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Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies
Picture this, you're handling your daily tasks at work and your boss calls you in and says, "We have a problem."
Unfortunately, we don't live in a world in which problems are instantly resolved with the snap of our fingers. Knowing how to effectively solve problems is an important professional skill to hone. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, what is the right process to use to ensure you get the most effective solution?
In this article we'll break down the problem-solving process and how you can find the most effective solutions for complex problems.
What is problem solving?
Problem solving is the process of finding a resolution for a specific issue or conflict. There are many possible solutions for solving a problem, which is why it's important to go through a problem-solving process to find the best solution. You could use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew a Phillips head screw, but there is a better tool for the situation. Utilizing common problem-solving techniques helps you find the best solution to fit the needs of the specific situation, much like using the right tools.
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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. A good place to start is to ask journalistic questions, like:
Who : Who is involved with this problem? Who caused the problem? Who is most affected by this issue?
What: What is happening? What is the extent of the issue? What does this problem prevent from moving forward?
Where: Where did this problem take place? Does this problem affect anything else in the immediate area?
When: When did this problem happen? When does this problem take effect? Is this an urgent issue that needs to be solved within a certain timeframe?
Why: Why is it happening? Why does it impact workflows?
How: How did this problem occur? How is it affecting workflows and team members from being productive?
Asking journalistic questions can help you define a strong problem statement so you can highlight the current situation objectively, and create a plan around that situation.
Here’s an example of how a design team uses journalistic questions to identify their problem:
Overarching problem: Design requests are being missed
Who: Design team, digital marketing team, web development team
What: Design requests are forgotten, lost, or being created ad hoc.
Where: Email requests, design request spreadsheet
When: Missed requests on January 20th, January 31st, February 4th, February 6th
How : Email request was lost in inbox and the intake spreadsheet was not updated correctly. The digital marketing team had to delay launching ads for a few days while design requests were bottlenecked. Designers had to work extra hours to ensure all requests were completed.
In this example, there are many different aspects of this problem that can be solved. Using journalistic questions can help you identify different issues and who you should involve in the process.
2. Brainstorm multiple solutions
If at all possible, bring in a facilitator who doesn't have a major stake in the solution. Bringing an individual who has little-to-no stake in the matter can help keep your team on track and encourage good problem-solving skills.
Here are a few brainstorming techniques to encourage creative thinking:
Brainstorm alone before hand: Before you come together as a group, provide some context to your team on what exactly the issue is that you're brainstorming. This will give time for you and your teammates to have some ideas ready by the time you meet.
Say yes to everything (at first): When you first start brainstorming, don't say no to any ideas just yet—try to get as many ideas down as possible. Having as many ideas as possible ensures that you’ll get a variety of solutions. Save the trimming for the next step of the strategy.
Talk to team members one-on-one: Some people may be less comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting. Discuss the issue with team members individually and encourage them to share their opinions without restrictions—you might find some more detailed insights than originally anticipated.
Break out of your routine: If you're used to brainstorming in a conference room or over Zoom calls, do something a little different! Take your brainstorming meeting to a coffee shop or have your Zoom call while you're taking a walk. Getting out of your routine can force your brain out of its usual rut and increase critical thinking.
3. Define the solution
After you brainstorm with team members to get their unique perspectives on a scenario, it's time to look at the different strategies and decide which option is the best solution for the problem at hand. When defining the solution, consider these main two questions: What is the desired outcome of this solution and who stands to benefit from this solution?
Set a deadline for when this decision needs to be made and update stakeholders accordingly. Sometimes there's too many people who need to make a decision. Use your best judgement based on the limitations provided to do great things fast.
4. Implement the solution
To implement your solution, start by working with the individuals who are as closest to the problem. This can help those most affected by the problem get unblocked. Then move farther out to those who are less affected, and so on and so forth. Some solutions are simple enough that you don’t need to work through multiple teams.
After you prioritize implementation with the right teams, assign out the ongoing work that needs to be completed by the rest of the team. This can prevent people from becoming overburdened during the implementation plan . Once your solution is in place, schedule check-ins to see how the solution is working and course-correct if necessary.
Implement common problem-solving strategies
There are a few ways to go about identifying problems (and solutions). Here are some strategies you can try, as well as common ways to apply them:
Trial and error
Trial and error problem solving doesn't usually require a whole team of people to solve. To use trial and error problem solving, identify the cause of the problem, and then rapidly test possible solutions to see if anything changes.
This problem-solving method is often used in tech support teams through troubleshooting.
The 5 whys problem-solving method helps get to the root cause of an issue. You start by asking once, “Why did this issue happen?” After answering the first why, ask again, “Why did that happen?” You'll do this five times until you can attribute the problem to a root cause.
This technique can help you dig in and find the human error that caused something to go wrong. More importantly, it also helps you and your team develop an actionable plan so that you can prevent the issue from happening again.
Here’s an example:
Problem: The email marketing campaign was accidentally sent to the wrong audience.
“Why did this happen?” Because the audience name was not updated in our email platform.
“Why were the audience names not changed?” Because the audience segment was not renamed after editing.
“Why was the audience segment not renamed?” Because everybody has an individual way of creating an audience segment.
“Why does everybody have an individual way of creating an audience segment?” Because there is no standardized process for creating audience segments.
“Why is there no standardized process for creating audience segments?” Because the team hasn't decided on a way to standardize the process as the team introduced new members.
In this example, we can see a few areas that could be optimized to prevent this mistake from happening again. When working through these questions, make sure that everyone who was involved in the situation is present so that you can co-create next steps to avoid the same problem.
A SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis can help you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a specific solution. SWOT stands for:
Strength: Why is this specific solution a good fit for this problem?
Weaknesses: What are the weak points of this solution? Is there anything that you can do to strengthen those weaknesses?
