35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

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

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

types of problem solving methodologies

Tips for more effective problem solving

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

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

Clearly define the problem

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

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

Don’t jump to conclusions

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

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

Try different approaches  

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

Don’t take it personally 

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

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

Get the right people in the room

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

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

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

Document everything

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

Bring a facilitator 

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

Develop your problem-solving skills

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

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

Design a great agenda

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

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

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

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

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

1. Six Thinking Hats

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

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

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

2. Lightning Decision Jam

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Problem Definition Process

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

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

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

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

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

4. The 5 Whys 

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

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

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

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

5. World Cafe

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

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

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

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

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

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

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

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

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

7. Design Sprint 2.0

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

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

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

8. Open space technology

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

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

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

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

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

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

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

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

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

Let’s take a look!

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. The Creativity Dice

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

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

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

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

11. Fishbone Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

12. Problem Tree 

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

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

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

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

13. SWOT Analysis

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

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

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

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

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16. Speed Boat

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

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

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

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

17. The Journalistic Six

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

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

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

18. LEGO Challenge

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

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

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

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

19. What, So What, Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

20. Journalists  

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

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

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

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

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

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

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

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

21. Mindspin  

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

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

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

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

22. Improved Solutions

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

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

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

23. Four Step Sketch

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

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

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

24. 15% Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

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

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

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

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

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

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

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

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

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

27. Dotmocracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28. Check-in / Check-out

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

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

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

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

29. Doodling Together  

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

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

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

30. Show and Tell

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

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

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

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

31. Constellations

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

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

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

32. Draw a Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

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

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

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

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

33. One Breath Feedback

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

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

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

34. Who What When Matrix 

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

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

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

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

35. Response cards

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

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

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

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

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

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

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

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

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

types of problem solving methodologies

Over to you

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

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

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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

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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)

types of problem solving methodologies

36 Problem-solving techniques, methods and tools

types of problem solving methodologies

When it comes to solving problems, getting ideas is the easy part. 

But businesses often forget the other four stages of the problem-solving process that will allow them to find the best solution.

Instead of jumping straight to idea generation, your problem-solving framework should look like this:

  • Identify the problem
  • Reveal why it has occurred
  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Select the best solution

See how idea generation doesn’t appear until stage 3?!

In this extensive resource, we provide techniques, methodologies and tools to guide you through every stage of the problem-solving process.

Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll possess an extensive problem-solving arsenal that will enable you to overcome your biggest workplace challenges.

11 Problem-solving techniques for clarity and confidence

Before we dive into more comprehensive methodologies for solving problems, there are a few basic techniques you should know. 

The following techniques will set you up for a successful problem-solving session with your team, allowing you to take on your biggest challenges with clarity and confidence. ‍

1. Take a moment, take a breath

When a problem or challenge arises, it’s normal to act too quickly or rely on solutions that have worked well in the past. This is known as entrenched thinking.

But acting impulsively, without prior consideration or planning, can cause you to misunderstand the issue and overlook possible solutions to the problem.

Therefore, the first thing you should always do when you encounter a problem is: breathe in and out.

Take a step back and make a clear plan of action before you act. This will help you to take rational steps towards solving a problem. ‍

2. Ask questions to understand the full extent of the issue

Another common mistake people make when attempting to solve a problem is taking action before fully understanding the problem.

Before committing to a theory, ask enough questions to unearth the true root of the issue. 

Later in this article, we cover The 5 Why’s problem-solving methodology which you can use to easily identify the root of your problem. Give this a go at your next meeting and see how your initial understanding of a problem can often be wrong. ‍

3. Consider alternative perspectives

A common problem-solving issue is that of myopia—a narrow-minded view or perception of the problem. Myopia can occur when you’re too involved with the problem or your team isn’t diverse enough.

To give yourself the best chance of resolving a problem, gain insight from a wide range of sources. Collaborate with key stakeholders, customers and on-the-ground employees to learn how the problem affects them and whether they have found workarounds or solutions.

To paint the broadest picture, don’t limit your problem-solving team to a specific archetype. Try to include everyone, from the chief executive to the office janitor.

If you’re working with a small team, try the Flip It! problem-solving methodology to view the issue from a fresh angle. ‍

4. Make your office space conducive to problem-solving

The environment in which your host your brainstorming sessions should maximise creativity . When your team members trust each other and feel relaxed, they’re more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to a problem.

