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

By Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.


When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
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Definition of problem-solving

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

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

what is mean by problem solving

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From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .

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

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

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



Problem Solving is the process of identifying, analyzing, and finding effective solutions to complex issues or challenges.

Key Steps in Problem Solving:

  • Identification of the problem: Recognizing and clearly defining the issue that needs to be resolved.
  • Analysis and research: Gathering relevant information, data, and facts to understand the problem in-depth.
  • Formulating strategies: Developing various approaches and plans to tackle the problem effectively.
  • Evaluation and selection: Assessing the viability and potential outcomes of the proposed solutions and selecting the most appropriate one.
  • Implementation: Putting the chosen solution into action and executing the necessary steps to resolve the problem.
  • Monitoring and feedback: Continuously evaluating the implemented solution and obtaining feedback to ensure its effectiveness.
  • Adaptation and improvement: Modifying and refining the solution as needed to optimize results and prevent similar problems from arising in the future.

Skills and Qualities for Effective Problem Solving:

  • Analytical thinking: The ability to break down complex problems into smaller, manageable components and analyze them thoroughly.
  • Creativity: Thinking outside the box and generating innovative solutions.
  • Decision making: Making logical and informed choices based on available data and critical thinking.
  • Communication: Clearly conveying ideas, listening actively, and collaborating with others to solve problems as a team.
  • Resilience: Maintaining a positive mindset, perseverance, and adaptability in the face of challenges.
  • Resourcefulness: Utilizing available resources and seeking new approaches when confronted with obstacles.
  • Time management: Effectively organizing and prioritizing tasks to optimize problem-solving efficiency.

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What is Problem Solving? A Comprehensive Guide

In this blog, we will explore "What is Problem Solving?" In detail. From defining the nature of Problem Solving to understanding the key process in resolving issues, this blog covers it all. So, wait no more; let’s go deeper into this fundamental concept.


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Table of contents  

1) What is Problem Solving definition?  

2) The process of Problem Solving  

3) Key skills for effective Problem Solving  

4) Strategies for enhancing Problem Solving abilities  

5) Problem Solving tools and techniques  

6) Conclusion       

What is Problem Solving definition?  

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The process of Problem Solving  

The process of Problem Solving 

Understanding the problem   

The first step in Problem Solving is gaining a clear understanding of the issue at hand. Take the time to thoroughly analyse the problem and gather relevant information. Ask yourself questions like:  

1) What is the nature of the problem?  

2) What are the factors contributing to the problem?  

3) What are the desired outcomes?  

4) Are there any constraints or limitations to consider?  

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the problem, you lay a solid foundation for finding an effective solution.  

Generating possible solutions   

Once you have a clear grasp of the problem, it's time to brainstorm potential solutions. Encourage creativity and think outside the box. Consider all possible options without judgment or criticism. The goal at this stage is to generate a variety of ideas and alternatives.  

Evaluating and selecting the best solution   

After generating a list of possible solutions, it's important to evaluate each option based on its feasibility, effectiveness, and alignment with the desired outcome. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each and every solution. Assess its practicality and the resources required for implementation.  

Additionally, take into account the potential risks and benefits associated with each solution. Consider any potential consequences or impacts on other aspects. Based on this evaluation, select the solution that appears most viable and promising.  

Implementing the solution   

Once you have chosen the best solution, it's time to put it into action. Develop a detailed plan outlining the necessary steps and allocate the required resources. Determine responsibilities and deadlines to ensure a smooth implementation process.  

During implementation, monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments or adaptations. Stay proactive and address any challenges or obstacles that may arise along the way. Effective communication and collaboration with others involved in the process can greatly contribute to successful implementation.  

Assessing the results   

After implementing the solution, it's essential to assess the results. Evaluate whether the problem has been properly resolved or if further adjustments are required. Analyse the outcomes and compare them against the desired goals and expectations.  

Consider whether the chosen solution has brought about the intended benefits and if any unexpected consequences have emerged. Reflect on the overall effectiveness of the Problem Solving process and identify any lessons learned for future reference.  

Remember, Problem Solving is an iterative process, and it's not uncommon to revisit and refine solutions based on ongoing evaluation and feedback. Embrace a continuous improvement mindset and be open to seeking alternative approaches if necessary.  

By following this Problem Solving process, you can approach challenges systematically and increase your chances of finding effective solutions. Remember that practice and experience play a vital role in honing your skills. 

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Key skills for effective Problem Solving   

What one must do to become an effective problem solver is to develop key skills that enhance your Problem Solving abilities. The skills give you the ability to tackle challenges with a strategic mind and find the needed solutions. Below is a dive into the most important of them:

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that includes the objective analysis of information, considering different viewpoints, and being able to arrive at a sensible judgment. This helps you to assess problems with the right accuracy in judgment and also find suitable solutions. 

It means that creativity is the ability of a person to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions. It includes pressing the mind toward new possibilities and viewing the problem in different ways.

Analytical skills

In this ability, there is the aspect of breaking down a problem into subunits that helps in identifying the patterns, relationships, and causes within the problem. 


Sound skills in decision making call for the assessment of the pros and cons of all solutions provided and thus choosing the best alternative. Risks must always be considered with the benefits any alternative might bring.

Strategies for enhancing Problem Solving abilities  

Strategies for Problem Solving

Practice critical thinking

Engage yourself in activities which require critical thinking, including solving puzzles, complex discussion, challenging all assumptions. This will increase your ability to enhance sharpening of your analytical skills and let you think critically at a time when problems are in your way. 

Seek feedback and learn from experience

Seek responses from your mentors, course peers, and Problem Solving experts. From the successes and failures, reflect on the reasons for the occurrences over previous experiences and point out what could be improved. Treat the opportunity of Problem Solving as one of the chances that shall be given to you to grow and develop each time you make it through a problem. 

Embrace challenges

You can redesign your problematic issues and take every challenge coming across as an opportunity for growth. Hence, it paves the way for the ability of resilience and strengthens your Problem Solving abilities. 

Collaborate with others 

In Problem Solving, collaboration is embraced by pooling different perspectives and ideas. Work with others in activities that involve groups to discuss issues and seek input from others, listening actively to various viewpoints. Working collaboratively with others helps expand your knowledge of various ways of Problem Solving and encourages innovation.

Think outside the box 

Encourage creative thinking by exploring unconventional ideas and solutions. Challenge every assumption and all its related alternatives. Shift to this kind of mindset, and it can drive innovative Problem Solving strategies, letting you uncover newer ways to solve age-old complex problems.

Problem Solving tools and techniques  

When faced with complex problems, utilising specific tools and techniques can help facilitate the solving process and lead to more effective solutions. Here are some commonly used Problem Solving tools and techniques:  

Root cause analysis   

Root cause analysis is a methodology used to detect the underlying causes of a problem. It involves investigating the problem's symptoms and tracing them back to their fundamental causes. By addressing the root causes, Problem Solvers can prevent the issue from recurring.  

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis   

SWOT analysis is a planning tool that strategically helps measure the weaknesses and internal strengths of a situation. Moreover, it can find external opportunities and threats. By assessing these factors, Problem Solvers can gain insights into the current state and make informed decisions about potential solutions.  

Fishbone diagrams   

Fishbone diagrams, also known as cause-and-effect diagrams or Ishikawa Diagrams, visually represent the possible causes contributing to a problem. By organising causes into categories (such as people, process, equipment, and environment), Problem Solvers can systematically analyse the problem's potential sources.  

Decision matrices   

Decision matrices are used to evaluate and compare different options based on multiple criteria. This tool helps Problem Solvers weigh the importance of various factors and objectively assess each alternative, leading to an informed decision.  

Six Thinking Hats   

Six Thinking Hats is a technique initially developed by Edward de Bono that encourages parallel thinking by exploring different perspectives. Each "hat" represents a different thinking approach (e.g., logical, creative, emotional), allowing Problem Solvers to consider diverse viewpoints and generate innovative solutions.  

These are just a few examples of Problem Solving tools and techniques. Depending on the nature of the problem, other methods, such as brainstorming, mind mapping, flowcharts, or Pareto analysis, can also be applied. Choosing the appropriate tool or technique depends on the specific problem and the desired outcome. 

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We hope you read and understand everything about What is Problem Solving? Developing effective skills is crucial for overcoming challenges, making informed decisions, and achieving success. By embracing problems as opportunities and applying strategic approaches, individuals can become proficient Problem Solvers in various domains of life. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

There are two major types of Problem Solving: Reflective and Creative. Regardless of the type, it focuses on understanding the issues, considering all factors and finding a solution.

Problem Solving in the workplace refers to an individual’s ability to manage difficult situations and find solutions to complex business issues.

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what is mean by problem solving

What Is Problem Solving?

You will often see beach clean-up drives being publicized in coastal cities. There are already dustbins available on the beaches,…

What Is Problem Solving?

You will often see beach clean-up drives being publicized in coastal cities. There are already dustbins available on the beaches, so why do people need to organize these drives? It’s evident that despite advertising and posting anti-littering messages, some of us don’t follow the rules.

Temporary food stalls and shops make it even more difficult to keep the beaches clean. Since people can’t ask the shopkeepers to relocate or prevent every single person from littering, the clean-up drive is needed.  This is an ideal example of problem-solving psychology in humans. ( ) So, what is problem-solving? Let’s find out.

What Is Problem-Solving?

At its simplest, the meaning of problem-solving is the process of defining a problem, determining its cause, and implementing a solution. The definition of problem-solving is rooted in the fact that as humans, we exert control over our environment through solutions. We move forward in life when we solve problems and make decisions. 

We can better define the problem-solving process through a series of important steps.

Identify The Problem: 

This step isn’t as simple as it sounds. Most times, we mistakenly identify the consequences of a problem rather than the problem itself. It’s important that we’re careful to identify the actual problem and not just its symptoms. 

