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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. You can download the process's free PowerPoint and PDF templates at the end of the blog post .

the seven steps 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 by it.

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.

Considering their concerns and needs, it is important to involve stakeholders in the prioritization process. 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. Organizations can gain a deeper understanding of the issue and make informed decisions by using a combination of methods.

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, remaining open-minded and considering all potential solutions is vital. To ensure everyone's perspectives are considered, it is also essential to involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process.

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.

the seven steps 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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What are the 7 Steps to Problem-Solving? & Its Examples

What are the 7 Steps to Problem-Solving & Its Examples (2)-compressed

7 Steps to Problem-Solving

7 Steps to Problem-Solving is a systematic process that involves analyzing a situation, generating possible solutions, and implementing the best course of action. While different problem-solving models exist, a common approach often involves the following seven steps:

Define the Problem:

  • Clearly articulate and understand the nature of the problem. Define the issue, its scope, and its impact on individuals or the organization.

Gather Information:

  • Collect relevant data and information related to the problem. This may involve research, observation, interviews, or any other method to gain a comprehensive understanding.

Generate Possible Solutions:

  • Brainstorm and generate a variety of potential solutions to the problem. Encourage creativity and consider different perspectives during this phase.

Evaluate Options:

  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of each potential solution. Consider the feasibility, potential risks, and the likely outcomes associated with each option.

Make a Decision:

  • Based on the evaluation, choose the most suitable solution. This decision should align with the goals and values of the individual or organization facing the problem.

Implement the Solution:

  • Put the chosen solution into action. Develop an implementation plan, allocate resources, and carry out the necessary steps to address the problem effectively.

Evaluate the Results:

  • Assess the outcomes of the implemented solution. Did it solve the problem as intended? What can be learned from the process? Use this information to refine future problem-solving efforts.

It’s important to note that these steps are not always linear and may involve iteration. Problem-solving is often an ongoing process, and feedback from the implementation and evaluation stages may lead to adjustments in the chosen solution or the identification of new issues that need to be addressed.

Problem-Solving Example in Education

  • Certainly: Let’s consider a problem-solving example in the context of education.
  • Problem: Declining Student Engagement in Mathematics Classes

Background:

A high school has noticed a decline in student engagement and performance in mathematics classes over the past few years. Students seem disinterested, and there is a noticeable decrease in test scores. The traditional teaching methods are not effectively capturing students’ attention, and there’s a need for innovative solutions to rekindle interest in mathematics.

Steps in Problem-Solving

Identify the problem:.

  • Clearly define the issue: declining student engagement and performance in mathematics classes.
  • Gather data on student performance, attendance, and feedback from teachers and students.

Root Cause Analysis

  • Conduct surveys, interviews, and classroom observations to identify the root causes of disengagement.
  • Identify potential factors such as teaching methods, curriculum relevance, or lack of real-world applications.

Brainstorm Solutions

  • Organize a team of educators, administrators, and even students to brainstorm creative solutions.
  • Consider integrating technology, real-world applications, project-based learning, or other interactive teaching methods.

Evaluate and Prioritize Solutions

  • Evaluate each solution based on feasibility, cost, and potential impact.
  • Prioritize solutions that are likely to address the root causes and have a positive impact on student engagement.

Implement the Chosen Solution

  • Develop an action plan for implementing the chosen solution.
  • Provide training and resources for teachers to adapt to new teaching methods or technologies.

Monitor and Evaluate

  • Continuously monitor the implementation of the solution.
  • Collect feedback from teachers and students to assess the effectiveness of the changes.

Adjust as Needed

  • Be willing to make adjustments based on ongoing feedback and data analysis.
  • Fine-tune the solution to address any unforeseen challenges or issues.

Example Solution

  • Introduce a project-based learning approach in mathematics classes, where students work on real-world problems that require mathematical skills.
  • Incorporate technology, such as educational apps or interactive simulations, to make learning more engaging.
  • Provide professional development for teachers to enhance their skills in implementing these new teaching methods.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Increased student engagement and interest in mathematics.
  • Improvement in test scores and overall academic performance.
  • Positive feedback from both teachers and students.

Final Words

This problem-solving approach in education involves a systematic process of identifying, analyzing, and addressing issues to enhance the learning experience for students.

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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.

the seven steps 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.

the seven steps 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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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

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

the seven steps of problem solving

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

the seven steps of problem solving

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

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. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

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

Status.net

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.
  • How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
  • How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
  • 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)

Skip Prichard | Leadership Insights

Ideas, Insight & Inspiration

7 Steps to Problem Solving

problem solving

Bulletproof Problem Solving

Complex problem solving is the core skill for 21st century teams. It’s the only way to keep up with rapid change. Winning organizations now rely on nimble, iterative problem solving, rather than the traditional planning processes. I had the opportunity to speak with Charles Conn and Robert McLean, two McKinsey alums who share a seven-step systematic approach to creative problem solving that will work in any field or industry. Their new book is BULLETPROOF PROBLEM SOLVING: The One Skill That Changes Everything .

New Skills Required

Would you share a little about the evolution of managerial skills and what skills are needed in the current era?

This new era of focus on creative problem solving has been ushered in by massive disruption of the old order in business and society. New business models are rapidly emerging from revolutionary Internet, machine learning, and bioscience technologies that threaten the status quo in every field. Technology change is speeding business up and providing an edge for disruptive innovators.

As a consequence of accelerating change, the old model of managerial skill development and application is no longer effective.  It used to be that you could learn the core skills for a career in college and graduate school – think management, accounting, law – and then apply it over forty years.  Strategic planning in business assumed an existing playing field and known actors. Today savvy business leaders are prioritizing complex problem solving skills in hiring rather than old domain knowledge, and emphasizing agile team problem solving over traditional planning cycles. This approach rewards the ability to see and quickly respond to new opportunities and threats over the slower traditional big company departmental responses.

We are seeing growing awareness of this. David Brooks of the New York Times said recently, “It doesn’t matter if you are working in the cafeteria or the inspection line of a plant, companies will only hire people who can see problems and organize responses.” And The World Economic Forum in its Future of Jobs Report placed complex problem solving at #1 in its top 10 skills for jobs in 2020.

For those who feel ill-prepared for this era, what are the best ways to acquire the needed skills?

Unfortunately, despite an increasing recognition in the business press that problem solving is the core 21 st century skill, our universities and graduate schools rarely teach systematic problem solving or modern team decision making skills. This is starting to change, and we are seeing that in moves by the OECD and Council for Aid to Education (CAE) which administers the College Learning Assessment plus test.

The OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) started testing individual problem solving skills in 2012 and added collaborative problem solving skills in the 2015 assessments. One of the interesting early findings is that to teach students to become better problem solvers involves other capabilities than simply teaching reading, mathematics, and science literacy well. Capabilities such as creativity, logic, and reasoning are essential contributors to students becoming better problem solvers. That is what this book is about.

You share seven steps in your bulletproof problem solving approach. How did you develop it?

The 7-steps approach to problem solving has its roots in the hypothesis-driven structure of the scientific method, but was developed into an approach for business problem solving at McKinsey & Company.  Charles wrote one of the early internal documents to systematic problem solving in McKinsey, and both of us have developed the approach further for application more broadly to personal, social and environmental problems at all scales in later work with the Nature Conservancy, the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, the Rhodes Trust and in start-up companies where we are investors.

1: Define the problem.

2: Disaggregate.

3: Prioritize.

4: Workplan.

5: Analyze.

6: Synthesize.

7. Communicate.

Is there one part of it normally missed or not focused on as much as it should be?

the seven steps of problem solving

What are some of the best methods for overcoming biases in decision making?

The most important biases to address are confirmation bias, anchoring bias, and loss aversion.  These are deep seated in our psyches and often reinforced by traditional hierarchies. We use some simple team approaches to fight bias, including perspective-taking (the act of modeling another team member’s assertion or belief to the point that you can describe it as compellingly as the other), role playing (where you act out one side or the other of difficult choice, sometimes in a red team/blue team structure), team distributive voting on analyses and solution paths (one approach we have used is to assign each team member 10 votes, represented by sticky notes, and have each team member use them to vote on their favorite analysis, allowing cumulative or bullet voting, with the most senior person voting last, so as not to bias the choices of more junior members). The most important team norm to encourage is the obligation to dissent, which means every team member is required to verbally contest decisions when they disagree, regardless of seniority.

What do leadership teams most struggle with in the new environment?

The biggest challenge is the speed of change, which pressures all the management approaches we were taught in business school, particularly around planning cycles.  The leadership teams that get good at this typically form and re-form cross-functional teams to deploy on issues as they arise, rather than waiting for conventional departmental responses.  And they are comfortable using rapid design cycles to prototype and test products/services in the market, rather than depending on traditional marketing analysis.

How will AI impact the bulletproof approach?

We believe good organization problem solving will increasingly utilize advances in artificial intelligence to predict patterns in consumer behavior, disease, credit risk, and other complex phenomena.  Machine learning is getting better at pattern recognition than most humans. But that isn’t the whole story. To meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, mental muscle and machine muscle have to work together. Machine learning frees human problem solvers from computational drudgery and amplifies the pattern recognition required for faster organizational response to external challenges. For this partnership to work, twenty-first century organizations need staff who are quick on their feet, who learn new skills quickly, and who attack emerging problems with confidence.

For more information, see BULLETPROOF PROBLEM SOLVING: The One Skill That Changes Everything .

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7 Steps To Problem-Solving

The 7 steps to problem-solving is a disciplined and methodical approach to identifying and then addressing the root cause of problems. Instead, a more robust approach involves working through a problem using the hypothesis-driven framework of the scientific method. Each viable hypothesis is tested using a range of specific diagnostics and then recommendations are made.

Table of Contents

Understanding the 7 steps to problem-solving

The core argument of this approach is that the most obvious solutions to a problem are often not the best solutions. 

Good problem-solving in business is a skill that must be learned. Businesses that are adept at problem-solving take responsibility for their own decisions and have courage and confidence in their convictions. Ultimately, this removes doubt which can impede the growth of businesses and indeed employees alike.

Moving through the 7 steps to problem-solving

Although many versions of the 7-step approach exist, the McKinsey approach is the most widely used in business settings. Here is how decision makers can move through each of the steps systematically.

