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The 10-Step Problem Solving Approach To Deal With Any Issue
Table of Contents
Who doesn’t face problems in their lives? They just are inevitable. Therefore, problem solving becomes one of the primary skills you should master to develop a successful mindset. If you fail to power and flex your problem solving ability, you risk living an extremely scattered and arbitrary life.
Many things are to be taken care of when dealing with an issue and attempting to overcome that. There are only two possibilities of the outcome, but they are largely determined by the approach and the attitude you decide to tackle it with. So basically, it is the way you decide to sort the issue out that determines the end product.
You cannot be successful in life, or in your profession or business, if you don’t have a solution-oriented mindset. You should know that it’s the successful people who face, endure, and resolve more backbreaking issues. How do they do that? Well, answering this question is the sole purpose of this article.
In this simple, but effective, 10-Step Problem Solving guide, you will learn how to discover and act upon the best solutions to overcome any issues. Most importantly, your problem solving abilities will get strengthened, enabling you to productively tackle otherwise stressful challenges.
1. Know The Issue
Without just throwing yourself at the problem, first of all, know the issue in detail. Problem solving becomes way easier when you truly know the issue, because then you can act promptly. This will hasten the problem solving process without giving rise to any detrimental consequences. Otherwise, if you just throw yourself at it, you are panicking out of stress and anxiety which is never good. Take your time to properly define the issue.
If there are other parties involved, then consult them as well. Understand everyone’s interests and ascertain all the facts about the issue. Solving an issue with a group is always easier than solving alone, because different mindsets perceive the situation differently and so you will know more than enough about the issue. Sometimes the solution is there, right in front of you, just lying to be discovered. So, problem resolution in a group will aid the process, and make finding the solution easier.
It is also important to discover the root cause of the problem. Knowing what caused the problem is extremely necessary, because it will help you to eliminate the issue once and for all. When you have properly defined the problem and the root cause, only then can you solve the issue completely. Once you have fully marked the issue and the core cause, only then can you begin finding the solution.
2. Be Positive And Creative In Your Approach
A very positive approach is important to deal with any sort of issue. A positive approach is itself an outcome of a positive mindset. You face millions of issues in life. There are tons of problems to solve. This is a huge burden, and it may tire you. This is where your positive mindset should kick in. You need to be optimistic and put in as much effort as you can. If you take a positive approach to resolve your issues, you will not only be able to successfully resolve them, but also eventually minimize their occurrence.
Apart from dealing with issues positively, it is important to be creative. Positivity alone can’t guarantee a solution. You have to think differently, unconventionally, form new perspectives. Your thinking should be novel and innovative. You have already come a long way in life, you have faced all types of situations. You have been facing and resolving issues all your life. It’s just another situation, it’s no big deal. Keep your end goal in mind and go ahead. Leaders always tackle their issues with a positive and creative approach. That is what you have to do, be a leader!
3. Find Out All Possible Solutions
This is an important step in problem solving. There may be more than one solution to the issue you face. Usually, there are multiple things you could do in a situation. Therefore, it is vital to find all the possible solutions to the issue. Addressing an issue with just a single solution can be a bad idea, because the solution may not be the best one. It will limit your ability to resolve the issue. On the other hand, if you find all possible solutions, you have a better chance of addressing the issue with the best solution. Moreover, if the best-fit solution fails, you will have alternative solutions ready to be implemented.
Now, to find all possible solutions, it is important that you analyze the issue from all directions. Seeing an issue from all possible angles will help you link and relate other problems, if any, with it as well. This will in turn help you unify them and, maybe, devise a single solution for all. So, give up any narrow-mindedness and think broadly. Every issue is basically a question. What you have to do is answer it with a solution that offers the best outcome. This is what leaders do!
4. Identify The Best Solution
The next step, after you have identified all possible solutions, is to try and figure out the one with the best outcome. Know that half of the problem is already solved. But this part is tricky, as sometimes you may be confused between two or more solutions that seem to offer the desired outcome. Remember, there is always one better than the other. So, here you have to be cautious, clever, and confident. Look in-depth, narrow down the list of solutions, and get to the best-suited one. How do you achieve this? Well, just visualize and compare the outcomes the different solutions in front of you will result in. The outcome that suits the situation the best, is the one you are looking for.
As already mentioned, this part may be tricky. So, take your time. Take a break if you want. Think crystal clear and only then decide which solution offers the best fate. Do not hasten, but do not hesitate either. It is important that you are confident in your decisions. Don’t take the situation lightly, as it may turn to become worse. But at the same time, don’t let it consume you. No matter how surreal the issue is, it is conquerable.
5. The Solution May Fail
It is understandable that the solution may fail. A lot of times the best solutions fail to provide the desired outcome. You have to, in advance, keep this in mind and also take responsibility for it. You should know, in advance, all the repercussions you may have to face. When you know what you may have to face in advance, it will be easier for you to endure it if it happens. But how do you prepare to endure it? Remember the first step of this guide? Yes, positivity, you have to be positive no matter what. You have to be positive and stay focused on your end goal, even in the worst-case scenario.
The best solution you have come up with may either fail completely, or in part. It may either provide a bit of the desired outcome, or nothing at all. The good thing is that even if your best-devised solution fails, it is not actually a failure. You will definitely learn from it, and it will only help you to devise a better-fit solution. Now, it also depends upon the type of mindset you have. If you are a leader, it will only push you in your quest to figure out the best solution.
6. Know Your Responsibility
Now, it’s time to know, in advance, that you are responsible if the solution doesn’t offer the outcome aimed. In fact, you should be taking responsibility for all the things happening in your life. Even if there is no fault of yours in something that happens to you, you should feel responsible for that as well. This mentality is an entrepreneur mindset and a successful mindset. Such a mentality will always keep you pushing to put in your best efforts.
Again, if there are multiple parties involved in the issue you are facing, then you should at least take responsibility for your part. Know that taking responsibility is a leadership quality. You don’t need to pressurize yourself to the extreme but be committed to taking your share. This not only will help you resolve the issue you currently face, but also help you to resolve anything else you may face in the future. Also, make sure that everyone else knows what their responsible for. When everyone in a group is sincerely responsible for their part, it helps to promptly solve any issue.
7. Implement The Solution
Now you already know all the repercussions you may have to face if your solution to the problem fails, and you know your responsibility. It is time to implement the solution to reach your end goal. This is what you have put all your efforts in for. If you have sincerely worked hard to solve the issue, the solution you have come up with should be enough to resolve it.
For problem resolution, especially in business, it is recommended that you time your solution, basically make a timeline. Set a deadline for implementing the solution. Also, calculate the time it will take to work and the results to appear. But still, not all issues can be solved easily. Sometimes a situation can turn to be more complex than first thought. You may have to face other complex problems as you try to solve the actual issue at hand. But, if you stay focused on your end goal, and strive further to achieve it, you can overpower any repercussions.
8. Execute Alternative Solutions
If the solution doesn’t work as intended, the situation can become more complicated. But, if you follow the process as mentioned in this article, you have probably already sorted out all the possible solutions. Alternative solutions that you have already devised can be a savior here. Since you will have many alternates to choose from, the complex situation can become easy. You know that the solution is one of these that are already in front of you.
It is recommended to address the situation with a better-fit solution now – the second to the one you choose as the best fit. This way you can implement other alternative solutions as well, but beware you may have to amend your action plan now. If your main solution fails, obviously it may become difficult to address the situation then. But, it will surely prepare you for the future by enhancing your problem solving ability, increasing your potential to work effectively under pressure.