Define The Problem: 

Once the problem has been identified correctly, you should define it. This step can help clarify what needs to be addressed and for what purpose.

Form A Strategy: 

Develop a strategy to solve your problem. Defining an approach will provide direction and clarity on the next steps. 

Organize The Information:  

Organizing information systematically will help you determine whether something is missing. The more information you have, the easier it’ll become for you to arrive at a solution.  

Allocate Resources:  

We may not always be armed with the necessary resources to solve a problem. Before you commit to implementing a solution for a problem, you should determine the availability of different resources—money, time and other costs.

Track Progress: 

The true meaning of problem-solving is to work towards an objective. If you measure your progress, you can evaluate whether you’re on track. You could revise your strategies if you don’t notice the desired level of progress. 

Evaluate The Results:  

After you spot a solution, evaluate the results to determine whether it’s the best possible solution. For example, you can evaluate the success of a fitness routine after several weeks of exercise.

Meaning Of Problem-Solving Skill

Now that we’ve established the definition of problem-solving psychology in humans, let’s look at how we utilize our problem-solving skills.  These skills help you determine the source of a problem and how to effectively determine the solution. Problem-solving skills aren’t innate and can be mastered over time. Here are some important skills that are beneficial for finding solutions.


Communication is a critical skill when you have to work in teams.  If you and your colleagues have to work on a project together, you’ll have to collaborate with each other. In case of differences of opinion, you should be able to listen attentively and respond respectfully in order to successfully arrive at a solution.

As a problem-solver, you need to be able to research and identify underlying causes. You should never treat a problem lightly. In-depth study is imperative because often people identify only the symptoms and not the actual problem.

Once you have researched and identified the factors causing a problem, start working towards developing solutions. Your analytical skills can help you differentiate between effective and ineffective solutions.


You’ll have to make a decision after you’ve identified the source and methods of solving a problem. If you’ve done your research and applied your analytical skills effectively, it’ll become easier for you to take a call or a decision.

Organizations really value decisive problem-solvers. Harappa Education’s   Defining Problems course will guide you on the path to developing a problem-solving mindset. Learn how to identify the different types of problems using the Types of Problems framework. Additionally, the SMART framework, which is a five-point tool, will teach you to create specific and actionable objectives to address problem statements and arrive at solutions. 

Explore topics & skills such as Problem Solving Skills , PICK Chart , How to Solve Problems & Barriers to Problem Solving from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.


problem solving definition

Problem Solving Skills for the Digital Age

Lucid Content

Reading time: about 6 min

Let’s face it: Things don’t always go according to plan. Systems fail, wires get crossed, projects fall apart.

Problems are an inevitable part of life and work. They’re also an opportunity to think critically and find solutions. But knowing how to get to the root of unexpected situations or challenges can mean the difference between moving forward and spinning your wheels.

Here, we’ll break down the key elements of problem solving, some effective problem solving approaches, and a few effective tools to help you arrive at solutions more quickly.

So, what is problem solving?

Broadly defined, problem solving is the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. But you already knew that. Understanding problem solving frameworks, however, requires a deeper dive.

Think about a recent problem you faced. Maybe it was an interpersonal issue. Or it could have been a major creative challenge you needed to solve for a client at work. How did you feel as you approached the issue? Stressed? Confused? Optimistic? Most importantly, which problem solving techniques did you use to tackle the situation head-on? How did you organize thoughts to arrive at the best possible solution?

Solve your problem-solving problem  

Here’s the good news: Good problem solving skills can be learned. By its nature, problem solving doesn’t adhere to a clear set of do’s and don’ts—it requires flexibility, communication, and adaptation. However, most problems you face, at work or in life, can be tackled using four basic steps.

First, you must define the problem . This step sounds obvious, but often, you can notice that something is amiss in a project or process without really knowing where the core problem lies. The most challenging part of the problem solving process is uncovering where the problem originated.

Second, you work to generate alternatives to address the problem directly. This should be a collaborative process to ensure you’re considering every angle of the issue.

Third, you evaluate and test potential solutions to your problem. This step helps you fully understand the complexity of the issue and arrive at the best possible solution.

Finally, fourth, you select and implement the solution that best addresses the problem.

Following this basic four-step process will help you approach every problem you encounter with the same rigorous critical and strategic thinking process, recognize commonalities in new problems, and avoid repeating past mistakes.

In addition to these basic problem solving skills, there are several best practices that you should incorporate. These problem solving approaches can help you think more critically and creatively about any problem:

You may not feel like you have the right expertise to resolve a specific problem. Don’t let that stop you from tackling it. The best problem solvers become students of the problem at hand. Even if you don’t have particular expertise on a topic, your unique experience and perspective can lend itself to creative solutions.

Challenge the status quo

Standard problem solving methodologies and problem solving frameworks are a good starting point. But don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and push boundaries. Good problem solvers find ways to apply existing best practices into innovative problem solving approaches.

Think broadly about and visualize the issue

Sometimes it’s hard to see a problem, even if it’s right in front of you. Clear answers could be buried in rows of spreadsheet data or lost in miscommunication. Use visualization as a problem solving tool to break down problems to their core elements. Visuals can help you see bottlenecks in the context of the whole process and more clearly organize your thoughts as you define the problem.  

Hypothesize, test, and try again

It might be cliche, but there’s truth in the old adage that 99% of inspiration is perspiration. The best problem solvers ask why, test, fail, and ask why again. Whether it takes one or 1,000 iterations to solve a problem, the important part—and the part that everyone remembers—is the solution.

Consider other viewpoints

Today’s problems are more complex, more difficult to solve, and they often involve multiple disciplines. They require group expertise and knowledge. Being open to others’ expertise increases your ability to be a great problem solver. Great solutions come from integrating your ideas with those of others to find a better solution. Excellent problem solvers build networks and know how to collaborate with other people and teams. They are skilled in bringing people together and sharing knowledge and information.

4 effective problem solving tools

As you work through the problem solving steps, try these tools to better define the issue and find the appropriate solution.

Root cause analysis

Similar to pulling weeds from your garden, if you don’t get to the root of the problem, it’s bound to come back. A root cause analysis helps you figure out the root cause behind any disruption or problem, so you can take steps to correct the problem from recurring. The root cause analysis process involves defining the problem, collecting data, and identifying causal factors to pinpoint root causes and arrive at a solution.

root cause analysis example table

Less structured than other more traditional problem solving methods, the 5 Whys is simply what it sounds like: asking why over and over to get to the root of an obstacle or setback. This technique encourages an open dialogue that can trigger new ideas about a problem, whether done individually or with a group. Each why piggybacks off the answer to the previous why. Get started with the template below—both flowcharts and fishbone diagrams can also help you track your answers to the 5 Whys.

5 Whys analysis


A meeting of the minds, a brain dump, a mind meld, a jam session. Whatever you call it, collaborative brainstorming can help surface previously unseen issues, root causes, and alternative solutions. Create and share a mind map with your team members to fuel your brainstorming session.

Gap analysis

Sometimes you don’t know where the problem is until you determine where it isn’t. Gap filling helps you analyze inadequacies that are preventing you from reaching an optimized state or end goal. For example, a content gap analysis can help a content marketer determine where holes exist in messaging or the customer experience. Gap analysis is especially helpful when it comes to problem solving because it requires you to find workable solutions. A SWOT analysis chart that looks at a problem through the lens of strengths, opportunities, opportunities, and threats can be a helpful problem solving framework as you start your analysis.

SWOT analysis

A better way to problem solve

Beyond these practical tips and tools, there are myriad methodical and creative approaches to move a project forward or resolve a conflict. The right approach will depend on the scope of the issue and your desired outcome.

Depending on the problem, Lucidchart offers several templates and diagrams that could help you identify the cause of the issue and map out a plan to resolve it.  Learn more about how Lucidchart can help you take control of your problem solving process .

About Lucidchart

Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit

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What Is Problem Solving? How Software Engineers Approach Complex Challenges

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From debugging an existing system to designing an entirely new software application, a day in the life of a software engineer is filled with various challenges and complexities. The one skill that glues these disparate tasks together and makes them manageable? Problem solving . 

Throughout this blog post, we’ll explore why problem-solving skills are so critical for software engineers, delve into the techniques they use to address complex challenges, and discuss how hiring managers can identify these skills during the hiring process. 

What Is Problem Solving?

But what exactly is problem solving in the context of software engineering? How does it work, and why is it so important?

Problem solving, in the simplest terms, is the process of identifying a problem, analyzing it, and finding the most effective solution to overcome it. For software engineers, this process is deeply embedded in their daily workflow. It could be something as simple as figuring out why a piece of code isn’t working as expected, or something as complex as designing the architecture for a new software system. 

In a world where technology is evolving at a blistering pace, the complexity and volume of problems that software engineers face are also growing. As such, the ability to tackle these issues head-on and find innovative solutions is not only a handy skill — it’s a necessity. 

The Importance of Problem-Solving Skills for Software Engineers

Problem-solving isn’t just another ability that software engineers pull out of their toolkits when they encounter a bug or a system failure. It’s a constant, ongoing process that’s intrinsic to every aspect of their work. Let’s break down why this skill is so critical.

Driving Development Forward

Without problem solving, software development would hit a standstill. Every new feature, every optimization, and every bug fix is a problem that needs solving. Whether it’s a performance issue that needs diagnosing or a user interface that needs improving, the capacity to tackle and solve these problems is what keeps the wheels of development turning.

It’s estimated that 60% of software development lifecycle costs are related to maintenance tasks, including debugging and problem solving. This highlights how pivotal this skill is to the everyday functioning and advancement of software systems.

Innovation and Optimization

The importance of problem solving isn’t confined to reactive scenarios; it also plays a major role in proactive, innovative initiatives . Software engineers often need to think outside the box to come up with creative solutions, whether it’s optimizing an algorithm to run faster or designing a new feature to meet customer needs. These are all forms of problem solving.