Step 1 – Define the problem

First, the scope and extent of the problem must be identified. Actions and behaviors of individuals must be the focus – instead of a focus on the individuals themselves. Whatever the case, the problem must be clearly defined and be universally accepted by all relevant parties.

Step 2 – Disaggregate the problem

In the second step, break down the problem (challenge) into smaller parts using logic trees and develop an early hypothesis. Here, economic and scientific principles can be useful in brainstorming potential solutions. Avoid cognitive biases, such as deciding that a previous solution should be used again because it worked last time.

Step 3 – Prioritize issues

Which constituent parts could be key driving factors of the problem? Prioritize each according to those which have the biggest impact on the problem. Eliminate parts that have negligible impact. This step helps businesses use their resources wisely.

Step 4 – Plan the analyses

Before testing each hypothesis, develop a work and process plan for each. Staff should be assigned to analytical tasks with unique output and completion dates. Hypothesis testing should also be reviewed at regular intervals to measure viability and adjust strategies accordingly.

Step 5 – Conduct the analyses

In step five, gather the critical data required to accept or reject each hypothesis. Data analysis methods will vary according to the nature of the project, but each business must understand the reasons for implementing specific methods. In question-based problem solving, the Five Whys or Fishbone method may be used. More complicated problems may require the use of statistical analysis . In any case, this is often the longest and most complex step of the process. 

Step 6 – Synthesise the results

Once the results have been determined, they must be synthesized in such a way that they can be tested for validity and logic. In a business context, assess the implications of the findings for a business moving forward. Does it solve the problem? 

Step 7 – Communicate

In the final step, the business must present the solutions in such a way that they link back to the original problem statement. When presenting to clients, this is vital. It shows that the business understands the problem and has a solution supported by facts or hard data. Above all, the data should be woven into a convincing story that ends with recommendations for future action.

Key takeaways

  • 7 steps to problem-solving is a methodical approach to problem-solving based on the scientific method.
  • Although a somewhat rigorous approach, the strategy can be learned by any business willing to devote the time and resources.
  • Fundamentally, the 7 steps to problem-solving method involves formulating and then testing hypotheses. Through the process of elimination, a business can narrow its focus to the likely root cause of a problem.

Key Highlights

  • Definition : The 7 Steps to Problem-Solving is a structured methodology rooted in the scientific method. It emphasizes systematic hypothesis testing and data analysis to identify and address the root cause of problems, avoiding surface-level solutions.
  • Problem-Solving Skill : Effective problem-solving is a learned skill that fosters responsible decision-making, boosts confidence, and supports business growth .
  • Define the Problem : Clearly outline the problem’s scope and impact, focusing on actions and behaviors rather than individuals.
  • Disaggregate the Problem : Break down the problem into smaller parts using logic trees and form early hypotheses. Avoid biases from past solutions.
  • Prioritize Issues : Identify key driving factors of the problem and prioritize them by impact. Eliminate parts with minimal impact to allocate resources efficiently.
  • Plan the Analyses : Develop work and process plans for hypothesis testing, assigning staff and setting completion dates. Regularly review and adjust strategies.
  • Conduct the Analyses : Gather critical data to accept or reject hypotheses. Use methods like Five Whys, Fishbone diagrams, or statistical analysis .
  • Synthesize the Results : Combine and analyze results to determine their validity and implications for the business . Assess if the problem is solved.
  • Communicate : Present solutions that link back to the original problem statement, supported by facts. Create a compelling story ending with recommendations.
  • The 7 Steps to Problem-Solving is based on the scientific method.
  • It requires a structured approach to formulating and testing hypotheses.
  • Businesses willing to invest time and resources can learn and apply this method effectively.

Connected Decision-Making Frameworks

Cynefin Framework

cynefin-framework

SWOT Analysis

swot-analysis

Personal SWOT Analysis

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Pareto Analysis

pareto-principle-pareto-analysis

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

failure-mode-and-effects-analysis

Blindspot Analysis

blindspot-analysis

Comparable Company Analysis

comparable-company-analysis

Cost-Benefit Analysis

cost-benefit-analysis

Agile Business Analysis

agile-business-analysis

SOAR Analysis

soar-analysis

STEEPLE Analysis

steeple-analysis

Pestel Analysis

pestel-analysis

DESTEP Analysis

destep-analysis

Paired Comparison Analysis

paired-comparison-analysis

Related Strategy Concepts:  Go-To-Market Strategy ,  Marketing Strategy ,  Business Models ,  Tech Business Models ,  Jobs-To-Be Done ,  Design Thinking ,  Lean Startup Canvas ,  Value Chain ,  Value Proposition Canvas ,  Balanced Scorecard ,  Business Model Canvas ,  SWOT Analysis ,  Growth Hacking ,  Bundling ,  Unbundling ,  Bootstrapping ,  Venture Capital ,  Porter’s Five Forces ,  Porter’s Generic Strategies ,  Porter’s Five Forces ,  PESTEL Analysis ,  SWOT ,  Porter’s Diamond Model ,  Ansoff ,  Technology Adoption Curve ,  TOWS ,  SOAR ,  Balanced

Read Next:  Mental Models ,  Biases ,  Bounded Rationality ,  Mandela Effect ,  Dunning-Kruger Effect ,  Lindy Effect ,  Crowding Out Effect ,  Bandwagon Effect ,  Decision-Making Matrix .

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Mckinsey approach to problem solving.

McKinsey and Company is recognized for its rigorous approach to problem solving. They train their consultants on their seven-step process that anyone can learn.

This resource guides you through that process, largely informed by the McKinsey Staff Paper 66. It also includes a PowerPoint Toolkit with slide templates of each step of the process that you can download and customize for your own use.

You can click any section to go directly there:

Overview of the McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving

Problem solving process.

  • Problem Definition & Problem Statement Worksheet

Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet

Hypothesis trees, issue trees, analyses and workplan, synthesize findings, craft recommendations, distinctiveness practices, harness the power of collaboration, sources and additional reading, download the umbrex toolkit on the mckinsey approach to problem solving.

Problem solving — finding the optimal solution to a given business opportunity or challenge — is the very heart of how consultants create client impact, and considered the most important skill for success at McKinsey.

The characteristic “McKinsey method” of problem solving is a structured, inductive approach that can be used to solve any problem. Using this standardized process saves us from reinventing the problem-solving wheel, and allows for greater focus on distinctiveness in the solution. Every new McKinsey associate must learn this method on his or her first day with the firm.

There are four fundamental disciplines of the McKinsey method:

1. Problem definition

A thorough understanding and crisp definition of the problem.

2. The problem-solving process

Structuring the problem, prioritizing the issues, planning analyses, conducting analyses, synthesizing findings, and developing recommendations.

3. Distinctiveness practices

Constructing alternative perspectives; identifying relationships; distilling the essence of an issue, analysis, or recommendation; and staying ahead of others in the problem-solving process.

4. Collaboratio n

Actively seeking out client, customer, and supplier perspectives, as well as internal and external expert insight and knowledge.

Once the problem has been defined, the problem-solving process proceeds with a series of steps:

  • Structure the problem
  • Prioritize the issues
  • Plan analyses
  • Conduct analyses
  • Synthesize findings
  • Develop recommendations

Not all problems require strict adherence to the process. Some steps may be truncated, such as when specific knowledge or analogies from other industries make it possible to construct hypotheses and associated workplans earlier than their formal place in the process. Nonetheless, it remains important to be capable of executing every step in the basic process.

When confronted with a new and complex problem, this process establishes a path to defining and disaggregating the problem in a way that will allow the team to move to a solution. The process also ensures nothing is missed and concentrates efforts on the highest-impact areas. Adhering to the process gives the client clear steps to follow, building confidence, credibility, and long-term capability.

Problem Definition & Problem Statement Worksheet

The most important step in your entire project is to first carefully define the problem. The problem definition will serve the guide all of the team’s work, so it is critical to ensure that all key stakeholders agree that it is the right problem to be solving.

Problem Statement Worksheet

This is a helpful tool to use to clearly define the problem. There are often dozens of issues that a team could focus on, and it is often not obvious how to define the problem. In any real-life situation, there are many possible problem statements. Your choice of problem statement will serve to constrain the range of possible solutions.

  • Use a question . The problem statement should be phrased as a question, such that the answer will be the solution. Make the question SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant, and time-bound. Example: “How can XYZ Bank close the $100 million profitability gap in two years?”
  • Context . What are the internal and external situations and complications facing the client, such as industry trends, relative position within the industry, capability gaps, financial flexibility, and so on?
  • Success criteria . Understand how the client and the team define success and failure. In addition to any quantitative measures identified in the basic question, identify other important quantitative or qualitative measures of success, including timing of impact, visibility of improvement, client capability building required, necessary mindset shifts, and so on.
  • Scope and constraints . Scope most commonly covers the markets or segments of interest, whereas constraints govern restrictions on the nature of solutions within those markets or segments.
  • Stakeholders . Explore who really makes the decisions — who decides, who can help, and who can block.
  • Key sources of insight . What best-practice expertise, knowledge, and engagement approaches already exist? What knowledge from the client, suppliers, and customers needs to be accessed? Be as specific as possible: who, what, when, how, and why.

The problem definition should not be vague, without clear measures of success. Rather, it should be a SMART definition:

  • Action-oriented

Example situation – A family on Friday evening

Scenario: A mother, a father, and their two teenage children have all arrived home on a Friday at 6 p.m. The family has not prepared dinner for Friday evening. The daughter has lacrosse practice on Saturday and an essay to write for English class due on Monday. The son has theatre rehearsal on both Saturday and Sunday and will need one parent to drive him to the high school both days, though he can get a ride home with a friend. The family dog, a poodle, must be taken to the groomer on Saturday morning. The mother will need to spend time this weekend working on assignments for her finance class she is taking as part of her Executive MBA. The father plans to go on a 100-mile bike ride, which he can do either Saturday or Sunday. The family has two cars, but one is at the body shop. They are trying to save money to pay for an addition to their house.

What is the problem definition?

A statement of facts does not focus the problem solving:

It is 6 p.m. The family has not made plans for dinner, and they are hungry.

