Problems are a natural part of life. While you can’t escape problems, it’s important to solve them. Some problems are easy to solve and take little effort. Others are more complex in nature. That’s why it’s important to practice your problem-solving skills.
But what, exactly, is problem-solving? And how do you go about practicing your problem-solving skills? Those are the questions we’ll answer in this guide. We’ll also share the basic steps involved in solving problems, so you’ll be well-prepared to handle them.
What Is Problem Solving?
Put simply, problem-solving is the process of discovering, defining, analyzing, and solving problems. The end goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find satisfactory solutions to the initial problem.
This process usually involves:
- discovering the problem
- finding the root cause of the problem
- finding the solution and implementing it
There are several ways to approach problem-solving, but the best strategy depends on the problem itself. Continue reading to improve your problem solving skills.
Basic Steps Involved in Problem Solving
Now that you’re familiar with the definition of problem solving, you may be wondering: how do you solve a problem? Let’s go through the basic steps involved in solving a problem:
1. Identify and Define a Problem
The first step in problem-solving is to identify and define a problem. Without defining the problem you won’t know what caused it, let alone which technique you should apply to solve it.
This may sound like an obvious step but it’s not always easy to define the problem you’re facing. As mentioned earlier, you might think you know what the problem is. But a deeper analysis might reveal something completely different.
2. Analyze the Root Cause
Once you’ve identified the problem, find out what’s causing it. Start by taking all the facts into account. Don’t stop at the first obvious answer but rather aim to examine the problem thoroughly. Consider different triggers.
This is where you’ll make use of the various diagrams we mention later in this tutorial to analyze the complexity as well as root cause of the problem.
To learn more about finding the root cause of a problem, study this tutorial:
3. Organize the Information
It's likely that during your research stage, you'll have gathered a lot of information. This information is crucial to helping you find the proper solution to your problem. But if you want it to be effective, organize all that information. Consider what you know about the problem. Think about if there are any unknowns left and either dig deeper to make them known or write them down.
The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to find a solution. Similarly, the more organized the information is, the easier it'll be to go through it and consult it during the next step of the process.
4. Form a Strategy
Once you’ve analyzed the problem, you know what the root cause is, and you’ve gathered enough information about it, it’s time to form a strategy. This is where techniques such as means-end analysis, inductive reasoning, and constructive controversy come in handy.
Ideally, you’ll want to come up with more than one solution. The reason behind many problem solving solutions is simple.
Once you've got your list of solutions, review them and determine what’s the best course of action. For each solution consider the following:
- Will this solution solve the problem without causing more problems somewhere else?
- Will everyone involved accept and be happy with the solution?
- Is the solution easy and cost-effective?
Asking these questions will help you filter out solutions that aren’t effective so you can focus on problem solving solutions that'll yield results.
5. Allocate Necessary Resources
After you've come up with a solution, the next step in the process is to try the solution and allocate the necessary resources. Keep in mind that you might not always have unlimited resources to solve a problem.
That’s why it’s important to determine how urgent the problem is. Plan how you’ll distribute the time, money, and whatever else might be needed to solve the problem.
Remember that it’s also important to involve others in the solution. This will not only take away some of the stress and burden from you, but it'll also create the opportunity to receive feedback. This is crucial for the next part of the problem solving process.
6. Monitor the Results
How will you know if your solution is effective? By monitoring the results after you’ve put the solution in place. This is where the feedback from others comes in handy. This will allow you to evaluate the solution so you can adjust if necessary or even try a different strategy altogether.
7. Evaluate the Results
The last step of the process is to review your results. If the problem has been solved, congratulations are in order. But if you determine that the problem persists or you discover a new problem, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that sometimes the efficacy of the solution will be visible immediately. At other times, you might need to give it some time to see the desired results.
For example, if we go back to our original problem of social media channels not being updated, it’s not realistic to conclude that the solution is working after a day. Instead, give it a few weeks or even a couple of months to ensure the process is working and your social media content is posted consistently.