Here are a few ways to get your employees’ creative juices flowing:

  • Play team-building games that maximise trust and build interpersonal relationships
  • Improve your team’s problem-solving skills with games that encourage critical thinking
  • Redesign the office with comfortable furniture and collaborative spaces
  • Boost job satisfaction by creating a positive work-life balance
  • Improve collaborative skills and learn to resolve conflicts

World Café is a problem-solving method that creates a casual environment conducive to creative thinking. 

Keep reading to learn more about how World Café can help your team solve complex organisational problems. ‍

5. Use problem-solving methodologies to guide the process

Because problem-solving is a creative process, it can be hard to keep it on track. As more ideas get banded around, conflicts can arise that derail the session.

That’s why problem-solving methodologies are so helpful. They offer you proven problem-solving frameworks to guide your group sessions and keep them on track.

The Six Thinking Hats problem-solving method is a popular technique that guides the process and helps your team analyse a problem from all angles.

We’re going to take a look at our favourite problem-solving methodologies in the next section of this article, XY Tried and tested problem-solving methodologies. ‍

6. Use analogies to solve complex problems

Sometimes, solving a different problem can help you uncover solutions to another problem! 

By stripping back a complex issue and framing it as a simplified analogy , you approach a problem from a different angle, enabling you to come up with alternative ideas.

After solving practice problems, your team might be more aptly equipped to solve real-world issues.

However, coming up with an analogy that reflects your issue can be difficult, so don’t worry if this technique doesn’t work for you.

The Speed Boat diagram is a visual tool that helps your employees view existing challenges as anchors holding back a boat which represents your end goals. By assigning a “weight” to each anchor, your team can prioritise which issues to tackle first. ‍

7. Establish clear constraints

Constraints make a big problem more approachable. 

Before you tackle a problem, establish clear boundaries and codes of conduct for the session. This allows your team to focus on the current issue without becoming distracted or veering off on a tangent.

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Oguz A. Acar, Murat Tarakci, and Daan van Knippenberg wrote, “Constraints … provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas for new products, services, or business processes.” (Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation, 2019)

Lightning Decision Jam is a prime example of how constraints can assist the creative process. Here, your team are given strict time constraints and isn’t permitted to discuss ideas until the end. ‍

8. Dislodge preconceived ideas

Humans are creatures of habit. 

We defer to strategies that have produced positive results in the past. This is typically beneficial because recalling our previous successes means we don’t need to constantly re-learn similar tasks.

But when it comes to problem-solving, this way of thinking can trip us up. We become fixated on a solution that worked in the past, but when this fails we’re dismayed and left wondering what to do next.

To resolve problems effectively, your employees need to escape the precincts of their imaginations. This helps to eliminate functional fixedness—the belief that an item serves only its predefined function.

Alternative Application is an icebreaker game that encourages employees to think outside the box by coming up with different uses for everyday objects. Try this at your next meeting or team-building event and watch your team tap into their creativity. ‍

9. Level the playing field

Having a diverse group of employees at your brainstorming sessions is a good idea, but there’s one problem: the extroverted members of your team will be more vocal than the introverts.

To ensure you’re gaining insight from every member of your team, you need to give your quieter employees equal opportunities to contribute by eliminating personality biases.

Read more: What icebreaker games and questions work best for introverts?

The obvious solution, then, is to “silence” the louder participants (it’s not as sinister as it sounds, promise)—all you have to do is ban your team from debating suggestions during the ideation process. 

The Lightning Decision Jam methodology gives your employees equal opportunities to contribute because much of the problem-solving process is carried out in silence. ‍

10. Take a break from the problem

Have you ever noticed how the best ideas seem to come when you’re not actively working on a problem? You may have spent hours slumped over your desk hashing out a solution, only for the “eureka!” moment to come when you’re walking your dog or taking a shower.

In James Webb Young’s book, A Technique for Producing Ideas , phase three of the process is “stepping away from the problem.” Young proclaims that after putting in the hard work, the information needs to ferment in the mind before any plausible ideas come to you.

So next time you’re in a meeting with your team trying to solve a problem, don’t panic if you don’t uncover groundbreaking ideas there and then. Allow everybody to mull over what they’ve learned, then reconvene at a later date.

The Creativity Dice methodology is a quick-fire brainstorming game that allows your team to incubate ideas while concentrating on another. ‍

11. Limit feedback sessions

The way your team delivers feedback at the end of a successful brainstorming session is critical. Left unsupervised, excessive feedback can undo all of your hard work.

