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

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

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

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

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

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

Defining the Problem

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

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

Generating Solutions

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

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

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

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

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

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

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

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

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

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

Problem-Solving Techniques

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

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

Brainstorming

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

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

When brainstorming, remember to:

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

Root Cause Analysis

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

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

SWOT Analysis

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

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

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

Mind Mapping

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

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

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

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

Which HBS Online Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course is Right for You? | Download Your Free Flowchart

Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

normal process of problem solving

About the Author

7.3 Problem-Solving

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe problem solving strategies
  • Define algorithm and heuristic
  • Explain some common roadblocks to effective problem solving

   People face problems every day—usually, multiple problems throughout the day. Sometimes these problems are straightforward: To double a recipe for pizza dough, for example, all that is required is that each ingredient in the recipe be doubled. Sometimes, however, the problems we encounter are more complex. For example, say you have a work deadline, and you must mail a printed copy of a report to your supervisor by the end of the business day. The report is time-sensitive and must be sent overnight. You finished the report last night, but your printer will not work today. What should you do? First, you need to identify the problem and then apply a strategy for solving the problem.

The study of human and animal problem solving processes has provided much insight toward the understanding of our conscious experience and led to advancements in computer science and artificial intelligence. Essentially much of cognitive science today represents studies of how we consciously and unconsciously make decisions and solve problems. For instance, when encountered with a large amount of information, how do we go about making decisions about the most efficient way of sorting and analyzing all the information in order to find what you are looking for as in visual search paradigms in cognitive psychology. Or in a situation where a piece of machinery is not working properly, how do we go about organizing how to address the issue and understand what the cause of the problem might be. How do we sort the procedures that will be needed and focus attention on what is important in order to solve problems efficiently. Within this section we will discuss some of these issues and examine processes related to human, animal and computer problem solving.

PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

   When people are presented with a problem—whether it is a complex mathematical problem or a broken printer, how do you solve it? Before finding a solution to the problem, the problem must first be clearly identified. After that, one of many problem solving strategies can be applied, hopefully resulting in a solution.

Problems themselves can be classified into two different categories known as ill-defined and well-defined problems (Schacter, 2009). Ill-defined problems represent issues that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solutions whereas well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solutions, and clear expected solutions. Problem solving often incorporates pragmatics (logical reasoning) and semantics (interpretation of meanings behind the problem), and also in many cases require abstract thinking and creativity in order to find novel solutions. Within psychology, problem solving refers to a motivational drive for reading a definite “goal” from a present situation or condition that is either not moving toward that goal, is distant from it, or requires more complex logical analysis for finding a missing description of conditions or steps toward that goal. Processes relating to problem solving include problem finding also known as problem analysis, problem shaping where the organization of the problem occurs, generating alternative strategies, implementation of attempted solutions, and verification of the selected solution. Various methods of studying problem solving exist within the field of psychology including introspection, behavior analysis and behaviorism, simulation, computer modeling, and experimentation.

A problem-solving strategy is a plan of action used to find a solution. Different strategies have different action plans associated with them (table below). For example, a well-known strategy is trial and error. The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” describes trial and error. In terms of your broken printer, you could try checking the ink levels, and if that doesn’t work, you could check to make sure the paper tray isn’t jammed. Or maybe the printer isn’t actually connected to your laptop. When using trial and error, you would continue to try different solutions until you solved your problem. Although trial and error is not typically one of the most time-efficient strategies, it is a commonly used one.

   Another type of strategy is an algorithm. An algorithm is a problem-solving formula that provides you with step-by-step instructions used to achieve a desired outcome (Kahneman, 2011). You can think of an algorithm as a recipe with highly detailed instructions that produce the same result every time they are performed. Algorithms are used frequently in our everyday lives, especially in computer science. When you run a search on the Internet, search engines like Google use algorithms to decide which entries will appear first in your list of results. Facebook also uses algorithms to decide which posts to display on your newsfeed. Can you identify other situations in which algorithms are used?

A heuristic is another type of problem solving strategy. While an algorithm must be followed exactly to produce a correct result, a heuristic is a general problem-solving framework (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). You can think of these as mental shortcuts that are used to solve problems. A “rule of thumb” is an example of a heuristic. Such a rule saves the person time and energy when making a decision, but despite its time-saving characteristics, it is not always the best method for making a rational decision. Different types of heuristics are used in different types of situations, but the impulse to use a heuristic occurs when one of five conditions is met (Pratkanis, 1989):

  • When one is faced with too much information
  • When the time to make a decision is limited
  • When the decision to be made is unimportant
  • When there is access to very little information to use in making the decision
  • When an appropriate heuristic happens to come to mind in the same moment

Working backwards is a useful heuristic in which you begin solving the problem by focusing on the end result. Consider this example: You live in Washington, D.C. and have been invited to a wedding at 4 PM on Saturday in Philadelphia. Knowing that Interstate 95 tends to back up any day of the week, you need to plan your route and time your departure accordingly. If you want to be at the wedding service by 3:30 PM, and it takes 2.5 hours to get to Philadelphia without traffic, what time should you leave your house? You use the working backwards heuristic to plan the events of your day on a regular basis, probably without even thinking about it.

Another useful heuristic is the practice of accomplishing a large goal or task by breaking it into a series of smaller steps. Students often use this common method to complete a large research project or long essay for school. For example, students typically brainstorm, develop a thesis or main topic, research the chosen topic, organize their information into an outline, write a rough draft, revise and edit the rough draft, develop a final draft, organize the references list, and proofread their work before turning in the project. The large task becomes less overwhelming when it is broken down into a series of small steps.

Further problem solving strategies have been identified (listed below) that incorporate flexible and creative thinking in order to reach solutions efficiently.

Additional Problem Solving Strategies :

  • Abstraction – refers to solving the problem within a model of the situation before applying it to reality.
  • Analogy – is using a solution that solves a similar problem.
  • Brainstorming – refers to collecting an analyzing a large amount of solutions, especially within a group of people, to combine the solutions and developing them until an optimal solution is reached.
  • Divide and conquer – breaking down large complex problems into smaller more manageable problems.
  • Hypothesis testing – method used in experimentation where an assumption about what would happen in response to manipulating an independent variable is made, and analysis of the affects of the manipulation are made and compared to the original hypothesis.
  • Lateral thinking – approaching problems indirectly and creatively by viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.
  • Means-ends analysis – choosing and analyzing an action at a series of smaller steps to move closer to the goal.
  • Method of focal objects – putting seemingly non-matching characteristics of different procedures together to make something new that will get you closer to the goal.
  • Morphological analysis – analyzing the outputs of and interactions of many pieces that together make up a whole system.
  • Proof – trying to prove that a problem cannot be solved. Where the proof fails becomes the starting point or solving the problem.
  • Reduction – adapting the problem to be as similar problems where a solution exists.
  • Research – using existing knowledge or solutions to similar problems to solve the problem.
  • Root cause analysis – trying to identify the cause of the problem.

The strategies listed above outline a short summary of methods we use in working toward solutions and also demonstrate how the mind works when being faced with barriers preventing goals to be reached.

One example of means-end analysis can be found by using the Tower of Hanoi paradigm . This paradigm can be modeled as a word problems as demonstrated by the Missionary-Cannibal Problem :

Missionary-Cannibal Problem

Three missionaries and three cannibals are on one side of a river and need to cross to the other side. The only means of crossing is a boat, and the boat can only hold two people at a time. Your goal is to devise a set of moves that will transport all six of the people across the river, being in mind the following constraint: The number of cannibals can never exceed the number of missionaries in any location. Remember that someone will have to also row that boat back across each time.

Hint : At one point in your solution, you will have to send more people back to the original side than you just sent to the destination.

The actual Tower of Hanoi problem consists of three rods sitting vertically on a base with a number of disks of different sizes that can slide onto any rod. The puzzle starts with the disks in a neat stack in ascending order of size on one rod, the smallest at the top making a conical shape. The objective of the puzzle is to move the entire stack to another rod obeying the following rules:

  • 1. Only one disk can be moved at a time.
  • 2. Each move consists of taking the upper disk from one of the stacks and placing it on top of another stack or on an empty rod.
  • 3. No disc may be placed on top of a smaller disk.

normal process of problem solving

  Figure 7.02. Steps for solving the Tower of Hanoi in the minimum number of moves when there are 3 disks.

normal process of problem solving

Figure 7.03. Graphical representation of nodes (circles) and moves (lines) of Tower of Hanoi.

The Tower of Hanoi is a frequently used psychological technique to study problem solving and procedure analysis. A variation of the Tower of Hanoi known as the Tower of London has been developed which has been an important tool in the neuropsychological diagnosis of executive function disorders and their treatment.

GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY AND PROBLEM SOLVING

As you may recall from the sensation and perception chapter, Gestalt psychology describes whole patterns, forms and configurations of perception and cognition such as closure, good continuation, and figure-ground. In addition to patterns of perception, Wolfgang Kohler, a German Gestalt psychologist traveled to the Spanish island of Tenerife in order to study animals behavior and problem solving in the anthropoid ape.

As an interesting side note to Kohler’s studies of chimp problem solving, Dr. Ronald Ley, professor of psychology at State University of New York provides evidence in his book A Whisper of Espionage  (1990) suggesting that while collecting data for what would later be his book  The Mentality of Apes (1925) on Tenerife in the Canary Islands between 1914 and 1920, Kohler was additionally an active spy for the German government alerting Germany to ships that were sailing around the Canary Islands. Ley suggests his investigations in England, Germany and elsewhere in Europe confirm that Kohler had served in the German military by building, maintaining and operating a concealed radio that contributed to Germany’s war effort acting as a strategic outpost in the Canary Islands that could monitor naval military activity approaching the north African coast.

While trapped on the island over the course of World War 1, Kohler applied Gestalt principles to animal perception in order to understand how they solve problems. He recognized that the apes on the islands also perceive relations between stimuli and the environment in Gestalt patterns and understand these patterns as wholes as opposed to pieces that make up a whole. Kohler based his theories of animal intelligence on the ability to understand relations between stimuli, and spent much of his time while trapped on the island investigation what he described as  insight , the sudden perception of useful or proper relations. In order to study insight in animals, Kohler would present problems to chimpanzee’s by hanging some banana’s or some kind of food so it was suspended higher than the apes could reach. Within the room, Kohler would arrange a variety of boxes, sticks or other tools the chimpanzees could use by combining in patterns or organizing in a way that would allow them to obtain the food (Kohler & Winter, 1925).

While viewing the chimpanzee’s, Kohler noticed one chimp that was more efficient at solving problems than some of the others. The chimp, named Sultan, was able to use long poles to reach through bars and organize objects in specific patterns to obtain food or other desirables that were originally out of reach. In order to study insight within these chimps, Kohler would remove objects from the room to systematically make the food more difficult to obtain. As the story goes, after removing many of the objects Sultan was used to using to obtain the food, he sat down ad sulked for a while, and then suddenly got up going over to two poles lying on the ground. Without hesitation Sultan put one pole inside the end of the other creating a longer pole that he could use to obtain the food demonstrating an ideal example of what Kohler described as insight. In another situation, Sultan discovered how to stand on a box to reach a banana that was suspended from the rafters illustrating Sultan’s perception of relations and the importance of insight in problem solving.

Grande (another chimp in the group studied by Kohler) builds a three-box structure to reach the bananas, while Sultan watches from the ground.  Insight , sometimes referred to as an “Ah-ha” experience, was the term Kohler used for the sudden perception of useful relations among objects during problem solving (Kohler, 1927; Radvansky & Ashcraft, 2013).

Solving puzzles.

   Problem-solving abilities can improve with practice. Many people challenge themselves every day with puzzles and other mental exercises to sharpen their problem-solving skills. Sudoku puzzles appear daily in most newspapers. Typically, a sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid. The simple sudoku below (see figure) is a 4×4 grid. To solve the puzzle, fill in the empty boxes with a single digit: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Here are the rules: The numbers must total 10 in each bolded box, each row, and each column; however, each digit can only appear once in a bolded box, row, and column. Time yourself as you solve this puzzle and compare your time with a classmate.

How long did it take you to solve this sudoku puzzle? (You can see the answer at the end of this section.)

   Here is another popular type of puzzle (figure below) that challenges your spatial reasoning skills. Connect all nine dots with four connecting straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper:

Did you figure it out? (The answer is at the end of this section.) Once you understand how to crack this puzzle, you won’t forget.

   Take a look at the “Puzzling Scales” logic puzzle below (figure below). Sam Loyd, a well-known puzzle master, created and refined countless puzzles throughout his lifetime (Cyclopedia of Puzzles, n.d.).

A puzzle involving a scale is shown. At the top of the figure it reads: “Sam Loyds Puzzling Scales.” The first row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with 3 blocks and a top on the left and 12 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “Since the scales now balance.” The next row of the puzzle shows a balanced scale with just the top on the left, and 1 block and 8 marbles on the right. Below this row it reads: “And balance when arranged this way.” The third row shows an unbalanced scale with the top on the left side, which is much lower than the right side. The right side is empty. Below this row it reads: “Then how many marbles will it require to balance with that top?”

What steps did you take to solve this puzzle? You can read the solution at the end of this section.

Pitfalls to problem solving.

   Not all problems are successfully solved, however. What challenges stop us from successfully solving a problem? Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Imagine a person in a room that has four doorways. One doorway that has always been open in the past is now locked. The person, accustomed to exiting the room by that particular doorway, keeps trying to get out through the same doorway even though the other three doorways are open. The person is stuck—but she just needs to go to another doorway, instead of trying to get out through the locked doorway. A mental set is where you persist in approaching a problem in a way that has worked in the past but is clearly not working now.

Functional fixedness is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for. During the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, NASA engineers at Mission Control had to overcome functional fixedness to save the lives of the astronauts aboard the spacecraft. An explosion in a module of the spacecraft damaged multiple systems. The astronauts were in danger of being poisoned by rising levels of carbon dioxide because of problems with the carbon dioxide filters. The engineers found a way for the astronauts to use spare plastic bags, tape, and air hoses to create a makeshift air filter, which saved the lives of the astronauts.

   Researchers have investigated whether functional fixedness is affected by culture. In one experiment, individuals from the Shuar group in Ecuador were asked to use an object for a purpose other than that for which the object was originally intended. For example, the participants were told a story about a bear and a rabbit that were separated by a river and asked to select among various objects, including a spoon, a cup, erasers, and so on, to help the animals. The spoon was the only object long enough to span the imaginary river, but if the spoon was presented in a way that reflected its normal usage, it took participants longer to choose the spoon to solve the problem. (German & Barrett, 2005). The researchers wanted to know if exposure to highly specialized tools, as occurs with individuals in industrialized nations, affects their ability to transcend functional fixedness. It was determined that functional fixedness is experienced in both industrialized and nonindustrialized cultures (German & Barrett, 2005).

In order to make good decisions, we use our knowledge and our reasoning. Often, this knowledge and reasoning is sound and solid. Sometimes, however, we are swayed by biases or by others manipulating a situation. For example, let’s say you and three friends wanted to rent a house and had a combined target budget of $1,600. The realtor shows you only very run-down houses for $1,600 and then shows you a very nice house for $2,000. Might you ask each person to pay more in rent to get the $2,000 home? Why would the realtor show you the run-down houses and the nice house? The realtor may be challenging your anchoring bias. An anchoring bias occurs when you focus on one piece of information when making a decision or solving a problem. In this case, you’re so focused on the amount of money you are willing to spend that you may not recognize what kinds of houses are available at that price point.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs. For example, if you think that your professor is not very nice, you notice all of the instances of rude behavior exhibited by the professor while ignoring the countless pleasant interactions he is involved in on a daily basis. Hindsight bias leads you to believe that the event you just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t. In other words, you knew all along that things would turn out the way they did. Representative bias describes a faulty way of thinking, in which you unintentionally stereotype someone or something; for example, you may assume that your professors spend their free time reading books and engaging in intellectual conversation, because the idea of them spending their time playing volleyball or visiting an amusement park does not fit in with your stereotypes of professors.

Finally, the availability heuristic is a heuristic in which you make a decision based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you, even though it may not be the best example to inform your decision . Biases tend to “preserve that which is already established—to maintain our preexisting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and hypotheses” (Aronson, 1995; Kahneman, 2011). These biases are summarized in the table below.

Were you able to determine how many marbles are needed to balance the scales in the figure below? You need nine. Were you able to solve the problems in the figures above? Here are the answers.

The first puzzle is a Sudoku grid of 16 squares (4 rows of 4 squares) is shown. Half of the numbers were supplied to start the puzzle and are colored blue, and half have been filled in as the puzzle’s solution and are colored red. The numbers in each row of the grid, left to right, are as follows. Row 1: blue 3, red 1, red 4, blue 2. Row 2: red 2, blue 4, blue 1, red 3. Row 3: red 1, blue 3, blue 2, red 4. Row 4: blue 4, red 2, red 3, blue 1.The second puzzle consists of 9 dots arranged in 3 rows of 3 inside of a square. The solution, four straight lines made without lifting the pencil, is shown in a red line with arrows indicating the direction of movement. In order to solve the puzzle, the lines must extend beyond the borders of the box. The four connecting lines are drawn as follows. Line 1 begins at the top left dot, proceeds through the middle and right dots of the top row, and extends to the right beyond the border of the square. Line 2 extends from the end of line 1, through the right dot of the horizontally centered row, through the middle dot of the bottom row, and beyond the square’s border ending in the space beneath the left dot of the bottom row. Line 3 extends from the end of line 2 upwards through the left dots of the bottom, middle, and top rows. Line 4 extends from the end of line 3 through the middle dot in the middle row and ends at the right dot of the bottom row.

   Many different strategies exist for solving problems. Typical strategies include trial and error, applying algorithms, and using heuristics. To solve a large, complicated problem, it often helps to break the problem into smaller steps that can be accomplished individually, leading to an overall solution. Roadblocks to problem solving include a mental set, functional fixedness, and various biases that can cloud decision making skills.

References:

Openstax Psychology text by Kathryn Dumper, William Jenkins, Arlene Lacombe, Marilyn Lovett and Marion Perlmutter licensed under CC BY v4.0. https://openstax.org/details/books/psychology

Review Questions:

1. A specific formula for solving a problem is called ________.

a. an algorithm

b. a heuristic

c. a mental set

d. trial and error

2. Solving the Tower of Hanoi problem tends to utilize a  ________ strategy of problem solving.

a. divide and conquer

b. means-end analysis

d. experiment

3. A mental shortcut in the form of a general problem-solving framework is called ________.

4. Which type of bias involves becoming fixated on a single trait of a problem?

a. anchoring bias

b. confirmation bias

c. representative bias

d. availability bias

5. Which type of bias involves relying on a false stereotype to make a decision?

6. Wolfgang Kohler analyzed behavior of chimpanzees by applying Gestalt principles to describe ________.

a. social adjustment

b. student load payment options

c. emotional learning

d. insight learning

7. ________ is a type of mental set where you cannot perceive an object being used for something other than what it was designed for.

a. functional fixedness

c. working memory

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. What is functional fixedness and how can overcoming it help you solve problems?