Opportunities: What other benefits could arise from implementing this solution?
Threats: Is there anything about this decision that can detrimentally impact your team?
As you identify specific solutions, you can highlight the different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each solution.
This particular problem-solving strategy is good to use when you're narrowing down the answers and need to compare and contrast the differences between different solutions.
Even more successful problem solving
After you’ve worked through a tough problem, don't forget to celebrate how far you've come. Not only is this important for your team of problem solvers to see their work in action, but this can also help you become a more efficient, effective , and flexible team. The more problems you tackle together, the more you’ll achieve.
Looking for a tool to help solve problems on your team? Track project implementation with a work management tool like Asana .
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Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace
Problem-solving and decision-making. Ask anyone in the workplace if these activities are part of their day and they answer ‘Yes!’ But how many of us have had training in problem-solving? We know it’s a critical element of our work, but do we know how to do it effectively?
People tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the right answer; and they look for someone to blame. Being faced with a problem becomes a problem. And that’s a problem because, in fact, there are always going to be problems!
There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem: it has to be solved and we’re not sure how to find the best solution, and there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is. Most of us tend to be “conflict-averse”. We don’t feel comfortable dealing with conflict and we tend to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen. The goal of a good problem-solving process is to make us and our organization more “conflict-friendly” and “conflict-competent”.
There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job. Looked at in this way, we can almost begin to welcome problems! (Well, almost.)
Because people are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. Let me say that again. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That’s a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process.
Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.
1. Identify the issues.
- Be clear about what the problem is.
- Remember that different people might have different views of what the issues are.
- Separate the listing of issues from the identification of interests (that’s the next step!).
2. Understand everyone’s interests.
- This is a critical step that is usually missing.
- Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution.
- The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests.
- This is the time for active listening. Put down your differences for awhile and listen to each other with the intention to understand.
- Separate the naming of interests from the listing of solutions.
3. List the possible solutions (options)
- This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity.
- Separate the listing of options from the evaluation of the options.
4. Evaluate the options.
- What are the pluses and minuses? Honestly!
- Separate the evaluation of options from the selection of options.
5. Select an option or options.
- What’s the best option, in the balance?
- Is there a way to “bundle” a number of options together for a more satisfactory solution?
6. Document the agreement(s).
- Don’t rely on memory.
- Writing it down will help you think through all the details and implications.
7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.
- Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (If-then!).
- How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?
- Create opportunities to evaluate the agreements and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)
Effective problem solving does take some time and attention more of the latter than the former. But less time and attention than is required by a problem not well solved. What it really takes is a willingness to slow down. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape.
Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you’re having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests.
This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision. The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and necessary it is to use a disciplined process. If you’re just trying to decide where to go out for lunch, you probably don’t need to go through these seven steps!
Don’t worry if it feels a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice!
Tim Hicks is a conflict management professional providing mediation, facilitation, training, coaching, and consulting to individuals and organizations. From 2006 to 2014 he led the Master’s degree program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon as its first director. He returned to private practice in 2015. Tim is… MORE >
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Four Workplace Problem-Solving Techniques You Might Not Have Tried
Problem-solving: the act of finding solutions to issues.
It happens every day, in an array of situations. But having effective problem-solving skills in the workplace can be incredibly helpful in your career specifically.
Along with the ability to assess situations and deal with issues quickly and efficiently, employers often hold these skills in high regard – it shows other competencies like logic, governance, resolve, resilience, and creative thinking, as well as eliminating issues that might put a company at a disadvantage.
So, understanding which problem-solving techniques work for you, and being able to deploy them when you need, is a massive benefit in your workplace performance.
Although there are plenty more techniques, we’ve defined four of the most common problem-solving methods used in the workplace and beyond.
Four problem-solving techniques
1. linear thinking problem-solving.
Linear thinking is a problem-solving process defined by a set starting point followed by a sequence of ideas that lead to a definite solution. It is a logical step-by-step process, and often referred to as sequential thinking – think of it as the ‘conventional’ method of problem-solving. It can be very useful when overcoming strategic problems at work.
Linear thinkers tend to use information, data, logic, and experience from previous solutions as a basis for their problem-solving. This isn’t just confined to problem-solving. Linear thinkers use this process in processing information, making connections, and much more!
So, how would a linear thinker approach a problem?
Typically, a ‘root cause analysis process’ is used as a means for solving problems. One of the most well-known root cause analyses is called the ‘Five Whys’ , a method used to explore the cause-and-effect of a particular problem. You’re breaking down a problem until you get to the root cause.
"By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear." Sakichi Toyoda
Here's an illustration of what this looks like in action:
Image courtesy of Kanbanize
2. Lateral linking problem-solving
Lateral thinking, unlike linear thinking, is the process of solving problems in an indirect and more creative manner. Think of it as ‘thinking outside the box’.
This kind of problem-solving will often challenge assumptions, and seek alternative solutions to the ‘norm’, which can actually create powerful and disruptive solutions that may provide growth and development within a company.
What does that look like, I hear you ask? It might look like multiple optional ‘routes’ to an array of innovative solutions that can be used to solve problems.
Lateral problem-solving skills can be a huge pull for employers who are looking for creative, fresh ideas within their business, but it can also be one of the most under-valued problem-solving tools within an organisation.
Thinking laterally to solve problems showcases your innovation and creativity, which is a huge benefit to employers and a green flag to recruiters.
3. Design thinking problem-solving
Design thinking is a type of non-linear, immersive problem-solving, understood as the process of solving problems with the customer, client, or consumer at the forefront of your mind. They are the priority in this problem-solving technique.
This technique can be defined by five stages (although, just to reiterate, these aren’t linear!):
Empathizing : Understand the needs of your consumer, client, or other.
Defining : Analyse and identify the issues that need to be solved.
Ideating : Create and share ideas, no matter how dramatic they might be.