Consider the development of the modern smartphone. It wasn’t born out of a pre-existing issue but was a solution to a problem people didn’t realize they had — a device that combined communication, entertainment, and productivity into one handheld tool.

Increasing Efficiency and Productivity

Good problem-solving skills can save a lot of time and resources. Effective problem-solvers are adept at dissecting an issue to understand its root cause, thus reducing the time spent on trial and error. This efficiency means projects move faster, releases happen sooner, and businesses stay ahead of their competition.

Improving Software Quality

Problem solving also plays a significant role in enhancing the quality of the end product. By tackling the root causes of bugs and system failures, software engineers can deliver reliable, high-performing software. This is critical because, according to the Consortium for Information and Software Quality, poor quality software in the U.S. in 2022 cost at least $2.41 trillion in operational issues, wasted developer time, and other related problems.

Problem-Solving Techniques in Software Engineering

So how do software engineers go about tackling these complex challenges? Let’s explore some of the key problem-solving techniques, theories, and processes they commonly use.


Breaking down a problem into smaller, manageable parts is one of the first steps in the problem-solving process. It’s like dealing with a complicated puzzle. You don’t try to solve it all at once. Instead, you separate the pieces, group them based on similarities, and then start working on the smaller sets. This method allows software engineers to handle complex issues without being overwhelmed and makes it easier to identify where things might be going wrong.


In the realm of software engineering, abstraction means focusing on the necessary information only and ignoring irrelevant details. It is a way of simplifying complex systems to make them easier to understand and manage. For instance, a software engineer might ignore the details of how a database works to focus on the information it holds and how to retrieve or modify that information.

Algorithmic Thinking

At its core, software engineering is about creating algorithms — step-by-step procedures to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. Algorithmic thinking involves conceiving and expressing these procedures clearly and accurately and viewing every problem through an algorithmic lens. A well-designed algorithm not only solves the problem at hand but also does so efficiently, saving computational resources.

Parallel Thinking

Parallel thinking is a structured process where team members think in the same direction at the same time, allowing for more organized discussion and collaboration. It’s an approach popularized by Edward de Bono with the “ Six Thinking Hats ” technique, where each “hat” represents a different style of thinking.

In the context of software engineering, parallel thinking can be highly effective for problem solving. For instance, when dealing with a complex issue, the team can use the “White Hat” to focus solely on the data and facts about the problem, then the “Black Hat” to consider potential problems with a proposed solution, and so on. This structured approach can lead to more comprehensive analysis and more effective solutions, and it ensures that everyone’s perspectives are considered.

This is the process of identifying and fixing errors in code . Debugging involves carefully reviewing the code, reproducing and analyzing the error, and then making necessary modifications to rectify the problem. It’s a key part of maintaining and improving software quality.

Testing and Validation

Testing is an essential part of problem solving in software engineering. Engineers use a variety of tests to verify that their code works as expected and to uncover any potential issues. These range from unit tests that check individual components of the code to integration tests that ensure the pieces work well together. Validation, on the other hand, ensures that the solution not only works but also fulfills the intended requirements and objectives.

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Evaluating Problem-Solving Skills

We’ve examined the importance of problem-solving in the work of a software engineer and explored various techniques software engineers employ to approach complex challenges. Now, let’s delve into how hiring teams can identify and evaluate problem-solving skills during the hiring process.

Recognizing Problem-Solving Skills in Candidates

How can you tell if a candidate is a good problem solver? Look for these indicators:

  • Previous Experience: A history of dealing with complex, challenging projects is often a good sign. Ask the candidate to discuss a difficult problem they faced in a previous role and how they solved it.
  • Problem-Solving Questions: During interviews, pose hypothetical scenarios or present real problems your company has faced. Ask candidates to explain how they would tackle these issues. You’re not just looking for a correct solution but the thought process that led them there.
  • Technical Tests: Coding challenges and other technical tests can provide insight into a candidate’s problem-solving abilities. Consider leveraging a platform for assessing these skills in a realistic, job-related context.

Assessing Problem-Solving Skills

Once you’ve identified potential problem solvers, here are a few ways you can assess their skills:

  • Solution Effectiveness: Did the candidate solve the problem? How efficient and effective is their solution?
  • Approach and Process: Go beyond whether or not they solved the problem and examine how they arrived at their solution. Did they break the problem down into manageable parts? Did they consider different perspectives and possibilities?
  • Communication: A good problem solver can explain their thought process clearly. Can the candidate effectively communicate how they arrived at their solution and why they chose it?
  • Adaptability: Problem-solving often involves a degree of trial and error. How does the candidate handle roadblocks? Do they adapt their approach based on new information or feedback?

Hiring managers play a crucial role in identifying and fostering problem-solving skills within their teams. By focusing on these abilities during the hiring process, companies can build teams that are more capable, innovative, and resilient.

Key Takeaways

As you can see, problem solving plays a pivotal role in software engineering. Far from being an occasional requirement, it is the lifeblood that drives development forward, catalyzes innovation, and delivers of quality software. 

By leveraging problem-solving techniques, software engineers employ a powerful suite of strategies to overcome complex challenges. But mastering these techniques isn’t simple feat. It requires a learning mindset, regular practice, collaboration, reflective thinking, resilience, and a commitment to staying updated with industry trends. 

For hiring managers and team leads, recognizing these skills and fostering a culture that values and nurtures problem solving is key. It’s this emphasis on problem solving that can differentiate an average team from a high-performing one and an ordinary product from an industry-leading one.

At the end of the day, software engineering is fundamentally about solving problems — problems that matter to businesses, to users, and to the wider society. And it’s the proficient problem solvers who stand at the forefront of this dynamic field, turning challenges into opportunities, and ideas into reality.

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What is problem-solving and how to do it right steps, processes, exercises.

The better your problem-solving skills are, the better (and easier!) your life will be. Organized problem-solving is a killer career skill - learn all about it here.

Whether we’re trying to solve a technical problem at work, or trying to navigate around a roadblock that Google Maps doesn’t see – most people are problem-solving every single day . 

But how effective are you at tackling the challenges in your life? Do you have a bullet-proof process you follow that ensures solid outcomes, or... Do you act on a whim of inspiration (or lack thereof) to resolve your pressing problems?

Here’s the thing: the better your problem-solving skills are - the better (and easier!) your life will be (both professionally and personally). Organized problem-solving is a killer career (and life!) skill, so if you want to learn how to do it in the most efficient way possible, you’ve come to the right place.  

Read along to learn more about the steps, techniques and exercises of the problem-solving process.

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What is Problem-Solving?

We’re faced with the reality of having to solve problems every day, both in our private and professional lives. So why do we even need to learn about problem-solving? Aren’t we versed in it well enough already?

Well, what separates problem-solving from dealing with the usual day-to-day issues is that it’s a distinct process that allows you to go beyond the standard approaches to solving a problem and allows you to come up with more effective and efficient solutions. Or in other words, problem-solving allows you to knock out those problems with less effort. 

Just like with any other skill, there’s an efficient way to solve problems, and a non-efficient one. While it might be tempting to go for the quickest fix for your challenge without giving it much thought, it will only end up costing you more time down the road. Quick fixes are rarely (if ever!) effective and end up being massive time wasters. 

What separates problem-solving from dealing with the usual day-to-day issues is that it’s a distinct process that allows you to go beyond the standard approaches to solving a problem and allows you to come up with more effective and efficient solutions.

On the other hand, following a systemized clear process for problem-solving allows you to shortcut inefficiencies and time-wasters, turn your challenges into opportunities, and tackle problems of any scope without the usual stress and hassle. 

What is the process that you need to follow, then? We’re glad you asked...

The Five Stages of Problem-Solving

So what’s the best way to move through the problem-solving process? There’s a 5-step process that you can follow that will allow you to solve your challenges more efficiently and effectively. In short, you need to move through these 5 steps: 

  • Defining a problem
  • Ideating on a solution
  • Committing to a course of action
  • Implementing your solution
  • And finally – analyzing the results. 

The 5 stages of problem-solving

Let’s look at each of those stages in detail.

Step 1: Defining The Problem

The first step might sound obvious, but trust us, you don’t want to skip it! Clearly defining and framing your challenge will help you guide your efforts and make sure you’re focussing on the things that matter, instead of being distracted by a myriad of other options, problems and issues that come up. 

For once, you have to make sure you’re trying to solve the root cause, and not trying to mend the symptoms of it. For instance, if you keep losing users during your app onboarding process, you might jump to the conclusion that you need to tweak the process itself: change the copy, the screens, or the sequence of steps.

But unless you have clear evidence that confirms your hypothesis, your challenge might have an entirely different root cause, e.g. in confusing marketing communication prior to the app download. 

Clearly defining and framing your challenge will help you guide your efforts and make sure you’re focussing on the things that matter, all the while ensuring that you’re trying to solve the root cause, and not trying to mend the symptoms of it

That’s why it’s essential you take a close look at the entire problem, not just at a fraction of it.

There are several exercises that can help you get a broader, more holistic view of the problem, some of our all-time favorites include Expert Interviews, How Might We, or The Map. Check out the step-by-step instructions on how to run them (along with 5 more exercises for framing your challenge!) here. 

When in doubt, map out your challenge, and always try to tackle the bottlenecks that are more upstream - it’s likely that solving them will solve a couple of other challenges down the flow.

You also have to be mindful of how you frame the challenge: resist the urge to include a pre-defined solution into your problem statement. Priming your solutions to a predestined outcome destroys the purpose of following a step-by-step process in the first place!  

Steer clear of formulations like:

We need to change the onboarding process... or We need to improve ad copy to increase conversions. 

Instead, opt for more neutral, problem-oriented statements that don’t include a solution suggestion in them:

The drop off rate during the onboarding process is too high or Our ad conversion rates are below the norm.

Pro tip: Reframing your challenge as a ‘How Might We’ statement is a great way to spark up new ideas, opening your problem to a broader set of solutions, and is just a great way to reframe your problem into a more positive statement (without implying the possible solution!)