A question guides the team towards a solution:

1. What should the family do for dinner on Friday night?

2. Should the family cook dinner or order delivery?

3. What should the family cook for dinner?

4. What should the family cook for dinner that will not require spending more than $40 on groceries?

5. To cook dinner, what do they need to pick up from the supermarket?

6. How can the family prepare dinner within the next hour using ingredients they already have in the house?

In completing the Problem Statement Worksheet, you are prompted to define the key stakeholders.

As you become involved in the problem-solving process, you should expand the question of key stakeholders to include what the team wants from them and what they want from the team, their values and motivations (helpful and unhelpful), and the communications mechanisms that will be most effective for each of them.

Using the Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet allows you to comprehensively identify:

  • Stakeholders
  • What you need from them
  • Where they are
  • What they need from you

The two most helpful techniques for rigorously structuring any problem are hypothesis trees and issue trees. Each of these techniques disaggregates the primary question into a cascade of issues or hypotheses that, when addressed, will together answer the primary question.

A hypothesis tree might break down the same question into two or more hypotheses. 

Example: Alpha Manufacturing, Inc.

Problem Statement: How can Alpha increase EBITDA by $13M (to $50M) by 2025?

The hypotheses might be:

  • Alpha can add $125M revenues by expanding to new customers, adding $8M of EBITDA
  • Alpha can reduce costs to improve EBITDA by $5M

These hypotheses will be further disaggregated into subsidiary hypotheses at the next level of the tree.

The aim at this stage is to structure the problem into discrete, mutually exclusive pieces that are small enough to yield to analysis and that, taken together, are collectively exhaustive.

Articulating the problem as hypotheses, rather than issues, is the preferred approach because it leads to a more focused analysis of the problem. Questions to ask include:

  • Is it testable – can you prove or disprove it?
  • It is open to debate? If it cannot be wrong, it is simply a statement of fact and unlikely to produce keen insight.
  • If you reversed your hypothesis – literally, hypothesized that the exact opposite were true – would you care about the difference it would make to your overall logic?
  • If you shared your hypothesis with the CEO, would it sound naive or obvious?
  • Does it point directly to an action or actions that the client might take?

Quickly developing a powerful hypothesis tree enables us to develop solutions more rapidly that will have real impact. This can sometimes seem premature to clients, who might find the “solution” reached too quickly and want to see the analysis behind it.

Take care to explain the approach (most important, that a hypothesis is not an answer) and its benefits (that a good hypothesis is the basis of a proven means of successful problem solving and avoids “boiling the ocean”).

Often, the team has insufficient knowledge to build a complete hypothesis tree at the start of an engagement. In these cases, it is best to begin by structuring the problem using an issue tree.

An issue tree is best set out as a series of open questions in sentence form. For example, “How can the client minimize its tax burden?” is more useful than “Tax.” Open questions – those that begin with what, how, or why– produce deeper insights than closed ones. In some cases, an issue tree can be sharpened by toggling between issue and hypothesis – working forward from an issue to identify the hypothesis, and back from the hypothesis to sharpen the relevant open question.

Once the problem has been structured, the next step is to prioritize the issues or hypotheses on which the team will focus its work. When prioritizing, it is common to use a two-by-two matrix – e.g., a matrix featuring “impact” and “ease of impact” as the two axes.

Applying some of these prioritization criteria will knock out portions of the issue tree altogether. Consider testing the issues against them all, albeit quickly, to help drive the prioritization process.

Once the criteria are defined, prioritizing should be straightforward: Simply map the issues to the framework and focus on those that score highest against the criteria.

As the team conducts analysis and learns more about the problem and the potential solution, make sure to revisit the prioritization matrix so as to remain focused on the highest-priority issues.

The issues might be:

  • How can Alpha increase revenue?
  • How can Alpha reduce cost?

Each of these issues is then further broken down into deeper insights to solutions.

If the prioritization has been carried out effectively, the team will have clarified the key issues or hypotheses that must be subjected to analysis. The aim of these analyses is to prove the hypotheses true or false, or to develop useful perspectives on each key issue. Now the task is to design an effective and efficient workplan for conducting the analyses.

Transforming the prioritized problem structure into a workplan involves two main tasks:

  • Define the blocks of work that need to be undertaken. Articulate as clearly as possible the desired end products and the analysis necessary to produce them, and estimate the resources and time required.
  • Sequence the work blocks in a way that matches the available resources to the need to deliver against key engagement milestones (e.g., important meetings, progress reviews), as well as to the overall pacing of the engagement (i.e., weekly or twice-weekly meetings, and so on).

A good workplan will detail the following for each issue or hypothesis: analyses, end products, sources, and timing and responsibility. Developing the workplan takes time; doing it well requires working through the definition of each element of the workplan in a rigorous and methodical fashion.

This is the most difficult element of the problem-solving process. After a period of being immersed in the details, it is crucial to step back and distinguish the important from the merely interesting. Distinctive problem solvers seek the essence of the story that will underpin a crisp recommendation for action.

Although synthesis appears, formally speaking, as the penultimate step in the process, it should happen throughout. Ideally, after you have made almost any analytical progress, you should attempt to articulate the “Day 1” or “Week 1” answer. Continue to synthesize as you go along. This will remind the team of the question you are trying to answer, assist prioritization, highlight the logical links of the emerging solution, and ensure that you have a story ready to articulate at all times during the study.

McKinsey’s primary tool for synthesizing is the pyramid principle. Essentially, this principle asserts that every synthesis should explain a single concept, per the “governing thought.” The supporting ideas in the synthesis form a thought hierarchy proceeding in a logical structure from the most detailed facts to the governing thought, ruthlessly excluding the interesting but irrelevant.

While this hierarchy can be laid out as a tree (like with issue and hypothesis trees), the best problem solvers capture it by creating dot-dash storylines — the Pyramid Structure for Grouping Arguments.

Pyramid Structure for Grouping Arguments

  • Focus on action. Articulate the thoughts at each level of the pyramid as declarative sentences, not as topics. For example, “expansion” is a topic; “We need to expand into the European market” is a declarative sentence.
  • Use storylines. PowerPoint is poor at highlighting logical connections, therefore is not a good tool for synthesis. A storyline will clarify elements that may be ambiguous in the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Keep the emerging storyline visible. Many teams find that posting the storyline or story- board on the team-room wall helps keep the thinking focused. It also helps in bringing the client along.
  • Use the situation-complication-resolution structure. The situation is the reason there is action to be taken. The com- plication is why the situation needs thinking through – typically an industry or client challenge. The resolution is the answer.
  • Down the pyramid: does each governing thought pose a single question that is answered completely by the group of boxes below it?
  • Across: is each level within the pyramid MECE?
  • Up: does each group of boxes, taken together, provide one answer – one “so what?” – that is essentially the governing thought above it?
  • Test the solution. What would it mean if your hypotheses all came true?

Three Horizons of Engagement Planning

It’s useful to match the workplan to three horizons:

  • What is expected at the end of the engagement
  • What is expected at key progress reviews
  • What is due at daily and/or weekly team meetings

The detail in the workplan will typically be greater for the near term (the next week) than for the long term (the study horizon), especially early in a new engagement when considerable ambiguity about the end state remains.

It is at this point that we address the client’s questions: “What do I do, and how do I do it?” This means not offering actionable recommendations, along with a plan and client commitment for implementation.

The essence of this step is to translate the overall solution into the actions required to deliver sustained impact. A pragmatic action plan should include:

  • Relevant initiatives, along with a clear sequence, timing, and mapping of activities required
  • Clear owners for each initiative
  • Key success factors and the challenges involved in delivering on the initiatives

Crucial questions to ask as you build recommendations for organizational change are:

  • Does each person who needs to change (from the CEO to the front line) understand what he or she needs to change and why, and is he or she committed to it?
  • Are key leaders and role models throughout the organization personally committed to behaving differently?
  • Has the client set in place the necessary formal mechanisms to reinforce the desired change?
  • Does the client have the skills and confidence to behave in the desired new way?

Great problem solvers identify unique disruptions and discontinuities, novel insights, and step-out opportunities that lead to truly distinctive impact. This is done by applying a number of practices throughout the problem-solving process to help develop these insights.

Expand: Construct multiple perspectives

Identifying alternative ways of looking at the problem expands the range of possibilities, opens you up to innovative ideas, and allows you to formulate more powerful hypotheses. Questions that help here include:

  • What changes if I think from the perspective of a customer, or a supplier, or a frontline employee, or a competitor?
  • How have other industries viewed and addressed this same problem?
  • What would it mean if the client sought to run the company like a low-cost airline or a cosmetics manufacturer?

Link: Identify relationships

Strong problem solvers discern connections and recognize patterns in two different ways:

  • They seek out the ways in which different problem elements – issues, hypotheses, analyses, work elements, findings, answers, and recommendations – relate to one another.
  • They use these relationships throughout the basic problem-solving process to identify efficient problem-solving approaches, novel solutions, and more powerful syntheses.

Distill: Find the essence

Cutting through complexity to identify the heart of the problem and its solution is a critical skill.

  • Identify the critical problem elements. Are there some issues, approaches, or options that can be eliminated completely because they won’t make a significant difference to the solution?
  • Consider how complex the different elements are and how long it will take to complete them. Wherever possible, quickly advance simpler parts of the problem that can inform more complex or time-consuming elements.

Lead: Stay ahead/step back

Without getting ahead of the client, you cannot be distinctive. Paradoxically, to get ahead – and stay ahead – it is often necessary to step back from the problem to validate or revalidate the approach and the solution.

  • Spend time thinking one or more steps ahead of the client and team.
  • Constantly check and challenge the rigor of the underlying data and analysis.
  • Stress-test the whole emerging recommendation
  • Challenge the solution against a set of hurdles. Does it satisfy the criteria for success as set out on the Problem Statement Worksheet?

No matter how skilled, knowledgeable, or experienced you are, you will never create the most distinctive solution on your own. The best problem solvers know how to leverage the power of their team, clients, the Firm, and outside parties. Seeking the right expertise at the right time, and leveraging it in the right way, are ultimately how we bring distinctiveness to our work, how we maximize efficiency, and how we learn.