9. Keep Track Of The Results
Understandably, the whole purpose of problem solving is to get desired results. Since you already have your end goal in mind, you now only have to keep track of the outcomes of the solution you apply to solve the issue. The desired end goal will be reflected in the success of the solution. The timeline mentioned in the 7th step will help you to determine to what extent your solution is working.
Keep track of the outcomes and compare them with the calculations you already made. If everything is happening timely, then congratulations, you are on the right track. But, if things are getting delayed, you may need to amend and improve your action plan. An improved action plan will surely work its magic. Developing new solutions, under pressure, will also help you to improve your problem solving methods for the future. After all, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking.
10. Not All Issues Can Be Solved
Obviously, you can never solve all your issues. Some just are there to remain! What you can do is try your best to resolve them, but you may not get the desired end goal every time. You should be mentally prepared for this possibility as well. Otherwise, it can prove to be detrimental to your confidence and overall mental ability. You should not take it as failure, or let it mess with your mind. Instead, you should take it as your first step towards success. Know that even if you fail to successfully solve the issue, you will always learn something new. It will pave the way for the resolution of the issue you may face in the future. You should take lessons from it and make yourself a better problem solving person. Remember, the more problems you face and try to resolve, the more solution-oriented your mind will become. But, don’t let them mess with your positive mentality. This mindset in business will help you in wealth creation. In fact, such a mindset has made billionaires!
Problem solving is easy, but difficult! It basically depends upon the mindset you have. If you can flex your problem solving nerves, then you can resolve any issue. You know what, you have it all. You just need to train yourself and put in some decent effort. If you follow the steps of the process mentioned in this article, problem solving will become an easy job for you. Focus on your end goal and strive to achieve it. This should be enough to help you resolve any issues you face.
Remember, stay positive, active, and productive. Over time, not only will you master the skill of problem solving, but you will also become better as a person.
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A 10-Step Approach to Problem Solving
- by Bob Mason
- October 18, 2018 October 26, 2022
When an aircraft mishap occurs, specially trained investigators are sent to the scene to examine the evidence and determine a cause. Investigators examine physical evidence, witness statements, and hopefully participant’s testimony in an attempt to piece together a sequence of events that result in finding a cause. It’s an exercise in problem solving and a good system for leaders to use when solving problems with their teams.
One of the basic rules of a mishap investigation is that each investigator must approach the situation as though he or she knows nothing about what happened. Sometimes that can be difficult because of some preconceived idea or information that has already released to the public.
I was a member of a team investigating of an aircraft mishap that occurred during an airshow. The entire incident had been recorded by local television stations and an untold number of personal cell phones. It had been televised around the world on every major news channel. What had happened was quite obvious. The question we had to answer was why it had happened. That wasn’t so obvious, although there was plenty of speculation.
From my training in mishap investigation, I’ve developed a 10 step process for solving problems.
- Define the issue. What is the real problem you’re trying to solve? It’s easy to focus on what seems like the problem but is really only a symptom.
- Define the time frame. When conducting an Air Force mishap investigation we had an almost inviolate 30-day period. Know when an answer is required so that you can gage how long to spend on the next steps.
- Gather information. Remember; approach the problem as though you know nothing about it. Learn the facts of the situation and don’t let your own opinions cloud what you learn.
- Develop alternatives. There may be several ways to approach a problem. Consider more than one possibility. Don’t fall in love with any particular solution just yet.
- Discuss potential solutions. Before a mishap team writes a report, we would sit down and share what we learned and hash out the potential causal factors. When solving problems, team leaders should do the same thing. Discuss potential solutions with experts and the people who will have to implement those solutions.
- Step back. This step relies on what you determined in step 2. If time is available, step back from the issue and look at it as a disinterested third party. This may be difficult, but it will help you see aspects of potential solutions that you might not have considered.
- Change your perspective. Consider your potential solution from the point of view of those who will have to implement it or will be affected by it. It’s easy to decide on a course of action that you will not have to implement.
- Set the issue aside. Again this is dependent on the time available. By this point you’ve become quite intimate with the problem and a little time away will give you an opportunity to regain your objectivity. Give the issue a cooling-off period.
- Implement! Even though they have worked hard to come up with a solution, leaders can be afraid to implement that solution. Something might go wrong. Yes, that’s very possible. Not addressing the problem is usually worse.
- Evaluate. It’s tempting to implement a solution, then move on to the next burning issue. Mark a time in the future to check on the problem and solution. Did the solution work? Were there unforeseen or unintended results? This is important information and will add to your knowledge base when you face the next challenge.
Problem solving is one of the responsibilities of a team leader. Use these 10 steps to make that job a little easier.
Taken from my book, Don’t Worry, You Can Do This .
Get the free short course, The 3-5-2 Decision Making Process. It explains these 10 steps in more detail.
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10 Step Process for Effective Business Problem Solving
Posted august 3, 2021 by harriet genever.
When you start a small business or launch a startup, the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. No matter how thoroughly you plan, forecast , and test, problems are bound to arise. This is why as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to solve business problems effectively.
What is problem solving in business?
Problem solving in business relates to establishing processes that mitigate or remove obstacles currently preventing you from reaching strategic goals . These are typically complex issues that create a gap between actual results and your desired outcome. They may be present in a single team, operational process, or throughout your entire organization, typically without an immediate or obvious solution.
To approach problem solving successfully, you need to establish consistent processes that help you evaluate, explore solutions, prioritize execution, and measure success. In many ways, it should be similar to how you review business performance through a monthly plan review . You work through the same documentation, look for gaps, dig deeper to identify the root cause, and hash out options. Without this process, you simply cannot expect to solve problems efficiently or effectively.
Why problem solving is important for your business
While some would say problem-solving comes naturally, it’s actually a skill you can grow and refine over time. Problem solving skills will help you and your team tackle critical issues and conflicts as they arise. It starts from the top. You as the business owner or CEO needing to display the type of level-headed problem solving that you expect to see from your employees.
Doing so will help you and your staff quickly deal with issues, establish and refine a problem solving process, turn challenges into opportunities, and generally keep a level head. Now, the best business leaders didn’t just find a magic solution to solve their problems, they built processes and leveraged tools to find success. And you can do the same.
By following this 10-step process, you can develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue that arises with confidence.
1. Define the problem
When a problem arises, it can be very easy to jump right into creating a solution. However, if you don’t thoroughly examine what led to the problem in the first place, you may create a strategy that doesn’t actually solve it. You may just be treating the symptoms.
For instance, if you realize that your sales from new customers are dropping, your first inclination might be to rush into putting together a marketing plan to increase exposure. But what if decreasing sales are just a symptom of the real problem?
When you define the problem, you want to be sure you’re not missing the forest for the trees. If you have a large issue on your hands, you’ll want to look at it from several different angles:
Is a competitor’s promotion or pricing affecting your sales? Are there new entrants in your market? How are they marketing their product or business?
Is your business model sustainable? Is it realistic for how fast you want to grow? Should you explore different pricing or cost strategies?
How are world events and the nation’s economy affecting your customers and your sales?
Are there any issues affecting your team? Do they have the tools and resources they need to succeed?
Is everyone on your team working toward the same goal ? Have you communicated your short-term and long-term business goals clearly and often?
There are a lot of ways to approach the issue when you’re facing a serious business problem. The key is to make sure you’re getting a full snapshot of what’s going on so you don’t waste money and resources on band-aid solutions.