Prototyping: Put together solutions.
Testing : Just as it says, test your solutions.
Although design testing might not be a quick method to solve your problems, and therefore may not be used regularly at work, the technique can be used in a ‘consulting manner’ when there is time to come up with the best solution for a challenge.
4. Solutions-based problem-solving
Solutions-based problem-solving is a process aimed at promoting solutions, rather than searching for causation, and playing the ‘blame-game’. It essentially flips problem-solving on its head and can be used to get a solution as quickly as possible rather than uncovering the causes on the way.
Regardless of what type of problem-solving technique works for you, for a workplace issue, or a particular situation, there are some simple steps you can follow when starting out in problem-solving.
Some simple steps to problem-solving
1. define the problem.
What is it that has become an issue? This might be a decline in company performance or revenue, a decline in effective and collaborative teamwork, or an objection from a client.
This problem may come through the process of active listening, a key workplace communication skill that involves engaging in information being shared with you and reflecting on it. This may come from a client or an employee.
2. Develop a plan
Here's how to plan your plan:
Use questions to generate ideas and solutions to solving a problem.
Identify these solutions.
Evaluate these solutions to narrow down the most efficient options.
And finally, select a solution best suited to a problem through your evaluation and analysis.
3. Implement the planned solution, with a timely approach
Having a timeline to solving problems can help you to stay on course and can signal to the client that their issues are being taken seriously.
4. Take the time to evaluate
What went well? What could have gone better? What learnings are there for next time?
Why is problem-solving so important at work?
Problem-solving is something that is relevant in virtually any job role, no matter how far you have progressed in a company, which is why these skills are so important. Employees often use an individual’s problem-solving abilities to see the competency they have in dealing with and facing challenges, no matter how large or small.
Problem-solving is a test of your aptitude for evaluating circumstances at work and analysing information to come up with the best solutions. Whether it’s dealing with hitting a deadline or creating a solution to a drop in revenue, problem-solving is something we all deal with on the daily.
Want to improve your problem-solving skills, or discover what technique works for you? Our expert coaches at EZRA can help with identifying and boosting these skills to help throughout your team's careers, whether that be at a leadership level , when you’re facing career change challenges , or in more general workplace roles.
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4 problem solving techniques for the workplace
Solving problems is something we all have to do every single day–both at work and in our day-to-day lives.
The trouble is: Sometimes, finding the right solutions to those problems can be difficult.
We learn in school that problem solving means arriving at a value for X. This is great for an algebra test (and for most black and white problems), but solving more complex, layered, “gray area” problems… that’s different .
Say you’re a designer working on a task with various departments, for example. You need approvals and collaboration from the sales team, but no one’s answering your emails or calls because they’re stuck in meetings all day. The marketing team can’t agree on a final version. Leadership wants a design that will solve all of the brand’s UX problems. For this designer, there are a lot of layers to this problem.
We’ve all been in a similar situation.
So what do you do?
You’re going to need better problem solving strategies to cut through the ambiguity–that’s what. Let’s look at some better ways to solve the kinds of problems that show up in the working world.
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Why you need to make problem solving a skill
When you develop problem solving and decision making skills, you realize some immediate benefits. What are they?
Problem solving equips you for work
In the 1990s, research at Bells Labs found that IQ was not a predictor for work performance. Problem solving and interpersonal skills were. Having problem solving skills helps you deal with the dynamic problems that you won’t find in the classroom.
Problem solving equips you for more complex problems
Many of us solve minor problems by guessing, estimating, or making assumptions. Most of the time, this works if the problem is fairly simple. We can usually find a workaround using these tactics and some trial and error experimentation.
The trouble comes, however, when this strategy doesn’t work with more complex problems.
Nat Greene, author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers , says this: “Here’s where most folks go wrong,” said Greene. “Often, people use the same guessing methods they apply to easy problems to try to tackle hard ones–and they get steamrolled.”
In short: Tackling complex problems requires a working knowledge of problem solving as a skill set.
How to solve problems with a strategic approach
Problem solving method #1: linear thinking.
Best suited for: Work and strategy problems
How it works: Ever notice that children always seem to ask “why?” They’re absorbing knowledge like sponges–and they’re doing it strategically.
In problem solving, this strategy is known as the “ Five Whys .” This is a linear technique for breaking down a problem until you find its root causes. The idea is simple: State the problem, and then ask: “Why?” Write down your best answer. Keep on asking until you arrive at an answer that feels like the causal issue.
Once you’ve identified the root cause of the problem, the solution should present itself.
Example: As detailed in Bulletproof Problem Solving , job candidates for the consulting firm McKinsey were once asked to demonstrate their problem solving skills. The question: Did Sidney, Australia need a second airport?
Most candidates wanted to talk about air travel demand, but the most effective candidates broke the question down into its component parts. That included a series of “Why” questions that broke the problem down to specifics:
- Why is a single airport not enough to meet demand?
- Why are the current operating hours, number of runways, and flight schedule not working well enough?
- Why would a second airport solve those problems–and would it make financial sense?
Think logically and show your work. Candidates who performed the best arrived at specific questions and followed a linear path of thinking. For McKinsey, the goal wasn’t just to see who found the correct answer. It was to see how candidates arrived there.
Problem Solving Method #2: Design Thinking
Best suited for: Product problems, creative problems
How it works: Design thinking is an approach to problem solving methodology with the end user in mind. The first step is to empathize with the end user. After that, you’ll create testable prototypes for solutions that meet their needs.
Example: The Kingswood Trust is a charity for children with Asberger’s syndrome and autism . Katie Gaudion, a member of the product design team , decided to take an end user approach to their solutions. Rather than come up with her own set of questions, she spent time with Pete, a man with non-verbal autism.