When solving a problem, it is important to ask, “Have I accessed all the sources of insight that are available?” Here are the sources you should consider:

  • Your core team
  • The client’s suppliers and customers
  • Internal experts and knowledge
  • External sources of knowledge
  • Communications specialists

The key here is to think open, not closed. Opening up to varied sources of data and perspectives furthers our mission to develop truly innovative and distinctive solutions for our clients.

  • McKinsey Staff Paper 66 — not published by McKinsey but possibly found through an internet search
  • The McKinsey Way , 1999, by Ethan M. Rasiel

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  • The Art of Effective Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Guide
  • Learn Lean Sigma
  • Problem Solving

Whether we realise it or not, problem solving skills are an important part of our daily lives. From resolving a minor annoyance at home to tackling complex business challenges at work, our ability to solve problems has a significant impact on our success and happiness. However, not everyone is naturally gifted at problem-solving, and even those who are can always improve their skills. In this blog post, we will go over the art of effective problem-solving step by step.

You will learn how to define a problem, gather information, assess alternatives, and implement a solution, all while honing your critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Whether you’re a seasoned problem solver or just getting started, this guide will arm you with the knowledge and tools you need to face any challenge with confidence. So let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Problem solving methodologies.

Individuals and organisations can use a variety of problem-solving methodologies to address complex challenges. 8D and A3 problem solving techniques are two popular methodologies in the Lean Six Sigma framework.

Methodology of 8D (Eight Discipline) Problem Solving:

The 8D problem solving methodology is a systematic, team-based approach to problem solving. It is a method that guides a team through eight distinct steps to solve a problem in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

The 8D process consists of the following steps:

  • Form a team: Assemble a group of people who have the necessary expertise to work on the problem.
  • Define the issue: Clearly identify and define the problem, including the root cause and the customer impact.
  • Create a temporary containment plan: Put in place a plan to lessen the impact of the problem until a permanent solution can be found.
  • Identify the root cause: To identify the underlying causes of the problem, use root cause analysis techniques such as Fishbone diagrams and Pareto charts.
  • Create and test long-term corrective actions: Create and test a long-term solution to eliminate the root cause of the problem.
  • Implement and validate the permanent solution: Implement and validate the permanent solution’s effectiveness.
  • Prevent recurrence: Put in place measures to keep the problem from recurring.
  • Recognize and reward the team: Recognize and reward the team for its efforts.

Download the 8D Problem Solving Template

A3 Problem Solving Method:

The A3 problem solving technique is a visual, team-based problem-solving approach that is frequently used in Lean Six Sigma projects. The A3 report is a one-page document that clearly and concisely outlines the problem, root cause analysis, and proposed solution.

The A3 problem-solving procedure consists of the following steps:

  • Determine the issue: Define the issue clearly, including its impact on the customer.
  • Perform root cause analysis: Identify the underlying causes of the problem using root cause analysis techniques.
  • Create and implement a solution: Create and implement a solution that addresses the problem’s root cause.
  • Monitor and improve the solution: Keep an eye on the solution’s effectiveness and make any necessary changes.

Subsequently, in the Lean Six Sigma framework, the 8D and A3 problem solving methodologies are two popular approaches to problem solving. Both methodologies provide a structured, team-based problem-solving approach that guides individuals through a comprehensive and systematic process of identifying, analysing, and resolving problems in an effective and efficient manner.

Step 1 – Define the Problem

The definition of the problem is the first step in effective problem solving. This may appear to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult. This is because problems are frequently complex and multi-layered, making it easy to confuse symptoms with the underlying cause. To avoid this pitfall, it is critical to thoroughly understand the problem.

To begin, ask yourself some clarifying questions:

  • What exactly is the issue?
  • What are the problem’s symptoms or consequences?
  • Who or what is impacted by the issue?
  • When and where does the issue arise?

Answering these questions will assist you in determining the scope of the problem. However, simply describing the problem is not always sufficient; you must also identify the root cause. The root cause is the underlying cause of the problem and is usually the key to resolving it permanently.

Try asking “why” questions to find the root cause:

  • What causes the problem?
  • Why does it continue?
  • Why does it have the effects that it does?

By repeatedly asking “ why ,” you’ll eventually get to the bottom of the problem. This is an important step in the problem-solving process because it ensures that you’re dealing with the root cause rather than just the symptoms.

Once you have a firm grasp on the issue, it is time to divide it into smaller, more manageable chunks. This makes tackling the problem easier and reduces the risk of becoming overwhelmed. For example, if you’re attempting to solve a complex business problem, you might divide it into smaller components like market research, product development, and sales strategies.

To summarise step 1, defining the problem is an important first step in effective problem-solving. You will be able to identify the root cause and break it down into manageable parts if you take the time to thoroughly understand the problem. This will prepare you for the next step in the problem-solving process, which is gathering information and brainstorming ideas.

Step 2 – Gather Information and Brainstorm Ideas

Gathering information and brainstorming ideas is the next step in effective problem solving. This entails researching the problem and relevant information, collaborating with others, and coming up with a variety of potential solutions. This increases your chances of finding the best solution to the problem.

Begin by researching the problem and relevant information. This could include reading articles, conducting surveys, or consulting with experts. The goal is to collect as much information as possible in order to better understand the problem and possible solutions.

Next, work with others to gather a variety of perspectives. Brainstorming with others can be an excellent way to come up with new and creative ideas. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas when working in a group, and make an effort to actively listen to what others have to say. Be open to new and unconventional ideas and resist the urge to dismiss them too quickly.

Finally, use brainstorming to generate a wide range of potential solutions. This is the place where you can let your imagination run wild. At this stage, don’t worry about the feasibility or practicality of the solutions; instead, focus on generating as many ideas as possible. Write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how ridiculous or unusual it may appear. This can be done individually or in groups.

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the next step in the problem-solving process, which we’ll go over in greater detail in the following section.

Step 3 – Evaluate Options and Choose the Best Solution

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the third step in effective problem solving, and it entails weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, considering their feasibility and practicability, and selecting the solution that is most likely to solve the problem effectively.

To begin, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This will assist you in determining the potential outcomes of each solution and deciding which is the best option. For example, a quick and easy solution may not be the most effective in the long run, whereas a more complex and time-consuming solution may be more effective in solving the problem in the long run.

Consider each solution’s feasibility and practicability. Consider the following:

  • Can the solution be implemented within the available resources, time, and budget?
  • What are the possible barriers to implementing the solution?
  • Is the solution feasible in today’s political, economic, and social environment?

You’ll be able to tell which solutions are likely to succeed and which aren’t by assessing their feasibility and practicability.

Finally, choose the solution that is most likely to effectively solve the problem. This solution should be based on the criteria you’ve established, such as the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and your overall goals.

It is critical to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to problems. What is effective for one person or situation may not be effective for another. This is why it is critical to consider a wide range of solutions and evaluate each one based on its ability to effectively solve the problem.

Step 4 – Implement and Monitor the Solution

When you’ve decided on the best solution, it’s time to put it into action. The fourth and final step in effective problem solving is to put the solution into action, monitor its progress, and make any necessary adjustments.

To begin, implement the solution. This may entail delegating tasks, developing a strategy, and allocating resources. Ascertain that everyone involved understands their role and responsibilities in the solution’s implementation.

Next, keep an eye on the solution’s progress. This may entail scheduling regular check-ins, tracking metrics, and soliciting feedback from others. You will be able to identify any potential roadblocks and make any necessary adjustments in a timely manner if you monitor the progress of the solution.

Finally, make any necessary modifications to the solution. This could entail changing the solution, altering the plan of action, or delegating different tasks. Be willing to make changes if they will improve the solution or help it solve the problem more effectively.

It’s important to remember that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to start from scratch. This is especially true if the initial solution does not effectively solve the problem. In these situations, it’s critical to be adaptable and flexible and to keep trying new solutions until you find the one that works best.

To summarise, effective problem solving is a critical skill that can assist individuals and organisations in overcoming challenges and achieving their objectives. Effective problem solving consists of four key steps: defining the problem, generating potential solutions, evaluating alternatives and selecting the best solution, and implementing the solution.

You can increase your chances of success in problem solving by following these steps and considering factors such as the pros and cons of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and making any necessary adjustments. Furthermore, keep in mind that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to go back to the beginning and restart. Maintain your adaptability and try new solutions until you find the one that works best for you.

  • Novick, L.R. and Bassok, M., 2005.  Problem Solving . Cambridge University Press.

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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the seven steps of problem solving

The 7 Steps to Problem Solving

Effective problem solving, document.write("page last modified on: " + document.lastmodified +"");.

Problem solving with a standardized, disciplined and methodical approach is by far the best way of understanding root causes, exploring influences and implementing solutions that not only work, but also stay effective over time. The best solution to a problem is not always the most obvious and only after careful thought and assessment can the most suitable and feasible solution or solutions be implemented. The 7 step problem solving guide provided below has been created to help solve problems where the solution or in some cases the problem itself is not obvious.

STEP 1: The Right Problem to Solve STEP 2: Analyse the Problem STEP 3: Define the Problem STEP 4: Develop Opportunities (Possible Solutions) STEP 5: Select the Best Solution STEP 6: Implement the Solution STEP 7: Evaluate and Learn

When should problem solving be used?

Anytime you have a goal to achieve or simply experience a challenge, problem solving techniques can be adopted. The steps provided can be used on any problem no matter how small and simple, or large and complex with the only difference being the amount of overall time required to be spent on the problem at hand. Unfortunately effective problem solving does take some time and attention to detail but the rewards for the time taken may far outweigh the consequences for leaving problems in place.