Therefore, it’s wise to put a cap on the amount of feedback your team can provide. One great way of doing this is by using the One Breath Feedback technique.

By limiting your employees to one breath, they’re taught to be concise with their final comments. 

16 Tried and tested problem-solving methodologies

Problem-solving methodologies keep your brainstorming session on track and encourage your team to consider all angles of the issue.

Countless methods have wiggled their way into the world of business, each one with a unique strategy and end goal.

Here are 12 of our favourite problem-solving methodologies that will help you find the best-fit solution to your troubles. ‍

12. Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats is a methodical problem-solving framework that helps your group consider all possible problems, causes, solutions and repercussions by assigning a different coloured hat to each stage of the problem-solving process.

The roles of each hat are as follows:

  • Blue Hat (Control): This hat controls the session and dictates the order in which the hats will be worn. When wearing the Blue Hat, your group will observe possible solutions, draw conclusions and define a plan of action.
  • Green Hat (Idea Generation): The Green Hat signifies creativity. At this stage of the methodology, your team will focus their efforts on generating ideas, imagining solutions and considering alternatives.
  • Red Hat (Intuition and Feelings): It’s time for your employees to communicate their feelings. Here, your team listen to their guts and convey their emotional impulses without justification. 
  • Yellow Hat (Benefits and Values): What are the merits of each idea that has been put forward thus far? What positive impacts could they have?
  • Black or Grey Hat (Caution): What are the potential risks or shortcomings of each idea? What negative impacts could result from implicating each idea?
  • White Hat (Information and Data): While wearing The White Hat, your team must determine what information is needed and from where it can be obtained.

For Six Thinking Hats to work effectively, ensure your team acts within the confines of each role. 

While wearing The Yellow Hat, for example, your team should only discuss the positives . Any negative implications should be left for the Black or Grey hat.

Note: Feel free to alter the hat colours to align with your cultural context. ‍

13. Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)

Lightning Decision Jam is a nine-stage problem-solving process designed to uncover a variety of perspectives while keeping the session on track.

The process starts by defining a general topic like the internal design process, interdepartmental communication, the sales funnel, etc.

Then, armed with pens and post-it notes, your team will work through the nine stages in the following order:

  • Write problems (7 minutes)
  • Present problems (4 minutes/person)
  • Select problems (6 minutes)
  • Reframe the problems (6 minutes)
  • Offer solutions (7 minutes)
  • Vote on solutions (10 minutes)
  • Prioritise solutions (30 seconds)
  • Decide what to execute (10 minutes)
  • Create task lists (5 minutes)

The philosophy behind LDJ is that of constraint. By limiting discussion, employees can focus on compiling ideas and coming to democratic decisions that benefit the company without being distracted or going off on a tangent. ‍

14. The 5 Why’s

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the process of unearthing a problem and finding the underlying cause. To help you through this process, you can use The 5 Why’s methodology.

The idea is to ask why you’re experiencing a problem, reframe the problem based on the answer, and then ask “ why?” again. If you do this five times , you should come pretty close to the root of your original challenge.

While this might not be a comprehensive end-to-end methodology, it certainly helps you to pin down your core challenges. ‍

15. World Café

If you’ve had enough of uninspiring corporate boardrooms, World Café is the solution. 

This problem-solving strategy facilitates casual conversations around given topics, enabling players to speak more openly about their grievances without the pressure of a large group.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Create a cosy cafe-style setting (try to have at least five or six chairs per table).
  • As a group, decide on a core problem and mark this as the session topic.
  • Divide your group into smaller teams by arranging five or six players at a table.
  • Assign each group a question that pertains to the session topic, or decide on one question for all groups to discuss at once.
  • Give the groups about 20 minutes to casually talk over each question.
  • Repeat this with about three or four different questions, making sure to write down key insights from each group.
  • Share the insights with the whole group.

World Café is a useful way of uncovering hidden causes and pitfalls by having multiple simultaneous conversations about a given topic. ‍

16. Discovery and Action Dialogue (DAD)

Discovery and Actions Dialogues are a collaborative method for employees to share and adopt personal behaviours in response to a problem. 

This crowdsourcing approach provides insight into how a problem affects individuals throughout your company and whether some are better equipped than others.

A DAD session is guided by a facilitator who asks seven open-ended questions in succession. Each person is given equal time to participate while a recorder takes down notes and valuable insights. 