Katie studied Pete’s actions, like picking at sofa leather. Immersing herself like this led to a change in thinking. Rather than seeing these habits as damaging, she was surprised to find them comforting. What if Pete wasn’t doing these things to destroy, but to enjoy ?
It worked. According to the Harvard Business Review , this new insight “led to the creation of living spaces, gardens, and new activities aimed at enabling people with autism to live fuller and more pleasurable lives.”
Immerse yourself in the problem. UberEats says they immerse themselves in the places where our customers live, work, and eat. They’ve introduced processes like having new team members shadow deliveries. The result: they’ve learned more about their customers and how they think.
Observe customer behavior and respond. In one case study , Bank of America observed how some savers would fudge their own budgets by rounding up. This led to the “Keep your change” program that appealed to frugal savers and attracted new accounts.
Problem Solving Method #3: Solutions-Based Thinking
Best suited for: Big picture problems, stuck problems
How it works: Most people like to think of themselves as logical. Factual. Only interested in results. But as Nathan Greene wrote, we really just tend to guess our way through problems and hope for the best.
Solutions-based thinking turns that on its head. Rather than focusing on what we think should work, it shifts our focus. What actually does work?
In Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , this principle was number two: Effective people tend to think with the end in mind–and then work backwards.
Example: Think about America’s animal shelters and the dog adoption problem they face.
The challenge? It’s not that America doesn’t love dogs. In fact, America loves dogs to the point of 40% of all households having at least one. The problem is that perhaps too many people have dogs. This leads to dogs being put up for adoption with high rates of dogs in shelters.
Starting from problem-based thinking might yield all sorts of solutions. A marketing campaign for higher adoption rates, logically, should work. Unfortunately, the “Save a Life – Adopt a Dog” campaign hasn’t been able to solve the whole problem.
Yet some shelters have taken a solutions-based approach. According to Harvard Business Review , Lori Weise, the founder of Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, has demonstrated that adoption is not the only way to frame the problem. Instead, one challenge is that so many former dog owners are giving up on their dogs too quickly.
Weise came up with a plan: whenever a family came in to hand over a pet, a staff member in the South Los Angeles shelter would ask if they preferred to keep the pet.
“Within the first year it was clear that the program was a remarkable success,” notes HBR. “Costs went down from $85 per pet to $60, and more families held on to their dogs.”
Ask yourself the “miracle question.” This is a concept from Solution-focused brief therapy : What will it take for you to imagine the problem as being gone? Get a clear picture of what a solution would look like. Start asking your “why” questions from this end.
Look for preventative solutions that reach the same conclusions. It’s great to get people to adopt dogs, for example. But is it even more effective to get fewer people to give up their dogs for adoption? Solutions-based thinking means focusing on what really works, not what you hope should work.
Stop guessing: Come up with problem-solving strategies to move forward
Consult any book on problem-solving activities and you’ll find elements of the above strategies present in some form. That’s because good problem solving tends to rely on reliable principles.
- Give yourself clarity on the true problem by asking yourself “why” questions.
- Embrace new levels of thinking. Rather than guessing, find the bottom-line answer to your problem that you need to uncover, and work backwards from there.
- Immerse yourself. Just as Katie Gaudion came up with new solutions for autism and Asberger’s charity by spending time with Pete, switch your focus to the end-user. Don’t fixate on what should Focus on what other people need.
There’s an old maxim: You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that caused it in the first place. Rather than guess your way forward, adopt the problem-solving techniques to arrive at an answer that makes the difference.
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How to Nail your next Technical Interview
You may be missing out on a 66.5% salary hike*, nick camilleri, how many years of coding experience do you have, free course on 'sorting algorithms' by omkar deshpande (stanford phd, head of curriculum, ik).
How to Use Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace
" We've been stuck at it for a week now, " thought Frank to himself. His team came across a simple bin-packing problem surrounding consecutive character strings that were seemingly impossible to solve, and had been running into the same error message every time someone hit the ‘Compile’ button.
The new guy on his team ( his first day ), who had been quiet the whole day, walked to the whiteboard and started jotting down something. When he was done, five minutes later, a solution pattern popped right out the whiteboard.
" Gosh! How did he do that? "
Well, we'll find out. Here's what we'll be covering in this article:
- What exactly is problem-solving?
- What will be the employer or manager looking for in you?
- How to approach a workplace problem?
- Problem-solving techniques in the workplace
Step 1: Thoroughly understand the problem
Step 2: Define the problem
Step 3: Strategize a solution
Step 4: Find alternate solutions
Step 5: Evaluate solutions and document everything
Step 6: Choose a solution
Step 7: Implement
Step 8: Monitor progress and make modifications accordingly
- What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for during the interview?
- How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?
What exactly is problem-solving?
Problems are a massive part of what we do in our day-to-day lives, be it at your home or workplace.
Problem-solving is the complete process of understanding and defining the problem, brainstorming a solution, finding alternatives, implementing the best solution, and making adjustments based on the outcome.
What do hiring managers look for?
One's problem-solving ability is a harmonious accord between instinct and immense practice. As your technical skills age with experience, so does your ability to identify patterns and solve problems effectively.
Almost each and every employer looks for effective problem-solving skills in a candidate when making a hiring decision. They look for an aspirant's natural talent to dig up patterns, look at the problem with a fresh perspective, and be realistic while providing solutions.
How to approach a workplace problem?
During computer science classes, you will find two types of students.
The first batch has a mindset that algorithms and data structures are only useful for passing the finals and getting an edge over others in interviews.
The second batch loves programming and aspires to write codes from scratch for each new project that they come across.While both mindsets may be partially correct, they do not hold up much.
In real-life situations and as part of an organization, your job drastically changes to one objective only: ' write the right amount of good code. '
For most projects, you will need to write quick, efficient codes to overcome difficult roadblocks. And the only way to achieve that skill is by getting acquainted with as many problems as possible.