Two Unknowns

STEP 1: The Right Problem to Solve

Identifying the right problem to solve can be by far the most crucial element in the process and it can’t be stressed enough that for this step to work to its full potential it is important to remember to focus on the problem and not just its symptoms or possible solutions, these parts will come shortly. If dealing with multiple problems the right problem is generally the one with the most important outcome, the greatest chance for solution and the nearest deadline. When trying to determine the right problem or if only intending to confirm one, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Being as specific as possible what exactly is the problem to be solved?
  • a clearly and concisely defined problem avoids confusion.
  • A vaguely defined problem could be interpreted as something different.
  • Can the problem be broken down further?
  • A problem in its most simple form is in the best state for solving.
  • Complex problems are possibly multiple smaller problems.
  • Is the problem exactly the same from multiple perspectives? If not, can it be reworded so that it is?
  • Problems can look different to different people.
  • Solving for one person will not necessarily solve for everyone.
  • Is there anyone who thinks it is not a problem? Why not?
  • Any doubt is worth looking into, they could know something you don’t.
  • It is always a possibility that you or your perceptions are the problem.
  • Is the problem a symptom of a deeper, underlying condition?
  • Fixing the problem will stop future symptoms.
  • Fixing a symptom is only temporary.
  • Is the problem one that can be solved? If no, can the problem be redefined?
  • How to get to work with a broken leg is a problem that can be solved.
  • A broken leg itself is not a problem because it can’t be solved, it's broken.
  • Can the problem be defined as an opportunity?
  • An opportunity is something positive we generally look forward to and want to take advantage of.
  • A problem is generally something negative we don’t like and simply want to get rid of.
  • Is the problem a beneficial one to solve? Why?
  • The most beneficial problem is often a good place to start.
  • The world is full of problems and unfortunately we can’t solve them all.
  • Are you trying to solve a problem? Or are you confusing cause and effect?
  • Building an airstrip so a plane has somewhere to land can be solving a problem.
  • Building an airstrip because you know planes land on them does not guarantee a plane.

Once the above questions can be answered concisely you should be left with a well-defined problem which can also be described as an opportunity and more importantly you should have a better understanding of what you will be going to solve or achieve. It is time for the next step, analysing the problem.

STEP 2: Analyse the Problem

WWWWWH

Analysing the problem starts with collecting as much information as possible relating to all aspects of the problem. This is where you find out what you already know about the situation and what areas need further looking into. To help discover all the facts it is a good idea to create a number of lists relating to the problem where you in turn list as many points as possible.

Remember that in this stage writing down anything and everything that comes to mind can be a good starting point; irrelevant items can be removed at the end. Some of the information you may find valuable may stem from the following questions. There are quite a few questions to consider, but hopefully they will guide you in the right direction. They are based on the "5 W's and 1 H".

Ask What

  • What does the problem currently affect?
  • People or yourself?
  • Environment?
  • Organisation?
  • What will be the benefits of solving the problem? And by how much?
  • Credibility?
  • Productivity?
  • Reputation?
  • What influences the problem?
  • Does anything seem to aggravate or spread the problem?
  • Does anything seem to reduce or delay the problem?
  • Does anything tend to speed up / slow down the problem?
  • Can the problem be simulated, recreated or acted out in another setting?
  • Is there a specific example of an extreme case?
  • What would be needed to solve the problem?
  • Will new tools and/or policies be required?
  • Will new equipment be required?
  • Will new people be required?
  • Could any new problems arise?
  • What would happen if no solution can be found?
  • Will a solution be available at a later date?
  • What would be the next best thing to finding a complete solution?
  • Is there a way to delay the problem?
  • What would be the next best thing to solving the problem?
  • Is there a chance the problem will go away on its own?
  • Is there a way to change the problem for the better?

Ask WhY

  • Why do you want to achieve a solution?
  • Is it something you personally want to do?
  • Is it something you have been told to do?
  • Is it something you feel you have to do?
  • Why did the problem arise in the first place?
  • Can the exact cause of the problem be pin pointed?
  • Were there numerous reasons for the problem starting?
  • Was a problem expected to occur at the time?
  • Why was the problem allowed to escalate as far as it has?
  • How much further can the problem escalate?
  • Have previous attempts at solving the problem been made?
  • Does the problem benefit anything/anyone else?

Ask How

When you ask "How?" you are asking in what way or manner; by what means - "How does it work?" or used to ask about the condition or quality of something - How was your time there?"

  • How long has the problem been around?
  • Has it always been a problem?
  • Has it got worse over time?
  • Has the problem occurred at a previous time?
  • How will the situation be different once the problem is solved?
  • In particular what will be different?
  • Can you guarantee the situation will be different?
  • How relevant is the information available?
  • Is the information up to date?
  • Was the information created for the specific purpose it will be used for?
  • Does the information need to be modified?
  • How can I find out more information on the problem and possible solutions?
  • Is all available information available?
  • Is any information not available? Why not?
  • Will additional research be required?
  • Can additional people get involved with finding a solution?
  • Is there an expert who can be approached?
  • Are additional resources required?

Ask Where

  • Where did the problem arise?
  • Has the problem always existed?
  • Can the exact starting point of the problem be pin pointed?
  • Why did the problem arise where it did?
  • Where is the problem currently located?
  • Is the problem in a single or multiple locations?
  • Can the problem be contained in its current location until it is dealt with?
  • Is there a chance the problem will spread to different locations?
  • Is the “where” component to the problem important? If so, why?

Ask Who

When you ask "Who?" you are asking what or which person or people are involved - "Who is that?" or "Who was there at the time?"

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • Who is affected by this problem?
  • Who will be affected once it is solved?
  • Does anyone think that it is not a problem? What is different about their perspective?
  • Who knows about the problem?
  • Who has the information needed to solve or release the problem or issue?
  • Who can do something or take action as a possible solution?
  • Does anyone/s need to be informed about the problem?
  • How do processes currently work where the problem is occurring?
  • Who does what?
  • With what information?
  • Using what tools?
  • Communicating with whom?
  • In what time frame?
  • Using what format?

Ask When

When you ask "When?" you are asking at what time - "When did last witness it?" or at or on which time or circumstance - "Is early mornings when it happens most?"

  • When did the problem first appear?
  • What was its initial impact?
  • How was it identified?
  • Who identified it first?
  • How did it start?
  • Where did it start?
  • Why did it start?
  • What initially started it?
  • When did it start?
  • When does a solution need to be found?
  • Would it be better to wait for a better time to implement a solution?
  • Is too late to look for solutions?

Two Unknowns

Once every aspect of the problem has been looked into it is not uncommon for other potential problems to be identified as well. It may be necessary to start the entire process again for these new problems, but remember that problems are best dealt with one at a time and with that in mind it is time for the next step, defining the problem.

STEP 3: Define the Problem

Only after the right problem has been identified and analysed can one be sure of the correct definition of the problem. In most cases the definition will remain unchanged from STEP 1, but in some cases once other available information has been brought to light the problem, the opportunity or the desired outcome may have changed to accommodate either new information or a new perspective on the problem itself.

The following definitions should be written down for future reference. If there is any hesitation with any of the definitions it can be a sign that you don’t fully understand the problem at hand and that the previous step should be re-visited.

  • Define exactly what the problem is.
  • Define exactly what needs to be solved.
  • Define your problem as an opportunity.
  • Define the desired outcome.

STEP 4: Develop Opportunities (Possible Solutions)

There is always more than one way to solve a problem and in some cases simultaneous solutions may be required. As with the previous steps it is essential that time is taken to develop plenty of innovative and creative ideas. At the end of this step you can be certain you will have the best solution if you have explored all possible avenues and generated every conceivable option. To help you find the best solution the following methods can be used.

Seek advice; ask an expert In today’s day and age there is an expert on pretty much any topic you can imagine. Sometimes the best and fastest approach to getting the information we need can be simply to ask someone who knows more about the subject than we do. Of course finding that someone can be a challenge in itself, but the rewards in doing so could far outweigh other options. If the expert is unsure about the best approach for your situation they will probably be able to point you in the right direction.

Brainstorming Best done with a group of individuals brainstorming is always a good starting point. Brainstorming involves creating a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by an individual or group of individuals. With this method there is no wrong answer and wild or unexpected answers are often encouraged with all suggestions being written down. The process continues until no more suggestions can be thought of and the list of ideas can later be used to develop a solution.

The Scientific Method A method for conducting an objective investigation which is a proven approach to solving problems in a way that is reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary. The scientific method can be seen to underlay the scientific revolution and has helped to create many of the great accomplishments of recent human history. A basic flow chart of the scientific method is shown below.

Two Unknowns

Have a Guess If there is some indication, a technique you have heard of or a gut instinct about a possible solution, why not look into it further. Starting with an inkling and checking and adjusting it to suit the problem at hand could lead to the ideal solution. This method generally works better for a limited number of potential solutions where you can eliminate the options one at a time but there is no harm in employing the method in any case, it might just lead to the solution you have been looking for.

Work Backwards If the “where to start” is not obvious starting at the end goal and working backwards can be a good approach. Working backwards can sometimes offer the fastest solution because it gets you thinking with where you want to end up in mind. This approach to problem solving can also be effective when used at a point not quite at the end goal or even to back check the starting point from a different perspective.

Do the Opposite What effect does doing the opposite to what you have been doing have on the situation? If you at a dead-end or simply want to explore the opposite of something that clearly isn’t working, doing the opposite can provide a new and refreshing perspective. Rather than avoiding a situation, doing a complete 180 and diving straight in can in some cases be the best and/or fastest approach.

A Randomized Approach When all else fails or there is no indication what so ever to what sort of approach should be taken a random approach may be required. By applying random solutions and seeing how they influence the problem at hand may eventually lead to something more meaningful. You might get lucky and find the solution you have been looking for or worst possible case you may just find yourself where you started.

If after numerous attempts without success it might be necessary to go back to previous steps and try to "look outside the square". Every now and then a problem presents itself that will require a bit more creativity to come up with a feasible solution.

STEP 5: Select the Best Solution

With a list of possible solutions developed in the previous step it is time to select the best individual or best combination of solutions to be put into action and to eliminate the problem at hand. The process of selecting the best solution is a matter of ranking all of the available solutions against one another and defining each options “pluses and minuses”. Some of the key areas that might need to be evaluated and prioritised have been listed below.

  • Operational validity: Can the solution actually be implemented or is it just an idea?
  • Economic validity: Is the solution economical? Will the solution bring an economic result?
  • Degree of Complexity: Is the solution simple to implement or are there complexities involved?
  • Ease of Implementation: Is the solution ready to go and easy to install?
  • Stakeholder interest: Does the solution satisfy everyone’s interests.
  • Potential Risk: Does the solution bring any additional risk with it?
  • Personal commitment: Is the solution something that reflects the ideals of all involved? Is the solution something you believe in?
  • End result: Will the solution solve all parts of the problem or will the problem just be reduced or concealed?