This is a particularly effective method for uncovering preexisting ideas, behaviours and solutions from the people who face problems daily. ‍

17. Design Sprint 2.0

The Design Sprint 2.0 model by Jake Knapp helps your team to focus on finding, developing measuring a solution within four days . Because theorising is all well and good, but sometimes you can learn more by getting an idea off the ground and observing how it plays out in the real world.

Here’s the basic problem-solving framework:

  • Day 1: Map out or sketch possible solutions
  • Day 2: Choose the best solutions and storyboard your strategy going forward
  • Day 3: Create a living, breathing prototype
  • Day 4: Test and record how it performs in the real world

This technique is great for testing the viability of new products or expanding and fixing the features of an existing product. ‍

18. Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology is a method for large groups to create a problem-solving agenda around a central theme. It works best when your group is comprised of subject-matter experts and experienced individuals with a sufficient stake in the problem.

Open Space Technology works like this:

  • Establish a core theme for your team to centralise their efforts.
  • Ask the participants to consider their approach and write it on a post-it note.
  • Everybody writes a time and place for discussion on their note and sticks it to the wall.
  • The group is then invited to join the sessions that most interest them.
  • Everybody joins and contributes to their chosen sessions
  • Any significant insights and outcomes are recorded and presented to the group.

This methodology grants autonomy to your team and encourages them to take ownership of the problem-solving process. ‍

19. Round-Robin Brainstorming Technique

While not an end-to-end problem-solving methodology, the Round-Robin Brainstorming Technique is an effective way of squeezing every last ounce of creativity from your ideation sessions.

Here’s how it works:

  • Decide on a problem that needs to be solved
  • Sitting in a circle, give each employee a chance to offer an idea
  • Have somebody write down each idea as they come up
  • Participants can pass if they don’t have anything to contribute
  • The brainstorming session ends once everybody has passed

Once you’ve compiled a long list of ideas, it’s up to you how you move forward. You could, for example, borrow techniques from other methodologies, such as the “vote on solutions” phase of the Lightning Decision Jam. ‍

20. Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis is a method for preventing and mitigating problems within your business processes.

This technique starts by examining the process in question and asking, “What could go wrong?” From here, your team starts to brainstorm a list of potential failures.

Then, going through the list one by one, ask your participants, “Why would this failure happen?” 

Once you’ve answered this question for each list item, ask yourselves, “What would the consequences be of this failure?”

This proactive method focuses on prevention rather than treatment. Instead of waiting for a problem to occur and reacting, you’re actively searching for future shortcomings. ‍

21. Flip It!

The Flip It! Methodology teaches your team to view their concerns in a different light and frame them instead as catalysts for positive change.

The game works like this:

  • Select a topic your employees are likely to be concerned about, like market demand for your product or friction between departments.
  • Give each participant a pile of sticky notes and ask them to write down all their fears about the topic.
  • Take the fears and stick them to an area of the wall marked “fears.”
  • Then, encourage your team to look at these fears and ask them to reframe them as “hope” by writing new statements on different sticky notes.
  • Take these “hope” statements and stick them to an area of the wall marked “hope.”
  • Discuss the statements, then ask them to vote on the areas they feel they can start to take action on. They can do this by drawing a dot on the corner of the sticky note.
  • Move the notes with the most votes to a new area of the wall marked “traction.”
  • Discuss the most popular statements as a group and brainstorm actionable items related to each.
  • Write down the actions that need to be made and discuss them again as a group.

This brainstorming approach teaches your employees the danger of engrained thinking and helps them to reframe their fears as opportunities. ‍

22. The Creativity Dice

The Creativity Dice teaches your team to incubate ideas as they focus on different aspects of a problem. As we mentioned earlier in the article, giving ideas time to mature can be a highly effective problem-solving strategy. Here’s how the game works:

Choose a topic to focus on, It can be as specific or open-ended as you like. Write this down as a word or sentence. Roll the die, start a timer of three minutes and start writing down ideas within the confines of what that number resembles. The roles of each number are as follows:

  • Specification: Write down goals you want to achieve.
  • Investigation: Write down existing factual information you know about the topic.
  • Ideation: Write down creative or practical ideas related to the topic.
  • Incubation: Do something else unrelated to the problem.
  • Iteration: Look at what you’ve already written and come up with related ideas (roll again if you didn’t write anything yet). ‍
  • Integration: Look at everything you have written and try to create something cohesive from your ideas like a potential new product or actionable next step.