2. How does an algorithm save you time and energy when solving a problem?

Personal Application Question:

1. Which type of bias do you recognize in your own decision making processes? How has this bias affected how you’ve made decisions in the past and how can you use your awareness of it to improve your decisions making skills in the future?

anchoring bias

availability heuristic

confirmation bias

functional fixedness

hindsight bias

problem-solving strategy

representative bias

trial and error

working backwards

Answers to Exercises

algorithm:  problem-solving strategy characterized by a specific set of instructions

anchoring bias:  faulty heuristic in which you fixate on a single aspect of a problem to find a solution

availability heuristic:  faulty heuristic in which you make a decision based on information readily available to you

confirmation bias:  faulty heuristic in which you focus on information that confirms your beliefs

functional fixedness:  inability to see an object as useful for any other use other than the one for which it was intended

heuristic:  mental shortcut that saves time when solving a problem

hindsight bias:  belief that the event just experienced was predictable, even though it really wasn’t

mental set:  continually using an old solution to a problem without results

problem-solving strategy:  method for solving problems

representative bias:  faulty heuristic in which you stereotype someone or something without a valid basis for your judgment

trial and error:  problem-solving strategy in which multiple solutions are attempted until the correct one is found

working backwards:  heuristic in which you begin to solve a problem by focusing on the end result

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  • Section 1. An Introduction to the Problem-Solving Process

Chapter 17 Sections

  • Section 2. Thinking Critically
  • Section 3. Defining and Analyzing the Problem
  • Section 4. Analyzing Root Causes of Problems: The "But Why?" Technique
  • Section 5. Addressing Social Determinants of Health and Development
  • Section 6. Generating and Choosing Solutions
  • Section 7. Putting Your Solution into Practice
  • Main Section

What is a problem?

Why is a group process particularly important, what is the problem-solving process.

"We must try to trust one another. Stay and cooperate."  - Jomo Kenyatta, (1891 - 1978), former president of the Republic of Kenya

Imagine for a moment that your coalition's mission is to encourage development in a traditionally poor downtown neighborhood. Your first goal is to recruit members, but you find a lack of interest among area residents. So you work for months to convince people to join, and meet with some modest success. Then, at your first all-coalition meeting, you find that members don't want to work together. The students you have recruited don't trust the police officers who have shown up; the police officers, in turn, pay no attention to the students; and an argument has broken out in one corner of the room between a few fundamentalist Christians and gay rights activists. Your head is in your hands. You are halfway through your grant, and it seems that you haven't made any headway whatsoever towards your stated goal. What are you going to do now?

Problems are a fact of life at home, at play, and at work. Unfortunately, problems aren't always isolated cases. They tend to be like onions - you peel away one problem only to find another, and then another, and you can't solve the problem you were first interested in until you solve a variety of related problems. For example, you can't increase safety at a crosswalk until you hire more crossing guards. And nobody will apply for the job until you can increase the salary.

In short, we will always be confronted with problems, so the importance of problem solving can't be overstated. That's why this chapter of the Tool Box is focused wholly on the subject. Because most of us labor in groups or coalitions that are working together on an issue, we will focus primarily on the group problem-solving process.

So, what's a problem? How would you define one? We usually define a problem fairly negatively: a problem is a hassle, it's a pain in the neck. This is often true, but more generally, a problem can be considered the difference between what is , and what might or should be. And believe it or not, problems have their advantages, too. What are some of the good things about problems?

  • Most problems are solvable (or partially solvable, or at least improvable). We can do something about them. The task may seem overwhelming (it surely did when David fought Goliath, or when suffragettes worked to give women the right to vote), but it's not hopeless. Our optimistic assumption is that we can change the world.
  • Problems are opportunities to make some good things happen. If it weren't for problems, what would be our motivation to create change?
  • Problems are also challenges . They call upon the best of our abilities, and ask us to go beyond what we thought we could do. They make life interesting, and, at least sometimes, fun. Without problems, life could be pretty boring.

You don't agree? Think of all of the games based on problem solving. Chess is thousands of years old and is still as popular as ever, based on the number of books you might find on it at your local bookstore. The Rubik's Cube was a national rage some years back. True, the stakes may be very different between a chess game and finding a way to connect with local young people. But both can present a challenge that stretches us in the same ways.

With all this in mind, what is "problem solving?" A good definition can be found in Lead on! The complete handbook for group leaders. The authors define problem solving as "an individual or collaborative process composed of two different skills: (1) to analyze a situation accurately, and (2) to make a good decision based on that analysis."

Why are we focusing on a collaborative process in this chapter? Well, for several reasons. You probably already do a lot of individual problem solving , and there's a good deal of merit in that. But many of the problems and challenges we face as members of our organizations affect everyone in the group. It makes sense then, that everyone is part of the solution. And, as the saying goes, two heads are better than one - so just imagine what can be accomplished with a room full of dedicated people!

Now, let's change the emphasis for a moment. Why are we focusing on a collaborative process in this chapter? Maybe your group is used to doing things haphazardly on an as-absolutely-necessary basis. Why should you take more time (already a precious commodity among most groups) to go through a lengthy process?

  • Effective group processes enhance a group's ability to solve problems and make decisions. When working with more than just a couple of people, solving a problem with a set process becomes more manageable.
  • It increases the group's efficiency and productivity.
  • It increases the group's participation - more people tend to be involved, and, as a result,
  • It increases group satisfaction. This means, among other things, that the group is more likely to want to take on other problems. And when they do so, they'll be better placed to solve them.

Like any other process, there are many different tasks that need to be done to properly solve problems. And again, like any other process, skipping some of the steps will make the job more difficult in the long run. Here is a brief explanation of each of the steps, to be discussed in more detail in the following sections:

  • Running effective meetings - Since your work will be in a group, the first thing you need to understand is how to hold a good meeting. You may have the problem-solving process down pat, but that won't make any difference if nobody shows up at your meeting, or if no one pays attention to what goes on.
  • Developing facilitation skills - Strong facilitation skills go hand in hand with running an effective meeting. A good facilitator helps diffuse explosive emotions, makes sure everyone's voice is heard, and steers the group towards the best decisions.
  • Developing recorder skills - Again, these skills are part of running an effective meeting. A good recorder works hand in hand with the facilitator, and together, they make sure that not only are everyone's opinions heard, they are also seen, remembered, and followed up on. Having a good recorder is one of the most important parts of setting up an effective meeting.
  • Defining and analyzing the problem - This is the core of the problem solving process. Sometimes, the real problem isn't originally apparent.
  • Generating and choosing solutions
  • Putting your solution into practice - If you have followed the process carefully, you'll be surprised at how easy implementing it actually is!

In Summary:

As we said before, the world is full of problems, and some of them look pretty challenging, to say the least. But the rewards are great. Solutions that are well thought out and carefully implemented can work. How much can you do?

Print Resources

Avery, M., Auvine, B., Streibel, B., & Weiss, L. (1981). A handbook for consensus decision making: Building united judgement . Madison, WI: Center for Conflict Resolution.

Dale, D., & Mitiguy, N. Planning, for a change: A citizen's guide to creative planning and program development .

Dashiell, K.A. (1990). Managing meetings for collaboration and consensus Honolulu, HI: Neighborhood Justice Center of Honolulu, Inc.

Interaction Associates, Inc. (1987). Facilitator institute handbook . San Francisco, CA: Author.

Lawson, L., Donant, F., & Lawson, J. (1982). Lead on! The complete handbook for group leaders . San Luis Obispo, CA: Impact Publishers.

Meacham, W. (1980). Human development training manual . Austin, TX: Human Development Training.

Morrison, E.(1994). Leadership skills: Developing volunteers for organizational success . Tucson, AZ: Fisher Books.  

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  • Miles Anthony Smith
  • Sep 12, 2022
  • 12 min read

The Ultimate Problem-Solving Process Guide: 31 Steps and Resources

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

GOT CHALLENGES WITH YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS? ARE YOU FRUSTRATED?

prob·lem-solv·ing noun -the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But in reality problem-solving is hard. It's almost always more complex than it seems. That's why problem-solving can be so frustrating sometimes. You can feel like you’re spinning your wheels, arguing in circles, or just failing to find answers that actually work. And when you've got a group working on a problem, it can get even muddier …differences of opinions, viewpoints colored by different backgrounds, history, life experiences, you name it. We’re all looking at life and work from different angles, and that often means disagreement. Sometimes sharp disagreement. That human element, figuring out how to take ourselves out of the equation and make solid, fact-based decisions , is precisely why there’s been so much written on problem-solving. Which creates its own set of problems. Whose method is best? How can you possibly sift through them all? Are we to have one person complete the entire problem-solving process by themselves or rely on a larger team to find answers to our most vexing challenges in the workplace ? Today, we’re going to make sense of it all. We’ll take a close look at nine top problem-solving methods. Then we’ll grab the best elements of all of them to give you a process that will have your team solving problems faster, with better results , and maybe with less sharp disagreement. Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

9 PROFITABLE PROBLEM-SOLVING TECHNIQUES AND METHODS

While there are loads of methods to choose from, we are going to focus on nine of the more common ones. You can use some of these problem-solving techniques reactively to solve a known issue or proactively to find more efficient or effective ways of performing tasks. If you want to explore other methods, check out this resource here . A helpful bit of advice here is to reassure people that you aren’t here to identify the person that caused the problem . You’re working to surface the issue, solve it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, regardless of the person working on the process. It can’t be understated how important it is to continually reassure people of this so that you get unfiltered access to information. Without this, people will often hide things to protect themselves . After all, nobody wants to look bad, do they? With that said, let’s get started...

1. CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING (CPS)

Alex Osborn coined the term “Creative Problem Solving” in the 1940s with this simple four-step process:

Clarify : Explore the vision, gather data, and formulate questions.

Ideate : This stage should use brainstorming to generate divergent thinking and ideas rather than the random ideas normally associated with brainstorming.

Develop : Formulate solutions as part of an overall plan.

Implement : Put the plan into practice and communicate it to all parties.

2. APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY

Appreciative Inquiry 4D Cycle

Source: http://www.davidcooperrider.com/ai-process/ This method seeks, first and foremost, to identify the strengths in people and organizations and play to that “positive core” rather than focus our energies on improving weaknesses . It starts with an “affirmative topic,” followed by the “positive core (strengths).” Then this method delves into the following stages:

Discovery (fact-finding)

Dream (visioning the future)

Design (strategic purpose)

Destiny (continuous improvement)

3. “FIVE WHYS” METHOD

This method simply suggests that we ask “Why” at least five times during our review of the problem and in search of a fix. This helps us dig deeper to find the the true reason for the problem, or the root cause. Now, this doesn’t mean we just keeping asking the same question five times. Once we get an answer to our first “why”, we ask why to that answer until we get to five “whys”.

Using the “five whys” is part of the “Analyze” phase of Six Sigma but can be used with or without the full Six Sigma process.

Review this simple Wikipedia example of the 5 Whys in action:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

Why? - The battery is dead. (First why)

Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)

Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)

Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)

Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

4. LEAN SIX SIGMA (DMAIC METHOD)

Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify

While many people have at least heard of Lean or Six Sigma, do we know what it is? Like many problem-solving processes, it has five main steps to follow.

Define : Clearly laying out the problem and soliciting feedback from those who are customers of the process is necessary to starting off on the right foot.

Measure : Quantifying the current state of the problem is a key to measuring how well the fix performed once it was implemented.

Analyze : Finding out the root cause of the problem (see number 5 “Root Cause Analysis” below) is one of the hardest and least explored steps of Six Sigma.

Improve : Crafting, executing, and testing the solution for measureable improvement is key. What doesn’t get implemented and measured really won’t make a difference.

Control : Sustaining the fix through a monitoring plan will ensure things continue to stay on track rather than being a short-lived solution.

5. ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS

Compared to other methods, you’ll more often find this technique in a reactive problem-solving mode, but it is helpful nonetheless. Put simply, it requires a persistent approach to finding the highest-level cause, since most reasons you’ll uncover for a problem don’t tell the whole story.

Most of the time, there are many factors that contributed to an issue. The main reason is often shrouded in either intentional or unintentional secrecy. Taking the time to drill down to the root of the issue is key to truly solving the problem.

6. DEMING-SHEWHART CYCLE: PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT (PDCA)

Named for W. Edwards Deming and Walter A. Shewhart, this model follows a four-step process:

Plan: Establish goals and objectives at the outset to gain agreement. It’s best to start on a small scale in order to test results and get a quick win.

Do: This step is all about the implementation and execution of the solution.

Check: Study and compare actual to expected results. Chart this data to identify trends.

Act/Adjust: If the check phase showed different results, then adjust accordingly. If worse than expected, then try another fix. If the same or better than expected, then use that as the new baseline for future improvements.

7. 8D PROBLEM-SOLVING

Man Drawing 8 Circles in a Circle

While this is named “8D” for eight disciplines, there are actually nine , because the first is listed as step zero. Each of the disciplines represents a phase of this process. Its aim is to implement a quick fix in the short term while working on a more permanent solution with no recurring issues.

Prepare and Plan : Collecting initial information from the team and preparing your approach to the process is a necessary first step.

Form a Team : Select a cross-functional team of people, one leader to run meetings and the process, and one champion/sponsor who will be the final decision-maker.

Describe the Problem : Using inductive and deductive reasoning approaches, lay out the precise issue to be corrected.

Interim Containment Action : Determine if an interim solution needs to be implemented or if it can wait until the final fix is firmed up. If necessary, the interim action is usually removed once the permanent solution is ready for implementation.

Root Cause Analysis and Escape Point : Finding the root of the issue and where in the process it could’ve been found but was not will help identify where and why the issue happened.

Permanent Corrective Action : Incorporating key criteria into the solution, including requirements and wants, will help ensure buy-in from the team and your champion.

Implement and Validate the Permanent Corrective Action : Measuring results from the fix implemented validates it or sends the team back to the drawing board to identity a more robust solution.

Prevent Recurrence : Updating work procedure documents and regular communication about the changes are important to keep old habits in check.

Closure and Team Celebration : Taking time to praise the team for their efforts in resolving the problem acknowledges the part each person played and offers a way to move forward.

8. ARMY PROBLEM SOLVING PROCESS

The US Army has been solving problems for more than a couple of centuries , so why not take a look at the problem-solving process they’ve refined over many years? They recommend this five step process:

Identify the Problem : Take time to understand the situation and define a scope and limitations before moving forward.

Gather Information : Uncover facts, assumptions, and opinions about the problem, and challenge them to get to the truth.

Develop Screening and Evaluation Criteria :

Five screening items should be questioned. Is it feasible, acceptable, distinguishable, and complete?

Evaluation criteria should have these 5 elements: short title, definition, unit of measure, benchmark, and formula.

Generate, Analyze, and Compare Possible Solutions : Most fixes are analyzed, but do you compare yours to one another as a final vetting method?

Choose a Solution and Implement : Put the fix into practice and follow up to ensure it is being followed consistently and having the desired effect.

9. HURSON'S PRODUCTIVE THINKING MODEL

Thinking Man

Tim Hurson introduced this model in 2007 with his book, Think Better. It consists of the following six actions.

Ask "What is going on?" : Define the impact of the problem and the aim of its solution.

Ask "What is success?" : Spell out the expected outcome, what should not be in fix, values to be considered, and how things will be evaluated.

Ask "What is the question?" : Tailor questions to the problem type. Valuable resources can be wasted asking questions that aren’t truly relevant to the issue.

Generate answers : Prioritize answers that are the most relevant to solutions, without excluding any suggestion to present to the decision-makers.

Forge the solution : Refine the raw list of prioritized fixes, looking for ways to combine them for a more powerful solution or eliminate fixes that don’t fit the evaluation criteria.

Align resources: Identify resources, team, and stakeholders needed to implement and maintain the solution.

STEAL THIS THOROUGH 8-STEP PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS

Little Girl Reaching For Strawberries On The Counter

Now that we’ve reviewed a number of problem-solving methods, we’ve compiled the various steps into a straightforward, yet in-depth, s tep-by-step process to use the best of all methods.

1. DIG DEEP: IDENTIFY, DEFINE, AND CLARIFY THE ISSUE

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” you might say.

This is true, but we often forget the fundamentals before trying to solve a problem. So take some time to gain understanding of critical stakeholder’s viewpoints to clarify the problem and cement consensus behind what the issue really is.

Sometimes it feels like you’re on the same page, but minor misunderstandings mean you’re not really in full agreement.. It’s better to take the time to drill down on an issue before you get too far into solving a problem that may not be the exact problem . Which leads us to…

2. DIG DEEPER: ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS

Root Cause Analysis

This part of the process involves identifying these three items :

What happened?

Why did it happen?

What process do we need to employ to significantly reduce the chances of it happening again ?

You’ll usually need to sort through a series of situations to find the primary cause. So be careful not to stop at the first cause you uncover . Dig further into the situation to expose the root of the issue. We don’t want to install a solution that only fixes a surface-level issue and not the root. T here are typically three types of causes :

Physical: Perhaps a part failed due to poor design or manufacturing.

Human error: A person either did something wrong or didn’t do what needed to be done.

Organizational: This one is mostly about a system, process, or policy that contributed to the error .

When searching for the root cause, it is important to ensure people that you aren’t there to assign blame to a person but rather identify the problem so a fix can prevent future issues.

3. PRODUCE A VARIETY OF SOLUTION OPTIONS

So far, you’ve approached the problem as a data scientist, searching for clues to the real issue. Now, it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open, in case you run across a fix suggested by one of those involved in the process failure. Because they are closest to the problem, they will often have an idea of how to fix things. In other cases, they may be too close, and unable to see how the process could change.

The bottom line is to solicit solution ideas from a variety of sources , both close to and far away from the process you’re trying to improve.

You just never know where the top fix might come from!

4. FULLY EVALUATE AND SELECT PLANNED FIX(ES)

"Time To Evaluate" Written on a Notepad with Pink Glasses & Pen

Evaluating solutions to a defined problem can be tricky since each one will have cost, political, or other factors associated with it. Running each fix through a filter of cost and impact is a vital step toward identifying a solid solution and hopefully settling on the one with the highest impact and low or acceptable cost.

Categorizing each solution in one of these four categoriescan help teams sift through them:

High Cost/Low Impact: Implement these last, if at all, since t hey are expensive and won’t move the needle much .

Low Cost/Low Impact: These are cheap, but you won’t get much impact.