Going back to our example, by looking at every facet of your business, you may discover that you’re spending more on advertising than your competitors already. And instead, there’s a communication gap within your team that’s leading to the mishandling of new customers and therefore lost sales.
If you jumped into fixing the exposure of your brand, you would have been dumping more money into an area you’re already winning. Potentially leading to greater losses as more and more new customers are dropped due to poor internal communication.
This is why it’s so vital that you explore your blind spots and track the problem to its source.
2. Conduct a SWOT analysis
All good businesses solve some sort of problem for customers. What if your particular business problem is actually an opportunity, or even a strength if considered from a different angle? This is when you’d want to conduct a SWOT analysis to determine if that is in fact the case.
SWOT is a great tool for strategic planning and bringing multiple viewpoints to the table when you’re looking at investing resources to solve a problem. This may even be incorporated in your attempts to identify the source of your problem, as it can quickly outline specific strengths and weaknesses of your business. And then by identifying any potential opportunities or threats, you can utilize your findings to kickstart a solution.
3. Identify multiple solutions with design thinking
As you approach solving your problem, you may want to consider using the design thinking approach . It’s often used by organizations looking to solve big, community-based problems. One of its strengths is that it requires involving a wide range of people in the problem-solving process. Which leads to multiple perspectives and solutions arising.
This approach—applying your company’s skills and expertise to a problem in the market—is the basis for design thinking.
It’s not about finding the most complex problems to solve, but about finding common needs within the organization and in the real world and coming up with solutions that fit those needs. When you’re solving business problems, this applies in the sense that you’re looking for solutions that address underlying issues—you’re looking at the big picture.
4. Conduct market research and customer outreach
Market research and customer outreach aren’t the sorts of things small business owners and startups can do once and then cross off the list. When you’re facing a roadblock, think back to the last time you did some solid market research or took a deep dive into understanding the competitive landscape .
Market research and the insights you get from customer outreach aren’t a silver bullet. Many companies struggle with what they should do with conflicting data points. But it’s worth struggling through and gathering information that can help you better understand your target market . Plus, your customers can be one of the best sources of criticism. It’s actually a gift if you can avoid taking the negatives personally .
The worst thing you can do when you’re facing challenges is isolating yourself from your customers and ignore your competition. So survey your customers. Put together a competitive matrix .
5. Seek input from your team and your mentors
Don’t do your SWOT analysis or design thinking work by yourself. The freedom to express concerns, opinions, and ideas will allow people in an organization to speak up. Their feedback is going to help you move faster and more efficiently. If you have a team in place, bring them into the discussion. You hired them to be experts in their area; use their expertise to navigate and dig deeper into underlying causes of problems and potential solutions.
If you’re running your business solo, at least bring in a trusted mentor. SCORE offers a free business mentorship program if you don’t already have one. It can also be helpful to connect with a strategic business advisor , especially if business financials aren’t your strongest suit.
Quoting Stephen Covey, who said that “strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” speaking to the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving in business. The more diverse a team is , the more often innovative solutions to the problems faced by the organization appear.
In fact, it has been found that groups that show greater diversity were better at solving problems than groups made up specifically of highly skilled problem solvers. So whoever you bring in to help you problem-solve, resist the urge to surround yourself with people who already agree with you about everything.
6. Apply lean planning for nimble execution
So you do your SWOT analysis and your design thinking exercise. You come up with a set of strong, data-driven ideas. But implementing them requires you to adjust your budget, or your strategic plan, or even your understanding of your target market.
Are you willing to change course? Can you quickly make adjustments? Well in order to grow, you can’t be afraid to be nimble .
By adopting the lean business planning method —the process of revising your business strategy regularly—you’ll be able to shift your strategies more fluidly. You don’t want to change course every week, and you don’t want to fall victim to shiny object thinking. But you can strike a balance that allows you to reduce your business’s risk while keeping your team heading in the right direction.
Along the way, you’ll make strategic decisions that don’t pan out the way you hoped. The best thing you can do is test your ideas and iterate often so you’re not wasting money and resources on things that don’t work. That’s Lean Planning .
7. Model different financial scenarios
When you’re trying to solve a serious business problem, one of the best things you can do is build a few different financial forecasts so you can model different scenarios. You might find that the idea that seemed the strongest will take longer than you thought to reverse a negative financial trend. At the very least you’ll have better insight into the financial impact of moving in a different direction.
The real benefit here is looking at different tactical approaches to the same problem. Maybe instead of increasing sales right now, you’re better off in the long run if you adopt a strategy to reduce churn and retain your best customers. You won’t know unless you model a few different scenarios. You can do this by using spreadsheets, and a tool like LivePlan can make it easier and quicker.
8. Watch your cash flow
While you’re working to solve a challenging business problem, pay particular attention to your cash flow and your cash flow forecast . Understanding when your company is at risk of running out of cash in the bank can help you be proactive. It’s a lot easier to get a line of credit while your financials still look good and healthy, than when you’re one pay period away from ruin.
If you’re dealing with a serious issue, it’s easy to start to get tunnel vision. You’ll benefit from maintaining a little breathing room for your business as you figure out what to do next.
9. Use a decision-making framework
Once you’ve gathered all the information you need, generated a number of ideas, and done some financial modeling, you might still feel uncertain. It’s natural—you’re not a fortune-teller. You’re trying to make the best decision you can with the information you have.
This article offers a really useful approach to making decisions. It starts with putting your options into a matrix like this one:
Use this sort of framework to put everything you’ve learned out on the table. If you’re working with a bigger team, this sort of exercise can also bring the rest of your team to the table so they feel some ownership over the outcome.
10. Identify key metrics to track
How will you know your problem is solved? And not just the symptom—how will you know when you’ve addressed the underlying issues? Before you dive into enacting the solution, make sure you know what success looks like.
Decide on a few key performance indicators . Take a baseline measurement, and set a goal and a timeframe. You’re essentially translating your solution into a plan, complete with milestones and goals. Without these, you’ve simply made a blind decision with no way to track success. You need those goals and milestones to make your plan real .
Problem solving skills to improve
As you and your team work through this process, it’s worth keeping in mind specific problem solving skills you should continue to develop. Bolstering your ability, as well as your team, to solve problems effectively will only make this process more useful and efficient. Here are a few key skills to work on.
It can be very easy to make quick, emotional responses in a time of crisis or when discussing something you’re passionate about. To avoid making assumptions and letting your emotions get the best of you, you need to focus on empathizing with others. This involves understanding your own emotional state, reactions and listening carefully to the responses of your team. The more you’re able to listen carefully, the better you’ll be at asking for and taking advice that actually leads to effective problem solving.
Jumping right into a solution can immediately kill the possibility of solving your problem. Just like when you start a business , you need to do the research into what the problem you’re solving actually is. Luckily, you can embed research into your problem solving by holding active reviews of financial performance and team processes. Simply asking “What? Where? When? How?” can lead to more in-depth explorations of potential issues.
The best thing you can do to grow your research abilities is to encourage and practice curiosity. Look at every problem as an opportunity. Something that may be trouble now, but is worth exploring and finding the right solution. You’ll pick up best practices, useful tools and fine-tune your own research process the more you’re willing to explore.
Creatively brainstorming with your team is somewhat of an art form. There needs to be a willingness to throw everything at the wall and act as if nothing is a bad idea at the start. This style of collaboration encourages participation without fear of rejection. It also helps outline potential solutions outside of your current scope, that you can refine and turn into realistic action.