Once you’ve finished the activity, review your findings and decide what you want to take with you. ‍

23. SWOT Analysis

The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing method for analysing the current state of your business and considering how this affects the desired end state.

The basic idea is this:

  • Before the meeting, come up with a “Desired end state” and draw a picture that represents this on a flipchart or whiteboard.
  • Divide a large piece of paper into quadrants marked “Strengths”, “Weaknesses”, “Opportunities” and “Threats.”
  • Starting with “Strengths”, work through the quadrants, coming up with ideas that relate to the desired end state.
  • Ask your team to vote for the statements or ideas of each category that they feel are most relevant to the desired end state.
  • As a group, discuss the implications that these statements have on the desired end state. Spark debate by asking thought-provoking and open-ended questions.

The SWOT Analysis is an intuitive method for understanding which parts of your business could be affecting your long-term goals. ‍

24. The Journalistic Six

When learning to cover every aspect of a story, journalists are taught to ask themselves six essential questions:  

Now, this approach has been adopted by organisations to help understand every angle of a problem. All you need is a clear focus question, then you can start working through the six questions with your team until you have a 360-degree view of what has, can and needs to be done. ‍

25. Gamestorming

Gamestorming is a one-stop creative-thinking framework that uses various games to help your team come up with innovative ideas.

Originally published as a book 10 years ago, Gamestorming contained a selection of creative games used by Silicon Valley’s top-performing businesses to develop groundbreaking products and services.

This collection of resources, plucked from the minds of founders and CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, allows you to tap into the potentially genius ideas lying dormant in the minds of your employees. ‍

26. Four-Step Sketch

The Four-Step Sketch is a visual brainstorming that provides an alternative to traditional discussion-based ideation techniques .

This methodology requires prior discussion to clarify the purpose of the activity. Imagine you’re on a startup retreat , for example, and your team is taking part in a design sprint or hackathon.

Once you’ve brainstormed a list of ideas with your team, participants can look at the suggestions and take down any relevant notes. They then take these notes and turn them into rough sketches that resemble the idea.

Then, as a warm-up, give each participant eight minutes to produce eight alternative sketches (eight minutes per sketch) of the idea. These ideas are not to be shared with the group.

Finally, participants create new sketches based on their favourite ideas and share them with the group. The group can then vote on the ideas they think offer the best solution. ‍

27. 15% Solutions

15% Solutions is a problem-solving strategy for motivating and inspiring your employees. By encouraging your team to gain small victories, you pave the way for bigger changes.

First, ask your participants to think about things they can personally do within the confines of their role.

Then, arrange your team into small groups of three to four and give them time to share their ideas and consult with each other.

This simple problem-solving process removes negativity and powerlessness and teaches your team to take responsibility for change. 

9 Problem-solving tools for gathering and selecting ideas

Problem-solving tools support your meeting with easy-to-use graphs, visualisations and techniques.  

By implementing a problem-solving tool, you break the cycle of mundane verbal discussion, enabling you to maintain engagement throughout the session. ‍

28. Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram (otherwise known as the Ishikawa Diagram or Cause and Effect Diagram), is a tool for identifying the leading causes of a problem. You can then consolidate these causes into a comprehensive “Problem Statement.”

The term “Fishbone Diagram” is derived from the diagram’s structure. The problem itself forms the tail, possible causes radiate from the sides to form the fish skeleton while the final “Problem Statement” appears as the “head” of the fish.

Example: A fast-food chain is investigating the declining quality of their food. As the team brainstorms potential causes, they come up with reasons like “poorly trained personnel”, “lack of quality control”, and “incorrect quantity of spices.” Together with other causes, the group summarises that these problems lead to “bad burgers.” They write this as the Problem Statement and set about eliminating the main contributing factors. ‍

29. The Problem Tree

A Problem Tree is a useful tool for assessing the importance or relevance of challenges concerning the core topic. If you’re launching a new product, for example, gather your team and brainstorm the current issues, roadblocks and bottlenecks that are hindering the process.

Then, work together to decide which of these are most pressing. Place the most relevant issues closer to the core topic and less relevant issues farther away. ‍

30. SQUID Diagram

The Squid Diagram is an easy-to-use tool that charts the progress of ideas and business developments as they unfold. Your SQUID Diagram can remain on a wall for your team to add to over time.