Solve as many problems as possible. Learn as many Data Structures and Algorithms as you can. Get acquainted with the basics of reusing a chunk of code. Make StackOverflow your default homepage.
Does that seem too groundbreaking? Let us simplify it for you.
Problem-solving techniques in the workplace
See, a lot of people understand the problem at hand and the syntax or logic that might explain the issue. The primary thing you need to learn is how to convert your thoughts into code to all the creative geniuses out there.
If you need a comprehensive set of instructions, here are the problem-solving steps that you can adopt in your day-to-day lifestyle. This procedure applies not only to coding problems but also to other general hiccups.
While some have the mental affluence to solve problems on the go, keep practicing these daily, and you too will develop critical thinking skills.
The first and most crucial step in solving a problem is to comprehend the standing concepts behind it. Believe us when we say this, a lot of employees jump to providing suggestions before actually understanding what the problem is.
A quick way to gauge your understanding is verifying if you can explain the problem to someone else. This also ties into your communication skills, and employers will gauge your ability to converse issues and solutions effectively. It is, thus, also one of the essential interview preparation tips for you.
Hiring managers have a behavioral question that they like asking, which revolves around the following:
" How will you be explaining a complex technical concept to a person who is not very sound technically? "
Ask yourself these questions and make a note of the solutions as you go.
- What exactly is the end goal?
- What are the variables?
- Do you understand every concept revolving the problem?
- Are you familiar with the provided measurement units?
- What information is missing?
- Is there any unnecessary information?
- Can you verify the information from a bona fide source?
The next step in this process is accumulating every bit of necessary information so that you can start assembling a solution. Now, this isn't as easy as it sounds, and you can effortlessly mess up things during proceedings.
Strangely, at this time, do not focus on the solution. Instead, focus on defining the question.
Therefore, instead of saying ' the sale numbers need to be consistent in the next quarter, ' say ' the sale numbers are inconsistent. '
Based on the information you collected in step 1, start separating the facts from estimations. Analyze the procedures that have been used previously and make precise adjustments based on the company policies.
Now that you have understood the problem and defined it, start strategizing a solution for it based on your findings. Workplace solutions can be majorly categorized into two different kinds, i.e. tactical solutions and strategic solutions .
A tactical solution is a short-term fix for a standing obstacle, more like a workaround for an issue. Imagine reusing a piece of code from your last project to get around that pesky error message in your new one.
A strategic solution, on the other hand, is a long-term fix for an issue. Strategic solutions involve using a comprehensive series of steps to find the overall architecture of a problem.
Usually, workplaces adopt the following problem-solving strategies into their policies.
- Use logical reasoning
- Recognize patterns
- Reverse engineer the problem
- Try a different point of view
- Consider worst-case scenarios
- Relate to a more straightforward real-life problem
- Data organization
- Prepare a visual representation
- Take all possibilities into account
- Intelligent guessing and testing
Your goal as an employee should be to become as fluent in these strategies as possible. Once you can naturally zoom into the problem, you will be able to form a strategy within minutes, without having to write anything down.
Are you starting to understand how the new guy deduced a solution that quickly?
Keeping the goals and objectives in mind, understand that there's always more than one way to skin a cat . Invite your team members and other experienced guys to brainstorm ideas alongside you.
For each problem, you should be able to find at least THREE different points of view or solutions, each with a unique USP.
Here's a neat little trick you may find useful someday in your career. Invite everyone associated with the project to this brainstorming session. Making sure that everybody gets equal participation is one of the ways you can exhibit your leadership skills while forging strong workplace relationships.
Now that you have found alternate solutions as well, it's time to evaluate these solutions. You will need to assess each solution based on various factors and list down all the pros and cons of each alternative you found in solution 4.
Create a document or spreadsheet listing down the USPs of each alternative and the positive and negative consequences thereby. You can go on adding other columns such as budget constraints, time allocation, resource requirements, workforce, and other relevant data.
The ability to quickly evaluate solutions ties into your management skills. A manager will be able to evaluate and implement solutions based on such factors quickly. Train yourself to find as many parameters as you can find to analyze solutions effectively.
Basically, your main objective is to find one effective solution out of all the ones provided on the list. The solution you choose depends on various parameters, which can be one or all of the following:
- Company policies and procedures
You can promote strong work ethics by running the chosen solution by everyone in your team or involved in the project before implementing it. Also, select the employees who will be actively implementing it, and ask for their feedback.
Implementing a solution does not merely mean diving headfirst with anything that you do. After you have collected the feedback and communicated the solution to everybody involved, here's what you will need to do next.
First, redefine the objectives , in brief, to help get a better idea of the end goal. Develop a simple action plan with defined timelines for the solution that you agreed upon in the step above.
Implement the chosen solution according to the action plan. Then, identify the measurable parameters to track success and failure rates.
Finally, set up communication channels for regular feedback and a contingency plan in case of a failure.
The last problem-solving step involves actively monitoring how the solution performs in real life and if it meets the end goal for which it was adopted in the first place.
Tally how the solution functions compared to how you expected it to perform and document all changes. Check the feedback channel for any discrepancy or issues that arise during the process.
If you feel that any modification will further optimize the process, implement it after running it with your team.
Improving problem-solving skills for programmers
- Understand the question and classify it as Corner-case or Edge-case
- Simplify and optimize your steps
- Write line-by-line pseudo code, focusing on the logic and steps rather than the syntax
- Translate it into a code
- Debug and remove repetitions
- Write comments to help you understand
- Get feedback regularly
- Practice again
What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for in interviews?
Problem-solving in the workplace is one of the most sought-after skills in any organization. During the interview, if you can highlight your ability to find creative solutions quickly along with your technical skills , you definitely have a better chance of making it to the next round.
Hiring managers tend to leave specific questions open-ended; the notion being that without a trail for the candidate to follow, they'll be able to understand better how the candidate thinks.