Two Unknowns

Keeping in mind that the best solution will be the result of considerable deliberation and also that one solution that is available for any problem is to simply do nothing, everything should now be in place for putting the solution into action. If something happens so that the chosen solution/s cannot be used or if the solution stops working, there will now be a list of alternatives already assessed, prioritised and ready to go.

STEP 6: Implement the Solution

The implementation plan is just as important as implementing the solution/s and monitoring the progress of this step is something that will need to be done also. A brief guide to some of the things that will need to be considered have been detailed below.

  • Planning and documentation of a new solution/s
  • When will the solution be implemented?
  • Where will the solution be implemented?
  • How is the solution to be implemented?
  • What has to be done before the solution is implemented?
  • How long will the solution take to start working?
  • What time frame is the solution expected to take before the problem is solved?
  • Have monitoring provisions been put in place?
  • What are the key signs to look for to indicate the solution is working?
  • Who will need to be notified about the changes about to take place?
  • At what stages will the progress be reviewed?
  • Have contingency arrangements been put in place for if the solution doesn’t work?
  • What will be the next step if the solution doesn’t work?
  • If required, have all agreements been documented and signed?
  • How will it be confirmed that the problem has been solved?
  • Are steps required to remove or disable the solution?
  • What will happen once the problem has been solved?
  • Putting the solution into action
  • Put the solution into action
  • Monitor the progress and effect of the solution
  • Test and ensure the solution is meeting expectations and outcomes

STEP 7: Evaluate and Learn

Hopefully everything went to plan and the problem is now solved and even if it wasn’t, this step is still the same. It is vital that the whole process is evaluated from problem to solution and a good starting point is to document the 7 step procedure. This step is intended to not only provide a future reference but also a learning experience for future problem solving. At a very minimum the following questions should be answered:

  • How effective was that particular solution?
  • Did the solution achieve the desired outcomes?
  • What consequences did problem solving activity have on my situation?

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Problems at their most basic

Crestcom International

7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

September 1, 2016 | Leadership Articles

7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

An effective problem-solving process is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones.

Being a successful leader doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems. Rather, it means that you know how to solve problems effectively as they arise. If you never had to deal with any problems, chances are pretty high that your company doesn’t really need you. They could hire an entry-level person to do your job!

Unfortunately, there are many examples of leaders out there who have been promoted to management or leadership positions because they are competent and excel in the technical skills needed to do the work. These people find themselves suddenly needing to “think on their feet” and solve problems that are far more high-level and complicated than they’ve ever really had to deal with before. Are there tools available to these people to help them solve the problem correctly and effectively? Absolutely!

Today, I am going to introduce you to the Seven Steps of Effective Problem Solving that Bullet Proof® Managers are learning about, developing, and implementing in their teams.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

What are things like when they are the way we want them to be?

This question helps you find the standard against which we’re going to measure where we are now. If things were going the way we want them to go, what does that look like? If this person were doing the job we want him or her to do, what would they be doing?

And then ask this important question: How much variation from the norm is tolerable?

Therein lies the problem. From an engineering perspective, you might have very little tolerance. From a behavioral perspective, you might have more tolerance. You might say it’s okay with me when this person doesn’t do it exactly as I say because I’m okay with them taking some liberty with this. Some other issue you may need 100% compliance.

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

At what stage is this problem? This helps you identify the urgency of the problem, and there are generally three stages.

The emergent stage is where the problem is just beginning to happen. It does not cause an immediate threat to the way business operates every day. It is just beginning to happen and you have time on your side to be able to correct it without it causing much damage to the processes it is affecting. The mature stage is where this problem is causing more than just minor damage. Some amount of damage has been done, and you need to jump on it immediately to fix it before it becomes a problem where the consequences may be greater, deeper, and more expensive if we don’t solve this problem fast.

The third stage is the crisis stage, when the problem is so serious it must be corrected immediately. At this stage, real damage has been done to company processes, reputation, finances, etc. that will have potentially long-term effects on your ability to do business.

Step 3: Describe the Problem

You should be able to describe a problem by writing it in the form of a statement and you should do it in 12 words or less, assuming it’s not a complicated, scientific problem. This way, you have clarity exactly what the issue is. Then, perhaps try distributing it to your team to ensure they agree that this is the root of the problem, that it makes sense, and everyone that is working toward a solution is working toward the same goal.

The most important question of all, when describing your problem: Is your premise correct?

Let me give you an example of what I mean. We’ve all heard – or read – the story of the engineer’s take on the old “half empty, half full” question. A speaker holds up the glass of water and asks if the glass is half empty or half full, a discussion within the group ensues, and you generally expect some sort of lesson in optimism, etc. from it. In this version, an engineer is in the room and answers, “I see this glass of water as being twice the size it needs to be.”

You see, sometimes when you are the one in charge of the problem, you tend to set the premise of the problem from your own perspective. But, that premise may not be accurate, or it may just need an alternate perspective from which to see it. If your premise is not correct, or at least incomplete, you are not fully understanding the problem and considering all the best options for a solution.

Step 4: Look for Root Causes

This step involves asking and answering a lot of questions. Ask questions like: What caused this problem? Who is responsible for this problem? When did this problem first emerge? Why did this happen? How did this variance from the standard come to be? Where does it hurt us the most? How do we go about resolving this problem?

Also, ask the most important question: Can we solve this problem for good so it will never occur again? Because an important aspect to leadership is coming up with solutions that people can use for a long-term benefit, rather than having to deal with the same problems over and over and over.

Step 5: Develop Alternate Solutions

Just about any problem you have to deal with has more solutions to it than the one that you think of first. So, it is best to develop a list of alternate solutions that you and your team can assess and decide which one will be the best for the particular problem. I often use the ⅓ + 1 Rule to create consensus around one – or the top two or three solutions – that will be best for everyone involved.

Then rank those solutions based on efficiency, cost, long-term value, what resources you have and that you can commit to the solution of the problem. Then, look at every one of those solutions carefully and decide what you believe to be the best solution to this problem at this time.

Step 6: Implement the Solution

Implementing the solution you decide on can include creating an implementation plan. It could also include planning on what happens next if something goes wrong with the solution if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. Implementation means that everyone on your team knows and understands their part in making the solution work, that there are timelines for execution, and also that you have a system in place to track whether or not the solution has corrected the problem.

Step 7: Measure the Results

From your implementation plan in step 6, make sure you track and measure the results so you can answer questions such as: Did it work? Was this a good solution? Did we learn something here in the implementation that we could apply to other potential problems?

These seven simple steps will help you become a more effective, efficient problem solver in your organization. As you practice this process and develop the skills, these steps will become more natural to you until the point that you are using them without noticing!

About Crestcom International, LLC.

Crestcom International, LLC is an international leadership development organization, training more than one million leaders for 25,000 businesses in over 60 countries across the globe. Crestcom achieves this through a blend of live-facilitated multimedia video, interactive exercises, and shared learning experiences. Crestcom implements action plans and coaching accountability sessions to ensure measured development in key leadership competency areas. For more information, please contact your local Crestcom representative found here .

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the seven steps of problem solving

Project Bliss

7 problem-solving steps to conquer even the toughest problems.

These 7 awesome problem-solving steps can help you solve difficult problems, identify opportunities, grow your leadership skills, and take your career up several notches.

When you see peers in your organization handling big problems, are you ever amazed at how they do it?

Does it seem like they have some special natural ability you wish you had?

Maybe the idea of taking on a big problem intimidates you?

After all, problem-solving in the workplace can seem scary. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right when you commit to that level of responsibility.

But there’s also a big payoff.

What if you knew there’s a step-by-step process you can follow to work through even big problems.

If you’re working on your leadership skills, and want to grow in your career, this is a skillset you need.

Especially as a project manager.

You know it’s important to add value to your organization.

And your boss may be looking to you to take on bigger challenges.

But the idea of how to do that may be a bit baffling.

If you can solve problems, you’ll be able to step in and lead through even tough challenges.

And the great news is…

You don’t have to have all the answers to be able to do it.

Simply follow these 7 problem-solving steps for a formula you can use over and over again.

And you can lead your team to amazing outcomes.

This is a skill you need NOW to level-up your career. This is one you can feel great about. It helps you. It helps your team. And you can take it with you wherever you go.

the seven steps of problem solving

7 P roblem-Solving Steps: Your “How To” Guide

Follow these seven problem-solving steps to lead your team from obstacles to opportunities and take your leadership skills up several notches.

These steps will lead you through collaborative problem-solving with others who have knowledge of the situation.

Don’t do this alone Working through these problem-solving steps with others will give you much better results.

And you’ll see there are tools you can use for each of the problem-solving steps, too. Take advantage of these – they’ll help you work through solving your problem more easily.

1. Identify the Correct Problem

It’s a waste of time, energy, and money if you focus on the wrong problem. Take the time up front to make sure you’re addressing the right issue.

Taking time to pick the right problem ensures you triage where you’re spending your time and energy. There are likely many items competing for attention and you want to focus on where you’ll get the best return on time spent. 

You also might misinterpret the real issue. There could be multiple problems but you need to think clearly about which area you’ll address. 

Look at the issues in your organization. Identify where the biggest negative impacts are in the company or organization.

Which problems seem to be causing the most pain or impact? Then drill down a bit more by asking questions to get to the root cause. Continue to ask “Why?” after each problem statement until you know you’re at the root cause of the problem.

When you’d identified the root cause of the problem, find out if others think it’s a problem worth addressing. It might not be worth putting effort into. There may be better problems to solve.

For example, making a software improvement to software that’s going to be retired in two months isn’t the best use of your time. But finding out why your time to market is so slow may merit greater focus.

Once you’re sure you’ve identified the correct problem, the next of the problem-solving steps is to dig in deeper to better understand it. 

the seven steps of problem solving

Tool: 5 Whys

2. Analyze the P roblem

The next of the problem-solving steps is to look at the problem from all angles and gather as much information as you can about the situation. Dig deeper and gather more information. 

It’s important to bring others who have insight and information about the situation into the discussion. Collaborate with those who have more information about various aspects of the problem. 

Also identify individuals and groups impacted by the problem. They’ll have insight you may not be aware of. 

Ask lots of questions. Curiosity and inquiry can lead to a greater understanding of the situation.