  • Write down a core theme on a sticky note such as “customer service” or “Innovation”—this will be the “head” of your SQUID.
  • Hand two sets of different coloured sticky notes to your participants and choose one colour to represent “questions” and the other to represent “answers.”
  • Ask your team to write down questions pertaining to the success of the main topic. In the case of “Innovation,” your team might write things like “How can we improve collaboration between key stakeholders?”
  • Then, using the other coloured sticky notes, ask your team to write down possible answers to these questions. In the example above, this might be “Invest in open innovation software.”
  • Over time, you’ll develop a spawling SQUID Diagram that reflects the creative problem-solving process. ‍

31. The Speed Boat

The Speed Boat Diagram is a visual metaphor used to help your team identify and solve problems in the way of your goals.

Here’s how it works: 

  • Draw a picture of a boat and name it after the core objective.
  • With your team, brainstorm things that are slowing progress and draw each one as an anchor beneath the boat.
  • Discuss possible solutions to each problem on the diagram.

This is an easy-to-use tool that sparks creative solutions. If you like, your team can assign a “weight” to each anchor which determines the impact each problem has on the end goal. ‍

32. The LEGO Challenge

LEGO is an excellent creative-thinking and problem-solving tool used regularly by event facilitators to help teams overcome challenges. 

In our article 5 and 10-minute Team-Building Activities , we introduce Sneak a Peek —a collaborative team-building game that develops communication and leadership skills. ‍

33. The Three W’s: What? So What? Now What?

Teams aren’t always aligned when it comes to their understanding of a problem. While the problem remains the same for everyone, they might have differing opinions as to how it occurred at the implications it had.

Asking “ What? So What? Now What?” Helps you to understand different perspectives around a problem.

It goes like this:

  • Alone or in small groups, ask your employees to consider and write What happened. This should take between five and 10 minutes.
  • Then ask So What? What occurred because of this? Why was what happened important? What might happen if this issue is left unresolved?
  • Finally, ask your team Now What? What might be a solution to the problem? What actions do you need to take to avoid this happening again?

This approach helps your team understand how problems affect individuals in different ways and uncovers a variety of ways to overcome them. ‍

34. Now-How-Wow Matrix

Gathering ideas is easy—but selecting the best ones? That’s a different story. 

If you’ve got a bunch of ideas, try the Now-How-Wow Matrix to help you identify which ones you should implement now and which ones should wait until later.

Simply draw a two-axis graph with “implementation difficulty” on the Y axis and “idea originality” on the X axis. Divide this graph into quadrants and write “Now!” in the bottom left panel, “Wow!” in the bottom right panel, and “How?” in the top right panel. You can leave the top left panel blank.

Then, take your ideas and plot them on the graph depending on their implementation difficulty and level of originality.

By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of which ideas to ignore, which ones to implement now, and which ones to add to the pipeline for the future. ‍

35. Impact-Effort Matrix

The Impact-Effort Matrix is a variation of the Now-How-Wow Matrix where the Y axis is marked “Impact” and the X axis is marked “Effort.”

Then, divide the graph into quadrants and plot your ideas. 

  • Top left section = Excellent, implement immediately
  • Top right section = Risky, but worth a try
  • Bottom left section = Low risk, but potentially ineffective
  • Bottom right section = Bad idea, ignore

The Impact-Effort Matrix is a simple way for your team to weigh the benefits of an idea against the amount of investment required. ‍

36. Dot Voting

Once you’ve gathered a substantial list of ideas from your employees, you need to sort the good from the bad. 

Dot voting is a simple tool used by problem-solving facilitators as a fast and effective way for large groups to vote on their favourite ideas . You’ll have seen this method used in problem-solving methods like Flip It! and Lightning Decision Jam .

  • Participants write their ideas on sticky notes and stick them to the wall or a flipchart.
  • When asked, participants draw a small dot on the corner of the idea they like the most.
  • Participants can be given as many votes as necessary.
  • When voting ends, arrange the notes from “most popular” to “least popular.”

This provides an easy-to-use visual representation of the best and worst ideas put forward by your team.

Give your problems the attention they deserve at an offsite retreat

While working from home or at the office, your team is often too caught up in daily tasks to take on complex problems. 

By escaping the office and uniting at an offsite location, you can craft a purposeful agenda of team-building activities and problem-solving sessions. This special time away from the office can prove invaluable when it comes to keeping your business on track.

If you have problems that need fixing (who doesn’t?), reach out to Surf Office and let us put together a fully-customised offsite retreat for you.