High Cost/High Impact: These can be used but should be second to the next category.

Low Cost/High Impact: Getting a solid “bang for your buck” is what these fixes are all about. Start with these first .

5. DOCUMENT THE FINAL SOLUTION AND WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

Formalize a document that all interested parties (front-line staff, supervisors, leadership, etc.) agree to follow. This will go a long way towards making sure everyone fully understands what the new process looks like, as well as what success will look like .

While it might seem tedious, try to be overly descriptive in the explanation of the solution and how success will be achieved. This is usually necessary to gain full buy-in and commitment to continually following the solution. We often assume certain things that others may not know unless we are more explicit with our communications.

6. SUCCESSFULLY SELL AND EXECUTE THE FIX

Execution Etched In to a Gear

Arriving at this stage in the process only to forget to consistently apply the solution would be a waste of time, yet many organizations fall down in the execution phase . Part of making sure that doesn’t happen is to communicate the fix and ask for questions multiple times until all parties have a solid grasp on what is now required of them.

One often-overlooked element of this is the politics involved in gaining approval for your solution. Knowing and anticipating objections of those in senior or key leadership positions is central to gaining buy-in before fix implementation.

7. RINSE AND REPEAT: EVALUATE, MONITOR, AND FOLLOW UP

Next, doing check-ins with the new process will ensure that the solution is working (or identity if further reforms are necessary) . You’ll also see if the measure of predefined success has been attained (or is making progress in that regard).

Without regularly monitoring the fix, you can only gauge the success or failure of the solution by speculation and hearsay. And without hard data to review, most people will tell their own version of the story.

8. COLLABORATIVE CONTINGENCIES, ITERATION, AND COURSE CORRECTION

Man Looking Up at a Success Roadmap

Going into any problem-solving process, we should take note that we will not be done once the solution is implemented (or even if it seems to be working better at the moment). Any part of any process will always be subject to the need for future iterations and course corrections . To think otherwise would be either foolish or naive.

There might need to be slight, moderate, or wholesale changes to the solution previously implemented as new information is gained, new technologies are discovered, etc.

14 FRUITFUL RESOURCES AND EXERCISES FOR YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING JOURNEY

Resources | People Working Together At A Large Table With Laptops, Tablets & Paperwork Everywhere

Want to test your problem-solving skills?

Take a look at these twenty case study scenario exercises to see how well you can come up with solutions to these problems.

Still have a desire to discover more about solving problems?

Check out these 14 articles and books...

1. THE LEAN SIX SIGMA POCKET TOOLBOOK: A QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE TO NEARLY 100 TOOLS FOR IMPROVING QUALITY AND SPEED

This book is like a Bible for Lean Six Sigma , all in a pocket-sized package.

2. SOME SAGE PROBLEM SOLVING ADVICE

Hands Holding Up a Comment Bubble That Says "Advice"

The American Society for Quality has a short article on how it’s important to focus on the problem before searching for a solution.

3. THE SECRET TO BETTER PROBLEM SOLVING: HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

Wondering if you are solving the right problems? Check out this Harvard Business Review article.

4. PROBLEM SOLVING 101 : A SIMPLE BOOK FOR SMART PEOPLE

Looking for a fun and easy problem-solving book that was written by a McKinsey consultant? Take a look!

5. THE BASICS OF CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING – CPS

A Drawn Lightbulb Where The Lightbulb is a Crumbled Piece Of Yellow Paper

If you want a deeper dive into the seven steps of Creative Problem Solving , see this article.

6. APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY : A POSITIVE REVOLUTION IN CHANGE

Appreciative Inquiry has been proven effective in organizations ranging from Roadway Express and British Airways to the United Nations and the United States Navy. Review this book to join the positive revolution.

7. PROBLEM SOLVING: NINE CASE STUDIES AND LESSONS LEARNED

The Seattle Police Department has put together nine case studies that you can practice solving . While they are about police work, they have practical application in the sleuthing of work-related problems.

8. ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS : THE CORE OF PROBLEM SOLVING AND CORRECTIVE ACTION

Need a resource to delve further into Root Cause Analysis? Look no further than this book for answers to your most vexing questions .

9. SOLVING BUSINESS PROBLEMS : THE CASE OF POOR FRANK

Business Team Looking At Multi-Colored Sticky Notes On A Wall

This solid case study illustrates the complexities of solving problems in business.

10. THE 8-DISCIPLINES PROBLEM SOLVING METHODOLOGY

Learn all about the “8Ds” with this concise primer.

11. THE PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS THAT PREVENTS GROUPTHINK HBR

Need to reduce groupthink in your organization’s problem-solving process ? Check out this article from the Harvard Business Review.

12. THINK BETTER : AN INNOVATOR'S GUIDE TO PRODUCTIVE THINKING

Woman Thinking Against A Yellow Wall

Tim Hurson details his own Productive Thinking Model at great length in this book from the author.

13. 5 STEPS TO SOLVING THE PROBLEMS WITH YOUR PROBLEM SOLVING INC MAGAZINE

This simple five-step process will help you break down the problem, analyze it, prioritize solutions, and sell them internally.

14. CRITICAL THINKING : A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO CRITICAL THINKING, BETTER DECISION MAKING, AND PROBLEM SOLVING!

LOOKING FOR ASSISTANCE WITH YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS?

There's a lot to take in here, but following some of these methods are sure to improve your problem-solving process. However, if you really want to take problem-solving to the next level, InitiativeOne can come alongside your team to help you solve problems much faster than you ever have before.

There are several parts to this leadership transformation process provided by InitiativeOne, including a personal profile assessment, cognitive learning, group sessions with real-world challenges, personal discovery, and a toolkit to empower leaders to perform at their best.

There are really only two things stopping good teams from being great. One is how they make decisions and two is how they solve problems. Contact us today to grow your team’s leadership performance by making decisions and solving problems more swiftly than ever before!

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Master the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process for Better Decision-Making

Discover the powerful 7-Step Problem-Solving Process to make better decisions and achieve better outcomes. Master the art of problem-solving in this comprehensive guide. Download the Free PowerPoint and PDF Template.

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StrategyPunk

Master the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process for Better Decision-Making

Introduction

Mastering the art of problem-solving is crucial for making better decisions. Whether you're a student, a business owner, or an employee, problem-solving skills can help you tackle complex issues and find practical solutions. The 7-Step Problem-Solving Process is a proven method that can help you approach problems systematically and efficiently.

The 7-Step Problem-Solving Process involves steps that guide you through the problem-solving process. The first step is to define the problem, followed by disaggregating the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Next, you prioritize the features and create a work plan to address each. Then, you analyze each piece, synthesize the information, and communicate your findings to others.

By following this process, you can avoid jumping to conclusions, overlooking important details, or making hasty decisions. Instead, you can approach problems with a clear and structured mindset, which can help you make better decisions and achieve better outcomes.

In this article, we'll explore each step of the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process in detail so you can start mastering this valuable skill. At the end of the blog post, you can download the process's free PowerPoint and PDF templates .

normal process of problem solving

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step in the problem-solving process is to define the problem. This step is crucial because finding a solution is only accessible if the problem is clearly defined. The problem must be specific, measurable, and achievable.

One way to define the problem is to ask the right questions. Questions like "What is the problem?" and "What are the causes of the problem?" can help. Gathering data and information about the issue to assist in the definition process is also essential.

Another critical aspect of defining the problem is identifying the stakeholders. Who is affected by it? Who has a stake in finding a solution? Identifying the stakeholders can help ensure that the problem is defined in a way that considers the needs and concerns of all those affected.

Once the problem is defined, it is essential to communicate the definition to all stakeholders. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there is a shared understanding of the problem.

Step 2: Disaggregate

After defining the problem, the next step in the 7-step problem-solving process is to disaggregate the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Disaggregation helps break down the problem into smaller pieces that can be analyzed individually. This step is crucial in understanding the root cause of the problem and identifying the most effective solutions.

Disaggregation can be achieved by breaking down the problem into sub-problems, identifying the contributing factors, and analyzing the relationships between these factors. This step helps identify the most critical factors that must be addressed to solve the problem.

A tree or fishbone diagram is one effective way to disaggregate a problem. These diagrams help identify the different factors contributing to the problem and how they are related. Another way is to use a table to list the other factors contributing to the situation and their corresponding impact on the issue.

Disaggregation helps in breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. It helps understand the relationships between different factors contributing to the problem and identify the most critical factors that must be addressed. By disaggregating the problem, decision-makers can focus on the most vital areas, leading to more effective solutions.

Step 3: Prioritize

After defining the problem and disaggregating it into smaller parts, the next step in the 7-step problem-solving process is prioritizing the issues that need addressing. Prioritizing helps to focus on the most pressing issues and allocate resources more effectively.

There are several ways to prioritize issues, including:

  • Urgency: Prioritize issues based on their urgency. Problems that require immediate attention should be addressed first.
  • Impact: Prioritize issues based on their impact on the organization or stakeholders. Problems with a high impact should be given priority.
  • Resources: Prioritize issues based on the resources required to address them. Problems that require fewer resources should be dealt with first.

It is important to involve stakeholders in the prioritization process, considering their concerns and needs. This can be done through surveys, focus groups, or other forms of engagement.

Once the issues have been prioritized, developing a plan of action to address them is essential. This involves identifying the resources required, setting timelines, and assigning responsibilities.

Prioritizing issues is a critical step in problem-solving. By focusing on the most pressing problems, organizations can allocate resources more effectively and make better decisions.

Step 4: Workplan

After defining the problem, disaggregating, and prioritizing the issues, the next step in the 7-step problem-solving process is to develop a work plan. This step involves creating a roadmap that outlines the steps needed to solve the problem.

The work plan should include a list of tasks, deadlines, and responsibilities for each team member involved in the problem-solving process. Assigning tasks based on each team member's strengths and expertise ensures the work is completed efficiently and effectively.

Creating a work plan can help keep the team on track and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. It can also help to identify potential roadblocks or challenges that may arise during the problem-solving process and develop contingency plans to address them.

Several tools and techniques can be used to develop a work plan, including Gantt charts, flowcharts, and mind maps. These tools can help to visualize the steps needed to solve the problem and identify dependencies between tasks.

Developing a work plan is a critical step in the problem-solving process. It provides a clear roadmap for solving the problem and ensures everyone involved is aligned and working towards the same goal.

Step 5: Analysis

Once the problem has been defined and disaggregated, the next step is to analyze the information gathered. This step involves examining the data, identifying patterns, and determining the root cause of the problem.

Several methods can be used during the analysis phase, including:

  • Root cause analysis
  • Pareto analysis
  • SWOT analysis

Root cause analysis is a popular method used to identify the underlying cause of a problem. This method involves asking a series of "why" questions to get to the root cause of the issue.

Pareto analysis is another method that can be used during the analysis phase. This method involves identifying the 20% of causes responsible for 80% of the problems. By focusing on these critical causes, organizations can make significant improvements.

Finally, SWOT analysis is a valuable tool for analyzing the internal and external factors that may impact the problem. This method involves identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the issue.

Overall, the analysis phase is critical for identifying the root cause of the problem and developing practical solutions. By using a combination of methods, organizations can gain a deeper understanding of the issue and make informed decisions.

Step 6: Synthesize

Once the analysis phase is complete, it is time to synthesize the information gathered to arrive at a solution. During this step, the focus is on identifying the most viable solution that addresses the problem. This involves examining and combining the analysis results for a clear and concise conclusion.

One way to synthesize the information is to use a decision matrix. This involves creating a table that lists the potential solutions and the essential criteria for making a decision. Each answer is then rated against each standard, and the scores are tallied to arrive at a final decision.

Another approach to synthesizing the information is to use a mind map. This involves creating a visual representation of the problem and the potential solutions. The mind map can identify the relationships between the different pieces of information and help prioritize the solutions.

During the synthesis phase, it is vital to remain open-minded and consider all potential solutions. Involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process is essential to ensure everyone's perspectives are considered.

Step 7: Communicate

After synthesizing the information, the next step is communicating the findings to the relevant stakeholders. This is a crucial step because it helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the decision-making process is transparent.

One effective way to communicate the findings is through a well-organized report. The report should include the problem statement, the analysis, the synthesis, and the recommended solution. It should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.

In addition to the report, a presentation explaining the findings is essential. The presentation should be tailored to the audience and highlight the report's key points. Visual aids such as tables, graphs, and charts can make the presentation more engaging.

During the presentation, it is essential to be open to feedback and questions from the audience. This helps ensure everyone agrees with the recommended solution and addresses concerns or objections.

Effective communication is vital to ensuring the decision-making process is successful. Stakeholders can make informed decisions and work towards a common goal by communicating the findings clearly and concisely.

The 7-step problem-solving process is a powerful tool for helping individuals and organizations make better decisions. By following these steps, individuals can identify the root cause of a problem, prioritize potential solutions, and develop a clear plan of action. This process can be applied to various scenarios, from personal challenges to complex business problems.

Through disaggregation, individuals can break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. By prioritizing potential solutions, individuals can focus their efforts on the most impactful actions. The work step allows individuals to develop a clear action plan, while the analysis step provides a framework for evaluating possible solutions.

The synthesis step combines all the information gathered to develop a comprehensive solution. Finally, the communication step allows individuals to share their answers with others and gather feedback.

By mastering the 7-step problem-solving process, individuals can become more effective decision-makers and problem-solvers. This process can help individuals and organizations save time and resources while improving outcomes. With practice, individuals can develop the skills to apply this process to a wide range of scenarios and make better decisions in all areas of life.

7-Step Problem-Solving Process PPT Template

Free powerpoint and pdf template, executive summary: the 7-step problem-solving process.

normal process of problem solving

The 7-Step Problem-Solving Process is a robust and systematic method to help individuals and organizations make better decisions by tackling complex issues and finding practical solutions. This process comprises defining the problem, disaggregating it into smaller parts, prioritizing the issues, creating a work plan, analyzing the data, synthesizing the information, and communicating the findings.

By following these steps, individuals can identify the root cause of a problem, break it down into manageable components, and prioritize the most impactful actions. The work plan, analysis, and synthesis steps provide a framework for developing comprehensive solutions, while the communication step ensures transparency and stakeholder engagement.

Mastering this process can improve decision-making and problem-solving capabilities, save time and resources, and improve outcomes in personal and professional contexts.

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Lidl SWOT Analysis: Free PPT Template and In-Depth Insights

Lidl SWOT Analysis: Free PPT Template and In-Depth Insights

Discover Lidl's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with our free PowerPoint template. This in-depth SWOT analysis provides valuable insights to help you understand Lidl's market position and strategic direction.

Global Bites: PESTLE Insights into Nestlé (Free PPT)

Global Bites: PESTLE Insights into Nestlé (Free PPT)

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PESTLE Analysis: Decoding Reddit's Landscape (Free PPT)

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Explore Lululemon's business terrain with our free PESTLE analysis PowerPoint. Instant access!

normal process of problem solving

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14.3 Problem Solving and Decision Making in Groups

Learning objectives.

  • Discuss the common components and characteristics of problems.
  • Explain the five steps of the group problem-solving process.
  • Describe the brainstorming and discussion that should take place before the group makes a decision.
  • Compare and contrast the different decision-making techniques.
  • Discuss the various influences on decision making.

Although the steps of problem solving and decision making that we will discuss next may seem obvious, we often don’t think to or choose not to use them. Instead, we start working on a problem and later realize we are lost and have to backtrack. I’m sure we’ve all reached a point in a project or task and had the “OK, now what?” moment. I’ve recently taken up some carpentry projects as a functional hobby, and I have developed a great respect for the importance of advanced planning. It’s frustrating to get to a crucial point in building or fixing something only to realize that you have to unscrew a support board that you already screwed in, have to drive back to the hardware store to get something that you didn’t think to get earlier, or have to completely start over. In this section, we will discuss the group problem-solving process, methods of decision making, and influences on these processes.

Group Problem Solving

The problem-solving process involves thoughts, discussions, actions, and decisions that occur from the first consideration of a problematic situation to the goal. The problems that groups face are varied, but some common problems include budgeting funds, raising funds, planning events, addressing customer or citizen complaints, creating or adapting products or services to fit needs, supporting members, and raising awareness about issues or causes.

Problems of all sorts have three common components (Adams & Galanes, 2009):

  • An undesirable situation. When conditions are desirable, there isn’t a problem.
  • A desired situation. Even though it may only be a vague idea, there is a drive to better the undesirable situation. The vague idea may develop into a more precise goal that can be achieved, although solutions are not yet generated.
  • Obstacles between undesirable and desirable situation. These are things that stand in the way between the current situation and the group’s goal of addressing it. This component of a problem requires the most work, and it is the part where decision making occurs. Some examples of obstacles include limited funding, resources, personnel, time, or information. Obstacles can also take the form of people who are working against the group, including people resistant to change or people who disagree.

Discussion of these three elements of a problem helps the group tailor its problem-solving process, as each problem will vary. While these three general elements are present in each problem, the group should also address specific characteristics of the problem. Five common and important characteristics to consider are task difficulty, number of possible solutions, group member interest in problem, group member familiarity with problem, and the need for solution acceptance (Adams & Galanes, 2009).

  • Task difficulty. Difficult tasks are also typically more complex. Groups should be prepared to spend time researching and discussing a difficult and complex task in order to develop a shared foundational knowledge. This typically requires individual work outside of the group and frequent group meetings to share information.
  • Number of possible solutions. There are usually multiple ways to solve a problem or complete a task, but some problems have more potential solutions than others. Figuring out how to prepare a beach house for an approaching hurricane is fairly complex and difficult, but there are still a limited number of things to do—for example, taping and boarding up windows; turning off water, electricity, and gas; trimming trees; and securing loose outside objects. Other problems may be more creatively based. For example, designing a new restaurant may entail using some standard solutions but could also entail many different types of innovation with layout and design.
  • Group member interest in problem. When group members are interested in the problem, they will be more engaged with the problem-solving process and invested in finding a quality solution. Groups with high interest in and knowledge about the problem may want more freedom to develop and implement solutions, while groups with low interest may prefer a leader who provides structure and direction.
  • Group familiarity with problem. Some groups encounter a problem regularly, while other problems are more unique or unexpected. A family who has lived in hurricane alley for decades probably has a better idea of how to prepare its house for a hurricane than does a family that just recently moved from the Midwest. Many groups that rely on funding have to revisit a budget every year, and in recent years, groups have had to get more creative with budgets as funding has been cut in nearly every sector. When group members aren’t familiar with a problem, they will need to do background research on what similar groups have done and may also need to bring in outside experts.
  • Need for solution acceptance. In this step, groups must consider how many people the decision will affect and how much “buy-in” from others the group needs in order for their solution to be successfully implemented. Some small groups have many stakeholders on whom the success of a solution depends. Other groups are answerable only to themselves. When a small group is planning on building a new park in a crowded neighborhood or implementing a new policy in a large business, it can be very difficult to develop solutions that will be accepted by all. In such cases, groups will want to poll those who will be affected by the solution and may want to do a pilot implementation to see how people react. Imposing an excellent solution that doesn’t have buy-in from stakeholders can still lead to failure.