Work on breaking down problems and try to give everyone in the room a voice. The more input you allow, the greater potential you have for finding the best solution.
One thing that can drag out acting upon a potential solution, is being indecisive. If you aren’t willing to state when the final cutoff for deliberation is, you simply won’t take steps quickly enough. This is when having a process for problem solving comes in handy, as it purposefully outlines when you should start taking action.
Work on choosing decision-makers, identify necessary results and be prepared to analyze and adjust if necessary. You don’t have to get it right every time, but taking action at the right time, even if it fails, is almost more vital than never taking a step.
Stemming off failure, you need to learn to be resilient. Again, no one gets it perfect every single time. There are so many factors in play to consider and sometimes even the most well-thought-out solution doesn’t stick. Instead of being down on yourself or your team, look to separate yourself from the problem and continue to think of it as a puzzle worth solving. Every failure is a learning opportunity and it only helps you further refine and eliminate issues in your strategy.
Problem solving is a process
The key to effective problem-solving in business is the ability to adapt. You can waste a lot of resources on staying the wrong course for too long. So make a plan to reduce your risk now. Think about what you’d do if you were faced with a problem large enough to sink your business. Be as proactive as you can.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016. It was updated in 2021.
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Whether you’re having a friendly debate about the best travel destination, struggling with online communication , or dealing with a complicated issue involving numerous departments and businesses, effective problem-solving requires a clear perspective and a rational action plan.
No matter your purpose, think of the following guide like a GPS, regularly updated to lead you to your destination. While the article concentrates on problem-solving in a business rather than persuading friends, you'll find these effective problem-solving techniques helpful in many other areas.
You’ll learn how to develop a clear perspective, generate effective solutions, evaluate options, and, ultimately, select the best course of action to solve problems. You can customize the steps to fit your unique situation and needs. Let's dive into the ten problem-solving steps to resolve the crisis and achieve your goals.
Ten steps to put out the fire, or problem-solving process
1. identify the problem.
In business and customer service, define the problem to ensure it is well-understood and addressed correctly. It's an absolute must among effective problem solvers, in unusual situations and in the most common customer service problems .
Gathering information from multiple sources and using problem-solving tools such as flowcharts or cause-and-effect diagrams can help identify the underlying causes of the problem. This will result in saving time and resources and improving the outcomes.
Identifying difficulties is among the most desirable problem-solving skills, especially in corporate structures with complex hierarchies and dependencies.
2. Understand the problem
The next step is to understand the underlying reasons for the problem. To do that, you need to gather relevant information and analyze it effectively. Avoiding these reasons or addressing them incorrectly is a surefire way to experience recurring issues and increased dissatisfaction.
By understanding the reasons, you can develop long-term solutions that improve customer satisfaction and lead to overall success. Understanding and finding the cause is undoubtedly one of the underrated problem-solving skills.
3. Identify potential solutions
One of the most crucial aspects is identifying potential and practical solutions. How can you explore different options to come up with the best?
Brainstorming techniques can help generate creative and innovative business and customer service solutions. For example, a company may use brainstorming sessions to develop new product ideas or marketing strategies.
Customer service teams can also use brainstorming techniques to solve common customer complaints, such as long wait times or difficult-to-use interfaces. If you are looking for improvements, especially in this area, you will undoubtedly be interested in essential customer service skills .
Let's assume that you want to use proven brainstorming techniques.
Brainstorming techniques to consider
- Mind mapping: A visual brainstorming technique that involves mapping out ideas and connecting them to related concepts. This technique helps individuals and teams explore all possible options and consider different perspectives to develop unique solutions.
- Reverse brainstorming: A technique that involves thinking of solutions that would make the problem worse instead of better. This technique helps individuals and teams identify potential obstacles and develop strategies to avoid them.
- SWOT analysis: A structured brainstorming technique that analyzes an organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This technique helps individuals and teams identify areas for improvement and develop strategies to capitalize on opportunities and minimize hazards.
- Random word association: A technique that involves brainstorming ideas by randomly associating words with the problem. This technique helps individuals and teams break their usual thinking patterns and generate new and creative ideas.
- Role-playing: A technique that involves acting out different scenarios and perspectives related to the problem. This technique helps individuals and teams better understand the problem and develop empathy for the customer or stakeholders involved.
Unconventional techniques to consider
- SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse) - This technique encourages people to think outside the box and consider unconventional ways to approach a problem.
- Design thinking - This problem-solving approach puts the customer's needs and experiences at the forefront. It involves empathizing with the customer, defining the problem, ideating potential solutions, prototyping, and testing to refine the solution.
- Lateral thinking - This problem-solving technique encourages people to approach problems from different angles and perspectives. It involves breaking down assumptions and challenging traditional thinking methods to arrive at unexpected solutions.
Consider all possible options, including unconventional ones, to find problem-solving techniques that address the current problem and prevent similar issues in the future.
4. Evaluate potential solutions
Once you have identified potential solutions, focus on the most feasible, impactful, and effective option. How do you sift through them?
Evaluating potential solutions involves analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, considering the resources required, and assessing the potential impact on the organization or customers.
What are the most popular ways? Techniques such as cost-benefit analysis, risk analysis, and decision matrix can effectively help evaluate possible solutions.
5. Select the best solution
Techniques for selecting the best solution involve revisiting the evaluation criteria, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and selecting the option that best meets the requirements.
Additionally, you can seek customer feedback. Stakeholders can provide valuable insights into choosing the best solution to solve problems.
By choosing the best solution that aligns with the organization's goals, meets the customers' needs, and can be implemented using the available resources, you can address problems effectively and efficiently, leading to improved outcomes.
This translates into achieving organizational goals, meeting customer needs, enhancing customer satisfaction, increasing productivity, reducing costs, improving efficiency, effective communication, and more.
6. Develop an action plan
Techniques for developing an action plan involve breaking down the solution into manageable tasks, setting clear timelines, assigning responsibilities, and identifying the resources required for implementation. Also, involve stakeholders in the action plan's development to get their support for the solution's success.
7. Implement the solution
After developing a detailed action plan, communicate it clearly and implement the solution effectively. This is likely one of the most desirable problem-solving skills.
To do so, allocate resources, assign responsibilities, and ensure all stakeholders understand their roles. Additionally, monitoring progress and addressing any issues that appear during the implementation can ensure the solution is implemented successfully.
8. Monitor and evaluate progress
Collecting and analyzing data is vital to assess the solution's effectiveness and determine if any adjustments are needed. This process involves regularly tracking key performance indicators and using customer and stakeholder feedback.
The latter offers valuable insights that help pinpoint opportunities for enhancement and make informed decisions.
By monitoring progress and evaluating results, individuals and organizations can ensure the implemented solution is efficient and sustainable over the long term.
This step also provides an opportunity to learn from experience and adjust as needed to achieve continuous improvement.
9. Learn from experience
The knowledge gathered throughout the process is key to learning from mistakes. It's also vital to reflect on the problem-solving process and identify what worked well and could be improved.
By analyzing the process, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing changes, you ensure that future problem-solving efforts are more effective.
Documenting the problem-solving process can also provide a reference for future efforts that individuals and organizations will face.
10. Standardize and sustain
If you've already collected the champagne corks and are sweeping up the last bits of confetti, it's worth remembering one last step.
To ensure that the problem does not reoccur and that the solution becomes standard practice for the organization, establish a standardized approach and maintain it over the long term.