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Learn Creative Problem Solving Techniques to Stimulate Innovation in Your Organization

By Kate Eby | October 20, 2017 (updated August 27, 2021)

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In today’s competitive business landscape, organizations need processes in place to make strong, well-informed, and innovative decisions. Problem solving - in particular creative problem solving (CPS) - is a key skill in learning how to accurately identify problems and their causes, generate potential solutions, and evaluate all the possibilities to arrive at a strong corrective course of action. Every team in any organization, regardless of department or industry, needs to be effective, creative, and quick when solving problems. 

In this article, we’ll discuss traditional and creative problem solving, and define the steps, best practices, and common barriers associated. After that, we’ll provide helpful methods and tools to identify the cause(s) of problematic situations, so you can get to the root of the issue and start to generate solutions. Then, we offer nearly 20 creative problem solving techniques to implement at your organization, or even in your personal life. Along the way, experts weigh in on the importance of problem solving, and offer tips and tricks. 

What Is Problem Solving and Decision Making?

Problem solving is the process of working through every aspect of an issue or challenge to reach a solution. Decision making is choosing one of multiple proposed solutions  — therefore, this process also includes defining and evaluating all potential options. Decision making is often one step of the problem solving process, but the two concepts are distinct. 

Collective problem solving is problem solving that includes many different parties and bridges the knowledge of different groups. Collective problem solving is common in business problem solving because workplace decisions typically affect more than one person. 

Problem solving, especially in business, is a complicated science. Not only are business conflicts multifaceted, but they often involve different personalities, levels of authority, and group dynamics. In recent years, however, there has been a rise in psychology-driven problem solving techniques, especially for the workplace. In fact, the psychology of how people solve problems is now studied formally in academic disciplines such as psychology and cognitive science.

Joe Carella

Joe Carella is the Assistant Dean for Executive Education at the University of Arizona . Joe has over 20 years of experience in helping executives and corporations in managing change and developing successful business strategies. His doctoral research and executive education engagements have seen him focus on corporate strategy, decision making and business performance with a variety of corporate clients including Hershey’s, Chevron, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, Intel, DP World, Essilor, BBVA Compass Bank.

He explains some of the basic psychology behind problem solving: “When our brain is engaged in the process of solving problems, it is engaged in a series of steps where it processes and organizes the information it receives while developing new knowledge it uses in future steps. Creativity is embedded in this process by incorporating diverse inputs and/or new ways of organizing the information received.”

Laura MacLeod

Laura MacLeod is a Professor of Social Group Work at City University of New York, and the creator of From The Inside Out Project® , a program that coaches managers in team leadership for a variety of workplaces. She has a background in social work and over two decades of experience as a union worker, and currently leads talks on conflict resolution, problem solving, and listening skills at conferences across the country. 

MacLeod thinks of problem solving as an integral practice of successful organizations. “Problem solving is a collaborative process — all voices are heard and connected, and resolution is reached by the group,” she says. “Problems and conflicts occur in all groups and teams in the workplace, but if leaders involve everyone in working through, they will foster cohesion, engagement, and buy in. Everybody wins.”

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What Is the First Step in Solving a Problem?

Although problem solving techniques vary procedurally, experts agree that the first step in solving a problem is defining the problem. Without a clear articulation of the problem at stake, it is impossible to analyze all the key factors and actors, generate possible solutions, and then evaluate them to pick the best option. 

Elliott Jaffa

Dr. Elliott Jaffa is a behavioral and management psychologist with over 25 years of problem solving training and management experience. “Start with defining the problem you want to solve,” he says, “And then define where you want to be, what you want to come away with.” He emphasizes these are the first steps in creating an actionable, clear solution. 

Bryan Mattimore

Bryan Mattimore is Co-Founder of Growth Engine, an 18-year old innovation agency based in Norwalk, CT. Bryan has facilitated over 1,000 ideation sessions and managed over 200 successful innovation projects leading to over $3 billion in new sales. His newest book is 21 Days to a Big Idea . When asked about the first critical component to successful problem solving, Mattimore says, “Defining the challenge correctly, or ‘solving the right problem’ … The three creative techniques we use to help our clients ‘identify the right problem to be solved’ are questioning assumptions, 20 questions, and problem redefinition. A good example of this was a new product challenge from a client to help them ‘invent a new iron. We got them to redefine the challenge as first: a) inventing new anti-wrinkle devices, and then b) inventing new garment care devices.”