14.3.0N

Group problem solving can be a confusing puzzle unless it is approached systematically.

Muness Castle – Problem Solving – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Group Problem-Solving Process

There are several variations of similar problem-solving models based on US American scholar John Dewey’s reflective thinking process (Bormann & Bormann, 1988). As you read through the steps in the process, think about how you can apply what we learned regarding the general and specific elements of problems. Some of the following steps are straightforward, and they are things we would logically do when faced with a problem. However, taking a deliberate and systematic approach to problem solving has been shown to benefit group functioning and performance. A deliberate approach is especially beneficial for groups that do not have an established history of working together and will only be able to meet occasionally. Although a group should attend to each step of the process, group leaders or other group members who facilitate problem solving should be cautious not to dogmatically follow each element of the process or force a group along. Such a lack of flexibility could limit group member input and negatively affect the group’s cohesion and climate.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Define the problem by considering the three elements shared by every problem: the current undesirable situation, the goal or more desirable situation, and obstacles in the way (Adams & Galanes, 2009). At this stage, group members share what they know about the current situation, without proposing solutions or evaluating the information. Here are some good questions to ask during this stage: What is the current difficulty? How did we come to know that the difficulty exists? Who/what is involved? Why is it meaningful/urgent/important? What have the effects been so far? What, if any, elements of the difficulty require clarification? At the end of this stage, the group should be able to compose a single sentence that summarizes the problem called a problem statement . Avoid wording in the problem statement or question that hints at potential solutions. A small group formed to investigate ethical violations of city officials could use the following problem statement: “Our state does not currently have a mechanism for citizens to report suspected ethical violations by city officials.”

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

During this step a group should analyze the problem and the group’s relationship to the problem. Whereas the first step involved exploring the “what” related to the problem, this step focuses on the “why.” At this stage, group members can discuss the potential causes of the difficulty. Group members may also want to begin setting out an agenda or timeline for the group’s problem-solving process, looking forward to the other steps. To fully analyze the problem, the group can discuss the five common problem variables discussed before. Here are two examples of questions that the group formed to address ethics violations might ask: Why doesn’t our city have an ethics reporting mechanism? Do cities of similar size have such a mechanism? Once the problem has been analyzed, the group can pose a problem question that will guide the group as it generates possible solutions. “How can citizens report suspected ethical violations of city officials and how will such reports be processed and addressed?” As you can see, the problem question is more complex than the problem statement, since the group has moved on to more in-depth discussion of the problem during step 2.

Step 3: Generate Possible Solutions

During this step, group members generate possible solutions to the problem. Again, solutions should not be evaluated at this point, only proposed and clarified. The question should be what could we do to address this problem, not what should we do to address it. It is perfectly OK for a group member to question another person’s idea by asking something like “What do you mean?” or “Could you explain your reasoning more?” Discussions at this stage may reveal a need to return to previous steps to better define or more fully analyze a problem. Since many problems are multifaceted, it is necessary for group members to generate solutions for each part of the problem separately, making sure to have multiple solutions for each part. Stopping the solution-generating process prematurely can lead to groupthink. For the problem question previously posed, the group would need to generate solutions for all three parts of the problem included in the question. Possible solutions for the first part of the problem (How can citizens report ethical violations?) may include “online reporting system, e-mail, in-person, anonymously, on-the-record,” and so on. Possible solutions for the second part of the problem (How will reports be processed?) may include “daily by a newly appointed ethics officer, weekly by a nonpartisan nongovernment employee,” and so on. Possible solutions for the third part of the problem (How will reports be addressed?) may include “by a newly appointed ethics commission, by the accused’s supervisor, by the city manager,” and so on.

Step 4: Evaluate Solutions

During this step, solutions can be critically evaluated based on their credibility, completeness, and worth. Once the potential solutions have been narrowed based on more obvious differences in relevance and/or merit, the group should analyze each solution based on its potential effects—especially negative effects. Groups that are required to report the rationale for their decision or whose decisions may be subject to public scrutiny would be wise to make a set list of criteria for evaluating each solution. Additionally, solutions can be evaluated based on how well they fit with the group’s charge and the abilities of the group. To do this, group members may ask, “Does this solution live up to the original purpose or mission of the group?” and “Can the solution actually be implemented with our current resources and connections?” and “How will this solution be supported, funded, enforced, and assessed?” Secondary tensions and substantive conflict, two concepts discussed earlier, emerge during this step of problem solving, and group members will need to employ effective critical thinking and listening skills.

Decision making is part of the larger process of problem solving and it plays a prominent role in this step. While there are several fairly similar models for problem solving, there are many varied decision-making techniques that groups can use. For example, to narrow the list of proposed solutions, group members may decide by majority vote, by weighing the pros and cons, or by discussing them until a consensus is reached. There are also more complex decision-making models like the “six hats method,” which we will discuss later. Once the final decision is reached, the group leader or facilitator should confirm that the group is in agreement. It may be beneficial to let the group break for a while or even to delay the final decision until a later meeting to allow people time to evaluate it outside of the group context.

Step 5: Implement and Assess the Solution

Implementing the solution requires some advanced planning, and it should not be rushed unless the group is operating under strict time restraints or delay may lead to some kind of harm. Although some solutions can be implemented immediately, others may take days, months, or years. As was noted earlier, it may be beneficial for groups to poll those who will be affected by the solution as to their opinion of it or even to do a pilot test to observe the effectiveness of the solution and how people react to it. Before implementation, groups should also determine how and when they would assess the effectiveness of the solution by asking, “How will we know if the solution is working or not?” Since solution assessment will vary based on whether or not the group is disbanded, groups should also consider the following questions: If the group disbands after implementation, who will be responsible for assessing the solution? If the solution fails, will the same group reconvene or will a new group be formed?

14.3.1N

Once a solution has been reached and the group has the “green light” to implement it, it should proceed deliberately and cautiously, making sure to consider possible consequences and address them as needed.

Jocko Benoit – Prodigal Light – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Certain elements of the solution may need to be delegated out to various people inside and outside the group. Group members may also be assigned to implement a particular part of the solution based on their role in the decision making or because it connects to their area of expertise. Likewise, group members may be tasked with publicizing the solution or “selling” it to a particular group of stakeholders. Last, the group should consider its future. In some cases, the group will get to decide if it will stay together and continue working on other tasks or if it will disband. In other cases, outside forces determine the group’s fate.

“Getting Competent”

Problem Solving and Group Presentations

Giving a group presentation requires that individual group members and the group as a whole solve many problems and make many decisions. Although having more people involved in a presentation increases logistical difficulties and has the potential to create more conflict, a well-prepared and well-delivered group presentation can be more engaging and effective than a typical presentation. The main problems facing a group giving a presentation are (1) dividing responsibilities, (2) coordinating schedules and time management, and (3) working out the logistics of the presentation delivery.

In terms of dividing responsibilities, assigning individual work at the first meeting and then trying to fit it all together before the presentation (which is what many college students do when faced with a group project) is not the recommended method. Integrating content and visual aids created by several different people into a seamless final product takes time and effort, and the person “stuck” with this job at the end usually ends up developing some resentment toward his or her group members. While it’s OK for group members to do work independently outside of group meetings, spend time working together to help set up some standards for content and formatting expectations that will help make later integration of work easier. Taking the time to complete one part of the presentation together can help set those standards for later individual work. Discuss the roles that various group members will play openly so there isn’t role confusion. There could be one point person for keeping track of the group’s progress and schedule, one point person for communication, one point person for content integration, one point person for visual aids, and so on. Each person shouldn’t do all that work on his or her own but help focus the group’s attention on his or her specific area during group meetings (Stanton, 2009).

Scheduling group meetings is one of the most challenging problems groups face, given people’s busy lives. From the beginning, it should be clearly communicated that the group needs to spend considerable time in face-to-face meetings, and group members should know that they may have to make an occasional sacrifice to attend. Especially important is the commitment to scheduling time to rehearse the presentation. Consider creating a contract of group guidelines that includes expectations for meeting attendance to increase group members’ commitment.

Group presentations require members to navigate many logistics of their presentation. While it may be easier for a group to assign each member to create a five-minute segment and then transition from one person to the next, this is definitely not the most engaging method. Creating a master presentation and then assigning individual speakers creates a more fluid and dynamic presentation and allows everyone to become familiar with the content, which can help if a person doesn’t show up to present and during the question-and-answer section. Once the content of the presentation is complete, figure out introductions, transitions, visual aids, and the use of time and space (Stanton, 2012). In terms of introductions, figure out if one person will introduce all the speakers at the beginning, if speakers will introduce themselves at the beginning, or if introductions will occur as the presentation progresses. In terms of transitions, make sure each person has included in his or her speaking notes when presentation duties switch from one person to the next. Visual aids have the potential to cause hiccups in a group presentation if they aren’t fluidly integrated. Practicing with visual aids and having one person control them may help prevent this. Know how long your presentation is and know how you’re going to use the space. Presenters should know how long the whole presentation should be and how long each of their segments should be so that everyone can share the responsibility of keeping time. Also consider the size and layout of the presentation space. You don’t want presenters huddled in a corner until it’s their turn to speak or trapped behind furniture when their turn comes around.

  • Of the three main problems facing group presenters, which do you think is the most challenging and why?
  • Why do you think people tasked with a group presentation (especially students) prefer to divide the parts up and have members work on them independently before coming back together and integrating each part? What problems emerge from this method? In what ways might developing a master presentation and then assigning parts to different speakers be better than the more divided method? What are the drawbacks to the master presentation method?

Decision Making in Groups

We all engage in personal decision making daily, and we all know that some decisions are more difficult than others. When we make decisions in groups, we face some challenges that we do not face in our personal decision making, but we also stand to benefit from some advantages of group decision making (Napier & Gershenfeld, 2004). Group decision making can appear fair and democratic but really only be a gesture that covers up the fact that certain group members or the group leader have already decided. Group decision making also takes more time than individual decisions and can be burdensome if some group members do not do their assigned work, divert the group with self-centered or unproductive role behaviors, or miss meetings. Conversely, though, group decisions are often more informed, since all group members develop a shared understanding of a problem through discussion and debate. The shared understanding may also be more complex and deep than what an individual would develop, because the group members are exposed to a variety of viewpoints that can broaden their own perspectives. Group decisions also benefit from synergy, one of the key advantages of group communication that we discussed earlier. Most groups do not use a specific method of decision making, perhaps thinking that they’ll work things out as they go. This can lead to unequal participation, social loafing, premature decisions, prolonged discussion, and a host of other negative consequences. So in this section we will learn some practices that will prepare us for good decision making and some specific techniques we can use to help us reach a final decision.

Brainstorming before Decision Making

Before groups can make a decision, they need to generate possible solutions to their problem. The most commonly used method is brainstorming, although most people don’t follow the recommended steps of brainstorming. As you’ll recall, brainstorming refers to the quick generation of ideas free of evaluation. The originator of the term brainstorming said the following four rules must be followed for the technique to be effective (Osborn, 1959):

  • Evaluation of ideas is forbidden.
  • Wild and crazy ideas are encouraged.
  • Quantity of ideas, not quality, is the goal.
  • New combinations of ideas presented are encouraged.

To make brainstorming more of a decision-making method rather than an idea-generating method, group communication scholars have suggested additional steps that precede and follow brainstorming (Cragan & Wright, 1991).

  • Do a warm-up brainstorming session. Some people are more apprehensive about publicly communicating their ideas than others are, and a warm-up session can help ease apprehension and prime group members for task-related idea generation. The warm-up can be initiated by anyone in the group and should only go on for a few minutes. To get things started, a person could ask, “If our group formed a band, what would we be called?” or “What other purposes could a mailbox serve?” In the previous examples, the first warm up gets the group’s more abstract creative juices flowing, while the second focuses more on practical and concrete ideas.
  • Do the actual brainstorming session. This session shouldn’t last more than thirty minutes and should follow the four rules of brainstorming mentioned previously. To ensure that the fourth rule is realized, the facilitator could encourage people to piggyback off each other’s ideas.
  • Eliminate duplicate ideas. After the brainstorming session is over, group members can eliminate (without evaluating) ideas that are the same or very similar.
  • Clarify, organize, and evaluate ideas. Before evaluation, see if any ideas need clarification. Then try to theme or group ideas together in some orderly fashion. Since “wild and crazy” ideas are encouraged, some suggestions may need clarification. If it becomes clear that there isn’t really a foundation to an idea and that it is too vague or abstract and can’t be clarified, it may be eliminated. As a caution though, it may be wise to not throw out off-the-wall ideas that are hard to categorize and to instead put them in a miscellaneous or “wild and crazy” category.

Discussion before Decision Making

The nominal group technique guides decision making through a four-step process that includes idea generation and evaluation and seeks to elicit equal contributions from all group members (Delbecq & Ven de Ven, 1971). This method is useful because the procedure involves all group members systematically, which fixes the problem of uneven participation during discussions. Since everyone contributes to the discussion, this method can also help reduce instances of social loafing. To use the nominal group technique, do the following:

  • Silently and individually list ideas.
  • Create a master list of ideas.
  • Clarify ideas as needed.
  • Take a secret vote to rank group members’ acceptance of ideas.

During the first step, have group members work quietly, in the same space, to write down every idea they have to address the task or problem they face. This shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes. Whoever is facilitating the discussion should remind group members to use brainstorming techniques, which means they shouldn’t evaluate ideas as they are generated. Ask group members to remain silent once they’ve finished their list so they do not distract others.

During the second step, the facilitator goes around the group in a consistent order asking each person to share one idea at a time. As the idea is shared, the facilitator records it on a master list that everyone can see. Keep track of how many times each idea comes up, as that could be an idea that warrants more discussion. Continue this process until all the ideas have been shared. As a note to facilitators, some group members may begin to edit their list or self-censor when asked to provide one of their ideas. To limit a person’s apprehension with sharing his or her ideas and to ensure that each idea is shared, I have asked group members to exchange lists with someone else so they can share ideas from the list they receive without fear of being personally judged.

During step three, the facilitator should note that group members can now ask for clarification on ideas on the master list. Do not let this discussion stray into evaluation of ideas. To help avoid an unnecessarily long discussion, it may be useful to go from one person to the next to ask which ideas need clarifying and then go to the originator(s) of the idea in question for clarification.

During the fourth step, members use a voting ballot to rank the acceptability of the ideas on the master list. If the list is long, you may ask group members to rank only their top five or so choices. The facilitator then takes up the secret ballots and reviews them in a random order, noting the rankings of each idea. Ideally, the highest ranked idea can then be discussed and decided on. The nominal group technique does not carry a group all the way through to the point of decision; rather, it sets the group up for a roundtable discussion or use of some other method to evaluate the merits of the top ideas.

Specific Decision-Making Techniques

Some decision-making techniques involve determining a course of action based on the level of agreement among the group members. These methods include majority, expert, authority, and consensus rule. Table 14.1 “Pros and Cons of Agreement-Based Decision-Making Techniques” reviews the pros and cons of each of these methods.

14.3.2N

Majority rule is a simple method of decision making based on voting. In most cases a majority is considered half plus one.

Becky McCray – Voting – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Majority rule is a commonly used decision-making technique in which a majority (one-half plus one) must agree before a decision is made. A show-of-hands vote, a paper ballot, or an electronic voting system can determine the majority choice. Many decision-making bodies, including the US House of Representatives, Senate, and Supreme Court, use majority rule to make decisions, which shows that it is often associated with democratic decision making, since each person gets one vote and each vote counts equally. Of course, other individuals and mediated messages can influence a person’s vote, but since the voting power is spread out over all group members, it is not easy for one person or party to take control of the decision-making process. In some cases—for example, to override a presidential veto or to amend the constitution—a super majority of two-thirds may be required to make a decision.

Minority rule is a decision-making technique in which a designated authority or expert has final say over a decision and may or may not consider the input of other group members. When a designated expert makes a decision by minority rule, there may be buy-in from others in the group, especially if the members of the group didn’t have relevant knowledge or expertise. When a designated authority makes decisions, buy-in will vary based on group members’ level of respect for the authority. For example, decisions made by an elected authority may be more accepted by those who elected him or her than by those who didn’t. As with majority rule, this technique can be time saving. Unlike majority rule, one person or party can have control over the decision-making process. This type of decision making is more similar to that used by monarchs and dictators. An obvious negative consequence of this method is that the needs or wants of one person can override the needs and wants of the majority. A minority deciding for the majority has led to negative consequences throughout history. The white Afrikaner minority that ruled South Africa for decades instituted apartheid, which was a system of racial segregation that disenfranchised and oppressed the majority population. The quality of the decision and its fairness really depends on the designated expert or authority.

Consensus rule is a decision-making technique in which all members of the group must agree on the same decision. On rare occasions, a decision may be ideal for all group members, which can lead to unanimous agreement without further debate and discussion. Although this can be positive, be cautious that this isn’t a sign of groupthink. More typically, consensus is reached only after lengthy discussion. On the plus side, consensus often leads to high-quality decisions due to the time and effort it takes to get everyone in agreement. Group members are also more likely to be committed to the decision because of their investment in reaching it. On the negative side, the ultimate decision is often one that all group members can live with but not one that’s ideal for all members. Additionally, the process of arriving at consensus also includes conflict, as people debate ideas and negotiate the interpersonal tensions that may result.

Table 14.1 Pros and Cons of Agreement-Based Decision-Making Techniques

“Getting Critical”

Six Hats Method of Decision Making

Edward de Bono developed the Six Hats method of thinking in the late 1980s, and it has since become a regular feature in decision-making training in business and professional contexts (de Bono, 1985). The method’s popularity lies in its ability to help people get out of habitual ways of thinking and to allow group members to play different roles and see a problem or decision from multiple points of view. The basic idea is that each of the six hats represents a different way of thinking, and when we figuratively switch hats, we switch the way we think. The hats and their style of thinking are as follows:

  • White hat. Objective—focuses on seeking information such as data and facts and then processes that information in a neutral way.
  • Red hat. Emotional—uses intuition, gut reactions, and feelings to judge information and suggestions.
  • Black hat. Negative—focuses on potential risks, points out possibilities for failure, and evaluates information cautiously and defensively.
  • Yellow hat. Positive—is optimistic about suggestions and future outcomes, gives constructive and positive feedback, points out benefits and advantages.
  • Green hat. Creative—tries to generate new ideas and solutions, thinks “outside the box.”
  • Blue hat. Philosophical—uses metacommunication to organize and reflect on the thinking and communication taking place in the group, facilitates who wears what hat and when group members change hats.