Problem Solving Tools
If you've got a problem and you're still wondering how to solve this problem, this section may help. As mentioned above, there are several different types of tools to help you solve problems. Let’s take a closer look at four types of tools:
1. Tools to Help You Define a Problem
The first step in solving any problem is to define what exactly the problem is. A good place to start is to state the problem and then ask why repeatedly until you discover what caused the problem. Here are two types of tools to help:
The 5 Whys method can be applied here to unearth the root cause of the problem.
By applying the 5 Whys method, you’ll ensure that you’re actually dealing with the problem itself and not just the symptoms.
For example, your problem might be that the content for your various marketing channels never gets pushed out in a timely fashion. Initially, it may seem like your marketing team is simply forgetting to post the content. But if you dig deeper, you might discover that a formal posting schedule was never properly defined.
Or they might be overwhelmed with too many marketing channels that need to be updated and all the other tasks that they might be responsible for. Discover a more in-depth discussion of the Five Whys method in this article:
2. Tools to Help You Analyze Complexity
Often, the 5 Whys method can not only uncover the root cause but also present the solution in the simplest fashion. But not all problems are simple.
If the problem is more complex, there might be several interrelated issues at play. In that case, the solution isn't as simple. You should apply tools to help you analyze the complexity of the problem.
Tools that help you visualize the problem and organize the information into common categories are a great choice. Diagrams often fall into this spectrum. A few examples include:
- Affinity diagram — groups large amounts of data based on their natural relationship
- Cause and effect diagrams or fishbone diagrams — diagrams that list a problem and all possible causes of the problem. When completed, they resemble the fishbone, hence the name.
- Flowchart diagrams — particularly useful when you’re trying to identify problems in an existing process.
To learn more about fishbone diagrams and affinity diagrams, review these tutorials:
- Get Started With Cause and Effect Analysis Using a Fishbone ChartLisa Jo Rudy16 Sep 2021
- How to Prepare and Use an Affinity DiagramJoel14 Mar 2017
For some templates you can use to create fishbone diagrams, check out these articles:
- 12+ Best Free Editable Fishbone Diagram MS Word Templates for 2022Barni Rajah25 Jul 2022
- 10+ Best Free Fishbone Diagram PowerPoint PPT Templates to Download for 2022Barni Rajah16 Jul 2022
3. General Problem-Solving Tools
Once you know what the problem is and you’ve discovered the root cause of it, you can begin working on a solution.
You can use the process of constructive controversy to engage in a discussion that'll help you brainstorm ways to solve a problem. This technique can be used to widen your perspectives and think outside the box so you can find the appropriate solution.
Another common tool for solving problems is the inductive reasoning technique. During this process, you’ll compile the existing information and experiences to find the solution for your problem.
For example, you might notice that when you share videos on your social media profile, you get more engagement. As a result, you decide to increase the frequency of video content.
Lastly, you can also use the means-end analysis to jumpstart your creative thinking. When using this technique, you’ll want to start broad and break down the ultimate goal into smaller and manageable steps to reach a solution.
4. Other Problem-Solving Tools
Beyond the techniques listed above, there are some other, more specific techniques used for complex problem solving. A couple of examples include:
- Soft systems methodology which was developed in the 1990s. The main premise behind the technique is using differing views on the definition of the problem to analyze complex situations and find problem solving solutions.
- Appreciative inquiry which examines what's working well in surrounding or similar areas and then uses that knowledge to create the solution.
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Easily Find Solutions to Every Problem
Problems are just one part of life, both in your professional and personal life. It’s impossible to go through life without encountering a single problem. So, it’s important to develop and hone your problem-solving skills.
In this tutorial, we’ve shared several ways to approach problem-solving and tips to help you approach, identify, and understand the problems you encounter. By trying what you’ve read here, you’ll be well-equipped to find solutions for all the problems you come across.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in January 2022. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.