Some of the crucial problem-solving skills that employers look for in the candidate include the following:
" Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. " – Helen Keller
Effective problem-solving encompasses teamwork. As a problem-solver ( and a leader ), you need to show empathy towards your teammates, develop effective feedback channels, and use their input to solve the problem at hand.
A good listener in the workplace will be able to gather more valuable information and then use them to find unique solutions in the least possible time. Additionally, an active listener encourages every team member to get involved in the problem-solving steps , listens to their feedback, and comes up with a profitable solution.
However, ' saying ' that you have good listening skills outright defeats the purpose.
During the interview , maintain your composure and LISTEN quietly to the problem at hand. Understand the problem and its root cause; only then provide a solution.
Irrespective of the nature of a problem, you need to be able to communicate the issue and any possible solution effectively to everybody else involved in the project. You need to brush up your delivery skills and learn which points to communicate first and last.
Interviewers may either ask your proficiency with various communication channels such as e-mail, phone, and text or give you a behavioral task and test your ability to communicate with others in real-life situations.
Creativity and critical thinking
"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou
Employers in this day and age are always on the lookout for an innovative thinker, one who can see the problem with a new set of eyes and bring a unique perspective to the team. You need to be able to establish the balance between cause and effect quickly, anticipate long-term effects of a solution that you implement, and lead your team to a new direction when stuck.
More often than not, decision-making is closely tied to an employee's problem-solving ability . Besides implementing solutions that your team comes up with, you should also be able to foresee the long-term effects and prevent catastrophes.
With quality technical interview preparation courses , you can further understand the importance of this step.
How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?
Your resume is the first document that a hiring manager sees. The experience and skills you mention in your resume can help you secure an interview if it catches the recruiter's attention.
The first approach you can adopt is highlighting your analysis and problem-solving skills right under the hard skills. This approach shows that you are confident in your technical skills and can find and implement work-based solutions efficiently.
For a full-stack web developer, the following problem-solving skills can be mentioned.
Secondly, you can list your problem-solving ability under the work experience section. This is an excellent way to highlight your job experience and emphasizes that you learn and implement these skills in your work.
- Analyzed customer service feedback to predict interest in a sales campaign to attract a target audience group.
- Documented the standard processes and scripts using specialized software solutions which led to customer satisfaction increased by 45% in a quarter.
- Researched and launched a mobile app that reduced the school pickup time by 21 minutes.
- Altered the inventory safeguard protocols during hurricane season, saving $1 million in wastage.
Apart from using problem-solving skills in your workplace , a quick way to develop your skills is to ask many questions. Only by asking questions and analyzing the information at hand can you build a workplace reputation as someone who handles challenging situations wisely.
Attend our free webinar on how to nail your next technical interview.
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Problem-Solving Techniques and Tips (That Actually Work)
By Lionel Valdellon , June 14, 2022 - 10 min read
Solving complex problems may be difficult but it doesn't have to be excruciating. You just need the right frame of mind and a process for untangling the problem at hand.
Luckily for you, there are plenty of techniques available to solve whatever problems come at you in the workplace.
When faced with a doozy of a problem, where do you start? And what problem-solving techniques can you use right now that can help you make good decisions?
Today's post will give you tips and techniques for solving complex problems so you can untangle any complication like an expert.
How many steps are there in problem-solving?
At its core, problem-solving is a methodical four-step process. You may even recall these steps from when you were first introduced to the Scientific Method.
- First, you must define the problem . What is its cause? What are the signs there's a problem at all?
- Next, you identify various options for solutions. What are some good ideas to solve this?
- Then, evaluate your options and choose from among them. What is the best option to solve the problem? What's the easiest option? How should you prioritize?
- Finally, implement the chosen solution . Does it solve the problem? Is there another option you need to try?
When applying problem-solving techniques, you will be using a variation of these steps as your foundation.
Takeaway: Before you can solve a problem, seek to understand it fully.
Creative problem-solving techniques
Time to get creative! You might think this will just be a list of out-of-the-box ways to brainstorm ideas. Not exactly.
Creative problem solving (CPS) is actually a formal process formulated by Sidney Parnes and Alex Faickney Osborn , who is thought of as the father of traditional brainstorming (and the "O" in famous advertising agency BBDO).
Their creative problem solving process emphasizes several things, namely:
- Separate ideation from evaluation . When you brainstorm creative ideas, have a separate time for writing it all down. Focus on generating lots of ideas. Don't prioritize or evaluate them until everything is captured.
- Judging will shut it down . Nothing stops the flow of creative ideas faster than judging them on the spot. Wait until the brainstorming is over before you evaluate.
- Restate problems as questions . It's easier to entice a group into thinking of creative ideas when challenges are stated as open-ended questions.
- Use "Yes and" to expand ideas . Here's one of the basic tenets of improv comedy. It's way too easy to shut down and negate ideas by using the word "but" (i.e. "But I think this is better..."). Avoid this at all costs. Instead, expand on what was previously introduced by saying "Yes, and..." to keep ideas flowing and evolving.
Takeaway: When brainstorming solutions, generate ideas first by using questions and building off of existing ideas. Do all evaluating and judging later.
Problem-solving tips from psychology
If you take a look at the history of problem-solving techniques in psychology, you'll come across a wide spectrum of interesting ideas that could be helpful.
Take it from experience
In 1911, the American psychologist Edward Thorndike observed cats figuring out how to escape from the cage he placed them in. From this, Thorndike developed his law of effect , which states: If you succeed via trial-and-error, you're more likely to use those same actions and ideas that led to your previous success when you face the problem again.
Takeaway: Your past experience can inform and shed light on the problem you face now. Recall. Explore.