Specific sequences or combinations of hats can be used to encourage strategic thinking. For example, the group leader may start off wearing the Blue Hat and suggest that the group start their decision-making process with some “White Hat thinking” in order to process through facts and other available information. During this stage, the group could also process through what other groups have done when faced with a similar problem. Then the leader could begin an evaluation sequence starting with two minutes of “Yellow Hat thinking” to identify potential positive outcomes, then “Black Hat thinking” to allow group members to express reservations about ideas and point out potential problems, then “Red Hat thinking” to get people’s gut reactions to the previous discussion, then “Green Hat thinking” to identify other possible solutions that are more tailored to the group’s situation or completely new approaches. At the end of a sequence, the Blue Hat would want to summarize what was said and begin a new sequence. To successfully use this method, the person wearing the Blue Hat should be familiar with different sequences and plan some of the thinking patterns ahead of time based on the problem and the group members. Each round of thinking should be limited to a certain time frame (two to five minutes) to keep the discussion moving.

  • This decision-making method has been praised because it allows group members to “switch gears” in their thinking and allows for role playing, which lets people express ideas more freely. How can this help enhance critical thinking? Which combination of hats do you think would be best for a critical thinking sequence?
  • What combinations of hats might be useful if the leader wanted to break the larger group up into pairs and why? For example, what kind of thinking would result from putting Yellow and Red together, Black and White together, or Red and White together, and so on?
  • Based on your preferred ways of thinking and your personality, which hat would be the best fit for you? Which would be the most challenging? Why?

Influences on Decision Making

Many factors influence the decision-making process. For example, how might a group’s independence or access to resources affect the decisions they make? What potential advantages and disadvantages come with decisions made by groups that are more or less similar in terms of personality and cultural identities? In this section, we will explore how situational, personality, and cultural influences affect decision making in groups.

Situational Influences on Decision Making

A group’s situational context affects decision making. One key situational element is the degree of freedom that the group has to make its own decisions, secure its own resources, and initiate its own actions. Some groups have to go through multiple approval processes before they can do anything, while others are self-directed, self-governing, and self-sustaining. Another situational influence is uncertainty. In general, groups deal with more uncertainty in decision making than do individuals because of the increased number of variables that comes with adding more people to a situation. Individual group members can’t know what other group members are thinking, whether or not they are doing their work, and how committed they are to the group. So the size of a group is a powerful situational influence, as it adds to uncertainty and complicates communication.

Access to information also influences a group. First, the nature of the group’s task or problem affects its ability to get information. Group members can more easily make decisions about a problem when other groups have similarly experienced it. Even if the problem is complex and serious, the group can learn from other situations and apply what it learns. Second, the group must have access to flows of information. Access to archives, electronic databases, and individuals with relevant experience is necessary to obtain any relevant information about similar problems or to do research on a new or unique problem. In this regard, group members’ formal and information network connections also become important situational influences.

14.3.3N

The urgency of a decision can have a major influence on the decision-making process. As a situation becomes more urgent, it requires more specific decision-making methods and types of communication.

Judith E. Bell – Urgent – CC BY-SA 2.0.

The origin and urgency of a problem are also situational factors that influence decision making. In terms of origin, problems usually occur in one of four ways:

  • Something goes wrong. Group members must decide how to fix or stop something. Example—a firehouse crew finds out that half of the building is contaminated with mold and must be closed down.
  • Expectations change or increase. Group members must innovate more efficient or effective ways of doing something. Example—a firehouse crew finds out that the district they are responsible for is being expanded.
  • Something goes wrong and expectations change or increase. Group members must fix/stop and become more efficient/effective. Example—the firehouse crew has to close half the building and must start responding to more calls due to the expanding district.
  • The problem existed from the beginning. Group members must go back to the origins of the situation and walk through and analyze the steps again to decide what can be done differently. Example—a firehouse crew has consistently had to work with minimal resources in terms of building space and firefighting tools.

In each of the cases, the need for a decision may be more or less urgent depending on how badly something is going wrong, how high the expectations have been raised, or the degree to which people are fed up with a broken system. Decisions must be made in situations ranging from crisis level to mundane.

Personality Influences on Decision Making

A long-studied typology of value orientations that affect decision making consists of the following types of decision maker: the economic, the aesthetic, the theoretical, the social, the political, and the religious (Spranger, 1928).

  • The economic decision maker makes decisions based on what is practical and useful.
  • The aesthetic decision maker makes decisions based on form and harmony, desiring a solution that is elegant and in sync with the surroundings.
  • The theoretical decision maker wants to discover the truth through rationality.
  • The social decision maker emphasizes the personal impact of a decision and sympathizes with those who may be affected by it.
  • The political decision maker is interested in power and influence and views people and/or property as divided into groups that have different value.
  • The religious decision maker seeks to identify with a larger purpose, works to unify others under that goal, and commits to a viewpoint, often denying one side and being dedicated to the other.

In the United States, economic, political, and theoretical decision making tend to be more prevalent decision-making orientations, which likely corresponds to the individualistic cultural orientation with its emphasis on competition and efficiency. But situational context, as we discussed before, can also influence our decision making.

14.3.5

Personality affects decision making. For example, “economic” decision makers decide based on what is practical and useful.

One Way Stock – Tough Decisions Ahead – CC BY-ND 2.0.

The personalities of group members, especially leaders and other active members, affect the climate of the group. Group member personalities can be categorized based on where they fall on a continuum anchored by the following descriptors: dominant/submissive, friendly/unfriendly, and instrumental/emotional (Cragan & Wright, 1999). The more group members there are in any extreme of these categories, the more likely that the group climate will also shift to resemble those characteristics.

  • Dominant versus submissive. Group members that are more dominant act more independently and directly, initiate conversations, take up more space, make more direct eye contact, seek leadership positions, and take control over decision-making processes. More submissive members are reserved, contribute to the group only when asked to, avoid eye contact, and leave their personal needs and thoughts unvoiced or give into the suggestions of others.
  • Friendly versus unfriendly. Group members on the friendly side of the continuum find a balance between talking and listening, don’t try to win at the expense of other group members, are flexible but not weak, and value democratic decision making. Unfriendly group members are disagreeable, indifferent, withdrawn, and selfish, which leads them to either not invest in decision making or direct it in their own interest rather than in the interest of the group.
  • Instrumental versus emotional. Instrumental group members are emotionally neutral, objective, analytical, task-oriented, and committed followers, which leads them to work hard and contribute to the group’s decision making as long as it is orderly and follows agreed-on rules. Emotional group members are creative, playful, independent, unpredictable, and expressive, which leads them to make rash decisions, resist group norms or decision-making structures, and switch often from relational to task focus.

Cultural Context and Decision Making

Just like neighborhoods, schools, and countries, small groups vary in terms of their degree of similarity and difference. Demographic changes in the United States and increases in technology that can bring different people together make it more likely that we will be interacting in more and more heterogeneous groups (Allen, 2011). Some small groups are more homogenous, meaning the members are more similar, and some are more heterogeneous, meaning the members are more different. Diversity and difference within groups has advantages and disadvantages. In terms of advantages, research finds that, in general, groups that are culturally heterogeneous have better overall performance than more homogenous groups (Haslett & Ruebush, 1999). Additionally, when group members have time to get to know each other and competently communicate across their differences, the advantages of diversity include better decision making due to different perspectives (Thomas, 1999). Unfortunately, groups often operate under time constraints and other pressures that make the possibility for intercultural dialogue and understanding difficult. The main disadvantage of heterogeneous groups is the possibility for conflict, but given that all groups experience conflict, this isn’t solely due to the presence of diversity. We will now look more specifically at how some of the cultural value orientations we’ve learned about already in this book can play out in groups with international diversity and how domestic diversity in terms of demographics can also influence group decision making.

International Diversity in Group Interactions

Cultural value orientations such as individualism/collectivism, power distance, and high-/low-context communication styles all manifest on a continuum of communication behaviors and can influence group decision making. Group members from individualistic cultures are more likely to value task-oriented, efficient, and direct communication. This could manifest in behaviors such as dividing up tasks into individual projects before collaboration begins and then openly debating ideas during discussion and decision making. Additionally, people from cultures that value individualism are more likely to openly express dissent from a decision, essentially expressing their disagreement with the group. Group members from collectivistic cultures are more likely to value relationships over the task at hand. Because of this, they also tend to value conformity and face-saving (often indirect) communication. This could manifest in behaviors such as establishing norms that include periods of socializing to build relationships before task-oriented communication like negotiations begin or norms that limit public disagreement in favor of more indirect communication that doesn’t challenge the face of other group members or the group’s leader. In a group composed of people from a collectivistic culture, each member would likely play harmonizing roles, looking for signs of conflict and resolving them before they become public.

Power distance can also affect group interactions. Some cultures rank higher on power-distance scales, meaning they value hierarchy, make decisions based on status, and believe that people have a set place in society that is fairly unchangeable. Group members from high-power-distance cultures would likely appreciate a strong designated leader who exhibits a more directive leadership style and prefer groups in which members have clear and assigned roles. In a group that is homogenous in terms of having a high-power-distance orientation, members with higher status would be able to openly provide information, and those with lower status may not provide information unless a higher status member explicitly seeks it from them. Low-power-distance cultures do not place as much value and meaning on status and believe that all group members can participate in decision making. Group members from low-power-distance cultures would likely freely speak their mind during a group meeting and prefer a participative leadership style.

How much meaning is conveyed through the context surrounding verbal communication can also affect group communication. Some cultures have a high-context communication style in which much of the meaning in an interaction is conveyed through context such as nonverbal cues and silence. Group members from high-context cultures may avoid saying something directly, assuming that other group members will understand the intended meaning even if the message is indirect. So if someone disagrees with a proposed course of action, he or she may say, “Let’s discuss this tomorrow,” and mean, “I don’t think we should do this.” Such indirect communication is also a face-saving strategy that is common in collectivistic cultures. Other cultures have a low-context communication style that places more importance on the meaning conveyed through words than through context or nonverbal cues. Group members from low-context cultures often say what they mean and mean what they say. For example, if someone doesn’t like an idea, they might say, “I think we should consider more options. This one doesn’t seem like the best we can do.”

In any of these cases, an individual from one culture operating in a group with people of a different cultural orientation could adapt to the expectations of the host culture, especially if that person possesses a high degree of intercultural communication competence (ICC). Additionally, people with high ICC can also adapt to a group member with a different cultural orientation than the host culture. Even though these cultural orientations connect to values that affect our communication in fairly consistent ways, individuals may exhibit different communication behaviors depending on their own individual communication style and the situation.

Domestic Diversity and Group Communication

While it is becoming more likely that we will interact in small groups with international diversity, we are guaranteed to interact in groups that are diverse in terms of the cultural identities found within a single country or the subcultures found within a larger cultural group.

Gender stereotypes sometimes influence the roles that people play within a group. For example, the stereotype that women are more nurturing than men may lead group members (both male and female) to expect that women will play the role of supporters or harmonizers within the group. Since women have primarily performed secretarial work since the 1900s, it may also be expected that women will play the role of recorder. In both of these cases, stereotypical notions of gender place women in roles that are typically not as valued in group communication. The opposite is true for men. In terms of leadership, despite notable exceptions, research shows that men fill an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of leadership positions. We are socialized to see certain behaviors by men as indicative of leadership abilities, even though they may not be. For example, men are often perceived to contribute more to a group because they tend to speak first when asked a question or to fill a silence and are perceived to talk more about task-related matters than relationally oriented matters. Both of these tendencies create a perception that men are more engaged with the task. Men are also socialized to be more competitive and self-congratulatory, meaning that their communication may be seen as dedicated and their behaviors seen as powerful, and that when their work isn’t noticed they will be more likely to make it known to the group rather than take silent credit. Even though we know that the relational elements of a group are crucial for success, even in high-performance teams, that work is not as valued in our society as the task-related work.

Despite the fact that some communication patterns and behaviors related to our typical (and stereotypical) gender socialization affect how we interact in and form perceptions of others in groups, the differences in group communication that used to be attributed to gender in early group communication research seem to be diminishing. This is likely due to the changing organizational cultures from which much group work emerges, which have now had more than sixty years to adjust to women in the workplace. It is also due to a more nuanced understanding of gender-based research, which doesn’t take a stereotypical view from the beginning as many of the early male researchers did. Now, instead of biological sex being assumed as a factor that creates inherent communication differences, group communication scholars see that men and women both exhibit a range of behaviors that are more or less feminine or masculine. It is these gendered behaviors, and not a person’s gender, that seem to have more of an influence on perceptions of group communication. Interestingly, group interactions are still masculinist in that male and female group members prefer a more masculine communication style for task leaders and that both males and females in this role are more likely to adapt to a more masculine communication style. Conversely, men who take on social-emotional leadership behaviors adopt a more feminine communication style. In short, it seems that although masculine communication traits are more often associated with high status positions in groups, both men and women adapt to this expectation and are evaluated similarly (Haslett & Ruebush, 1999).

Other demographic categories are also influential in group communication and decision making. In general, group members have an easier time communicating when they are more similar than different in terms of race and age. This ease of communication can make group work more efficient, but the homogeneity may sacrifice some creativity. As we learned earlier, groups that are diverse (e.g., they have members of different races and generations) benefit from the diversity of perspectives in terms of the quality of decision making and creativity of output.

In terms of age, for the first time since industrialization began, it is common to have three generations of people (and sometimes four) working side by side in an organizational setting. Although four generations often worked together in early factories, they were segregated based on their age group, and a hierarchy existed with older workers at the top and younger workers at the bottom. Today, however, generations interact regularly, and it is not uncommon for an older person to have a leader or supervisor who is younger than him or her (Allen, 2011). The current generations in the US workplace and consequently in work-based groups include the following:

  • The Silent Generation. Born between 1925 and 1942, currently in their midsixties to mideighties, this is the smallest generation in the workforce right now, as many have retired or left for other reasons. This generation includes people who were born during the Great Depression or the early part of World War II, many of whom later fought in the Korean War (Clarke, 1970).
  • The Baby Boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964, currently in their late forties to midsixties, this is the largest generation in the workforce right now. Baby boomers are the most populous generation born in US history, and they are working longer than previous generations, which means they will remain the predominant force in organizations for ten to twenty more years.
  • Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1981, currently in their early thirties to midforties, this generation was the first to see technology like cell phones and the Internet make its way into classrooms and our daily lives. Compared to previous generations, “Gen-Xers” are more diverse in terms of race, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation and also have a greater appreciation for and understanding of diversity.
  • Generation Y. Born between 1982 and 2000, “Millennials” as they are also called are currently in their late teens up to about thirty years old. This generation is not as likely to remember a time without technology such as computers and cell phones. They are just starting to enter into the workforce and have been greatly affected by the economic crisis of the late 2000s, experiencing significantly high unemployment rates.

The benefits and challenges that come with diversity of group members are important to consider. Since we will all work in diverse groups, we should be prepared to address potential challenges in order to reap the benefits. Diverse groups may be wise to coordinate social interactions outside of group time in order to find common ground that can help facilitate interaction and increase group cohesion. We should be sensitive but not let sensitivity create fear of “doing something wrong” that then prevents us from having meaningful interactions. Reviewing Chapter 8 “Culture and Communication” will give you useful knowledge to help you navigate both international and domestic diversity and increase your communication competence in small groups and elsewhere.

Key Takeaways

  • Every problem has common components: an undesirable situation, a desired situation, and obstacles between the undesirable and desirable situations. Every problem also has a set of characteristics that vary among problems, including task difficulty, number of possible solutions, group member interest in the problem, group familiarity with the problem, and the need for solution acceptance.

The group problem-solving process has five steps:

  • Define the problem by creating a problem statement that summarizes it.
  • Analyze the problem and create a problem question that can guide solution generation.
  • Generate possible solutions. Possible solutions should be offered and listed without stopping to evaluate each one.
  • Evaluate the solutions based on their credibility, completeness, and worth. Groups should also assess the potential effects of the narrowed list of solutions.
  • Implement and assess the solution. Aside from enacting the solution, groups should determine how they will know the solution is working or not.
  • Before a group makes a decision, it should brainstorm possible solutions. Group communication scholars suggest that groups (1) do a warm-up brainstorming session; (2) do an actual brainstorming session in which ideas are not evaluated, wild ideas are encouraged, quantity not quality of ideas is the goal, and new combinations of ideas are encouraged; (3) eliminate duplicate ideas; and (4) clarify, organize, and evaluate ideas. In order to guide the idea-generation process and invite equal participation from group members, the group may also elect to use the nominal group technique.
  • Common decision-making techniques include majority rule, minority rule, and consensus rule. With majority rule, only a majority, usually one-half plus one, must agree before a decision is made. With minority rule, a designated authority or expert has final say over a decision, and the input of group members may or may not be invited or considered. With consensus rule, all members of the group must agree on the same decision.

Several factors influence the decision-making process:

  • Situational factors include the degree of freedom a group has to make its own decisions, the level of uncertainty facing the group and its task, the size of the group, the group’s access to information, and the origin and urgency of the problem.
  • Personality influences on decision making include a person’s value orientation (economic, aesthetic, theoretical, political, or religious), and personality traits (dominant/submissive, friendly/unfriendly, and instrumental/emotional).
  • Cultural influences on decision making include the heterogeneity or homogeneity of the group makeup; cultural values and characteristics such as individualism/collectivism, power distance, and high-/low-context communication styles; and gender and age differences.
  • Scenario 1. Task difficulty is high, number of possible solutions is high, group interest in problem is high, group familiarity with problem is low, and need for solution acceptance is high.
  • Scenario 2. Task difficulty is low, number of possible solutions is low, group interest in problem is low, group familiarity with problem is high, and need for solution acceptance is low.
  • Scenario 1: Academic. A professor asks his or her class to decide whether the final exam should be an in-class or take-home exam.
  • Scenario 2: Professional. A group of coworkers must decide which person from their department to nominate for a company-wide award.
  • Scenario 3: Personal. A family needs to decide how to divide the belongings and estate of a deceased family member who did not leave a will.
  • Scenario 4: Civic. A local branch of a political party needs to decide what five key issues it wants to include in the national party’s platform.
  • Group communication researchers have found that heterogeneous groups (composed of diverse members) have advantages over homogenous (more similar) groups. Discuss a group situation you have been in where diversity enhanced your and/or the group’s experience.

Adams, K., and Gloria G. Galanes, Communicating in Groups: Applications and Skills , 7th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2009), 220–21.

Allen, B. J., Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity , 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2011), 5.

Bormann, E. G., and Nancy C. Bormann, Effective Small Group Communication , 4th ed. (Santa Rosa, CA: Burgess CA, 1988), 112–13.