The organization should document a working solution and create a standard operating procedure (SOP) outlining the necessary steps to establish the action key.
By doing so, every organization member will have a clear understanding of the required steps and how to execute them.
To sustain the solution, the organization should continue to monitor progress and evaluate results over time. This helps identify potential issues or areas for improvement and ensures that the solution remains effective over the long term.
In the ideal scenario, the organization should also provide ongoing training and support to ensure everyone is well-equipped with the problem-solving skills and knowledge to implement "the cure."
Practical problem-solving is an ongoing continuous improvement process, and remember that the problem may reoccur in the future.
Don’t strive for the perfect solution from the start, and embrace the issues that come along the way since they provide valuable learning opportunities.
Instead, maintain an attitude of perseverance and focus on finding solutions to new challenges as they arise, which can help you save time and reduce stress.
By adopting this mindset, you'll be better equipped to tackle any problem that comes your way. Good luck with your problem-solving endeavors!
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Fix it - 10 steps to more effective problem-solving.
Principal and Founder, Gagnon Associates
We've spoken elsewhere on The Blog of the importance of carefully planning any meeting or team work-session to make sure it achieves its intended results. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than when you're problem-solving. If it's true, as has been said, that the essence of running a business is "getting up every day and solving today's problem," then effective problem-solving goes to the heart of every successful enterprise.
Yet, too often in our experience, the process of clearly defining a problem, taking it apart, investigating causes and identifying effective solutions is a "make-it-up-as-you-go" exercise. And , the process of planning the implementation of those solutions and making sure they actually happen is often sketchier still.
There's no reason why such an important business activity can't be more rigorous and effective every time you confront a problem you need to solve in your business. And the following ten-step process can help you make it that way:
Step One: Ensure Clarity and Understanding of the Problem As the old saying goes, "a problem well-defined is 75 percent solved." At the outset, then, don't make the mistake of "assuming" everyone understands the problem the same way. Instead, before doing anything else, work out, together, an agreed-upon, written definition of the problem. For instance: "We need to reduce our overall corporate spend by at least 20 percent." Or "We are taking too long to replace a customer's lost/stolen debit card; we need to do it in half the time it takes us now."
Step Two: Take the Problem Apart Complex problems are always multi-faceted, comprising many parts, elements or causes. Spend careful time identifying those and listing them. For instance, for the "corporate spend" problem different aspects might be the money spent on new computer systems, expensive sales meetings, telephone charges, consulting projects, entertaining customers, etc. In the debit card issue, there are all the different steps or phases in the card-replacement process; who does them and how; forms to be filled out at each step; the role of the outside vendor who produces the actual plastic cards, etc.
Step Three: Categorize Problem Elements Here you want to cluster all the elements of the problem you've identified into categories so that you can better see the problem's different dimensions. Sometimes generic categories will do, such as "People," "Policies," "Procedures" and "Systems. Other times, as with the "spend" problem above, the elements might cluster under categories such as "professional services," or "travel and entertainment," "capital expenditures," etc.
Step Four: Identify the Top Priority Categories Following the old "80/20" rule that says that eighty percent of a problem is the result of 20 percent of the factors involved, allow team members to "vote" for the category or categories that they believe contribute most to the overall problem. Staying with the "spend" example, for instance, this might reveal that expenditures for "professional services" or "travel and entertainment" represent the greatest opportunity to reduce overall costs.
Step Five: Analyze the Problem Now that you've identified the categories or dimensions that you think contribute most to the problem, it's time to look deeper within these areas. You want to understand possible causes that will then suggest effective solutions. So, for instance, in the case of the debit card problem, we find that "inconsistent procedures" contribute to slowing the card-replacement process. Looking deeper reveals that inconsistent "customer-data forms" result in inaccurate information that must be reconciled, then reworked, causing significant process delay.
Step Six: Identify Solutions If you've done your work well up to this point, your solutions will sometimes be quite obvious. For example, in the debit card case, if inconsistent data forms are causing rework and delay, the obvious solution is to revise all data forms to a consistent standard to eliminate inconsistencies and speed up the process. Selecting the right solutions will not always be this easy, however. Hence, Step Seven.
Step Seven: Priortize for "Payoff" We often use a 2x2 chart called a "payoff matrix" at this stage. For each possible solution idea, it allows you to compare "ease of implementation" (hi/lo) against "impact on the problem" (hi/lo) as a way of ensuring that you pick solutions most likely to solve the problem with the least amount of effort and resources.
Step Eight: Plan Solution Implementation At this stage it is absolutely critical to identify the specific, concrete, actionable steps required to implement each one of your chosen solutions. These should be listed in the sequence in which you'll execute them. So, for the debit card problem, for example: "1) Collect all customer data forms, 2) Review for accuracy and consistency, 3) Revise inconsistencies, etc., etc." Step Nine: Identify Responsible Individuals To ensure that problems actually get fixed you must create what we call an "accountability structure." The first step is identifying the individuals who will actually implement the fixes. You should identify an "owner" for each complete solution and its associated "action plan." And, in addition, each action step of the "action plan" should be accompanied by the name of the individual who will execute that specific step .
Step Ten: Define an Implementation Time-Table Each step of your "action plan" should be accompanied by a "delivery date," that is, the date by which that step will be completed by the person responsible. Together these dates comprise your implementation schedule and provide you with a concrete tool by which to effectively manage the execution of the "fix" to that particular problem.
Steps one through seven above will help you to conceptually solve problems more effectively in your work teams. But as any good business person knows, conceptual fixes don't get the job done. For that, you need effective execution in the real world. And since we believe in the old saw "you can ex pect what you in spect," Steps eight through ten provide you with a framework to ensure that real-world fixes get implemented accountably, effectively and on time.
Taken together, these ten steps provide an approach that has become a "best-practice" for us in working with our clients' work teams. We urge you to try it. We're confident it will work for you, too!
Ray Gagnon is Principal and founder of Gagnon Associates , a management consulting firm located in Metro-West Boston, Massachusetts, USA, with a long-standing practice in GE Work-Out , Business Process Improvement , and other methodologies requiring effective teaming and problem-solving.
Ray Gagnon, Contributor
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Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills – Steps, Processes & Technique
When you are faced with a problem, how do you go about solving it? Do you let it overwhelm you, or do you flex your problem-solving muscles and figure out the best possible solution?
People who allow themselves to be overwhelmed or ignore complex problems often become frantic and confused. They usually take a haphazard approach to thinking, and then they are dismayed when they find themselves floundering and making no progress.
Luckily, there is a much better way.
I’d like to introduce you to a problem-solving process that can help you face and tackle any type of challenge. With these 10 problem-solving strategies, you will strengthen your ability to always find a solution while enabling yourself to see real progress.
Once you begin to execute these problem-solving techniques, you will feel confident to face a problem right away.
What Are Problem-Solving Skills?
Problem-solving skills involve identifying a problem, coming up with possible solutions, choosing an appropriate solution, and then implementing it.
Often, there is more than one correct solution to a problem. But frequently, you are looking for the best solution that applies to your particular circumstance.
For instance, possible solutions to losing weight include eating less, adding healthier foods to your diet, walking 30 minutes a day, swimming three times a week, training for a 5K race, drinking more water, and many other effective solutions.
Your job is to find the solution that will work best for you and give you the most success.
Good problem-solving skills are essential in all areas of your life because we encounter problems to solve in one form or another nearly every day, from small things like getting stuck in traffic to major events like being diagnosed with a chronic illness.