Barriers to reproductive thinking
The Gestalt psychologists built on Thorndike's ideas when they proposed that problem-solving can happen via reproductive thinking — which is not about sex, but rather solving a problem by using past experience and reproducing that experience to solve the current problem.
What's interesting about Gestalt psychology is how they view barriers to problem-solving. Here are two such barriers:
- Are you entrenched? Look up mental set or entrenchment . This is when you're fixated on a solution that used to work well in the past but has no bearing to your current problem. Are you so entrenched with a method or idea that you use it even when it doesn't work? As Queen Elsa sang, "Let it go!"
- Are you thinking of alternative uses? There is a cognitive bias called functional fixedness which could thwart any of your critical thinking techniques by having you only see an object's conventional function. For example, say you need to cut a piece of paper in half but only have a ruler. Functional fixedness would lead you to think the ruler is only good for measuring things. (You could also use the ruler to crease the paper, making it easier to tear it in half.)
Takeaway: Think outside of the box! And by box, we mean outside of the past experience you're holding on to, or outside any preconceived ideas on how a tool is conventionally used.
More problem-solving tools
Hurson's productive thinking model.
In his book "Think Better," author and creativity guru Tim Hurson proposed a six-step model for solving problems creatively. The steps in his Productive Thinking Model are:
- Ask, "What is going on?" Define the problem and its impact on your company, then clarify your vision for the future.
- Ask, "What is success?" Define what the solution must do, what resources it needs, its scope, and the values it must uphold.
- Ask, "What is the question?" Generate a long list of questions that, when answered, will solve the problem.
- Generate answers . Answer the questions from step three.
- Forge the solution . Evaluate the ideas with potential based on the criteria from step two. Pick a solution.
- Align resources . Identify people and resources to execute the solution.
Use a fishbone diagram to see cause and effect
The most important part of defining the problem is looking at the possible root cause. You'll need to ask yourself questions like: Where and when is it happening? How is it occurring? With whom is it happening? Why is it happening?
You can get to the root cause with a fishbone diagram (also known as an Ishikawa diagram or a cause and effect diagram).
Basically, you put the effect on the right side as the problem statement. Then you list all possible causes on the left, grouped into larger cause categories. The resulting shape resembles a fish skeleton. Which is a perfect way to say, "This problem smells fishy."
Use analogies to get to a solution
Analogical thinking uses information from one area to help with a problem in a different area. In short, solving a different problem can lead you to find a solution to the actual problem. Watch out though! Analogies are difficult for beginners and take some getting used to.
An example: In the "radiation problem," a doctor has a patient with a tumor that cannot be operated on. The doctor can use rays to destroy the tumor but it also destroys healthy tissue.
Two researchers, Gick and Holyoak , noted that people solved the radiation problem much more easily after being asked to read a story about an invading general who must capture the fortress of a king but be careful to avoid landmines that will detonate if large forces traverse the streets. The general then sends small forces of men down different streets so the army can converge at the fortress at the same time and can capture it at full force.
Ask "12 what elses"
In her book " The Architecture of All Abundance ," author Lenedra J. Carroll (aka the mother of pop star Jewel) talks about a question-and-answer technique for getting out of a problem.
When faced with a problem, ask yourself a question about it and brainstorm 12 answers ("12 what elses") to that problem. Then you can go further by taking one answer, turning it into a question and generating 12 more "what elses." Repeat until the solution is golden brown, fully baked, and ready to take out of the oven.
Start using these techniques today
Hopefully you find these different techniques useful and they get your imagination rolling with ideas on how to solve different problems.
And if that's the case, then you have four different takeaways to use the next time a problem gets you tangled up:
- Don't start by trying to solve the problem. First, aim to understand the root of the problem.
- Use questions to generate ideas for solving the problem.
- Look to previous problems to find the answers to new ones.
- Clear your preconceived ideas and past experiences before attempting to tackle the problem.
How to solve problems with Wrike
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What are your favorite problem-solving techniques?
Do you have a problem-solving technique that has worked wonders for your organization? Hit the comments below and share your wisdom!
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How to improve your problem-solving at work: skills, models and examples
Highly valued by employers, problem-solving is needed in just about any line of work. We’ll show you how to step up your ability to take on workplace challenges below…
Whether you’re a seasoned manager or in a junior role, you’re bound to encounter challenges that need tackling head on during your week. And when it comes to overcoming them, fine-tuned, well-honed problem-solving skills are the way to do it.
If your problem-solving has been off in the past, then it can be difficult to take a step back before you act. Luckily, problem-solving is a skill to be learned like any other.
To help you get to grips with this valued skill, we’ll define problem-solving in detail, show you why it matters, and offer some pointers for improving your problem-solving skills.
What are problem-solving skills?
Problem-solving skills let us take on issues without resorting to hasty decisions and snap judgements. They’re what allow us to better understand the challenges before us so we can come up with solutions for dealing with them.
Depending on what the problem is, such skills may call on things like active listening , teamwork, creative thinking or mathematical analysis. Whatever you use to reach a solution, problem-solving is a valuable soft skill that most employers will look for in potential employees.
Why are problem-solving skills important?
Problem-solvers are equipped to take on what comes their way. When they have the right tools at their disposal, they’re in a better position to observe the issue, judge it accordingly, and act in the most effective way. And through experience, these skills become more refined and precise, allowing them to take on tougher problems.
So, why else are they important? Let’s look at what else problem-solving can add to an employee’s skillset…
Greater time management skills
When you know how to approach a problem, greater time management skills tend to come naturally. Because you can balance your time more efficiently, your ability to weigh up your options becomes more precise and considered, allowing you to make less hasty decisions that could make a problem worse.
More creative thinking
Those with strong problem-solving skills can always see the opportunity in a challenge. By tackling problems with innovative solutions, you might find that the result is stronger than you expect.