Clarke, G., “The Silent Generation Revisited,” Time, June 29, 1970, 46.

Cragan, J. F., and David W. Wright, Communication in Small Group Discussions: An Integrated Approach , 3rd ed. (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1991), 77–78.

de Bono, E., Six Thinking Hats (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1985).

Delbecq, A. L., and Andrew H. Ven de Ven, “A Group Process Model for Problem Identification and Program Planning,” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 7, no. 4 (1971): 466–92.

Haslett, B. B., and Jenn Ruebush, “What Differences Do Individual Differences in Groups Make?: The Effects of Individuals, Culture, and Group Composition,” in The Handbook of Group Communication Theory and Research , ed. Lawrence R. Frey (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1999), 133.

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Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

normal process of problem solving

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

normal process of problem solving

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Your list of techniques for problem solving can be helpfully extended by adding TRIZ to the list of techniques. TRIZ has 40 problem solving techniques derived from methods inventros and patent holders used to get new patents. About 10-12 are general approaches. many organization sponsor classes in TRIZ that are used to solve business problems or general organiztational problems. You can take a look at TRIZ and dwonload a free internet booklet to see if you feel it shound be included per your selection process.

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HBR On Strategy podcast series

A Better Framework for Solving Tough Problems

Start with trust and end with speed.

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When it comes to solving complicated problems, the default for many organizational leaders is to take their time to work through the issues at hand. Unfortunately, that often leads to patchwork solutions or problems not truly getting resolved.

But Anne Morriss offers a different framework. In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem and explains why starting with trust and ending with speed is so important for effective change leadership. As she says, “Let’s get into dialogue with the people who are also impacted by the problem before we start running down the path of solving it.”

Morriss is an entrepreneur and leadership coach. She’s also the coauthor of the book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems .

Key episode topics include: strategy, decision making and problem solving, strategy execution, managing people, collaboration and teams, trustworthiness, organizational culture, change leadership, problem solving, leadership.

HBR On Strategy curates the best case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, to help you unlock new ways of doing business. New episodes every week.

  • Listen to the full HBR IdeaCast episode: How to Solve Tough Problems Better and Faster (2023)
  • Find more episodes of HBR IdeaCast
  • Discover 100 years of Harvard Business Review articles, case studies, podcasts, and more at HBR.org .

HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR On Strategy , case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock new ways of doing business.

When it comes to solving complicated problems, many leaders only focus on the most apparent issues. Unfortunately that often leads to patchwork or partial solutions. But Anne Morriss offers a different framework that aims to truly tackle big problems by first leaning into trust and then focusing on speed.

Morriss is an entrepreneur and leadership coach. She’s also the co-author of the book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems . In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem. Some, she says, can be solved in a week, while others take much longer. She also explains why starting with trust and ending with speed is so important for effective change leadership.

This episode originally aired on HBR IdeaCast in October 2023. Here it is.

CURT NICKISCH: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Curt Nickisch.

Problems can be intimidating. Sure, some problems are fun to dig into. You roll up your sleeves, you just take care of them; but others, well, they’re complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your brain around a problem, much less fix it.

And that’s especially true for leaders in organizations where problems are often layered and complex. They sometimes demand technical, financial, or interpersonal knowledge to fix. And whether it’s avoidance on the leaders’ part or just the perception that a problem is systemic or even intractable, problems find a way to endure, to keep going, to keep being a problem that everyone tries to work around or just puts up with.

But today’s guest says that just compounds it and makes the problem harder to fix. Instead, she says, speed and momentum are key to overcoming a problem.

Anne Morriss is an entrepreneur, leadership coach and founder of the Leadership Consortium and with Harvard Business School Professor Francis Frei, she wrote the new book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leaders Guide to Solving Hard Problems . Anne, welcome back to the show.

ANNE MORRISS: Curt, thank you so much for having me.

CURT NICKISCH: So, to generate momentum at an organization, you say that you really need speed and trust. We’ll get into those essential ingredients some more, but why are those two essential?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, the essential pattern that we observed was that the most effective change leaders out there were building trust and speed, and it didn’t seem to be a well-known observation. We all know the phrase, “Move fast and break things,” but the people who were really getting it right were moving fast and fixing things, and that was really our jumping off point. So when we dug into the pattern, what we observed was they were building trust first and then speed. This foundation of trust was what allowed them to fix more things and break fewer.

CURT NICKISCH: Trust sounds like a slow thing, right? If you talk about building trust, that is something that takes interactions, it takes communication, it takes experiences. Does that run counter to the speed idea?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, this issue of trust is something we’ve been looking at for over a decade. One of the headlines in our research is it’s actually something we’re building and rebuilding and breaking all the time. And so instead of being this precious, almost farbege egg, it’s this thing that is constantly in motion and this thing that we can really impact when we’re deliberate about our choices and have some self-awareness around where it’s breaking down and how it’s breaking down.

CURT NICKISCH: You said break trust in there, which is intriguing, right? That you may have to break trust to build trust. Can you explain that a little?

ANNE MORRISS:  Yeah, well, I’ll clarify. It’s not that you have to break it in order to build it. It’s just that we all do it some of the time. Most of us are trusted most of the time. Most of your listeners I imagine are trusted most of the time, but all of us have a pattern where we break trust or where we don’t build as much as could be possible.

CURT NICKISCH: I want to talk about speed, this other essential ingredient that’s so intriguing, right? Because you think about solving hard problems as something that just takes a lot of time and thinking and coordination and planning and designing. Explain what you mean by it? And also, just  how we maybe approach problems wrong by taking them on too slowly?

ANNE MORRISS: Well, Curt, no one has ever said to us, “I wish I had taken longer and done less.” We hear the opposite all the time, by the way. So what we really set out to do was to create a playbook that anyone can use to take less time to do more of the things that are going to make your teams and organizations stronger.

And the way we set up the book is okay, it’s really a five step process. Speed is the last step. It’s the payoff for the hard work you’re going to do to figure out your problem, build or rebuild trust, expand the team in thoughtful and strategic ways, and then tell a real and compelling story about the change you’re leading.

Only then do you get to go fast, but that’s an essential part of the process, and we find that either people under emphasize it or speed has gotten a bad name in this world of moving fast and breaking things. And part of our mission for sure was to rehabilitate speed’s reputation because it is an essential part of the change leader’s equation. It can be the difference between good intentions and getting anything done at all.

CURT NICKISCH: You know, the fact that nobody ever tells you, “I wish we had done less and taken more time.” I think we all feel that, right? Sometimes we do something and then realize, “Oh, that wasn’t that hard and why did it take me so long to do it? And I wish I’d done this a long time ago.” Is it ever possible to solve a problem too quickly?

ANNE MORRISS: Absolutely. And we see that all the time too. What we push people to do in those scenarios is really take a look at the underlying issue because in most cases, the solution is not to take your foot off the accelerator per se and slow down. The solution is to get into the underlying problem. So if it’s burnout or a strategic disconnect between what you’re building and the marketplace you’re serving, what we find is the anxiety that people attach to speed or the frustration people attach to speed is often misplaced.

CURT NICKISCH: What is a good timeline to think about solving a problem then? Because if we by default take too long or else jump ahead and we don’t fix it right, what’s a good target time to have in your mind for how long solving a problem should take?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, we’re playful in the book and talking about the idea that many problems can be solved in a week. We set the book up five chapters. They’re titled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and we’re definitely having fun with that. And yet, if you count the hours in a week, there are a lot of them. Many of our problems, if you were to spend a focused 40 hours of effort on a problem, you’re going to get pretty far.

But our main message is, listen, of course it’s going to depend on the nature of the problem, and you’re going to take weeks and maybe even some cases months to get to the other side. What we don’t want you to do is take years, which tends to be our default timeline for solving hard problems.

CURT NICKISCH: So you say to start with identifying the problem that’s holding you back, seems kind of obvious. But where do companies go right and wrong with this first step of just identifying the problem that’s holding you back?

ANNE MORRISS: And our goal is that all of these are going to feel obvious in retrospect. The problem is we skip over a lot of these steps and this is why we wanted to underline them. So this one is really rooted in our observation and I think the pattern of our species that we tend to be overconfident in the quality of our thoughts, particularly when it comes to diagnosing problems.

And so we want to invite you to start in a very humble and curious place, which tends not to be our default mode when we’re showing up for work. We convince ourselves that we’re being paid for our judgment. That’s exactly what gets reinforced everywhere. And so we tend to counterintuitively, given what we just talked about, we tend to move too quickly through the diagnostic phase.

CURT NICKISCH: “I know what to do, that’s why you hired me.”

ANNE MORRISS: Exactly. “I know what to do. That’s why you hired me. I’ve seen this before. I have a plan. Follow me.” We get rewarded for the expression of confidence and clarity. And so what we’re inviting people to do here is actually pause and really lean into what are the root causes of the problem you’re seeing? What are some alternative explanations? Let’s get into dialogue with the people who are also impacted by the problem before we start running down the path of solving it.

CURT NICKISCH: So what do you recommend for this step, for getting to the root of the problem? What are questions you should ask? What’s the right thought process? What do you do on Monday of the week?

ANNE MORRISS: In our experience of doing this work, people tend to undervalue the power of conversation, particularly with other people in the organization. So we will often advocate putting together a team of problem solvers, make it a temporary team, really pull in people who have a particular perspective on the problem and create the space, make it as psychologically safe as you can for people to really, as Chris Argyris so beautifully articulated, discuss the undiscussable.

And so the conditions for that are going to look different in every organization depending on the problem, but if you can get a space where smart people who have direct experience of a problem are in a room and talking honestly with each other, you can make an extraordinary amount of progress, certainly in a day.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah, that gets back to the trust piece.

ANNE MORRISS: Definitely.

CURT NICKISCH: How do you like to start that meeting, or how do you like to talk about it? I’m just curious what somebody on that team might hear in that meeting, just to get the sense that it’s psychologically safe, you can discuss the undiscussable and you’re also focusing on the identification part. What’s key to communicate there?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, we sometimes encourage people to do a little bit of data gathering before those conversations. So the power of a quick anonymous survey around whatever problem you’re solving, but also be really thoughtful about the questions you’re going to ask in the moment. So a little bit of preparation can go a long way and a little bit of thoughtfulness about the power dynamic. So who’s going to walk in there with license to speak and who’s going to hold back? So being thoughtful about the agenda, about the questions you’re asking about the room, about the facilitation, and then courage is a very infectious emotion.

So if you can early on create the conditions for people to show up bravely in that conversation, then the chance that you’re going to get good information and that you’re going to walk out of that room with new insight in the problem that you didn’t have when you walked in is extraordinarily high.

CURT NICKISCH: Now, in those discussions, you may have people who have different perspectives on what the problem really is. They also bear different costs of addressing the problem or solving it. You talked about the power dynamic, but there’s also an unfairness dynamic of who’s going to actually have to do the work to take care of it, and I wonder how you create a culture in that meeting where it’s the most productive?

ANNE MORRISS: For sure, the burden of work is not going to be equitably distributed around the room. But I would say, Curt, the dynamic that we see most often is that people are deeply relieved that hard problems are being addressed. So it really can create, and more often than not in our experience, it does create this beautiful flywheel of action, creativity, optimism. Often when problems haven’t been addressed, there is a fair amount of anxiety in the organization, frustration, stagnation. And so credible movement towards action and progress is often the best antidote. So even if the plan isn’t super clear yet, if it’s credible, given who’s in the room and their decision rights and mandate, if there’s real momentum coming out of that to make progress, then that tends to be deeply energizing to people.

CURT NICKISCH: I wonder if there’s an organization that you’ve worked with that you could talk about how this rolled out and how this took shape?

ANNE MORRISS: When we started working with Uber, that was wrestling with some very public issues of culture and trust with a range of stakeholders internally, the organization, also external, that work really started with a campaign of listening and really trying to understand where trust was breaking down from the perspective of these stakeholders?

So whether it was female employees or regulators or riders who had safety concerns getting into the car with a stranger. This work, it starts with an honest internal dialogue, but often the problem has threads that go external. And so bringing that same commitment to curiosity and humility and dialogue to anyone who’s impacted by the problem is the fastest way to surface what’s really going on.

CURT NICKISCH: There’s a step in this process that you lay out and that’s communicating powerfully as a leader. So we’ve heard about listening and trust building, but now you’re talking about powerful communication. How do you do this and why is it maybe this step in the process rather than the first thing you do or the last thing you do?

ANNE MORRISS: So in our process, again, it’s the days of the week. On Monday you figured out the problem. Tuesday you really got into the sandbox in figuring out what a good enough plan is for building trust. Wednesday, step three, you made it better. You created an even better plan, bringing in new perspectives. Thursday, this fourth step is the day we’re saying you got to go get buy-in. You got to bring other people along. And again, this is a step where we see people often underinvest in the power and payoff of really executing it well.

CURT NICKISCH: How does that go wrong?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, people don’t know the why. Human behavior and the change in human behavior really depends on a strong why. It’s not just a selfish, “What’s in it for me?” Although that’s helpful, but where are we going? I may be invested in a status quo and I need to understand, okay, if you’re going to ask me to change, if you’re going to invite me into this uncomfortable place of doing things differently, why am I here? Help me understand it and articulate the way forward and language that not only I can understand, but also that’s going to be motivating to me.

CURT NICKISCH: And who on my team was part of this process and all that kind of stuff?

ANNE MORRISS: Oh, yeah. I may have some really important questions that may be in the way of my buy-in and commitment to this plan. So certainly creating a space where those questions can be addressed is essential. But what we found is that there is an architecture of a great change story, and it starts with honoring the past, honoring the starting place. Sometimes we’re so excited about the change and animated about the change that what has happened before or what is even happening in the present tense is low on our list of priorities.

Or we want to label it bad, because that’s the way we’ve thought about the change, but really pausing and honoring what came before you and all the reasonable decisions that led up to it, I think can be really helpful to getting people emotionally where you want them to be willing to be guided by you. Going back to Uber, when Dara Khosrowshahi came in.

CURT NICKISCH: This is the new CEO.

ANNE MORRISS: The new CEO.

CURT NICKISCH: Replaced Travis Kalanick, the founder and first CEO, yeah.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, and had his first all-hands meeting. One of his key messages, and this is a quote, was that he was going to retain the edge that had made Uber, “A force of nature.” And in that meeting, the crowd went wild because this is also a company that had been beaten up publicly for months and months and months, and it was a really powerful choice. And his predecessor, Travis was in the room, and he also honored Travis’ incredible work and investment in bringing the company to the place where it was.

And I would use words like grace to also describe those choices, but there’s also an incredible strategic value to naming the starting place for everybody in the room because in most cases, most people in that room played a role in getting to that starting place, and you’re acknowledging that.

CURT NICKISCH: You can call it grace. Somebody else might call it diplomatic or strategic. But yeah, I guess like it or not, it’s helpful to call out and honor the complexity of the way things have been done and also the change that’s happening.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, and the value. Sometimes honoring the past is also owning what didn’t work or what wasn’t working for stakeholders or segments of the employee team, and we see that around culture change. Sometimes you’ve got to acknowledge that it was not an equitable environment, but whatever the worker, everyone in that room is bringing that pass with them. So again, making it discussable and using it as the jumping off place is where we advise people to start.

Then you’ve earned the right to talk about the change mandate, which we suggest using clear and compelling language about the why. “This is what happened, this is where we are, this is the good and the bad of it, and here’s the case for change.”

And then the last part, which is to describe a rigorous and optimistic way forward. It’s a simple past, present, future arc, which will be familiar to human beings. We love stories as human beings. It’s among the most powerful currency we have to make sense of the world.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. Chronological is a pretty powerful order.

ANNE MORRISS: Right. But again, the change leaders we see really get it right, are investing an incredible amount of time into the storytelling part of their job. Ursula Burns, the Head of Xerox is famous for the months and years she spent on the road just telling the story of Xerox’s change, its pivot into services to everyone who would listen, and that was a huge part of her success.

CURT NICKISCH: So Friday or your fifth step, you end with empowering teams and removing roadblocks. That seems obvious, but it’s critical. Can you dig into that a little bit?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Friday is the fun day. Friday’s the release of energy into the system. Again, you’ve now earned the right to go fast. You have a plan, you’re pretty confident it’s going to work. You’ve told the story of change the organization, and now you get to sprint. So this is about really executing with urgency, and it’s about a lot of the tactics of speed is where we focus in the book. So the tactics of empowerment, making tough strategic trade-offs so that your priorities are clear and clearly communicated, creating mechanisms to fast-track progress. At Etsy, CEO Josh Silverman, he labeled these projects ambulances. It’s an unfortunate metaphor, but it’s super memorable. These are the products that get to speed out in front of the other ones because the stakes are high and the clock is sticking.

CURT NICKISCH: You pull over and let it go by.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, exactly. And so we have to agree as an organization on how to do something like that. And so we see lots of great examples both in young organizations and big complex biotech companies with lots of regulatory guardrails have still found ways to do this gracefully.

And I think we end with this idea of conflict debt, which is a term we really love. Leanne Davey, who’s a team scholar and researcher, and anyone in a tech company will recognize the idea of tech debt, which is this weight the organization drags around until they resolve it. Conflict debt is a beautiful metaphor because it is this weight that we drag around and slows us down until we decide to clean it up and fix it. The organizations that are really getting speed right have figured out either formally or informally, how to create an environment where conflict and disagreements can be gracefully resolved.

CURT NICKISCH: Well, let’s talk about this speed more, right? Because I think this is one of those places that maybe people go wrong or take too long, and then you lose the awareness of the problem, you lose that urgency. And then that also just makes it less effective, right? It’s not just about getting the problem solved as quickly as possible. It’s also just speed in some ways helps solve the problem.

ANNE MORRISS: Oh, yeah. It really is the difference between imagining the change you want to lead and really being able to bring it to life. Speed is the thing that unlocks your ability to lead change. It needs a foundation, and that’s what Monday through Thursday is all about, steps one through four, but the finish line is executing with urgency, and it’s that urgency that releases the system’s energy, that communicates your priorities, that creates the conditions for your team to make progress.

CURT NICKISCH: Moving fast is something that entrepreneurs and tech companies certainly understand, but there’s also this awareness that with big companies, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to turn the aircraft carrier around, right? Is speed relative when you get at those levels, or do you think this is something that any company should be able to apply equally?

ANNE MORRISS: We think this applies to any company. The culture really lives at the level of team. So we believe you can make a tremendous amount of progress even within your circle of control as a team leader. I want to bring some humility to this and careful of words like universal, but we do think there’s some universal truths here around the value of speed, and then some of the byproducts like keeping fantastic people. Your best people want to solve problems, they want to execute, they want to make progress and speed, and the ability to do that is going to be a variable in their own equation of whether they stay or they go somewhere else where they can have an impact.