A problem can be defined in one of two ways:
“Any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty; a question proposed for solution or discussion.”
The Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning explains that a problem:
“…is generally considered to be a task, a situation, or person which is difficult to deal with or control due to complexity and transparency. In everyday language, a problem is a question proposed for a solution, a matter stated for examination or proof.”
In short, a problem is something that’s hard to deal with and needs to be solved.
Examples of common problems in the workplace might include:
- Lack of motivation or boredom
- Conflict with a boss or coworkers
- Performance issues
- Burnout or stress
- Bad working conditions
Or maybe you’re dealing with problems in your personal life. For example:
- A strained marriage or divorce
- Financial worries
- Health issues
- Grief over the death of loved ones
- Issues your children are experiencing
- A decision to move, change jobs, or get an education
No matter what you’re facing, it’s important to actively cultivate your creative thinking and learn problem-solving techniques.
When you’re able to solve problems effectively, you will enjoy greater satisfaction in life. Your relational skills will improve, and your problem-solving abilities will make you highly valuable in the workplace.
The Importance of Solving Problems
We solve problems daily in all aspects of life. People who are good problem solvers are more likely to be successful in getting around obstacles and achieving their desired end result.
What’s more, solving complex problems doesn’t only help change your external circumstances. You’ll also feel happier and more confident in yourself, knowing you can solve future problems.
Problem-solving allows you to:
- Fix things that are broken
- Address risk
- Improve performance
- Seize opportunity
- Lower stress and anxiety
- Prevent more serious consequences
Having a problem-solving strategy will make you more attractive to hiring managers. In many cases, you might be asked in a job interview about your problem-solving skills.
It’s smart to think of an example ahead of time–a problem that came up at your last job and how you solved it–so you’ll be prepared. You can also mention the soft skills listed above:
“My communication skills, flexibility, and ability to think outside the box help me deal with problems in a timely manner.”
The more you practice effective problem-solving techniques, the better you will get at solving problems and the more reliable and trustworthy you will become in your field as well as in your personal life.
Understanding the Problem-Solving Process
When you’re setting out to solve a problem, what should you do first?
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to problem-solving, there is a general framework that you can use to help solve problems.
The problem-solving process is often broken down into seven steps:
- Identify the issue and its root cause
- Understand every angle of the problem
- List possible solutions
- Evaluate the options
- Choose an option
- Evaluate the results
I’ll explain this process and each of these steps, plus a few bonus steps. I’ll also share some further problem-solving strategies so you are well-equipped with solution-finding techniques that you can apply to various situations.
The important thing to understand now, though, is that you can use a structured process to improve problem-solving skills. You don’t have to shoot in the dark–simply follow the steps listed in this process.
What kind of skills should you cultivate to become a better problem-solver?
You can also work on things like your communication skills, analytical skills, and other key skills in life that will make you a better problem solver. These soft skills go hand in hand with being able to come up with solutions quickly.
Focus on the following:
This is a method of free-thinking used to generate ideas that involve thinking of a long list of possible solutions without making an initial judgment about how effective they might be. You can brainstorm with a group of people or on your own.
Collecting information related to the issue is a vital problem-solving tool as the more information you have about the root cause and contributing factors to a problem, the easier it will be to find solutions that work. Fact-finding can come from interviewing people involved, researching related problems, reading documents, analyzing data, and more.
When you’re a creative thinker, you’re able to look at a complex problem or an everyday problem and think of unique, original solutions. Your ability to come up with creative solutions will make you more marketable as well as more successful in meeting complex problems head-on.
Having communication skills is essential to work with others to solve problems. You need to not only be able to express your thoughts clearly and concisely without causing offense or contention, but you also need to be able to listen to others as they express their views until everyone is on the same page.
Like communication skills, teamwork involves being able to work collectively with others to apply problem-solving strategies. Often, two heads are better than one, and the wisdom you gain from collective intelligence will make identifying underlying causes and finding solutions much easier.
Analyzing involves being able to break up a complex problem into smaller parts so you can examine and evaluate it to understand the problem better.
You may find the root cause of the problem as well as contributing factors. Ill-defined problems are difficult to solve, so it is important to be able to apply problem analysis to any issue you are dealing with.
Time-management skills help you avoid procrastination and spending time on unnecessary tasks.
You can develop good time management skills by setting goals, making daily to-do lists, prioritizing your tasks, and reducing or eliminating distractions.
Troubleshooting is applying a step-by-step process to find the cause of a problem and then working your way to different solutions.
Common, well-defined problems, such as those that occur in the computer science field or automotive industry, may have a preset list of troubleshooting steps to follow.
Other problems will require you to develop a troubleshooting process as you go. Troubleshooting skills make you a valuable asset to any team.
When you take initiative, you do not wait for others to tell you what to do. You see a need and seek to fill that need. Often, by taking initiative, you can address an issue before a problem occurs.
One example in the workplace would be to sign up for training that will keep you up to date on the newest developments in your industry.
Being flexible is an important tool you will use to solve problems. It’s an essential skill in all aspects of your life. When you are too rigid, you often are not able to see creative solutions and different strategies that can help make your life easier.
There is often more than one good way to solve the same problem, and being open-minded will help you move from your existing beliefs to other effective ways of solving problems.
I know this is a long list, but you don’t have to do everything at once.
Even more, chances are you’ve already picked up some of these skills in your daily life without even realizing it. Keeping these skills in mind as you practice solving problems will help you become better at not only solution-finding but at everything you do.
10 Steps to Solving a Problem
In this 10-step problem-solving process, I’ll walk you through how to identify and implement the right solution to the problem at hand. In learning these steps, you will develop your critical thinking and elevate your problem-solving skills.
1. Take a Positive Approach
When a problem arises, it’s easy to enter panic mode or envision worst-case scenarios. Before you let your mind go there, take a step back and address every problem as simply another situation.
It is a challenge that you can handle, with the right approach. Part of that approach is thinking positively and creatively about the situation.
When figuring out ways to use creative thinking for problem-solving, I like to explore how geniuses solve challenges . They think outside the box, keep an open mind, and take a systematic approach.
It all starts with thinking positively about the problem.
One problem-solving strategy I like to use is to think of it as a situation, not a problem.
Problems are a fact of life; you can’t control when or how they occur, but you can control your attitude. The more positive your language and mental process are, the more confident and optimistic you will be when approaching any complication.
How can you develop a more positive outlook on life? This mindset shift can take some time.
You can’t snap your fingers and instantly become a more positive person overnight. However, there are actionable steps you can take to be more positive.
Start by focusing on the good things in your life. Yes, you have problems, but you have good things too. If you’re struggling to come up with anything that makes you smile, consider keeping a gratitude journal where you make an entry every day.
I also recommend positive affirmations and self-talk. Repeat phrases to yourself such as “There are good things in my life,” “I can come up with creative solutions,” or “I have good problem-solving skills.”
And of course, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are equally as positive and upbeat as you’re trying to be. The same applies to all aspects of your life. Read positive books, articles, and social media posts. Listen to uplifting music, and watch videos and movies that leave you feeling positive and optimistic.
Remember that every problem comes with a solution already custom-made for it. You just need to find it, and you can by maintaining a calm, positive attitude and steadily progressing through the different stages of the problem-solving process.
2. Define The Problem
Problem identification is a vital step in problem-solving processes so that you know exactly what you are dealing with. What might seem to be the root cause of your situation may be something entirely different.