For example, following the onboarding drop-off rate problem we mentioned earlier, instead of framing it as a problem, you could opt for:

How Might We decrease the drop-off rate during the onboarding process? 

Find out more about the best exercises for problem framing here!

Now that you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to solve, it’s move on to the next phase of the problem-solving process.

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Step 2: ideating a solution.

Get ready to roll up your sleeves and challenge the status quo! This step of the problem-solving process is all about thinking outside of the box, challenging old assumptions, and thinking laterally. 

This stage is the one that tends to cause the most overwhelm in teams because it requires just the right balance of creativity and critical thinking, which tends to cause a lot of friction.

Our best advice?

Let go of the pressure to produce a polished, thought-through solution at this stage. You can hash out the details at a later point. Our goal right now is to come up with a direction, a prototype if you may, of where we want to move towards. 

Embrace the “quantity over quality” motto, and let your creative juices flow! Now, we’re not saying you should roll with sub-par ideas. But you shouldn’t get too fixated on feasibility and viability just yet . 

Your main goal during this step is to spark ideas, kick off your thinking process in the right direction, venture out of the familiar territories and think outside the box. 

For the ideation to be the most effective your team will have to feel safe to challenge the norm and wide-spread assumptions. So lay judgment by side, there is no space for “that’s the way it’s always been done” in this step.

For your ideation sessions to be as efficient as possible, we highly recommend to run them in a workshop setting: this helps reduce the usual drawbacks of open discussions in teams (i.e. groupthink & team politics!)

Our favorite exercises to run during this phase include Lightning Demos, Sketching, and variations of Brainstorming.  We crafted an entire article on how to run and facilitate these exercises in a separate article, so check it out of you’re going to be running an ideation session anytime soon!

Step 3: Choosing the Best Strategy & Committing

It’s time to decide which of the ideas that you generated in the last step will be the one you’ll implement. 

This step is arguably the hardest one to complete smoothly: groupthink, team politics, differences in opinions and communication styles all make it very hard to align a team on a common course of action. 

If you want to avoid the usual pitfalls of team decision-making, we recommend you steer clear of open unstructured discussion. While it’s useful in some scenarios, it’s a poor choice for when you need to make a decision, because it tends to reward the loudest people in the room, rather than give way to the best ideas. 

It’s crucial you not only commit to a course of action but get full buy-in from the team. If your team members don’t understand the reasons for a decision, or are not fully onboard, the implementation of your decision will be half-hearted, and that’s definitely not what you want! 

To achieve that, opt for anonymized, multi-layered voting, and include guided exercises like Storyboarding to prioritize your ideas. 

We’ve gathered the list of our top-rated decision-making exercises, along with step-by-step instructions on how to run them in this article!

As a bonus tip, we recommend you involve a facilitator throughout the entire process. They will help align the team, and guide them through prioritizing and de-prioritizing solutions, as well as defining the next steps. 

Pro tip : If you’re not the ultimate decision maker on the issue you’re trying to solve, make sure they’re in the room when the call is being made! Having a Decider in the room ensures that the decisions you come to will actually get executed on after, instead of getting shut down by your superiors after. 

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Step 4: implementing your solution.

Here’s a truth that might be hard to swallow: it doesn’t matter how innovative, creative, or original your idea is, if your execution is weak. 

One of our favourite illustrations of how this works in practice comes from the book “ Anything you want ” by Derek Sivers. He reveals that ideas should be treated as multipliers of execution. What this means is that a mediocre, “so-so” idea could be worth millions if executed well, while a “brilliant” idea can completely flop with bad execution. 

That’s why this step is crucial if you want to really master the problem-solving process. 

What do we mean by execution? Everything that happens after the whiteboards are wiped clean and your team starts to action the outcomes of your sessions, be it prototyping, development, or promotion. 

But don’t just take our word for it, look at the example of how execution affected Nintendo’s sales:

In the past few years, Nintendo has come up with 3 products: the Wii, the Wii U and the Switch. Check out their sales figures on the graph below - Wii is the clear-cut leader, followed by Switch, and finally Wii U lagging behind.

Nintendo's sales figure for 2018

The Wii was unbelievably successful - it was a genuinely unique, “brilliant”-level idea and it had a “brilliant” execution (20x $10 million = $200 million). It is  one of the fastest selling game consoles of all time and it completely took over the market.

The next product was called Wii U and it was a “great” concept but the execution was absolutely terrible. So even though this product was very interesting and innovative, the end result was 15x $1,000 = $15,000. 

Finally, Nintendo took the Wii U concept and tried it again with the Switch. The idea was “so so” as it was already done before, but the execution was “brilliant”. So, 5x $10 million = $50 million! Much better.

Excellent execution is more important than a good idea.

Bottom line?  

The same idea can either make no dent in the market and damage your share price OR become a market hit and increase your share price dramatically. The only difference between the two scenarios – execution.

So shift your focus from coming up with crazy, innovative, outlandish ideas that will disrupt the market, and concentrate on really nailing down your execution instead. 

This is likely the least “workshoppy” step out of the entire problem-solving process because it requires less alignment and decision-making and more..well.. Execution!

But hey, we wouldn’t be called “Workshopper” if we didn't offer you at least one way to optimize and workshopify (yup, we’re making it a thing) your execution process. 

Cue in….prototyping. 

We’re huge fans of prototyping all big solutions (and testing them!) The main reason?

This saves us time AND money! Prototyping and testing your solutions (especially if they’re time and investment-demanding) is a great way to make sure you’re creating something that is actually needed. 

The key with prototyping the right way is to keep it simple. Don’t invest too much time, or resources into it. The goal is to gather data for your future decisions, not to create a near-to-perfect mockup of your solution.  

There are LOADS of prototyping forms and techniques, and if you’d like to learn more on the subject you should definitely check out our extensive prototyping guide.  

Step 5: Analyzing the Results

You’re nearly done, woo! Now that you have defined the right problem to tackle, brainstormed the solutions, aligned your team on the course of action, and put your plan into action it’s time to take stock of your efforts. 

Seek feedback from all involved parties, analyze the data you’ve gathered, look at the bottom line of your efforts, and  take a hard look at your problem: did it get solved? And even more than that, did the process feel smoother, easier, and more efficient than it normally is?

Running a retrospective is a great way to highlight things that went well and that you should keep for your next round of problem.solving, as well as pinpoint inefficiencies that you can eliminate.

‍ But which kind of retrospective should you run? There are loads of options, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by them all, so we gathered our favorite retrospective variations in this article.

And there you have it, you just completed the cycle of  problem-solving. We highly recommend you follow through with all the steps, without leaving any out. They all complement and build on each other, and it’s the combination of all 5 of them that makes the process effective. 

Now that you have the problem solving process down, you might be wondering…

Do I need any special skills in order to be able to move through that process?

And the answer is… sort of! More in this in the next section.

Problem-Solving Skills 

While your skill set will need to adapt and change based on the challenges you’ll be working on, most efficient problem-solvers have a solid foundation of these key skills:   

  • Active listening. While you might be the expert in the area of your challenge, there’s not a single person on Earth that knows it all! Being open to others’ perspectives and practicing active listening will come in very handy during step 1 of the process, as you’re trying to define the scope and the exact angle of the problem you’re working on.
  • Analytical approach. Your analytical skills will help you understand problems and effectively develop solutions. You will also need analytical skills during research to help distinguish between effective and ineffective solutions.
  • Communication. Is there a single area of expertise that DOESN’T require strong communication skills? We honestly don’t think so! Just like with any other life area, clear communication can make or break your problem-solving process. Being able to clearly communicate why you need to solve this challenge to your team, as well as align your team on the course of action are crucial for the success of the process. 
  • Decision-making. Ultimately, you will need to make a decision about how to solve problems that arise. A process without outcomes–regardless of how well thought-out and elaborate–is useless! If you want your problem-solving huddles to be effective, you have to come to grips with prioritization techniques and decision-making frameworks. 
  • Facilitation. Problem-solving revolves around being able to guide a group or a team to a common decision, and facilitation skills are essential in making that happen. Knowing how to facilitate will make it easy to keep the group focussed on the challenge, shortcut circular discussions, and make sure you’re moving along to solving the problem instead of just treading waters with fruitless discussions. 

Not checking every single skill of your list just yet? Not to worry, the next section will give you practical tools on how to level up and improve your problem-solving skills.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Just like with any other skill, problem-solving is not an innate talent that you either have or you don’t.  There are concrete steps you can take to improve your skills. 

Here are some things that will get you closer to mastering the problem-solving process:

  • Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice makes perfect, and problem-solving skills are no exception! Seek opportunities to utilize and develop these skills any time you can. 

If you don’t know where or how to start just yet, here’s a suggestion that will get you up and running in no time: run a quick problem-solving session on a challenge that has been bothering your team for a while now. 

It doesn’t need to be the big strategic decision or the issue defining the future of the company. Something easy and manageable (like optimizing office space or improving team communication) will do. 

As you start feeling more comfortable with the problem-solving techniques, you can start tackling bigger challenges. Before you know it, you’ll master the art of creative problem-solving!

  • Use a tried and tested problem-solving workshop

Facilitation is one of the essential skills for problem-solving. But here’s the thing… Facilitation skills on their own won’t lead you to a solved challenge.

While being able to shortcut aimless discussions is a great skill, you have to make sure your problem-solving session has tangible outcomes. Using a tried and tested method, a workshop, is one of the easiest ways to do that. 

Our best advice is to get started with a tried and tested problem-solving workshop like the Lightning Decision Jam . The LDJ has all the right ingredients for quick, effective problem solving that leads to tangible outcomes. Give it a go!

  • Learn from your peers

You may have colleagues who are skilled problem solvers. Observing how those colleagues solve problems can help you improve your own skills. 