CURT NICKISCH: Right. They want to accomplish something before they go or before they retire or finish something out. And if you’re able to just bring more things on the horizon and have it not feel like it’s going to be another two years to do something meaningful.

ANNE MORRISS: People – I mean, they want to make stuff happen and they want to be around the energy and the vitality of making things happen, which again, is also a super infectious phenomenon. One of the most important jobs of a leader, we believe, is to set the metabolic pace of their teams and organizations. And so what we really dig into on Friday is, well, what does that look like to speed something up? What are the tactics of that?

CURT NICKISCH: I wonder if that universal truth, that a body in motion stays in motion applies to organizations, right? If an organization in motion stays in motion, there is something to that.

ANNE MORRISS: Absolutely.

CURT NICKISCH: Do you have a favorite client story to share, just where you saw speed just become a bit of a flywheel or just a positive reinforcement loop for more positive change at the organization?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. We work with a fair number of organizations that are on fire. We do a fair amount of firefighting, but we also less dramatically do a lot of fire prevention. So we’re brought into organizations that are working well and want to get better, looking out on the horizon. That work is super gratifying, and there is always a component of, well, how do we speed this up?

What I love about that work is there’s often already a high foundation of trust, and so it’s, well, how do we maintain that foundation but move this flywheel, as you said, even faster? And it’s really energizing because often there’s a lot of pent-up energy that… There’s a lot of loyalty to the organization, but often it’s also frustration and pent-up energy. And so when that gets released, when good people get the opportunity to sprint for the first time in a little while, it’s incredibly energizing, not just for us, but for the whole organization.

CURT NICKISCH: Anne, this is great. I think finding a way to solve problems better but also faster is going to be really helpful. So thanks for coming on the show to talk about it.

ANNE MORRISS:  Oh, Curt, it was such a pleasure. This is my favorite conversation. I’m delighted to have it anytime.

HANNAH BATES: That was entrepreneur, leadership coach, and author Anne Morriss – in conversation with Curt Nickisch on HBR IdeaCast.

We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about business strategy from Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review.

When you’re ready for more podcasts, articles, case studies, books, and videos with the world’s top business and management experts, you’ll find it all at HBR.org.

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe, Anne Saini, and me, Hannah Bates. Ian Fox is our editor. Special thanks to Rob Eckhardt, Maureen Hoch, Erica Truxler, Ramsey Khabbaz, Nicole Smith, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener. See you next week.

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What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of The Anxiety Workbook and founder of the website About Social Anxiety. She has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

normal process of problem solving

Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

normal process of problem solving

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Problem-Solving Therapy Techniques

How effective is problem-solving therapy, things to consider, how to get started.

Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness.

Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression , among other conditions. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional and may be combined with other treatment approaches.

At a Glance

Problem-solving therapy is a short-term treatment used to help people who are experiencing depression, stress, PTSD, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems develop the tools they need to deal with challenges. This approach teaches people to identify problems, generate solutions, and implement those solutions. Let's take a closer look at how problem-solving therapy can help people be more resilient and adaptive in the face of stress.

Problem-solving therapy is based on a model that takes into account the importance of real-life problem-solving. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is to know how to address issues as they arise. Problem-solving therapy is very practical in its approach and is only concerned with the present, rather than delving into your past.

This form of therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group format and may be offered in person or online via telehealth . Sessions can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours long. 

Key Components

There are two major components that make up the problem-solving therapy framework:

  • Applying a positive problem-solving orientation to your life
  • Using problem-solving skills

A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy , and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like:

  • Knowing how to identify a problem
  • Defining the problem in a helpful way
  • Trying to understand the problem more deeply
  • Setting goals related to the problem
  • Generating alternative, creative solutions to the problem
  • Choosing the best course of action
  • Implementing the choice you have made
  • Evaluating the outcome to determine next steps

Problem-solving therapy is all about training you to become adaptive in your life so that you will start to see problems as challenges to be solved instead of insurmountable obstacles. It also means that you will recognize the action that is required to engage in effective problem-solving techniques.

Planful Problem-Solving

One problem-solving technique, called planful problem-solving, involves following a series of steps to fix issues in a healthy, constructive way:

  • Problem definition and formulation : This step involves identifying the real-life problem that needs to be solved and formulating it in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions.
  • Generation of alternative solutions : This stage involves coming up with various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal in this step is to brainstorm options to creatively address the life stressor in ways that you may not have previously considered.
  • Decision-making strategies : This stage involves discussing different strategies for making decisions as well as identifying obstacles that may get in the way of solving the problem at hand.
  • Solution implementation and verification : This stage involves implementing a chosen solution and then verifying whether it was effective in addressing the problem.

Other Techniques

Other techniques your therapist may go over include:

  • Problem-solving multitasking , which helps you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even during times of stress
  • Stop, slow down, think, and act (SSTA) , which is meant to encourage you to become more emotionally mindful when faced with conflict
  • Healthy thinking and imagery , which teaches you how to embrace more positive self-talk while problem-solving

What Problem-Solving Therapy Can Help With

Problem-solving therapy addresses life stress issues and focuses on helping you find solutions to concrete issues. This approach can be applied to problems associated with various psychological and physiological symptoms.

Mental Health Issues

Problem-solving therapy may help address mental health issues, like:

  • Chronic stress due to accumulating minor issues
  • Complications associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Problems associated with a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
  • Self-harm and feelings of hopelessness
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

Specific Life Challenges

This form of therapy is also helpful for dealing with specific life problems, such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Everyday life stressors
  • Family problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relationship conflicts

Your doctor or mental healthcare professional will be able to advise whether problem-solving therapy could be helpful for your particular issue. In general, if you are struggling with specific, concrete problems that you are having trouble finding solutions for, problem-solving therapy could be helpful for you.

Benefits of Problem-Solving Therapy

The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can be helpful for managing all areas of your life. These can include:

  • Being able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger)
  • Confidence that you can handle problems that you face
  • Having a systematic approach on how to deal with life's problems
  • Having a toolbox of strategies to solve the issues you face
  • Increased confidence to find creative solutions
  • Knowing how to identify which barriers will impede your progress
  • Knowing how to manage emotions when they arise
  • Reduced avoidance and increased action-taking
  • The ability to accept life problems that can't be solved
  • The ability to make effective decisions
  • The development of patience (realizing that not all problems have a "quick fix")

Problem-solving therapy can help people feel more empowered to deal with the problems they face in their lives. Rather than feeling overwhelmed when stressors begin to take a toll, this therapy introduces new coping skills that can boost self-efficacy and resilience .

Other Types of Therapy

Other similar types of therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) . While these therapies work to change thinking and behaviors, they work a bit differently. Both CBT and SFBT are less structured than problem-solving therapy and may focus on broader issues. CBT focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thoughts, and SFBT works to help people look for solutions and build self-efficacy based on strengths.

This form of therapy was initially developed to help people combat stress through effective problem-solving, and it was later adapted to address clinical depression specifically. Today, much of the research on problem-solving therapy deals with its effectiveness in treating depression.

Problem-solving therapy has been shown to help depression in: 

  • Older adults
  • People coping with serious illnesses like cancer

Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, offering benefits in as little as six to eight sessions with a therapist or another healthcare professional. This may make it a good option for someone unable to commit to a lengthier treatment for depression.

Problem-solving therapy is not a good fit for everyone. It may not be effective at addressing issues that don't have clear solutions, like seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem-solving therapy is also intended to treat specific problems, not general habits or thought patterns .

In general, it's also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not a primary treatment for mental disorders. If you are living with the symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia , you may need additional treatment with evidence-based approaches for your particular concern.

Problem-solving therapy is best aimed at someone who has a mental or physical issue that is being treated separately, but who also has life issues that go along with that problem that has yet to be addressed.

For example, it could help if you can't clean your house or pay your bills because of your depression, or if a cancer diagnosis is interfering with your quality of life.

Your doctor may be able to recommend therapists in your area who utilize this approach, or they may offer it themselves as part of their practice. You can also search for a problem-solving therapist with help from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society of Clinical Psychology .

If receiving problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental healthcare professional is not an option for you, you could also consider implementing it as a self-help strategy using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills on your own.

During your first session, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and approach. They may ask you to identify the problem you’re currently facing, and they’ll likely discuss your goals for therapy .

Keep In Mind

Problem-solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that's focused on solving a specific issue in your life. If you need further help with something more pervasive, it can also become a longer-term treatment option.

Get Help Now

We've tried, tested, and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, BetterHelp, and ReGain. Find out which option is the best for you.

Shang P, Cao X, You S, Feng X, Li N, Jia Y. Problem-solving therapy for major depressive disorders in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials .  Aging Clin Exp Res . 2021;33(6):1465-1475. doi:10.1007/s40520-020-01672-3

Cuijpers P, Wit L de, Kleiboer A, Karyotaki E, Ebert DD. Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis . Eur Psychiatry . 2018;48(1):27-37. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.11.006

Nezu AM, Nezu CM, D'Zurilla TJ. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual . New York; 2013. doi:10.1891/9780826109415.0001

Owens D, Wright-Hughes A, Graham L, et al. Problem-solving therapy rather than treatment as usual for adults after self-harm: a pragmatic, feasibility, randomised controlled trial (the MIDSHIPS trial) .  Pilot Feasibility Stud . 2020;6:119. doi:10.1186/s40814-020-00668-0

Sorsdahl K, Stein DJ, Corrigall J, et al. The efficacy of a blended motivational interviewing and problem solving therapy intervention to reduce substance use among patients presenting for emergency services in South Africa: A randomized controlled trial . Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy . 2015;10(1):46. doi:doi.org/10.1186/s13011-015-0042-1

Margolis SA, Osborne P, Gonzalez JS. Problem solving . In: Gellman MD, ed. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine . Springer International Publishing; 2020:1745-1747. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_208

Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults . Int J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2016;31(5):526-535. doi:10.1002/gps.4358

Garand L, Rinaldo DE, Alberth MM, et al. Effects of problem solving therapy on mental health outcomes in family caregivers of persons with a new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia: A randomized controlled trial . Am J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2014;22(8):771-781. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.007

Noyes K, Zapf AL, Depner RM, et al. Problem-solving skills training in adult cancer survivors: Bright IDEAS-AC pilot study .  Cancer Treat Res Commun . 2022;31:100552. doi:10.1016/j.ctarc.2022.100552

Albert SM, King J, Anderson S, et al. Depression agency-based collaborative: effect of problem-solving therapy on risk of common mental disorders in older adults with home care needs . The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry . 2019;27(6):619-624. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.01.002

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of The Anxiety Workbook and founder of the website About Social Anxiety. She has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

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Problem management: 8 steps to better problem solving

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Problem management is an 8 step framework most commonly used by IT teams. You can use problem management to solve for repeating major incidents. By organizing and structuring your problem solving, you can more effectively get to the root cause of high-impact problems—and devise a solution. Solving the root cause prevents recurrence and creates a repeatable solution to use on similar errors in the future.

In an IT department, errors and mishaps are part of the job. You can't always control these problems, but you can control how you respond to them with problem management. Problem management helps you solve larger problems and reduce the risk that they’ll happen again by identifying all connected problems, solving them, and planning for the future.

What is problem management?

Problem management is an 8 step framework most commonly used by IT teams. Your team can use problem management to solve for repeating major incidents. By organizing and structuring your problem solving, you can more effectively get to the root cause of high-impact problems—and devise a solution. Problem management is a process—used mostly by IT teams—to identify, react, and respond to issues. It’s not for every problem, but it’s a useful response when multiple major incidents occur that cause large work interruptions. Unlike problem solving, problem management goes beyond the initial incident to discover and dissect the root causes, preventing future incidents with permanent solutions.

The goals of problem management are to:

Prevent problems before they start.

Solve for repetitive errors.

Lessen each incident’s impact. 

Problem management vs. incident management 

Example: Someone leaves their unprotected laptop in a coffee shop, causing a security breach. The security team can use incident management to solve for this one, isolated event. In this case, the team could manually shut down the accounts connected to that laptop. If this continues to happen, IT would use problem management to solve the root of this issue—perhaps installing more security features on each company laptop so that if employees lose them, no one else can access the information.

Problem management vs. problem solving

While similar in name, problem management differs slightly from problem-solving. Problem management focuses on every aspect of the incident—identifying the root cause of the problem, solving it, and prevention. Problem solving is, as the name implies, focused solely on the solution step. 

Example: You’re launching a new password management system when it crashes—again. You don’t know if anything leaked, but you know it could contain confidential information. Plus, it’s happened before. You start the problem management process to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In that process, you’ll use problem solving as a step to fix the issue. In this case, perhaps securing confidential information before you try to launch a new software.

Problem management vs. change management 

Change management targets large transitions within your workplace, good and bad. These inevitable changes aren’t always negative, so you can’t always apply problem management as a solution. That’s where change management comes in—a framework that helps you adjust to any new scenario.

Example: Your company is transitioning to a new cloud platform. The transition happens incident-free—meaning you won’t need problem management—but you can ease the transition by implementing some change management best practices. Preparing and training team members in the new software is a good place to start.

Problem management vs. project management

Project management is the framework for larger collections of work. It’s the overarching method for how you work on any project, hit goals, and get results. You can use project management to help you with problem management, but they are not the same thing. Problem management and project management work together to solve issues as part of your problem management process.

Example: During problem management, you uncover a backend security issue that needs to be addressed—employees are using storage software with outdated security measures. To solve this, you create a project and outline the tasks from start to finish. In this case, you might need to alert senior executives, get approval to remove the software, and alert employees. You create a project schedule with a defined timeline and assign the tasks to relevant teams. In this process, you identified a desired outcome—remove the unsafe software—and solved it. That’s project management.

The 8 steps of problem management

It’s easy to get upset when problems occur. In fact, it’s totally normal. But an emotional response is not always the best response when faced with new incidents. Having a reliable system—such as problem management—removes the temptation to respond emotionally. Proactive project management gives your team a framework for problem solving. It’s an iterative process —the more you use it, the more likely you are to have fewer problems, faster response times, and better outputs. 

1. Identify the problem

During problem identification, you’re looking at the present—what’s happening right now? Here, you’ll define what the incident is and its scale. Is this a small, quick-fix, or a full overhaul? Consider using problem framing to define, prioritize, and understand the obstacles involved with these more complex problems. 

2. Diagnose the cause

Use problem analysis or root cause analysis to strategically look at the cause of a problem. Follow the trail of issues all the way back to its beginnings.

To diagnose the underlying cause, you’ll want to answer:

What factors or conditions led to the incident?

Do you see related incidents? Could those be coming from the same source?

Did someone miss a step? Are processes responsible for this problem?

3. Organize and prioritize

Now it’s time to build out your framework. Use an IT project plan to organize information in a space where everyone can make and see updates in real time. The easiest way to do this is with a project management tool where you can input ‌tasks, assign deadlines, and add dependencies to ensure nothing gets missed. To better organize your process, define:

What needs to be done? 

Who’s responsible for each aspect? If no one is, can we assign someone? 

When does each piece need to be completed?

What is the final number of incidents related to this problem?

Are any of these tasks dependent on another one? Do you need to set up dependencies ?

What are your highest priorities? How do they affect our larger business goals ? 

How should you plan for this in the future?

4. Create a workaround

If the incident has stopped work or altered it, you might need to create a workaround. This is not always necessary, but temporary workarounds can keep work on track and avoid backlog while you go through the problem management steps. When these workarounds are especially effective, you can make them permanent processes.

5. Update your known error database

Every time an incident occurs, create a known error record and add it to your known error database (KEDB). Recording incidents helps you catch recurrences and logs the solution, so you know how to solve similar errors in the future. 

[product ui] Incident log example (lists)

6. Pause for change management (if necessary)

Larger, high-impact problems might require change management. For example, if you realize the problem’s root cause is a lack of staff, you might dedicate team members to help. You can use change management to help them transition their responsibilities, see how these new roles fit in with the entire team, and determine how they will collaborate moving forward.

7. Solve the problem

This is the fun part—you get to resolve problems. At this stage, you should know exactly what you’re dealing with and the steps you need to take. But remember—with problem management, it’s not enough to solve the current problem. You’ll want to take any steps to prevent this from happening again in the future. That could mean hiring a new role to cover gaps in workflows , investing in new softwares and tools, or training staff on best practices to prevent these types of incidents.

Read: Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies

8. Reflect on the process

The problem management process has the added benefit of recording the process in its entirety, so you can review it in the future. Once you’ve solved the problem, take the time to review each step and reflect on the lessons learned during this process. Make note of who was involved, what you needed, and any opportunities to improve your response to the next incident. After you go through the problem management process a few times and understand the basic steps, stakeholders, workload, and resources you need, create a template to make the kickoff process easier in the future.

5 benefits of problem management

Problem management helps you discover every piece of the problem—from the current scenario down to its root cause. Not only does this have an immediate positive impact on the current issue at hand, it also promotes collaboration and helps to build a better product overall. 

Here are five other ways ‌problem management can benefit your team:

Avoids repeat incidents. When you manage the entire incident from start to finish, you will address the foundational problems that caused it. This leads to fewer repeat incidents.

Boosts cross-functional collaboration. Problem management is a collaborative process. One incident might require collaboration from IT, the security team, and legal. Depending on the level of the problem, it might trickle all the way back down to the product or service team, where core changes need to be made.

Creates a better user experience. It’s simple—the fewer incidents you have, the better your customer’s experience will be. Reducing incidents means fewer delays, downtime, and frustrations for your users, and a higher rate of customer satisfaction.

Improves response time. As you develop a flow and framework with a project management process, you’ll be better equipped to handle future incidents—even if they’re different scenarios.

Organizes problem solving. Problem management provides a structured, thoughtful approach to solving problems. This reduces impulsive responses and helps you keep a better problem record of incidents and solutions.

Problem management leads to better, faster solutions

IT teams will always have to deal with incidents, but they don’t have to be bogged down by them. That’s because problem management works. Whether you employ a full problem management team or choose to apply these practices to your current IT infrastructure, problem management—especially when combined with a project management tool—saves you time and effort down the road.

With IT project plans, we’ve made it easier than ever to track your problem management work in a shared tool. Try our free IT project template to see your work come together, effortlessly.

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1.7: Problem Solving Process

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Learning how to use a structured problem solving process will help you to be more organized and support your future courses. Also, it will train your brain how to approach problems. Just like basketball players practice jump shots over and over to train their body how to act in high pressure scenarios, if you are comfortable and familiar with a structured problem solving process, when you’re in a high pressure situation like a test, you can just jump into the problem like muscle memory.

