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A Six Step Problem Solving Process

The ability to solve problems is an important life skill, for both your career and personal life. Below is a six step problem solving process that should help you problem solve more efficiently.

It can be helpful to use a large sheet of paper and a pencil, or computer graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator, so that you can represent your thoughts about the problem more graphically. Doing this with graphics software is particularly good as you can easily move elements around.

1) Define the Problem

Clearly define the problem you wish to solve.

Get the real facts. Make sure you have good information from any other people involved, otherwise you may waste time.

2) Analyse the Problem

Check you have chosen the right problem to solve.

Determine and rank the causes of the problem.

Note, when you are thinking about the origins of a problem, a solution may pop out.

Collect any information necessary.

Involve the right people in analysing the problem, ask:

Who Knows? Who knows about the problem situation, and who has the information you need to solve it.

Who Cares? Who cares that something is done about the problem.

Who Can? Who has the ability to do something about the problem.

Determine the obstacles to solving the problem.

Break the problem down into small, manageable steps.

Formulate the questions that need to be answered to solve the problem.

Define the objectives you wish to achieve.

Determine the opportunities created by solving this problem.

3) Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Brainstorm ideas.

Identify steps that could be taken to achieve the objective.

List possible solutions.

4) Choose the Best Solution

Which is the best solution?

Assign a label to each possible solution for ease of reference, e.g. a letter.

Put your possible solutions in a list or table.

Evaluate each possible solution against the key criteria for solving the problem.

Apply these three criteria from Peter Drucker to select ideas to take forward:

Operational Validity – Can you take action on this solution, or can you only talk about it?

Economic Validity – Would this solution produce an economic result? What would be the early indicators that it's working?

Personal Commitment – Do you really believe in this solution? Are you really prepared to implement this solution?

Remember the best solution is likely to involve trade-offs and compromises, as decisions are rarely simple.

5) Implement the Solution with Action

Act to implement your solution.

If complex action is required, or action is required from others, create an action plan.

Obtain and allocate resources, e.g. tools.

Delegate tasks to others, using your teamworking skills.

Provide information to stakeholders.

6) Evaluate Your Solution

Once implemented, evaluate the effectiveness of your solution.

Have the actions taken delivered the desired outcomes?

Have there been any unforeseen consequences from your actions?

Review your solution and revisit the problem if necessary.

Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills

Mind games, e.g. cryptic crosswords and Sudoku.

Computer games. These can involve strategic planning and weighing up decisions.

Practical skills, e.g. DIY, car maintenance, computer repairs and programming.

Recruiters want people with problem solving skills, that are prepared to research and implement change, and take personal responsibility to ensure targets are met.

Videos on Problem Solving Skills

Useful Links

Problem Solving Techniques by Project Management Skills

Seven Step Problem Solving by the Happy Manager

Problem Solving by Skills You Need

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