If possible, ask one of your more experienced colleagues if you can observe their techniques. Ask them relevant questions and try to apply as many of the new found skills i your career as possible. 

  • Learn & Practice the best problem-solving exercises

Having a toolbox of problem-solving exercises to pull from that can fit any type of challenge will make you a more versatile problem-solver and will make solving challenges that much easier for you! 

Once you get used to the groove of learning how to combine them into effective sessions or workshops, there’ll be no stopping you. What are some of the most effective problem-solving exercises? Glad you asked! We’ve gathered our favorite ones here, check it out! 

And there you have it, you’re now fully equipped for running creative problem-sessions with confidence and ease! Whichever method or exercise you choose, remember to keep track of your wins, and learn as much as you can from your losses! 

Anastasia Ushakova

Brand Strategist, Digital Marketer, and a Workshopper.

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A problem is any unpleasant situation which prevents people from achieving what they want to achieve. Any activity to eliminate a problem is termed problem solving.

Problem solving skills refers to our ability to solve problems in an effective and timely manner without any impediments.

It involves being able to identify and define the problem, generating alternative solutions, evaluating and selecting the best alternative, and implementing the selected solution. Obtaining a feedback and responding to it appropriately is an essential aspect of problem solving skills too.

We face problems every time. However, some problems are more complex than others. But whether you face big problems or small ones, this skill helps solve it effectively.

Importance of problem solving skills

Obviously, every organization has problems and every individual has problems too. For this reason, the ability to solve problems is of great importance to individuals and organizations. Some of the benefits include:

  • Make the impossible possible.  Knowledge alone is not the key to solving problems but rather, complimenting it with systematic problem solving approaches makesthe difference. This helps individuals and organizations overcome perilous challenges.
  • Makes you a stand out.  People are trained to do the usual. They have acquired skills and knowledge in what they do. However, people can hardly solve problems when they are unexpected or unprecedented ones. If you become a regular problem solver at your workplace, you are easily noticed, recognized, and appreciated.
  • Increased confidence.  No matter where you work or what your profession is, having the ability to solve problems will boost your confidence level. Because you are sure of your ability to solve problems, you don’t spend time worrying about what you will do if a problem should arise.

How to improve upon problem solving skills

Just like any of the other skills, the art of problem solving can be learnt and improved upon. Below are few tips to help you improve this skill.

  • Detach yourself from the problem.  Don’t regard yourself as the problem itself and don’t presume you are incapacitated to solve the problem. See the problem as the enemy that has to be defeated by you.
  • Analyze it in parts and not as a whole.  Don’t see the problem as a whole big unit that needs to be fixed – That may deter you from attempting to solve it. Rather, break it into parts and tackle them step by step, and portion by portion. The little pieces you solve will add up to become the solution for the whole unit. For instance; if there’s turmoil in your organization, analyze the various aspects or departments of the organization. Choose one problematic area, such as communication, to start from. When that is fixed, you may move on to the other problematic areas.
  • Be inquisitive and investigative.  Being inquisitive and conducting thorough investigation and research helps you identify what the core of the problem is. In other words, it grants you access to the cause of the problem. Once the real cause of the problem is known, it becomes easier to solve it.
  • Be open to suggestions.  Other people’s contributions can be very helpful. It saves you the time of having to search for every piece of information that is needed.

Job profiles that require this skill

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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definition and Examples

Zoe Kaplan

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Forage puts students first. Our blog articles are written independently by our editorial team. They have not been paid for or sponsored by our partners. See our full  editorial guidelines .

Why do employers hire employees? To help them solve problems. Whether you’re a financial analyst deciding where to invest your firm’s money, or a marketer trying to figure out which channel to direct your efforts, companies hire people to help them find solutions. Problem-solving is an essential and marketable soft skill in the workplace. 

So, how can you improve your problem-solving and show employers you have this valuable skill? In this guide, we’ll cover:

Problem-Solving Skills Definition

Why are problem-solving skills important, problem-solving skills examples, how to include problem-solving skills in a job application, how to improve problem-solving skills, problem-solving: the bottom line.

Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions. An employee with good problem-solving skills is both a self-starter and a collaborative teammate; they are proactive in understanding the root of a problem and work with others to consider a wide range of solutions before deciding how to move forward. 

Examples of using problem-solving skills in the workplace include:

  • Researching patterns to understand why revenue decreased last quarter
  • Experimenting with a new marketing channel to increase website sign-ups
  • Brainstorming content types to share with potential customers
  • Testing calls to action to see which ones drive the most product sales
  • Implementing a new workflow to automate a team process and increase productivity

Problem-solving skills are the most sought-after soft skill of 2022. In fact, 86% of employers look for problem-solving skills on student resumes, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2022 survey . 

It’s unsurprising why employers are looking for this skill: companies will always need people to help them find solutions to their problems. Someone proactive and successful at problem-solving is valuable to any team.

“Employers are looking for employees who can make decisions independently, especially with the prevalence of remote/hybrid work and the need to communicate asynchronously,” Eric Mochnacz, senior HR consultant at Red Clover, says. “Employers want to see individuals who can make well-informed decisions that mitigate risk, and they can do so without suffering from analysis paralysis.”

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Problem-solving includes three main parts: identifying the problem, analyzing possible solutions, and deciding on the best course of action.

>>MORE: Discover the right career for you based on your skills with a career aptitude test .

Research is the first step of problem-solving because it helps you understand the context of a problem. Researching a problem enables you to learn why the problem is happening. For example, is revenue down because of a new sales tactic? Or because of seasonality? Is there a problem with who the sales team is reaching out to? 

Research broadens your scope to all possible reasons why the problem could be happening. Then once you figure it out, it helps you narrow your scope to start solving it. 

Analysis is the next step of problem-solving. Now that you’ve identified the problem, analytical skills help you look at what potential solutions there might be.

“The goal of analysis isn’t to solve a problem, actually — it’s to better understand it because that’s where the real solution will be found,” Gretchen Skalka, owner of Career Insights Consulting, says. “Looking at a problem through the lens of impartiality is the only way to get a true understanding of it from all angles.”


Once you’ve figured out where the problem is coming from and what solutions are, it’s time to decide on the best way to go forth. Decision-making skills help you determine what resources are available, what a feasible action plan entails, and what solution is likely to lead to success.

On a Resume

Employers looking for problem-solving skills might include the word “problem-solving” or other synonyms like “ critical thinking ” or “analytical skills” in the job description.

“I would add ‘buzzwords’ you can find from the job descriptions or LinkedIn endorsements section to filter into your resume to comply with the ATS,” Matthew Warzel, CPRW resume writer, advises. Warzel recommends including these skills on your resume but warns to “leave the soft skills as adjectives in the summary section. That is the only place soft skills should be mentioned.”

On the other hand, you can list hard skills separately in a skills section on your resume .

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In a Cover Letter or an Interview

Explaining your problem-solving skills in an interview can seem daunting. You’re required to expand on your process — how you identified a problem, analyzed potential solutions, and made a choice. As long as you can explain your approach, it’s okay if that solution didn’t come from a professional work experience.

“Young professionals shortchange themselves by thinking only paid-for solutions matter to employers,” Skalka says. “People at the genesis of their careers don’t have a wealth of professional experience to pull from, but they do have relevant experience to share.”

Aaron Case, career counselor and CPRW at Resume Genius, agrees and encourages early professionals to share this skill. “If you don’t have any relevant work experience yet, you can still highlight your problem-solving skills in your cover letter,” he says. “Just showcase examples of problems you solved while completing your degree, working at internships, or volunteering. You can even pull examples from completely unrelated part-time jobs, as long as you make it clear how your problem-solving ability transfers to your new line of work.”

Learn How to Identify Problems

Problem-solving doesn’t just require finding solutions to problems that are already there. It’s also about being proactive when something isn’t working as you hoped it would. Practice questioning and getting curious about processes and activities in your everyday life. What could you improve? What would you do if you had more resources for this process? If you had fewer? Challenge yourself to challenge the world around you.

Think Digitally

“Employers in the modern workplace value digital problem-solving skills, like being able to find a technology solution to a traditional issue,” Case says. “For example, when I first started working as a marketing writer, my department didn’t have the budget to hire a professional voice actor for marketing video voiceovers. But I found a perfect solution to the problem with an AI voiceover service that cost a fraction of the price of an actor.”

Being comfortable with new technology — even ones you haven’t used before — is a valuable skill in an increasingly hybrid and remote world. Don’t be afraid to research new and innovative technologies to help automate processes or find a more efficient technological solution.


Problem-solving isn’t done in a silo, and it shouldn’t be. Use your collaboration skills to gather multiple perspectives, help eliminate bias, and listen to alternative solutions. Ask others where they think the problem is coming from and what solutions would help them with your workflow. From there, try to compromise on a solution that can benefit everyone.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that the world of work is constantly changing — which means it’s crucial to know how to adapt . Be comfortable narrowing down a solution, then changing your direction when a colleague provides a new piece of information. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, whether with your personal routine or trying a new system at work.

Put Yourself in the Middle of Tough Moments

Just like adapting requires you to challenge your routine and tradition, good problem-solving requires you to put yourself in challenging situations — especially ones where you don’t have relevant experience or expertise to find a solution. Because you won’t know how to tackle the problem, you’ll learn new problem-solving skills and how to navigate new challenges. Ask your manager or a peer if you can help them work on a complicated problem, and be proactive about asking them questions along the way.

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Step 1 of 3

Companies always need people to help them find solutions — especially proactive employees who have practical analytical skills and can collaborate to decide the best way to move forward. Whether or not you have experience solving problems in a professional workplace, illustrate your problem-solving skills by describing your research, analysis, and decision-making process — and make it clear that you’re the solution to the employer’s current problems. 

Looking to learn more workplace professional skills? Check out Two Sigma’s Professional Skills Development Virtual Experience Program .

Image Credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels 

Zoe Kaplan

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  • Problem Solving Theories

Problem solving can be defined as the process of a problem analysis and resolving it in the best way possible for that situation.

