours instead of 8 hours a day
Remote business is the future: A talk with Liam Martin from Time Doctor
120 Best Get to know you questions for the workplace
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Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head
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What is an example of problem-solving?
What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.
Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge.
Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem .
Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.
Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.
To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high.
Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one.
Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions.
This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.
They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.
The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.
Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving.
Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.
1. Identify the problem
The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem.
The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions.
Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .
2. Break the problem down
Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it.
First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.
3. Generate potential solutions
At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible.
Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.
Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.
4. Evaluate the possible solutions
Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist.
There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will my team be on board with the proposition?
- Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
- Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
- Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
- Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?
5. Implement and monitor the solutions
Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it.
But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem.
Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.
If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.
There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems.
The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.
Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:
- Use a solution that worked before
- Work backward
- Use the Kipling method
- Draw the problem
- Use trial and error
- Sleep on it
- Get advice from your peers
- Use the Pareto principle
- Add successful solutions to your toolkit
Let’s break each of these down.
1. Use a solution that worked before
It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.
The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.
Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.
3. Work backward
Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.
Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.
4. Use the Kipling method
This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .”
- What is the problem?
- Why is the problem important?
- When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
- How did the problem happen?
- Where is the problem occurring?
- Who does the problem affect?
Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.
5. Draw the problem
Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.
This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.
6. Use trial-and-error
A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.
7. Sleep on it
Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.
A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level.
If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.
8. Get advice from your peers
Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own.
For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group.
For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .
It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone.
9. Use the Pareto principle
The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.
Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales.
You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.
10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit
Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit.
These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.
Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:
- Critical thinking and analytical skills
- Communication skills , including active listening
- Planning and prioritization
- Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
- Time management
- Data analysis
- Research skills
- Project management
And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.
Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.
1. Build your problem-solving skills
One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .
Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life.
Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.
3. Don’t try to find a solution right away
Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.
Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking.
4. Ask for feedback
Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve.
5. Learn new approaches and methodologies
There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject.
We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman.
Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches.
Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.
7. Analyze the success of your competitors
Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem.
For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster.
But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007.
If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.
Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business
When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution.
Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.
Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.
If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.
Shonna Waters, PhD
Vice President of Alliance Solutions
8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems
31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases, effective problem statements have these 5 components, overcoming distraction in the federal workforce, how much do distractions cost 8 effects of lack of focus, learn how to add skills to your resume to make it stand out, 3 ways to solve your performance management problems, impression management: developing your self-presentation skills, 8 hard and soft skills a project manager should have, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..
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