Also, defining the problem will help you gather data, analyze the issues surrounding it, and find a potential solution.
What exactly is the challenge you are facing? What about this particular situation is causing you stress and anxiety? You must clearly define the problem to resolve it.
Not only should you clarify what the problem is, but you should also see what caused the problem. If you can’t conclude the cause of the problem, you may need to meet with other parties involved to determine the root before moving forward.
Sometimes a clear root cause cannot be determined, or there may be several factors that are causing the problem. In these cases, you can still move forward in finding solutions by defining what is currently hard to deal with and what needs to be changed or solved.
If you are working with a group, it’s important to write and rewrite the problem until everyone agrees that the problem is clearly and correctly defined. Each person will bring a unique perspective that will help clarify what the situation is.
Identify important details that define that problem, and weed out information that is extraneous or useless so that it doesn’t distract you from your ability to solve it or waste your time.
It can help to ask the following questions:
- Who is involved in the problem?
- What exactly is happening that is preventing forward progress?
- When did the problem occur and how often?
- Why is the problem happening?
- How is it affecting workflow or people?
Write out the problem so that it is easy for you and everyone else to see exactly what it is. It may help to draw a picture, diagram, or graph to fully visualize the problem.
When the issue is clearly defined, the solution may be obvious. But you may never find the solution at all if the problem isn’t defined.
3. Use Creative Thinking
As I mentioned in the first step, geniuses solve issues with out-of-the-box thinking. So you need to see the problem from every angle before you begin moving down solution paths.
You should think: Are there other problems that are affecting this obstacle? If so, you need to address it first.
It can be easy to have tunnel vision when you’re problem-solving, but there are usually multiple things at play with any dilemma. Zoom out from the situation at hand and see all contributing factors to the issue and listen to everyone’s point of view.
Meeting with others who may be involved in the process can offer you more brainpower to shed light on the problem. That’s why teamwork is so important. You can work together to look at what the issue is affecting, what is affecting it, and how to solve it.
It might feel as if you can work faster on your own. But when you collaborate with others, you’ll be able to come up with higher-quality solutions.
In fact, statistics show that 86% of employees and executives say lack of collaboration or ineffective communication causes workplace failures.
Don’t be afraid to sit down with people involved in the problem to work things out. People outside the problem can also offer a valuable third-party opinion. Their advice and ideas may actually be more helpful because they don’t have a personal stake in the issue.
When discussing the problem with others, replace “No, but” with “Yes, and.” For example, if someone says, “I think part of the problem stems from a lack of communication within the team.” Respond with, “Yes, and it can also come from people arriving late to meetings.”
This approach validates what the other person is saying so that all input is accepted as valuable and ideas are not negated. It also gives you an equal opportunity to add your ideas and input.
Think creatively by looking outside of your industry or situation for solutions. While it is helpful to analyze how others within your field or circumstances have solved a similar problem, you might find helpful insight in looking at how companies or individuals in other walks of life that have seemingly non-matching characteristics have approached related problems.
Ask “what if” questions. This can often help you think outside the box when solving problems creatively. As you look at potential solutions, ask,
“What assumptions can we get rid of?”
“What can we add beyond the expected solutions?” and similar questions to take a broader view of the problem and possible solutions.
State the opposite of the problem to get a different perspective on it. For example, instead of asking, “How can we encourage our existing customers to buy more products?” ask, “How can we discourage our existing customers from buying more products.” This process can lead to surprisingly effective solutions.
4. Brainstorm Possible Solutions
Part of addressing the situation from different directions is to come up with not just one but several solutions. There are likely to be multiple solutions to any single problem.
The first conclusion that comes to mind may not be the best one, but the more you focus, the more solutions you will find. That’s why brainstorming all possible resolutions is an essential step to problem-solving .
If you’re brainstorming together with a group of others, make sure to define a clear goal for the brainstorming session before you begin. Allow people time before the meeting to reflect on the problem. This will allow them to come prepared with ideas.
Throughout the session, record any suggestions that come up. You can write them on a physical whiteboard so that everyone can see them, or simply jot them down in a digital folder. Share these notes with attendees post-meeting and assign any follow-up tasks.
Reserve judgment until after your brainstorming session is complete. Some ideas may seem ridiculous or impractical, but say them and record them anyway. The goal is to move beyond existing ideas and look at the problem and possible solutions from every angle. Sometimes, an idea that seems far-flung can begin a conversation and flow of ideas that lead to the best solution.
Defining your end goal will help inspire unique ways you can get there. It can also help to pose the problem as a question and come up with conclusions to that question. Use the examples offered earlier of who, what, when, where, and how questions to get you started.
5. Find The Best Solution
Now, not all possible solutions you outlined will be a good fit. You should be able to narrow down each method and see which is the most effective for your issue.
After brainstorming all potential solutions, ask yourself, “What solution will likely produce the best outcome?”
Do this by comparing each of the results with the one you believe to be the most ideal. Which one is the best under the current circumstances? What will successfully solve the problem? Which one will lead to a better outcome in the future? What will prevent further problems? Is there more than one solution that we should apply for the best results?
It might take some time to work through each of your potential solutions. Some will quickly weed themselves out. In other cases, though, don’t be afraid to spend some time thinking about how a given solution would work.
Identify the pros and cons or benefits and costs of each solution to help you determine which one or more is best.
After looking in-depth at the various approaches, decide on the best solution for the situation.
6. Expect the Best and Prepare for the Worst
Before you jump at the chance to solve your problem with the best-fit solution, consider the repercussions of the solution.
Now is the time to jump to worst-case scenarios. What will happen if the solution fails? Knowing the answer to this will allow you to prepare if it doesn’t resolve your dilemma.
Even if at first you don’t succeed, you will learn something in the end. Don’t take it as a failure but as a learning opportunity.
Accept that it didn’t work and try something new. Determine what didn’t work and why to come up with additional possible strategies. Thankfully, you already have a list of alternative solutions that can help you find the right one.
Preparing for the worst is not about thinking negatively. Remember, the power of positive thinking will allow you to uncover more solutions. If you can train your mind to think this way, the more solution-oriented you will become.
Instead, thinking through worst-case scenarios is simply being realistic. This allows you to create a Plan B.
If one solution doesn’t work, which solution will you try next? Come up with a backup plan. You might move on to the next solution on your shortlist, or you might tweak things and continue working with your #1 idea.
Preparing for the worst allows you to end up with the best possible solution.
7. Set a Deadline
The next of my 10 problem-solving strategies is to create a timeframe for your solution. Determine:
- When to implement the solution
- How long it will take to complete
- When you expect to see results
What actions are necessary to meet this deadline, and who will be accomplishing it? List out the tasks needed and assign each one to an appropriate person.
It’s important to not only set a deadline, but also place standards on how you will measure its success. How will you know that you’re making progress, or in other words, what will be your key performance indicators (KPIs)? How will you compare the success of this solution against the success of another?
Determine what key performance indicators will allow you to measure the success of your outcomes and set a series of short-term deadlines to report. Clearly communicate these benchmarks with everyone involved.
Make sure people understand how you’re choosing to measure success so they can be successful by your standards.
8. Take Responsibility
Now that you’ve found the solution to the problem that you want to implement, consider how it will impact the situation if it works or if it doesn’t.
If your outcome doesn’t work, that’s okay, but it is your job to accept responsibility. Be ready to admit any mistakes and continue working to make things right.
Some of the most creative ideas never transpire because no one is assigned the authority to carry out the decision.