This process contains analysing the problem (root cause analysis), defining countermeasures for the problem and implementing the right solution for that situation.

For problem solving, people need critical thinking and analytical skills . Everybody within a organization or company can benefit from having good skills because there are always problems.

There have been lots of scientific and practical studies from a learning point of view. Some of the problem solving techniques developed and used in artificial intelligence (AI) , computer science, engineering, mathematics, or medicine are related to mental techniques studied in psychology.

What are the most known and used techniques and methods? What are their success stories and practical tips when you apply these? These posts are all about great tools and methods that can help you to achieve your goal or understand certain aspects that come with solving problems.

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Table of Contents

The problem-solving process, how to solve problems: 5 steps, train to solve problems with lean today, mastering problem solving: boost business performance & achieve success.

What Is Problem Solving? Steps, Techniques, and Best Practices Explained

Problem solving is the art of identifying problems and implementing the best possible solutions. Revisiting your problem-solving skills may be the missing piece to leveraging the performance of your business, achieving Lean success, or unlocking your professional potential. 

Ask any colleague if they’re an effective problem-solver and their likely answer will be, “Of course! I solve problems every day.” 

Problem solving is part of most job descriptions, sure. But not everyone can do it consistently. 

Problem solving is the process of defining a problem, identifying its root cause, prioritizing and selecting potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution.

There’s no one-size-fits-all problem-solving process. Often, it’s a unique methodology that aligns your short- and long-term objectives with the resources at your disposal. Nonetheless, many paradigms center problem solving as a pathway for achieving one’s goals faster and smarter. 

One example is the Six Sigma framework , which emphasizes eliminating errors and refining the customer experience, thereby improving business outcomes. Developed originally by Motorola, the Six Sigma process identifies problems from the perspective of customer satisfaction and improving product delivery. 

Lean management, a similar method, is about streamlining company processes over time so they become “leaner” while producing better outcomes. 

Trendy business management lingo aside, both of these frameworks teach us that investing in your problem solving process for personal and professional arenas will bring better productivity.

1. Precisely Identify Problems

As obvious as it seems, identifying the problem is the first step in the problem-solving process. Pinpointing a problem at the beginning of the process will guide your research, collaboration, and solutions in the right direction. 

At this stage, your task is to identify the scope and substance of the problem. Ask yourself a series of questions: 

  • What’s the problem? 
  • How many subsets of issues are underneath this problem? 
  • What subject areas, departments of work, or functions of business can best define this problem? 

Although some problems are naturally large in scope, precision is key. Write out the problems as statements in planning sheets . Should information or feedback during a later step alter the scope of your problem, revise the statements. 

Framing the problem at this stage will help you stay focused if distractions come up in later stages. Furthermore, how you frame a problem will aid your search for a solution. A strategy of building Lean success, for instance, will emphasize identifying and improving upon inefficient systems. 

2. Collect Information and Plan 

The second step is to collect information and plan the brainstorming process. This is another foundational step to road mapping your problem-solving process. Data, after all, is useful in identifying the scope and substance of your problems. 

Collecting information on the exact details of the problem, however, is done to narrow the brainstorming portion to help you evaluate the outcomes later. Don’t overwhelm yourself with unnecessary information — use the problem statements that you identified in step one as a north star in your research process. 

This stage should also include some planning. Ask yourself:

  • What parties will ultimately decide a solution? 
  • Whose voices and ideas should be heard in the brainstorming process? 
  • What resources are at your disposal for implementing a solution? 

Establish a plan and timeline for steps 3-5. 

3. Brainstorm Solutions

Brainstorming solutions is the bread and butter of the problem-solving process. At this stage, focus on generating creative ideas. As long as the solution directly addresses the problem statements and achieves your goals, don’t immediately rule it out. 

Moreover, solutions are rarely a one-step answer and are more like a roadmap with a set of actions. As you brainstorm ideas, map out these solutions visually and include any relevant factors such as costs involved, action steps, and involved parties. 

With Lean success in mind, stay focused on solutions that minimize waste and improve the flow of business ecosystems. 

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4. Decide and Implement

The most critical stage is selecting a solution. Easier said than done. Consider the criteria that has arisen in previous steps as you decide on a solution that meets your needs. 

Once you select a course of action, implement it. 

Practicing due diligence in earlier stages of the process will ensure that your chosen course of action has been evaluated from all angles. Often, efficient implementation requires us to act correctly and successfully the first time, rather than being hurried and sloppy. Further compilations will create more problems, bringing you back to step 1. 

5. Evaluate

Exercise humility and evaluate your solution honestly. Did you achieve the results you hoped for? What would you do differently next time? 

As some experts note, formulating feedback channels into your evaluation helps solidify future success. A framework like Lean success, for example, will use certain key performance indicators (KPIs) like quality, delivery success, reducing errors, and more. Establish metrics aligned with company goals to assess your solutions.

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Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning  (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning. 

Why Use Problem-Based Learning?

Nilson (2010) lists the following learning outcomes that are associated with PBL. A well-designed PBL project provides students with the opportunity to develop skills related to:

  • Working in teams.
  • Managing projects and holding leadership roles.
  • Oral and written communication.
  • Self-awareness and evaluation of group processes.
  • Working independently.
  • Critical thinking and analysis.
  • Explaining concepts.
  • Self-directed learning.
  • Applying course content to real-world examples.
  • Researching and information literacy.
  • Problem solving across disciplines.

Considerations for Using Problem-Based Learning

Rather than teaching relevant material and subsequently having students apply the knowledge to solve problems, the problem is presented first. PBL assignments can be short, or they can be more involved and take a whole semester. PBL is often group-oriented, so it is beneficial to set aside classroom time to prepare students to   work in groups  and to allow them to engage in their PBL project.

Students generally must:

  • Examine and define the problem.
  • Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
  • Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
  • Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Report on their findings.

Getting Started with Problem-Based Learning

  • Articulate the learning outcomes of the project. What do you want students to know or be able to do as a result of participating in the assignment?
  • Create the problem. Ideally, this will be a real-world situation that resembles something students may encounter in their future careers or lives. Cases are often the basis of PBL activities. Previously developed PBL activities can be found online through the University of Delaware’s PBL Clearinghouse of Activities .
  • Establish ground rules at the beginning to prepare students to work effectively in groups.
  • Introduce students to group processes and do some warm up exercises to allow them to practice assessing both their own work and that of their peers.
  • Consider having students take on different roles or divide up the work up amongst themselves. Alternatively, the project might require students to assume various perspectives, such as those of government officials, local business owners, etc.
  • Establish how you will evaluate and assess the assignment. Consider making the self and peer assessments a part of the assignment grade.

Nilson, L. B. (2010).  Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors  (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 


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  • Open access
  • Published: 18 June 2024

Effectiveness of spaced repetition for clinical problem solving amongst undergraduate medical students studying paediatrics in Pakistan

  • Shazia F. Durrani 1 ,
  • Naveed Yousuf 2 ,
  • Rahila Ali 2 ,
  • Fatima Fakhir Musharraf 3 ,
  • Ammara Hameed 1 &
  • Hussain Ahmed Raza 2  

BMC Medical Education volume  24 , Article number:  676 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

156 Accesses

Metrics details

Studies using spaced repetition for teaching and learning in undergraduate clinical rotations such as paediatrics are limited, even more so in the South Asian region. Therefore, this study aimed to identify the effectiveness of utilizing spaced repetition compared to traditional learning methods among undergraduate medical students during their paediatric rotation at a medical university in Pakistan.

Bahria University Medical and Dental College (BUMDC) conducted quasii-experimental research in Karachi. Four topics were identified from the Year 5 Pediatrics curriculum to be used in the study, using which the study content was developed along with 50 multiple choice questions (MCQs) for assessment. All BUMDC Year 5 medical students rotating in Pediatrics were included and randomly allocated to the control or intervention group. In the control group, they provided the students with traditional study methods consisting of books and lectures to learn topics. In the intervention group, we created an Anki flashcard deck of the same topics to enable learning via spaced repetition. The researchers conducted a pretest and post test assessment of the 50 MCQs in both groups at the beginning and after the four-week study interval. The data were analysed using SPSS 19.

A total of 115 BUMDC medical students agreed to participate in the study; 70 (59.1%) were in the intervention group, and 45 (41.7%) were in the control group. The pretest mean score of the control group was 27.96 ± 3.70, and the posttest mean score was 27.22 ± 5.02, with no statistically significant difference at the 95% confidence level. The mean score of the pretest for the intervention group was 27.93 ± 4.53, and that of the posttest was 30.8 ± 4.56, with a statistically significant difference at the 95% confidence level. The intervention showed a significant effect size of 0.8.

The use of spaced repetitions resulted in significantly greater scores for medical students studying paediatrics than for those using more traditional methods of learning, compromising medical books and lectures. Considering that medical students need to retain a vast amount of information, using spaced repetition through flashcards can be a more effective learning tool that is more cost-efficient and time-efficient than traditional learning methods.

Peer Review reports

Learning in medical school comprises building factual and theoretical knowledge, followed by practical application of that knowledge in a clinical setting. Due to the extensive medical curriculum, undergraduate medical students need help in the long-term retention of knowledge taught in clinical and nonclinical disciplines. Furthermore, medical students are in critical need of efficient self-study teaching and learning methods to help them retain the vast amounts of knowledge and clinical skills required to fulfil medical school competencies [ 1 ]. However, students must be aware of efficient learning strategies that can improve their long-term memory retention [ 2 ].