Improved performance under pressure
When deadlines loom or change is on the horizon, a lack of problem-solving skills could be what leads to poor or half-baked solutions. Because they’re naturally geared towards dealing with the unknown and the unexpected, problem-solvers are less inclined to feel pressure when it arises.
Greater addressing of risk
As well as the ability to deal with the issue itself, problem-solvers are well-equipped to address problems that could spring up later down the line based on trends, patterns and current events . This allows them to possess a degree of control over the future.
How to improve your problem-solving skills
So, how can you improve your ability to solve problems in the workplace? The following tips can help give you an edge whatever your position in a company may be.
Look for opportunities to solve problems
If you’re not used to taking them on, it can be easy to sit back and let someone else deal with problems. Instead of shying away from them, put yourself in situations where problems can arise.
We don’t mean deliberately making mistakes here, but taking on more duties in your current role, with another team or outside your organisation can help familiarise you with the kind of problems that can occur and ways to deal with them.
Observe how others solve problems
By shadowing your colleagues, you can learn problem-solving techniques and put them into practice yourself. Ask a colleague if you can observe their strategy, or schedule in a one-to-one to ask about how they take on problems.
Familiarise yourself with practice problems
There’s a wealth of resources in print and online that you can use to improve your problem-solving skills. These materials offer all sorts of scenarios to put your abilities to the test, unearthing skills you didn’t know you had.
An example problem-solving model
There are several problem-solving models out there, but typically, they follow the broad steps below.
1. Define the problem
Take a step back and analyse the situation. Are there multiple problems? What is causing them? How do these problems affect you and others involved?
Then, drill into the problem by doing the following:
• Separate facts from opinion
• Identify what has caused the problem
• Discuss with team members to gather more information
• Gather relevant data
At this stage, don’t be tempted to come up with a solution. You’re simply trying to find out what the problem is.
2. Identify potential solutions
While you may have only come up with one solution to a problem in the past, brainstorming several alternatives is a better approach. Ask colleagues for their input and get some insights from those with experience of similar problems.
In coming up with alternatives, consider the following:
• Weigh up what might slow down solving the problem
• Ensure your ideas align with goals and objectives
• Identify long and short-term solutions
• Write down the solutions you come up with
3. Evaluate your solutions
Once you have a list of solutions, you need to evaluate them further before acting. What are the positive and negative consequences of each? What resources will you need to carry them out? How much time and, if necessary, who else will you need to put the solution in place?
4. Choose a solution
Your evaluation should clarify which solution best suits the problem. Now it’s time to put that solution into practice.
Before you do, consider:
• Does it solve the problem without creating another?
• Have you reached a group consensus over the solution?
• Is implementing it practical and straightforward?
• Does it fit within company policies and procedures?
5. Put the solution into action
Once you’ve decided on the right solution, it needs to be implemented. Your action plan should include measurable objectives that allow you to monitor its success, as well as timelines and feedback channels your team can use during implementation.
Making sure this plan is communicated to everyone involved will also be key to its success.
6. Assess how effective the solution is
Your work isn’t done just yet! You’ll need to measure how things are progressing to ensure the solution is working as intended. Doing so means you can course-correct should further surprises arise, or else go back to alternative solutions.
How to show problem-solving skills on your CV and at interviews
As we said up top, problem-solving is highly valued by employers, so you’ll want to highlight such abilities on your CV, cover letter and in interviews.
Think back to previous roles for examples of when you used problem-solving skills. It’s not enough to say you’re good at problem-solving; employers will be looking for concrete examples, so be sure to mention them in your cover letter and use bullet points on your CV with specifics.
In interviews, you might be called on to describe times when you encountered problems in previous roles. Here, you should mention the processes you followed to address these issues, the skills you used, and the outcomes achieved.
Likewise, you may be asked hypothetical questions to show how you would solve problems. Base your answers on the steps above, and use the STARR method in conjunction with previous instances of problem-solving to give a detailed yet concise response.
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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head
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What is an example of problem-solving?
What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.
Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge.
Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem .
Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.
Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.
To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high.
Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one.
Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions.
This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.
They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.
The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.
Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving.
Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.
1. Identify the problem
The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem.
The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions.
Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .
2. Break the problem down
Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it.
First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.
3. Generate potential solutions
At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible.
Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.
Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.
4. Evaluate the possible solutions
Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist.
There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will my team be on board with the proposition?
- Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
- Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
- Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
- Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?
5. Implement and monitor the solutions
Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it.
But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem.
Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.
If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.
There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems.
The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.
Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:
- Use a solution that worked before
- Work backward
- Use the Kipling method
- Draw the problem
- Use trial and error
- Sleep on it
- Get advice from your peers
- Use the Pareto principle
- Add successful solutions to your toolkit
Let’s break each of these down.
1. Use a solution that worked before
It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.
The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.
Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.
3. Work backward
Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.
Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.
4. Use the Kipling method
This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .”
- What is the problem?
- Why is the problem important?
- When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
- How did the problem happen?
- Where is the problem occurring?
- Who does the problem affect?
Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.
5. Draw the problem
Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.
This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.
6. Use trial-and-error
A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.
7. Sleep on it
Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.
A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level.
If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.
8. Get advice from your peers
Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own.
For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group.
For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .
It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone.
9. Use the Pareto principle
The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.
Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales.
You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.
10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit
Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit.
These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.
Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:
- Critical thinking and analytical skills
- Communication skills , including active listening
- Planning and prioritization
- Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
- Time management
- Data analysis
- Research skills
- Project management
And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.
Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.
1. Build your problem-solving skills
One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .
Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life.
Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.
3. Don’t try to find a solution right away
Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.
Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking.
4. Ask for feedback
Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve.
5. Learn new approaches and methodologies
There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject.
We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman.
Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches.
Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.
7. Analyze the success of your competitors
Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem.
For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster.
But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007.
If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.
Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business
When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution.
Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.
Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.
If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.
Content Marketing Manager, ACC
8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems
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