6 Step Problem Solving Method:

  • Write out the answer with all necessary information that is given to you. It feels like it takes forever, but it’s important to have the problem and solution next to each other.
  • Draw the problem, this is usually a free-body diagram (don’t forget a coordinate frame). Eventually, as you get further into the course, you might need a few drawings. One would be a quick sketch of the problem in the real world, then modelling it into a simplified engineering drawing, and finally the free-body diagram.
  • Write out a list of the known/given values with the variable and unit, i.e m = 14 kg   (variable = number unit)
  • Write out a list of the unknown values that you will have to solve for in order to solve the problem
  • You can also add any assumptions you made here that change the problem.
  • Also state any constants, i.e. g = 32.2 ft/m 2   or g = 9.81 m/s 2
  • This step helps you to have all of the information in one place when you solve the problem. It’s also important because each number should include units, so you can see if the units match or if you need to convert some numbers so they are all in English or SI. This also gives you the variables side by side to ensure they are unique (so you don’t accidentally have 2 ‘d’ variables and can rename one with a subscript).
  • Write a simple sentence or phrase explaining what method/approach you will be using to solve the problem.
  • For example: ‘use method of joints’, or equilibrium equations for a rigid body, MMOI for a certain shape, etc.
  • This is going to be more important when you get to the later chapters and especially next semester in Dynamics where you can solve the same problem many ways. Might as well practice now!
  • This is the actual solving step. This is where you show all the work you have done to solve the problem.
  • When you get an answer, restate the variable you are solving for, include the unit, and put a box around the answer.
  • Write a simple sentence explaining why (or why not) your answer makes sense. Use logic and common sense for this step.
  • When possible, use a second quick numerical analysis to verify your answer. This is the “gut check” to do a quick calculation to ensure your answer is reasonable.
  • This is the most confusing step as students often don’t know what to put here and up just writing ‘The number looks reasonable’. This step is vitally important to help you learn how to think about your answer. What does that number mean? What is it close to? For example, if you find that x = 4000 m, that’s a very large distance! In the review, I would say, ‘the object is 4 km long which is reasonable for a long bridge’. See how this is compared to something similar? Or you could do a second calculation to verify the number is correct, such as adding up multiple parts of the problem to confirm the total length is accurate i.e. ‘x + y + z = total, yes it works!’

Additional notes for this course:

  • It’s important to include the number and label the steps so it’s clear what you’re doing, as shown in the example below.
  • It’s okay if you make mistakes, just put a line through it and keep going.
  • Remember your header should include your name, the page number, total number of pages, the course number, and the assignment number. If a problem spans a number of pages, you should include it in the header too.

6-step-1-792x1024.png

Key Takeaways

Basically: Use a 6-step structured problem solving process: 1. Problem, 2. Draw, 3. Known & Unknown, 4. Approach, 5. Analysis (Solve), 6. Review

Application: In your future job there is likely a structure for analysis reports that will be used. Each company has a different approach, but most have a standard that should be followed. This is good practice.

Looking ahead: This will be part of every homework assignment.

Written by Gayla & Libby

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The Problem-Solving Process

Looking at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Problem-solving is an important part of planning and decision-making. The process has much in common with the decision-making process, and in the case of complex decisions, can form part of the process itself.

We face and solve problems every day, in a variety of guises and of differing complexity. Some, such as the resolution of a serious complaint, require a significant amount of time, thought and investigation. Others, such as a printer running out of paper, are so quickly resolved they barely register as a problem at all.

normal process of problem solving

Despite the everyday occurrence of problems, many people lack confidence when it comes to solving them, and as a result may chose to stay with the status quo rather than tackle the issue. Broken down into steps, however, the problem-solving process is very simple. While there are many tools and techniques available to help us solve problems, the outline process remains the same.

The main stages of problem-solving are outlined below, though not all are required for every problem that needs to be solved.

normal process of problem solving

1. Define the Problem

Clarify the problem before trying to solve it. A common mistake with problem-solving is to react to what the problem appears to be, rather than what it actually is. Write down a simple statement of the problem, and then underline the key words. Be certain there are no hidden assumptions in the key words you have underlined. One way of doing this is to use a synonym to replace the key words. For example, ‘We need to encourage higher productivity ’ might become ‘We need to promote superior output ’ which has a different meaning.

2. Analyze the Problem

Ask yourself, and others, the following questions.

  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • When is it occurring?
  • Why is it happening?

Be careful not to jump to ‘who is causing the problem?’. When stressed and faced with a problem it is all too easy to assign blame. This, however, can cause negative feeling and does not help to solve the problem. As an example, if an employee is underperforming, the root of the problem might lie in a number of areas, such as lack of training, workplace bullying or management style. To assign immediate blame to the employee would not therefore resolve the underlying issue.

Once the answers to the where, when and why have been determined, the following questions should also be asked:

  • Where can further information be found?
  • Is this information correct, up-to-date and unbiased?
  • What does this information mean in terms of the available options?

3. Generate Potential Solutions

When generating potential solutions it can be a good idea to have a mixture of ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ thinkers. In other words, some people who think laterally and some who think logically. This provides a balance in terms of generating the widest possible variety of solutions while also being realistic about what can be achieved. There are many tools and techniques which can help produce solutions, including thinking about the problem from a number of different perspectives, and brainstorming, where a team or individual write as many possibilities as they can think of to encourage lateral thinking and generate a broad range of potential solutions.

4. Select Best Solution

When selecting the best solution, consider:

  • Is this a long-term solution, or a ‘quick fix’?
  • Is the solution achievable in terms of available resources and time?
  • Are there any risks associated with the chosen solution?
  • Could the solution, in itself, lead to other problems?

This stage in particular demonstrates why problem-solving and decision-making are so closely related.

5. Take Action

In order to implement the chosen solution effectively, consider the following:

  • What will the situation look like when the problem is resolved?
  • What needs to be done to implement the solution? Are there systems or processes that need to be adjusted?
  • What will be the success indicators?
  • What are the timescales for the implementation? Does the scale of the problem/implementation require a project plan?
  • Who is responsible?

Once the answers to all the above questions are written down, they can form the basis of an action plan.

6. Monitor and Review

One of the most important factors in successful problem-solving is continual observation and feedback. Use the success indicators in the action plan to monitor progress on a regular basis. Is everything as expected? Is everything on schedule? Keep an eye on priorities and timelines to prevent them from slipping.

If the indicators are not being met, or if timescales are slipping, consider what can be done. Was the plan realistic? If so, are sufficient resources being made available? Are these resources targeting the correct part of the plan? Or does the plan need to be amended? Regular review and discussion of the action plan is important so small adjustments can be made on a regular basis to help keep everything on track.

Once all the indicators have been met and the problem has been resolved, consider what steps can now be taken to prevent this type of problem recurring? It may be that the chosen solution already prevents a recurrence, however if an interim or partial solution has been chosen it is important not to lose momentum.

Problems, by their very nature, will not always fit neatly into a structured problem-solving process. This process, therefore, is designed as a framework which can be adapted to individual needs and nature.

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Self-Esteem

It’s ok you can’t solve every problem, trying to “fix" everything can leave you feeling like a failure..

Updated May 10, 2024 | Reviewed by Ray Parker

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  • Your intrinsic value is more than what you can do for other people.

You are still worthwhile and can be successful, even if you don’t have all the solutions.

  • Consider which decision will make you feel you’ve stayed true to your values.

In coaching others, I often discuss problem-solving strategies to help individuals think creatively and consider many options when they are faced with challenging situations.

Problem solving 1-2 includes the following:

  • Define the problem, identify obstacles, and set realistic goals .
  • Generate a variety of alternative solutions to overcome obstacles identified.
  • Choose which idea has the highest likelihood to achieve the goal.
  • Try out the solution in real-life and see if it worked or not.

Problem-solving strategies can be helpful in many situations. Thinking creatively and testing out different potential solutions can help you come up with alternative ways of solving your problems.

While many problems can be solved, there are also situations in which there is no “perfect” solution or in which what seems to be the best solution still leaves you feeling unsatisfied or like you’re not doing enough.

I encourage you to increase your comfort around the following three truths:

1. You can’t always solve everyone else’s problems.

2. You can’t always solve all of your own problems.

3. You are not a failure if you can’t solve every problem.

Source: Hans-Peter Gauster / Unsplash

You can’t always solve everyone else’s problems.

When someone around you needs help, do you feel compelled to find solutions to their problem?

Are you seen as the problem solver at your job or in your close relationships?

Does it feel uncomfortable for you to listen to someone tell you about a problem and not offer solutions?

There are times when others come to you because they know you can help them solve a problem. There are also times when the other person is coming to you not for a solution to their problem, but for support, empathy, and a listening ear.

Your relationships may be negatively impacted if others feel that you don’t fully listen and only try to “fix” everything for them. While this may feel like a noble act, it may lead the other person to feel like they have failed or that you think they are unable to solve their own problems.

Consider approaching such situations with curiosity by saying to the other person:

  • As you share this information with me, tell me how I can best support you.
  • What would be most helpful right now? Are you looking for an empathetic ear or want to brainstorm potential next steps?
  • I want to be sure I am as helpful as I can be right now; what are you hoping to get out of our conversation?

You can’t always solve all of your own problems.

We are taught from a young age that problems have a solution. For example, while solving word problems in math class may not have been your favorite thing to do, you knew there was ultimately a “right” answer. Many times, the real world is much more complex, and many of the problems that you face do not have clear or “right” answers.

You may often be faced with finding solutions that do the most good for the most amount of people, but you know that others may still be left out or feel unsatisfied with the result.

Your beliefs about yourself, other people, and the world can sometimes help you make decisions in such circumstances. You may ask for help from others. Some may consider their faith or spirituality for guidance. While others may consider philosophical theories.

Knowing that there often isn’t a “perfect” solution, you may consider asking yourself some of the following questions:

  • What’s the healthiest decision I can make? The healthiest decision for yourself and for those who will be impacted.
  • Imagine yourself 10 years in the future, looking back on the situation: What do you think the future-you would encourage you to do?
  • What would a wise person do?
  • What decision will allow you to feel like you’ve stayed true to your values?

You are not a failure if you can’t solve all of the problems.

If you have internalized feeling like you need to be able to solve every problem that comes across your path, you may feel like a failure each time you don’t.

It’s impossible to solve every problem.

normal process of problem solving

Your intrinsic value is more than what you can do for other people. You have value because you are you.

Consider creating more realistic and adaptive thoughts around your ability to help others and solve problems.

Some examples include:

  • I am capable, even without solving all of the problems.
  • I am worthwhile, even if I’m not perfect.
  • What I do for others does not define my worth.
  • In living my values, I know I’ve done my best.

I hope you utilize the information above to consider how you can coach yourself the next time you:

  • Start to solve someone else’s problem without being asked.
  • Feel stuck in deciding the best next steps.
  • Judge yourself negatively.

1. D'zurilla, T. J., & Goldfried, M. R. (1971). Problem solving and behavior modification. Journal of abnormal psychology, 78(1), 107.

2. D’Zurilla, T. J., & Nezu, A. M. (2010). Problem-solving therapy. Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies, 3(1), 197-225.

Julie Radico Psy.D. ABPP

Julie Radico, Psy.D. ABPP, is a board-certified clinical psychologist and coauthor of You Will Get Through This: A Mental Health First-Aid Kit.

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Problem Solving

Problem solving can take many forms but, if you try to solve your problem without any structure, you may end up with a bigger issue than you started with !.

Definition of Problem :

 Something that needs a solution.

 Can be either positive or negative.

Frequencies:

• Chronic - Ongoing and Accepted problems

• Spasmodic - Sudden change to normal process.

Problem Levels

 Level 0 - Abnormality only affecting those directly related to the process and contained.

 Level 1 - Abnormality that affects the processes ability to achieve Q,C and D.

 Level 2 - Abnormality that affects the next process and may have an impact on the final customer.

 Level 3 - Abnormality that has affected the final customer.

Analysis of Problems

 Qualitative tools

• Tools which are used to obtain and structure ideas during the cycle

Brainstorming

Cause & effect diagram (Ishikawa, fishbone)

 Quantitative Tools

• Tools that are used to gather and analysis numerical data during the cycle.

Checksheets

Control charts

Scatter diagrams

 The 5 Principles :-

• Problem Definition

• Identify Root Cause

• Customer Protection and Countermeasure(s)

• Confirm Effectiveness of Countermeasure

• Feedback / Feed forward

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The different types of problem solving

 Preventative:

• This looks at putting in place solutions prior to abnormalities occurring. Best identified during the design stage prior to transfer to manufacturing using Advanced Quality Tools.

 Pro- active:

• This looks at the current standards and by analysing data using the 7 quality control tools seeks to make kaizen improvements.

 Reactive:

• This looks at the abnormalities that have occurred and by gathering and analysing data using some of the 7 quality control tools aims to provide a customer protection and countermeasure .

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  2. 7-STEPS PROBLEM SOLVING PROCESS_word文档在线阅读与下载_文档网

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  3. What Is Problem-Solving? Steps, Processes, Exercises to do it Right

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  4. What are the 5 steps of problem solving? Your guide with examples

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  5. The problem-solving process chart

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  6. 👍 Identify and explain the steps in the problem-solving process. Six Steps to Develop an

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VIDEO

  1. The Composition Process: Problem Solving, James Hartway

  2. Solving Problems Involving Normal Distribution EXAMPLE 2 (STATISTICS AND PROBABILITY)

  3. Problem Solving

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  5. How to Develop Effective Decision Making Skills for Making Confident Choices?

  6. Salesperson Skills || Problem Solving || #viralshorts #sales #explore #success #viral #entrepreneur

COMMENTS

  1. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    1. Define the problem. Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes.. The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps.

  2. The Problem-Solving Process

    Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process. Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation.

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

    The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps: Identify the issue: Recognize the problem that needs to be solved. Analyze the situation: Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present. Generate potential solutions: Brainstorm a list of possible ...

  4. What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

    Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

  5. 7.3 Problem-Solving

    Additional Problem Solving Strategies:. Abstraction - refers to solving the problem within a model of the situation before applying it to reality.; Analogy - is using a solution that solves a similar problem.; Brainstorming - refers to collecting an analyzing a large amount of solutions, especially within a group of people, to combine the solutions and developing them until an optimal ...

  6. How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

    To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

  7. Section 1. An Introduction to the Problem-Solving Process

    Defining and analyzing the problem - This is the core of the problem solving process. Sometimes, the real problem isn't originally apparent. Generating and choosing solutions; Putting your solution into practice - If you have followed the process carefully, you'll be surprised at how easy implementing it actually is! In Summary:

  8. The Ultimate Problem-Solving Process Guide: 31 Steps & Resources

    It starts with an "affirmative topic," followed by the "positive core (strengths).". Then this method delves into the following stages: Discovery (fact-finding) Dream (visioning the future) Design (strategic purpose) Destiny (continuous improvement) 3. "FIVE WHYS" METHOD. The 5 Whys of Problem-Solving Method.

  9. How to Solve Problems

    How to Solve Problems. To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety. Teams today aren't just asked to execute tasks: They're called upon to solve problems. You'd ...

  10. The McKinsey guide to problem solving

    The McKinsey guide to problem solving. Become a better problem solver with insights and advice from leaders around the world on topics including developing a problem-solving mindset, solving problems in uncertain times, problem solving with AI, and much more.

  11. Master the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process for Better ...

    Step 1: Define the Problem. The first step in the problem-solving process is to define the problem. This step is crucial because finding a solution is only accessible if the problem is clearly defined. The problem must be specific, measurable, and achievable. One way to define the problem is to ask the right questions.

  12. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    1. Problem identification . The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first.

  13. The Eight-Step Process for Solving Problems: A Complete Guide

    The 8-step problem-solving process is a powerful tool for tackling complex problems and driving organizational success. By following each step in a systematic and structured manner, you can define ...

  14. 14.3 Problem Solving and Decision Making in Groups

    Step 2: Analyze the Problem. During this step a group should analyze the problem and the group's relationship to the problem. Whereas the first step involved exploring the "what" related to the problem, this step focuses on the "why.". At this stage, group members can discuss the potential causes of the difficulty.

  15. 35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

    The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it's common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. ...

  16. Solving Problems the Cognitive-Behavioral Way

    Problem-solving is one technique used on the behavioral side of cognitive-behavioral therapy. The problem-solving technique is an iterative, five-step process that requires one to identify the ...

  17. A Better Framework for Solving Tough Problems

    In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem. Some, she says, can be solved in a week, while others take much longer. She also explains why starting with trust and ...

  18. Problem Solving Strategies for the Workplace [2024] • Asana

    4 steps to better problem solving. While it might be tempting to dive into a problem head first, take the time to move step by step. Here's how you can effectively break down the problem-solving process with your team: 1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved. One of the easiest ways to identify a problem is to ask questions.

  19. PDF THIRTEEN PROBLEM-SOLVING MODELS

    Identify the people, information (data), and things needed to resolve the problem. Step. Description. Step 3: Select an Alternative. After you have evaluated each alternative, select the alternative that comes closest to solving the problem with the most advantages and fewest disadvantages.

  20. Problem-Solving Therapy: Definition, Techniques, and Efficacy

    A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy, and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like:

  21. Problem management: 8 steps to better problem solving

    Summary. Problem management is an 8 step framework most commonly used by IT teams. You can use problem management to solve for repeating major incidents. By organizing and structuring your problem solving, you can more effectively get to the root cause of high-impact problems—and devise a solution. Solving the root cause prevents recurrence ...

  22. 1.7: Problem Solving Process

    6 Step Problem Solving Method: Problem. Write out the answer with all necessary information that is given to you. It feels like it takes forever, but it's important to have the problem and solution next to each other. Draw. Draw the problem, this is usually a free-body diagram (don't forget a coordinate frame).

  23. The Problem-Solving Process

    Although problem-solving is something everyone does on a daily basis, many people lack confidence in their ability. Here we look at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track. Explore. input your search term How it works. Blog ...

  24. It's OK You Can't Solve Every Problem

    Problem solving 1-2 includes the following: Define the problem, identify obstacles, and set realistic goals . Generate a variety of alternative solutions to overcome obstacles identified.

  25. Problem solving methodologies explained

    Definition of Problem : Something that needs a solution. Can be either positive or negative. Frequencies: • Chronic - Ongoing and Accepted problems. • Spasmodic - Sudden change to normal process. Problem Levels. Level 0 - Abnormality only affecting those directly related to the process and contained. Level 1 - Abnormality that affects the ...

  26. Data Science skills 101: How to solve any problem

    Focus on detecting anomalies or deviations from normal patterns in network traffic. This is far simpler and by identifying anomalies, potential security threats can be flagged, allowing cyber-security experts to investigate and address specific issues. Problem solving strategy 3: Split the problem into parts. A problem halved is a problem solved.