Taking responsibility for your decision doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be the one to implement it. There may be various people involved in the problem and different jobs required to accomplish the solution.
By taking responsibility for the decision you make, you’ll ensure that everyone involved knows what job they need to do, when they need to do it, and how the successful or unsuccessful completion of that job is defined.
9. Solve the Problem
Now, it’s finally time to take action.
Execute your solution so you can reach your defined goals and learn what works best. Continue communicating with everyone on board as you all work together to solve the problem.
However, not every problem will be solved easily.
You may encounter additional obstacles as you attempt to solve the initial problem. You can overcome any drawback by tapping into your creative mind and taking action consistently and persistently until you reach your goal.
As you work hard, you can develop your capacity to achieve more in the future. Every time you successfully solve a problem, you are developing your analytical skills, communication skills, and problem-solving abilities. You’re also increasing your confidence.
Next time you need to solve a problem, you can look back on the successful jobs you’ve done before.
10. Track Your Results
The final step of my problem-solving process is to track the results. Using the deadlines, KPIs, and scheduled reports you set in step seven will let you know immediately if you’re on track or falling behind.
When you reach your deadline, ask yourself if you met the goals you set out to achieve.
What worked and what didn’t work? Did you solve the problem? Did you solve it with the approach and timeframe you expected?
Answering these questions will allow you to understand if you need to take further action and help you improve your problem-solving methods for the future.
The best way to learn to problem solve is to simply do it. Jump in with both feet and start coming up with potential solutions to issues that need fixing. Over time, you’ll learn about problem-solving without even realizing it.
However, in addition to learning “on the job,” you can also take courses to help boost your skills.
Studying subjects like project management or data analysis is a good way to help you succeed in identifying problems, thinking of better solutions, and leading others with good communication as you work together to put your solutions in place.
Bonus: Further Problem-Solving Strategies
More good news: The process outlined above isn’t the only way to solve complex problems. In fact, there are many strategies you can implement for solving a problem.
Here are summaries of a few more problem-solving methods that you can learn more about:
The IDEAL process of solving a problem can help you look at situations objectively and remove the emotional aspects that can arise when a problem occurs. It works especially well for problems that may not seem to have a clear cause or may need more than one solution. The steps involve:
- Identifying the problem
- Defining what the problem is and the desired outcome
- Exploring possible solutions
- Acting on a solution
- Looking back to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis is actually a set of various problem-solving processes that aim to identify the main cause of a problem so that you can find appropriate solutions. The purpose of root cause analysis is to get to the root of a problem and prevent further difficulties instead of treating the symptoms of a problem.
At the same time, this approach to solving complex problems recognizes that there is value in treating symptoms for short-term relief while the larger problem-finding process is going on.
It also assumes that there can be more than one root cause and focuses on how and why a problem occurs instead of who causes it.
This method provides a structured approach to solving a complex problem, especially those that do not have a clear solution. Simplex problem-solving involves eight steps:
- Problem finding: Identifying what the problem is
- Fact-finding: Collecting information and data about the problem
- Problem definition: Clearly define the complex problem so you know what you are solving
- Idea finding: Generating possible solutions to the problem
- Evaluation and Selection: Choosing the solution that seems to like it will best address the complex problem
- Planning: Deciding how you will implement the solution
- Sell the idea: Get stakeholders on board with implementing the solution
- Action: Carrying out the solution
Appreciative inquiry looks at a problem from a different angle, or not at all. It focuses on what is going right instead of what is going wrong. It is often best applied when a change is needed within an organization or individual. This approach leans heavily on cognitive science and positive thinking.
It involves five steps:
- Define the desired outcome
- Discover what our strengths are
- Dream of what would work well in the future
- Design a plan to make it happen
- Deploy the action
Six Thinking Hats
This approach to solving a complex problem focuses on approaching solutions in a balanced way. Using the six thinking hats approach, you will ask yourself a series of questions based on six principles or divide your team into six different groups:
- The white hat will focus on facts and logic (objective)
- The red hat will focus on emotion and instinct (intuitive)
- The black hat will focus on predicting negative outcomes (cautious)
- The yellow hat will look for positive outcomes (optimistic)
- The green hat will focus on reducing criticism and increasing ideas (creative)
- The blue hat will focus on management and organization (control)
The 5 whys is an example of a root cause analysis tool. The purpose of using this problem-solving technique is to find the exact reason a problem is occurring by asking a series of “why” questions. After asking why five times, the cause of the problem and its accompanying solution should be clear.
Start Implementing Solutions to Problems Today
You don’t need to feel overwhelmed and confused when a problem arises anymore. Stress and unhappiness are simply byproducts of how you respond to those situations. Instead, you can look at each problem or difficulty by asking, “What is the opportunity in this?”
When you enhance your problem-solving skills, you will experience determination and a sense of calmness when the next difficult situation arises.
While you may not know how to resolve most issues right away, you will know the problem-solving steps to take to uncover the best response: Define the problem, determine the cause, discover the best problem-solving technique, take action, and analyze the outcome.
Follow this process over and over again and you will creatively solve your problems. After all, an effective way to solve problems is a skill that you can develop with practice.
To help you enhance your success, download my free SMART Goals Template . This resource is a good fit for someone who wants to achieve their goals and optimize their success. I walk you through how to set goals and plan ahead the right way. As you advance your problem-solving skills, you will experience more success in your daily life—for big-picture items and small ones alike.
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About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter , Facebook , Pinterest , Linkedin and Youtube .
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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head
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What is an example of problem-solving?
What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.
Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge.
Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem .
Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.
Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.
To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high.
Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one.
Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions.
This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.
They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.
The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.
Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving.
Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.
1. Identify the problem
The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem.
The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions.
Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .
2. Break the problem down
Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it.
First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.
3. Generate potential solutions
At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible.
Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.
Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.
4. Evaluate the possible solutions
Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist.
There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will my team be on board with the proposition?
- Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
- Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
- Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
- Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?
5. Implement and monitor the solutions
Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it.
But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem.
Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.
If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.
There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems.
The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.
Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:
- Use a solution that worked before
- Work backward
- Use the Kipling method
- Draw the problem
- Use trial and error
- Sleep on it
- Get advice from your peers
- Use the Pareto principle
- Add successful solutions to your toolkit
Let’s break each of these down.
1. Use a solution that worked before
It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.
The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.
Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.
3. Work backward
Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.
Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.
4. Use the Kipling method
This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .”
- What is the problem?
- Why is the problem important?
- When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
- How did the problem happen?
- Where is the problem occurring?
- Who does the problem affect?
Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.
5. Draw the problem
Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.
This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.
6. Use trial-and-error
A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.
7. Sleep on it
Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.
A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level.
If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.
8. Get advice from your peers
Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own.
For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group.
For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .
It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone.
9. Use the Pareto principle
The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.
Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales.
You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.
10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit
Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit.
These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.
Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:
- Critical thinking and analytical skills
- Communication skills , including active listening
- Planning and prioritization
- Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
- Time management
- Data analysis
- Research skills
- Project management
And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.
Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.
1. Build your problem-solving skills
One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .
Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life.
Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.
3. Don’t try to find a solution right away
Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.
Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking.
4. Ask for feedback
Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve.
5. Learn new approaches and methodologies
There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject.
We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman.
Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches.
Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.
7. Analyze the success of your competitors
Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem.
For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster.
But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007.
If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.
Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business
When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution.
Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.
Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.
If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.
Shonna Waters, PhD
Vice President of Executive Advisory
8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems
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