Ask questions such as the following:

  • How far-reaching is the problem? 
  • What are the potential impacts or contributing factors? 
  • Who cares that this is a problem? Who will be impacted?
  • Who has information about this problem or contributing factors?
  • Who are involved in processes related to the problem?
  • Who could help solve the problem?
  • Which other departments or groups need to be involved in this discussion?
  • Has this problem happened before and if so, how did we deal with it then? What did we learn?

Tool: Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram

3. Define the P roblem

Once you get clear on the problem, develop a problem statement.

You may be surprised to see this as one of the problem-solving steps, but it’s important.

  • It will help you clearly communicate the problem to others, along with the desired benefits and outcomes.  
  • You’ll need buy-in from others working on the problem and making changes.
  • You may need funding and resources to solve the problem, so communicating the need clearly will help.

It can be even better to position it as an opportunity statement. 

Include the following information:

  • the problem : what is the issue that’s causing the trouble?
  • the impacts : what are the negative consequences of the problem?
  • the desired outcome : what do you want instead?
  • the benefits : how will solving this problem help the team or the organization?

Here’s an example:

The poor lighting in the parking garage poses a safety risk to staff working after dark. Improving lighting will increase safety, employee morale, and staff retention. 

Here’s another example of a problem statement or opportunity statement:

The lengthy order processing time causes unhappy customers and loss of customers. By reducing processing time and delivering products faster, customers are happier, order more, and revenues increase.   

Tool: Problem Statement / Opportunity Statement

4. Identify Options and Possibilities

There are likely many ways you could address the problem.

Hold a  brainstorming session to gather ideas.  

Include participants who have information about the problem and possible solutions. 

Also include those who have information about the various steps in any processes involved.

If there are handoff points between processes, include people involved at the handoff points or other connecting processes. 

It can be helpful to look at the desired end goal and work backward from there to stimulate potential solution ideas.

If there are others who know more about the situation you’re dealing with, you can consult with them for expert advice. And the expert might even be outside your company.  There’s no harm in looking for expert guidance, and it could save you valuable time. 

Tools: Brainstorming Session , Affinity Diagrams

the seven steps of problem solving

5. Select the Best Solution

With your team, analyze the possible solutions and pick the best option.

When assessing your solutions, consider the following items: 

  • How much time do you have to address the problem? 
  • How quickly do you need the solution in place?
  • How much time it will take to implement the solution?
  • How much will it cost to implement?
  • How well can your team execute the potential solution?
  • How feasible is it to implement (can we really do it with what we have available)?
  • What level of effort will it take?
  • How complex is the solution?
  • What are the potential risks?
  • Does this approach actually solve the problem?

Discard the suggestions that aren’t viable, and do a real comparison of the potential solutions that remain. Identify what will give you the best results for the problem you identified.

Make sure you choose a solution you can actually implement with the resources and time you have to do it in.

For our employee morale example, you may initially think bringing in food each Friday seems like a good way to increase team morale. It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to do.

But upon closer inspection, you learn that installing lighting in the parking garage does far more to increase safety and morale, and will reduce night-shift turnover.

You now know where to focus your efforts for the best outcomes.

the seven steps of problem solving

6. Implement the Solution

Implement the solution you’ve chosen.

Work with teams to share information about what you’re doing to fix the situation and what will be different for them. Communicate the importance and value of the change, and why it’s important.

Share information about what you’re doing to fix the problem and what will be different. To get buy-in and support, communicate the importance and value of the change, and why it’s important.

Helping others understand the reasons for the change will help get better buy-in and support. Depending on the complexity of the change, you may need an implementation plan and communication plan to help with the change. 

You’ll use your project management skills when implementing your solution.

Identify what tasks need to be carried out, who needs to be involved, what the end goal and desired state are.

Think about all components needed to implement the change. Will you need to involve contractors? Will you need contracts?

Develop a timeline and identify your milestones along the way. Work with your team to determine the schedule and budget, and then execute your plan. 

Identify what metrics you’ll use to determine if your change has been successful.  Don’t skip this step. You’ll get a lot of value out of being able to measure the change:

  • You need to know if the actions you’ve taken are fixing the problem.
  • It gives you a good way to communicate information about the improvements.

Use quantitative measurements where possible. Data points like reduced error rates or employee time on the job is information you can measure more concretely.

If you can’t count or measure the change in a quantitative way, you may take qualitative measurements.

Surveys and input from customers and users can give information on how the change has improved the situation.

Or you could use both quantitative and qualitative measures.

Develop your communication plan and let stakeholders know about the change to come. 

Tools: Project Schedule , Project Budget , Communication Plan, Project Management Basic Steps

7. Evaluate the Change

Once you’ve made the change, take the extra step to measure progress and see if the situation has improved. After you’ve taken time to fix the problem, you need to make sure your efforts worked.

Use the metrics and data collection methods you identified in the earlier problem-solving steps to measure if the change has been effective and the changes over time.

Are you seeing improvements?

If not, take a look at where the problem might be:

  • Has the team focused on the wrong thing?
  • Was the chosen solution implemented as needed?
  • Does the team need to try another approach to get results?

If you do see improvement, celebrate your success and share the information. Make sure those involved, along with management, know that the changes helped solve a problem and there are improvements.

After all, a lot of work went into making these changes. Give credit to those involved for all the hard work, and celebrate the success.

Others will appreciate your recognition, and you’ll be trusted to solve problems in the future.

As you can see, solving problems doesn’t have to be mysterious or vague. There are concrete problem-solving steps that make it much easier. 

When you’re leading these collaboration and working sessions with your team, you’ll be running lots of meetings. Make sure you make the most of the them by running them effectively. 

My book gives you step-by-step instructions on what to do before, during, and after your meetings to get the most value. 

Additionally, you’ll find lots of information on how to address common challenges you’ll face in meetings.  Take all of your meetings to the next level of value and run meetings that people actually love to attend.

It’s a small investment for massive returns.

Buy the book here: Bad Meetings Happen to Good People: How to Run Meetings That Are Effective, Focused, and Produce Results

the seven steps of problem solving

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Leigh Espy is a project manager and coach with experience working in startups, government, and the corporate world. She works with project managers who want to improve their skills and grow in their career, and entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them get more done. She also remembers her early career days and loves working with new project managers and those who want to make a career move into project management.

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Thank you for this! I am currently an admin trying to break into project management and struggle with growing my skills since I seem to be my own silo. I love your posts!

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Thanks for your kind words about my posts! I think admins have or develop many skills that are beneficial to project managers, so you’re likely off to a great start! I’m so glad you find the posts helpful! Leigh

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Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace

author

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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Adopting the right problem-solving approach

May 4, 2023 You’ve defined your problem, ensured stakeholders are aligned, and are ready to bring the right problem-solving approach and focus to the situation to find an optimal solution. But what is the right problem-solving approach? And what if there is no single ideal course of action? In our 2013 classic  from the Quarterly , senior partner Olivier Leclerc  highlights the value of taking a number of different approaches simultaneously to solve difficult problems. Read on to discover the five flexons, or problem-solving languages, that can be applied to the same problem to generate richer insights and more innovative solutions. Then check out more insights on problem-solving approaches, and dive into examples of pressing challenges organizations are contending with now.

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7 Problem Solving Steps

In a minute!

These 7 problem solving steps provide a short outline of a process to help you solve problems effectively. A structured process helps ensure you stay on track but before you start, remember:

“Do not focus on finding an answer: focus on defining the question” Peter Drucker

Part of our manage in a minute series, read this article to gain a quick overview of the right steps for effective problem solving. We end the article with two principles that perhaps aren’t applied often enough when we set out to solve a problem.

You may also want to read our article: problem solving questions, which raises five challenging and provocative questions, based on this 7 step problem solving process:

1 Find the Right Problems to Solve

Too often our approach to problem solving is reactive, we wait for the problems to arise. Firstly in our 7 problem solving steps, we advocate taking a proactive approach, go and find problems to solve; important and valuable problems. The real starting point then for any problem solving process is to find the right problem to solve.

2 Define the Problem

It is very tempting to gloss over this step and move to analysis and solutions. However, like the first step, it is one of the secrets of effective problem solving. Combining problems that are valuable to solve, with defining exactly what you are trying to solve, can dramatically improve the effectiveness of the problem solving process. The secret to defining the problem, is really about attitude. Try to see every problem as an opportunity.

3 Analyse the Problem

Analysis is a process of discovery of the facts, finding out what you know about the situation. In doing so you are breaking down complexity, stripping away the superficial and getting to the causes/issues.

4 Develop Opportunities

There are always more than one way to solve a problem, so take time to develop plenty of creative possibilities to solve the problem.

5 Select the Best Solution

Selecting is about making choices, about deciding. To do this you need to weigh up the competing value and risk of the different options you generated in the previous step.

6 Implement

Good solutions are often only as good as the way they are implemented. Implementation requires project management and a determination to deliver the outcomes essential to solving the problem you originally defined.

7 Evaluate and Learn

You will have done some things really well through this seven step problem solving process. It would be all too easy to forget them in rushing to solve the next problem, or to implement the solution. You should evaluate at least two areas:

  • How you carried out the seven step problem solving process
  • The effectiveness of the solution you implemented. Did it deliver the outcomes you expected?

7 problem solving steps, 2 principles

This process provides a challenge to other problem solving techniques. It highlights the undervalued problem solving skill of applying two under-used principles, at the start of the process :

Finding the right problems to solve

Focusing on opportunities created by the “problem”

The eighth problem solving step

What's the Problem?

  • Tool 1: When you don’t know what to do
  • Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving
  • Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve
  • Tool 4: Problem solving check-list
  • Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team
  • Tool 5: Problem analysis in 4 steps
  • Tool 5a: Using 4 Step problem analysis with your team
  • Tool 6: Questions that create possibilities
  • Tool 6a: Using the 5 questions with your team
  • Tool 6b: Putting creativity to work – 5 alternate questions
  • Tool 6c: Workshop outline
  • Tool 7: Evaluating alternatives
  • Tool 8: Creative thinking techniques A-Z
  • Tool 9: The 5 Whys technique

Further Reading

Seven step problem solving Problem solving exercises Problem solving questions Problem solving activity

>>> Return to the Problem Solving Knowledge Hub

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3 Simple Strategies to Improve Students’ Problem-Solving Skills

These strategies are designed to make sure students have a good understanding of problems before attempting to solve them.