A study by Gilbert, M. M. (2023), conducted in the Boonshoft School of Medicine, USA, explored techniques that help students improve learning and found that spaced repetition was the best technique for enhancing student learning [ 3 ]. It has already been proven that the retention of factual knowledge is improved by using practice tests and spaced repetition [ 4 ]. Undergraduate and postgraduate medical students globally use spaced repetition despite being a comparatively new concept in medical education. It not only helps individuals attain proficiency but also aids in active recall and the application of clinical knowledge [ 5 ]. Numerous studies have shown evidence of the effectiveness of spaced repetition in long-term memory retention. A study of undergraduate medical students showed better short-term and long-term memory retention using spaced repetition learning [ 6 ].

Flashcards are the most popular method for utilizing spaced repetition learning. Anki. Web consists of flashcard software built on a spaced repetition algorithm. The literature has shown that Anki flashcards are beneficial for learning basic sciences such as anatomy [ 7 ]. Anki has become a popular learning tool in medical schools across the globe since it not only boosts performance on medical licensing exams but also allows most American first-year medical university students to use Anki flashcards to supplement their studies [ 8 , 9 ].

In particular, medical students struggle to learn about numerous volatile topics that require quick recall, such as developmental milestones, immunizations, and integrated management of neonatal and childhood illnesses. Due to difficulty in recalling such minute facts, students will undoubtedly need help to perform well in their paediatric rotations. Furthermore, medical educators have conducted global studies to identify the most effective teaching and learning strategies in medical education. However, data about South Asia, such as Pakistan, still need to be available. Additionally, researchers have yet to perform many studies to determine effective teaching and learning strategies in paediatric rotations for undergraduate medical students. Therefore, this study aimed to identify the effectiveness of the spaced repetition learning strategy compared to traditional learning methods for undergraduate medical students during their paediatrics rotation at a private medical university in Pakistan.


Setting and participants.

This quasi experimental study was conducted at Bahria University Medical and Dental College (BUMDC) in Karachi, Pakistan. The total duration of the study was six months, and participant assessments were performed at four-week intervals.

The sample size was the whole population, which included the whole class of BUMDC year 5 medical students rotating in paediatrics. Purposive sampling, where total population sampling was performed.

Sample Size for Frequency in a Population


Population size(for finite population correction factor or fpc)( ):



Hypothesized % frequency of outcome factor in the population ( ):




Confidence limits as % of 100(absolute +/- %)( ):


Design effect (for cluster surveys- ):

































Sample size   


The inclusion criteria included all BUMDC Year 5 medical students rotating in Pediatrics. The exclusion criteria consisted of five medical students who did not have internet access or who did not consent to participate in the study. The students were randomly divided into two groups: the intervention group and the control group. Each group had an equal number of students who were selected randomly.

Ethical approval

Data collection started after receiving approval from the Ethical Review Committee (ERC) of AKU (2021-6175-19040) and BUHSC (69/2020).

Consent from participants

The AKU-approved consent form was printed, and informed consent was obtained from five medical students of the BUMDC who agreed to participate in the study. Students were informed that their names and results would not be disclosed to anyone (except the students themselves) and that the results would not affect their rotation performance scores. Upon agreement, the students were asked to sign the form that the researcher and principal investigator had already signed. Copies of the form were given to the students after the signatures were completed. The forms are attached as additional file 5 .

Content selection and validation

Four topics were identified from the year 5 pediatrics curriculum to be used in the study for assessing learning in both the intervention and control groups. The topics included developmental milestones, Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illnesses (IMNCIs), immunizations, and malnutrition. These topics were selected since knowledge of these topics is commonly applied in general paediatric clinics. Furthermore, they encompass a broad range of crucial factual knowledge that is difficult to recall during clinical practice. The learning objectives of these four topics, along with a table of specifications (ToS) with relative weights assigned to each topic for pretest and post test assessments, are provided in additional annexure file 1 .

We identified eight experts who were FCPSs trained or equivalent in pediatrics, had at least five years of teaching experience, and had advanced qualifications in medical education (master’s or advanced diploma or equivalent). All eight experts were sent a request through email to be a member of the expert validation panel for our study to review our learning objectives and weight given to each topic and to select the pretest and post test multiple choice questions (MCQs) for assessment. Five experts responded positively and were included after their approval to participate. The five experts were requested via email to review and rate their agreement with the learning objectives and the weights assigned to each of the four topics we selected from the year 5 Pediatrics curriculum using a structured form with a four-point scale that varied from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’ (Annexure III). All five experts agreed on the topics’ learning objectives and relative weights (file I). Any minor suggestions provided by the experts were reviewed and incorporated as necessary (Annexure IV).

Spaced repetition and mass learning materials

Anki is a flashcard software built upon a spaced repetition algorithm that allows users to review studied cards after one day, three days, seven days, 14 days, and 28 days. Flashcards are digitally made and appear at intervals depending on user recall. Flashcards are organized into decks, and users review these decks regularly. Based on the algorithm, the card being studied can be a new card not previously created by the user or an older card that reappears after an appropriate interval. Reviewed Anki cards that are difficult to remember reappear after a short interval, whereas quickly recalled cards reappear after a longer interval. This algorithm effectively uses spaced repetition technology and allows users to customize their learning based on their recall power. This spaced repetition learning method ensures revision of all topics provided on the flash cards.

A deck of Pediatrics flashcards was created using the learning objectives of the four selected topics. The flashcards were sent to the expert panel for review and approval. The content of the flashcards was developed using year five medical course books, lectures, and guidelines, with references to their respective sources included. The flashcards were made on the Anki website and were sent to the students in the intervention group. Instructions were given to the students in the intervention group on how to use the Anki website, along with step-by-step instructions on how to use the Pediatrics flashcard deck. If they had any additional queries, the students were also provided with support on WhatsApp regarding how to use the Anki flashcards. Upon request, a few students were guided face-to-face using the Anki website and flash cards.

The control group was requested to follow traditional learning methods used at the university, which consisted of using lecture notes and books that covered the same learning content provided in the flashcards given to the other group.

To eliminate potential confounders and correct the selection of students, intervention group students had to enrol on the Anki website using their emails. The flashcards and download instructions, including the paediatric flashcards deck, were given only to the students in the intervention group, who were given instructions to keep them private. Both groups were added to the respective WhatsApp group chats for daily feedback. This feedback ensured that the intervention group had no trouble using the new Anki flashcards. The total study time given to both groups was four weeks to ensure that all topics were studied thoroughly by both groups, and enough time was given for learning and retaining the provided information.

Development and validation of assessment questions

Seventy-five one-best multiple-choice questions (MCQs) were developed based on the learning objectives of the four topics selected. Particular attention was given to ensuring that all questions not only required factual recall but also involved critical thinking for problem-solving and applying objective knowledge.

A tool for MCQ validation was created for the expert panel to use, consisting of a four-point rating scale for each item assessing the level of agreement (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree) based on relevance, content, and clarity. This tool was sent to the expert panel through email for review and validation. After incorporating expert feedback, 50 MCQs were approved and finalized for the pretest and post test assessments. These 50 questions were also validated according to exam weight and learning objectives.

Data collection

The Quizizz online quiz website ( was used for the pretest and post test assessments in both intervention and control groups, which consisted of the 50 validated MCQs.

Participants and faculty members were informed of the date, location, and timing of the pretest assessment along with test instructions via email. On the day of the pretest assessment, the students were asked to sign an attendance sheet and sign up for the test using their names and roll numbers. The pretest was administered through the Quizizz website. Each MCQ was given 90 s to attempt, leading to 1 h and 15 min for the pretest assessment of 50 MCQs. Four faculty members were involved in the invigilation to ensure fair conduct of the examination.

After four weeks of study, a posttest assessment was performed. The participants and faculty members were again informed of the date, location, and timing of the post test assessment along with the test instructions via email. The post test assessment was the same as the pretest assessment. Similarly, each item was given 90 s, and 1 h and 15 min were given for the entire post test. On the day of the post test assessment, the students were told to sign an attendance sheet and sign up for the post test assessment by name and roll number. Four faculty members were involved in the invigilation to ensure fair conduct of the examination.

Ethical considerations

Student names were kept anonymous since coding was used to mask their names. No one had access to the data except the data reviewers. All hard copies of the consent forms were kept in a locked file, and the assessment results were password-protected on a computer. Both assessments were formative and did not affect their rotation performance assessment. After the post test assessment was completed, the Anki flashcard deck and instructions were provided to all the students, including those in the control group, in case they wished to use them later to prepare for their summative assessment.

Data analysis

The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 19 was used to analyse the data. All inferential analyses were two-sided, and p values < 0.05 (95% confidence level) were considered to indicate statistical significance. For pretest and post test assessment results, quantitative data are reported as the mean ± SD, whereas for qualitative variables, frequencies are reported as percentages. Content validity evidence (ToS) was obtained from content experts (Appendix V). Reliability was determined using Cronbach’s alpha for both pretest and posttest assessments.

An independent sample t test was used to determine the difference between the two groups (intervention versus control) between the pretest and posttest assessments. A paired t test was used to independently measure the differences between the pretest assessment results and posttest assessment results of the two groups (intervention and control). Figure  1 depicts the inferential strategy utilized.

figure 1

Plan for inferential analysis

Of 145 year 5 BUDMC medical students, 115 agreed to participate in the study for pretest and posttest assessments. Participant characteristics and test results are shown in Table  1 . Among these, 45 (41.7%) were from the control group, and 70 (59.1%) were from the intervention group. Overall, among all participants, 77 (65.8%) were female, and 40 (34.2%) were male.

Overall, for all participants, the mean pretest score was 27.94 ± 4.185, while the posttest score was 29.41 ± 5.04. There was no significant difference in the pretest scores between the intervention and control groups ( p  = 0.973). However, a significant difference was found between the posttest scores between both groups, with the intervention group scoring higher, with a mean score of 30.86 ± 4.56, while the control group scored lower, with a mean score of 27.93 ± 4.53 ( p  < 0.001).

A comparison of the pretest and posttest results using a paired t test is shown in Table  2 . Overall (need info for overall if there was a significant difference). For the control group, there was no significant difference between the pretest and posttest scores ( p  = 0.275). However, for the intervention group, the posttest score was significantly greater, with a mean of 30.86 ± 4.56, than the mean pretest score of 27.93 ± 4.53 ( p  < 0.01). The reliability analysis using Cronbach’s alpha for the pretest was low (0.466), while for the posttest, it was high (0.717).

Effective learning and recall of essential pediatric medicine concepts to perform well in a clinical setting is vital for medical students. Educators and students employ various teaching and learning methods to enable efficient learning and recall of complex concepts. Our study showed that compared to students in the traditional learning methods group, students in the intervention group using spaced repetition performed significantly better on their posttest assessments than on their pretest assessments. Although statistically, posttest scores showed high reliability, pretest scores demonstrated low reliability, which may be due to no or minimal preparation of the students for the pretest assessment.

Our study demonstrated the efficiency of using Anki flashcards for spaced repetition as an effective tool for learning pediatric medicine topics compared to traditional learning methods. Our study revealed that not only does space repetition lead to more effective learning, but students also tend to score higher due to this learning method. A recent blog by Lecturio, a commonly used study platform by medical students, agrees with our findings and states that using flashcards leads to active recall of knowledge, which has been shown to be more advantageous in retaining information than other passive learning methods [ 10 ]. Compared to basic sciences subjects of medicine, which require extensive studies of minute factual details, several studies have also shown flashcards to be practical learning tools for retaining vast amounts of factual knowledge [ 7 , 11 , 12 ]. Interestingly, Lu et al. also found that using Anki flashcards for spaced repetition resulted in higher scores on the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 exam, which is heavily based on fundamental scientific factual knowledge [ 13 ].

Similarly, in clinical fields requiring more application of knowledge than just factual recall, the use of flashcards has also been shown to improve performance scores and retention, such as in the fields of obstetrics and gynaecology, radiology, psychiatry, urology and otolaryngology and internal medicine [ 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 ]. With respect to the field of pediatrics in particular, most studies performed to show the effectiveness of spaced repetition have been conducted mainly at the postgraduate and professional levels. For instance, in contrast to our study findings, a study performed on pediatric residency trainees by McConnery et al. using spaced repetition learning did not show improved performance on assessment [ 20 ]. However, they noted that barriers such as limited time and limited participation may have hampered learning. Similarly, in another study related to pediatric acute illness management, after observing 12 critical illness scenario demonstrations, which were spaced fortnightly, learners demonstrated improved pediatric resuscitation skills [ 21 ].

Most studies on spaced repetition tend only to assess direct recall, especially those performed with students from undergraduate medical schools. In comparison, our study made a conscious effort to evaluate students not only for factual recall but also for problem-solving and clinical application of knowledge. Only a few studies in the literature have also assessed the problem-solving skills of students at the undergraduate level. One such study by Tshibwabwa et al. was conducted in second-year preclinical students at the American University of Medicine, in which they used spaced learning in radiology as part of an integrated curriculum. As a result, spatial learning enhances the retention of radiological concepts and improves problem-solving and radiological assessment skills [ 22 ].

Furthermore, with the South Asian region under the spotlight, we found very little research on spaced learning methods in medical education. Of the few studies we observed from the region, two were performed in India and showed improved learning using spaced repetition among undergraduate students [ 23 , 24 ]. However, unfortunately, no study has been conducted in Pakistan, a country with a significantly increasing number of medical students and physicians produced per year [ 25 ]. In Pakistan, medical education in medical universities primarily relies on traditional methods of teaching, such as using medical books and lectures. Although these methods may be good learning tools, medical colleges should integrate spaced repetition into their curriculum to make teaching and learning more effective. In a low- to middle-income country such as Pakistan, using premade digital flashcard decks for various subjects may be a more cost-effective learning tool for medical students than buying expensive medical books to obtain the same information. Furthermore, spaced repetition can also be more time efficient during revision periods since it can help students focus more on key points and revise weak areas rather than the information the student already knows well.

In our study, we also identified specific pediatric topics that are difficult to recall in a clinical setting but are undoubtedly crucial to remember, such as developmental milestones, malnutrition, immunization, and IMNCIs. Our results showed that students using traditional learning methods struggled more to retain this information, as reflected in their posttest assessment scores. Similarly, a cross-sectional study conducted at Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat. Studies on the perceptions of undergraduate medical students toward Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) Preservice Education have shown that five-year-old medical students need more knowledge regarding IMNCIs [ 26 ]. Another cross-sectional study aimed at assessing the nutritional knowledge and attitudes of medical students at King Abdul-Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, demonstrated that participants needed better knowledge regarding malnutrition in children [ 27 ]. These findings indicate that medical students struggle to retain critical yet factual concepts related to pediatric health, which will ultimately affect their performance in their clinical rotations and future training. Using improved learning techniques, such as spaced repetition, will aid in retaining minute yet important information and can produce more competent physicians who recognize and promptly address childhood illnesses, improving underfive childhood mortality.

The strengths of our study are that it is the first study of its kind on the use of spaced repetition from Pakistan and the first study of undergraduate medical students studying paediatric medicine. Our sample size included the entire class. An expert panel also validated our assessment content and questions. Both the intervention and control groups were given the same content to study (although in different forms) to ensure fairness in the knowledge provided. We used WhatsApp group chats to ensure that the intervention group completely understood how to use the new learning technology, with daily feedback on several cards reviewed to ensure the completion of cards by the intervention group. Our study also employed pretest and posttest assessments, which enabled us to determine the difference between the two groups under similar testing environments. The MCQs used in the assessment not only involved factual recall but also included critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Our most significant limitation is that this was a single-institute study, and we could not include a larger sample size, which could have led to a more robust analysis. Furthermore, if we extended the time for learning for more than four weeks, we may have shown improved assessment outcomes. Another limitation of our study is that due to time constraints, we could not study the long-term effects of using spaced repetition on final summative or end-of-year exams. Another limitation was that the students were informed that the assessment scores of the pretest and posttest assessments were formative only. A qualitative aspect of this study could have been included in which students reported their perception of the effectiveness of their respective learning tools. It was also almost impossible to ensure that the intervention group students would not share the flashcards with their friends from the control group. In addition, we did not assess clinical skills using spaced repetition and tested only clinical knowledge.

Currently, there is more literature about the use of spaced repetition in undergraduate medical students, especially in South Asia. Our study, which was conducted in an undergraduate medical program in Pakistan, showed that spaced repetition via Anki flashcards resulted in significantly higher scores for medical students studying paediatrics than for students using more traditional learning methods, compromising medical books and lectures. Considering that medical students need to retain a vast amount of information, using spaced repetition through flashcards can be a more effective learning tool and is more cost-effective and time-efficient than traditional learning methods.

Data availability

The datasets used and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Department for Pediatrics, Bahria University Medical & Dental College, Karachi, Pakistan

Shazia F. Durrani & Ammara Hameed

Department for Educational Development, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan

Naveed Yousuf, Rahila Ali & Hussain Ahmed Raza

Jinnah Sindh Medical University, Karachi, Pakistan

Fatima Fakhir Musharraf

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Authors’ contributions: SFD, NY, RA, and FFM contributed to the study concept and design. FFM and AH contributed to data collection and analysis. SFD and NY take responsibility for data integrity and accuracy of the data analysis. HAR and SFD contributed to the visualization and interpretation of data, drafted the work, and substantively revised it. All authors participated in the write-up of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shazia F. Durrani .

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Durrani, S.F., Yousuf, N., Ali, R. et al. Effectiveness of spaced repetition for clinical problem solving amongst undergraduate medical students studying paediatrics in Pakistan. BMC Med Educ 24 , 676 (2024).

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And he did. "Spot Saver" is officially on the market. Thorn said so far, he has about 200 of these on back order and has heard from people as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom.


"That was actually a big surprise to me when I saw how many people commented on it, like it, shared it.  It was pretty amazing feeback," he said. 

He and Katarina just had their first trade show in hopes of showing the world more dignity.

The Spot Saver costs $450 and is available online.


Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield loves sharing the good news. She hosts a show on Sunday mornings based on local "positivity and empowerment," leading right into CBS Sunday Morning.

Featured Local Savings

More from cbs news.

Black Twin Cities leaders talk receiving Bush Fellowship: "There's almost nothing that we cannot do"

Flash flooding leaves campers stranded in northern Minnesota

Nothing criminal in Bethel student's diving death, investigation finds

Crews rescue 9-year-old boy in Boundary Waters after tree fell on him


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    PROBLEM-SOLVING definition: the process of finding solutions to problems: . Learn more.

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    A problem is any unpleasant situation which prevents people from achieving what they want to achieve. Any activity to eliminate a problem is termed problem solving. Problem solving skills refers to our ability to solve problems in an effective and timely manner without any impediments. It involves being able to identify and define the problem, generating alternative solutions, evaluating and ...

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    Problem-Solving Skills Definition. Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions. An employee with good problem-solving skills is both a self-starter and a collaborative teammate; they are proactive in understanding the root of a problem and work with others to ...

  20. Problem Solving Techniques and Methods

    Problem solving can be defined as the process of a problem analysis and resolving it in the best way possible for that situation. This process contains analysing the problem (root cause analysis), defining countermeasures for the problem and implementing the right solution for that situation. For problem solving, people need critical thinking ...

  21. Problem-Solving Skills: What They Are and How to Improve Yours

    Problem-solving skills defined. Problem-solving skills are skills that allow individuals to efficiently and effectively find solutions to issues. This attribute is a primary skill that employers look for in job candidates and is essential in a variety of careers. This skill is considered to be a soft skill, or an individual strength, as opposed ...

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  23. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definitions and Examples

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    The mean score of the pretest for the intervention group was 27.93 ± 4.53, and that of the posttest was 30.8 ± 4.56, with a statistically significant difference at the 95% confidence level. The intervention showed a significant effect size of 0.8. ... Only a few studies in the literature have also assessed the problem-solving skills of ...

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