Two students in math class

Research provides a striking revelation about problem solvers. The best problem solvers approach problems much differently than novices. For instance, one meta-study showed that when experts evaluate graphs , they tend to spend less time on tasks and answer choices and more time on evaluating the axes’ labels and the relationships of variables within the graphs. In other words, they spend more time up front making sense of the data before moving to addressing the task.

While slower in solving problems, experts use this additional up-front time to more efficiently and effectively solve the problem. In one study, researchers found that experts were much better at “information extraction” or pulling the information they needed to solve the problem later in the problem than novices. This was due to the fact that they started a problem-solving process by evaluating specific assumptions within problems, asking predictive questions, and then comparing and contrasting their predictions with results. For example, expert problem solvers look at the problem context and ask a number of questions:

  • What do we know about the context of the problem?
  • What assumptions are underlying the problem? What’s the story here?
  • What qualitative and quantitative information is pertinent?
  • What might the problem context be telling us? What questions arise from the information we are reading or reviewing?
  • What are important trends and patterns?

As such, expert problem solvers don’t jump to the presented problem or rush to solutions. They invest the time necessary to make sense of the problem.

Now, think about your own students: Do they immediately jump to the question, or do they take time to understand the problem context? Do they identify the relevant variables, look for patterns, and then focus on the specific tasks?

If your students are struggling to develop the habit of sense-making in a problem- solving context, this is a perfect time to incorporate a few short and sharp strategies to support them.

3 Ways to Improve Student Problem-Solving

1. Slow reveal graphs: The brilliant strategy crafted by K–8 math specialist Jenna Laib and her colleagues provides teachers with an opportunity to gradually display complex graphical information and build students’ questioning, sense-making, and evaluating predictions.

For instance, in one third-grade class, students are given a bar graph without any labels or identifying information except for bars emerging from a horizontal line on the bottom of the slide. Over time, students learn about the categories on the x -axis (types of animals) and the quantities specified on the y -axis (number of baby teeth).

The graphs and the topics range in complexity from studying the standard deviation of temperatures in Antarctica to the use of scatterplots to compare working hours across OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. The website offers a number of graphs on Google Slides and suggests questions that teachers may ask students. Furthermore, this site allows teachers to search by type of graph (e.g., scatterplot) or topic (e.g., social justice).

2. Three reads: The three-reads strategy tasks students with evaluating a word problem in three different ways . First, students encounter a problem without having access to the question—for instance, “There are 20 kangaroos on the grassland. Three hop away.” Students are expected to discuss the context of the problem without emphasizing the quantities. For instance, a student may say, “We know that there are a total amount of kangaroos, and the total shrinks because some kangaroos hop away.”

Next, students discuss the important quantities and what questions may be generated. Finally, students receive and address the actual problem. Here they can both evaluate how close their predicted questions were from the actual questions and solve the actual problem.

To get started, consider using the numberless word problems on educator Brian Bushart’s site . For those teaching high school, consider using your own textbook word problems for this activity. Simply create three slides to present to students that include context (e.g., on the first slide state, “A salesman sold twice as much pears in the afternoon as in the morning”). The second slide would include quantities (e.g., “He sold 360 kilograms of pears”), and the third slide would include the actual question (e.g., “How many kilograms did he sell in the morning and how many in the afternoon?”). One additional suggestion for teams to consider is to have students solve the questions they generated before revealing the actual question.

3. Three-Act Tasks: Originally created by Dan Meyer, three-act tasks follow the three acts of a story . The first act is typically called the “setup,” followed by the “confrontation” and then the “resolution.”

This storyline process can be used in mathematics in which students encounter a contextual problem (e.g., a pool is being filled with soda). Here students work to identify the important aspects of the problem. During the second act, students build knowledge and skill to solve the problem (e.g., they learn how to calculate the volume of particular spaces). Finally, students solve the problem and evaluate their answers (e.g., how close were their calculations to the actual specifications of the pool and the amount of liquid that filled it).

Often, teachers add a fourth act (i.e., “the sequel”), in which students encounter a similar problem but in a different context (e.g., they have to estimate the volume of a lava lamp). There are also a number of elementary examples that have been developed by math teachers including GFletchy , which offers pre-kindergarten to middle school activities including counting squares , peas in a pod , and shark bait .

Students need to learn how to slow down and think through a problem context. The aforementioned strategies are quick ways teachers can begin to support students in developing the habits needed to effectively and efficiently tackle complex problem-solving.

IMAGES

  1. 7 Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

    the seven steps of problem solving

  2. 7 Step Problem Solving Process

    the seven steps of problem solving

  3. 7 steps to master problem solving methodology

    the seven steps of problem solving

  4. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    the seven steps of problem solving

  5. McKinsey 7-step problem-solving process

    the seven steps of problem solving

  6. 7 Step Problem Solving Process Diagram for PowerPoint

    the seven steps of problem solving

VIDEO

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  2. SEVEN STEPS PRESCHOOL ANNUAL FUNCTION COMING SOON

  3. Basic Steps in Problem Solving

  4. Seven Steps Part 2 @purposefulyouthforum

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COMMENTS

  1. Master the 7-Step Problem-Solving Process for Better ...

    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 ...

  2. What are the 7 Steps to Problem-Solving? & Its Examples

    7 Steps to Problem-Solving. 7 Steps to Problem-Solving is a systematic process that involves analyzing a situation, generating possible solutions, and implementing the best course of action. While different problem-solving models exist, a common approach often involves the following seven steps:

  3. How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

    When we do problem definition well in classic problem solving, we are demonstrating the kind of empathy, at the very beginning of our problem, that design thinking asks us to approach. When we ideate—and that's very similar to the disaggregation, prioritization, and work-planning steps—we do precisely the same thing, and often we use ...

  4. PDF 7-step approach to problem solving

    The 7-Steps to master problem solving •Problem statements should commence with a question or a firm hypothesis •Be specific, actionable and focus on what the decision maker needs to move forward •Break a problem into component parts so that problems can be divided and allocated •The parts

  5. 7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More ...

    Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork. 1. Analysis. As a manager, you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first.

  6. 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.

  7. The Problem-Solving Process

    The Problem-Solving Process. 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.

  8. The Problem-Solving 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. In some cases, people are better off learning everything ...

  9. Problem solving doesn't have to be a puzzle

    Problem solving doesn't have to be a puzzle. August 14, 2021 Knowing how to solve any problem thrown your way is a uniquely valuable skill. The good news is that it's a muscle you can develop and strengthen over time. Revisit several articles on tactics that can help you up your game, diving deeper on: Six problem-solving mindsets for very ...

  10. 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 ...

  11. 7 Steps to Bulletproof Problem Solving

    The Seven Steps to Bullet-Proof Problem Solving are: Step One: Define the Problem. How do you define a problem in a precise way to meet the decision maker's needs? The important first step is to describe the context and the boundaries of the problem that is agreed upon by those involved in making the decision.

  12. 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.

  13. 7 Steps to Problem Solving

    The 7-steps approach to problem solving has its roots in the hypothesis-driven structure of the scientific method, but was developed into an approach for business problem solving at McKinsey & Company. Charles wrote one of the early internal documents to systematic problem solving in McKinsey, and both of us have developed the approach further ...

  14. 7 Steps To Problem-Solving

    The 7 steps to problem-solving is a disciplined and methodical approach to identifying and then addressing the root cause of problems. Instead, a more robust approach involves working through a problem using the hypothesis-driven framework of the scientific method. Each viable hypothesis is tested using a range of specific diagnostics and then recommendations are made.

  15. McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving

    McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving. McKinsey and Company is recognized for its rigorous approach to problem solving. They train their consultants on their seven-step process that anyone can learn. This resource guides you through that process, largely informed by the McKinsey Staff Paper 66. It also includes a PowerPoint Toolkit with slide ...

  16. Seven Step Problem Solving Technique

    The seven step problem solving technique covers: Finding the right problem to solve. Defining the problem. Analysing the problem. Developing possibilities. Selecting the best solution. Implementing. Evaluating and learning. You'll find a brief explanation of these points below.

  17. The Art of Effective Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Guide

    Step 1 - Define the Problem. The definition of the problem is the first step in effective problem solving. This may appear to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult. This is because problems are frequently complex and multi-layered, making it easy to confuse symptoms with the underlying cause.

  18. The 7 Steps to Problem Solving

    The 7 step problem solving guide provided below has been created to help solve problems where the solution or in some cases the problem itself is not obvious. STEP 1: The Right Problem to Solve. STEP 2: Analyse the Problem. STEP 3: Define the Problem. STEP 4: Develop Opportunities (Possible Solutions)

  19. 7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

    Step 6: Implement the Solution. Implementing the solution you decide on can include creating an implementation plan. It could also include planning on what happens next if something goes wrong with the solution if it doesn't work out the way you thought it would. Implementation means that everyone on your team knows and understands their part ...

  20. 7 Problem-Solving Steps to Conquer Even the Toughest Problems

    2. Analyze the P roblem. The next of the problem-solving steps is to look at the problem from all angles and gather as much information as you can about the situation. Dig deeper and gather more information. It's important to bring others who have insight and information about the situation into the discussion.

  21. Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace

    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.

  22. Adopting the right problem-solving approach

    Then check out more insights on problem-solving approaches, and dive into examples of pressing challenges organizations are contending with now. Five routes to more innovative problem solving. Author Talks: Get on the performance curve. Strategy to beat the odds. How to master the seven-step problem-solving process. Want better strategies?

  23. 7 Problem Solving Steps

    A comprehensive guide to problem solving, complete with these 9 essential tools: Tool 1: When you don't know what to do. Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving. Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve. Tool 4: Problem solving check-list. Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team. Tool 5: Problem analysis in 4 steps.

  24. 3 Ways to Improve Student Problem-Solving

    While slower in solving problems, experts use this additional up-front time to more efficiently and effectively solve the problem. In one study, researchers found that experts were much better at "information extraction" or pulling the information they needed to solve the problem later in the problem than novices. This was due to the fact that they started a problem-solving process by ...