What Are Problem Solving Skills?

To understand the necessary skills in problem solving, you should first understand the types of thinking often associated with strong decision making. Most problem solving techniques look for a balance between the following binaries:

  • Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking: Convergent thinking is bringing together disparate information or ideas to determine a single best answer or solution. This thinking style values logic, speed, and accuracy, and leaves no chance for ambiguity. Divergent thinking is focused on generating new ideas to identify and evaluate multiple possible solutions, often uniting ideas in unexpected combinations. Divergent thinking is characterized by creativity, complexity, curiosity, flexibility, originality, and risk-taking.
  • Pragmatics vs. Semantics: Pragmatics refer to the logic of the problem at hand, and semantics is how you interpret the problem to solve it. Both are important to yield the best possible solution.
  • Mathematical vs. Personal Problem Solving: Mathematical problem solving involves logic (usually leading to a single correct answer), and is useful for problems that involve numbers or require an objective, clear-cut solution. However, many workplace problems also require personal problem solving, which includes interpersonal, collaborative, and emotional intuition and skills. 

The following basic methods are fundamental problem solving concepts. Implement them to help balance the above thinking models.

  • Reproductive Thinking: Reproductive thinking uses past experience to solve a problem. However, be careful not to rely too heavily on past solutions, and to evaluate current problems individually, with their own factors and parameters. 
  • Idea Generation: The process of generating many possible courses of action to identify a solution. This is most commonly a team exercise because putting everyone’s ideas on the table will yield the greatest number of potential solutions. 

However, many of the most critical problem solving skills are “soft” skills: personal and interpersonal understanding, intuitiveness, and strong listening. 

Mattimore expands on this idea: “The seven key skills to be an effective creative problem solver that I detail in my book Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs are: 1) curiosity 2) openness 3) a willingness to embrace ambiguity 4) the ability to identify and transfer principles across categories and disciplines 5) the desire to search for integrity in ideas, 6) the ability to trust and exercise “knowingness” and 7) the ability to envision new worlds (think Dr. Seuss, Star Wars, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.).”

“As an individual contributor to problem solving it is important to exercise our curiosity, questioning, and visioning abilities,” advises Carella. “As a facilitator it is essential to allow for diverse ideas to emerge, be able to synthesize and ‘translate’ other people’s thinking, and build an extensive network of available resources.”

MacLeod says the following interpersonal skills are necessary to effectively facilitate group problem solving: “The abilities to invite participation (hear all voices, encourage silent members), not take sides, manage dynamics between the monopolizer, the scapegoat, and the bully, and deal with conflict (not avoiding it or shutting down).” 

Furthermore, Jaffa explains that the skills of a strong problem solver aren’t measurable. The best way to become a creative problem solver, he says, is to do regular creative exercises that keep you sharp and force you to think outside the box. Carella echoes this sentiment: “Neuroscience tells us that creativity comes from creating novel neural paths. Allow a few minutes each day to exercise your brain with novel techniques and brain ‘tricks’ – read something new, drive to work via a different route, count backwards, smell a new fragrance, etc.”

What Is Creative Problem Solving? History, Evolution, and Core Principles

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a method of problem solving in which you approach a problem or challenge in an imaginative, innovative way. The goal of CPS is to come up with innovative solutions, make a decision, and take action quickly. Sidney Parnes and Alex Osborn are credited with developing the creative problem solving process in the 1950s. The concept was further studied and developed at SUNY Buffalo State and the Creative Education Foundation. 

The core principles of CPS include the following:

  • Balance divergent and convergent thinking
  • Ask problems as questions
  • Defer or suspend judgement
  • Focus on “Yes, and…” rather than “No, but…”

According to Carella, “Creative problem solving is the mental process used for generating innovative and imaginative ideas as a solution to a problem or a challenge. Creative problem solving techniques can be pursued by individuals or groups.”

When asked to define CPS, Jaffa explains that it is, by nature, difficult to create boundaries for. “Creative problem solving is not cut and dry,” he says, “If you ask 100 different people the definition of creative problem solving, you’ll get 100 different responses - it’s a non-entity.”

Business presents a unique need for creative problem solving. Especially in today’s competitive landscape, organizations need to iterate quickly, innovate with intention, and constantly be at the cutting-edge of creativity and new ideas to succeed. Developing CPS skills among your workforce not only enables you to make faster, stronger in-the-moment decisions, but also inspires a culture of collaborative work and knowledge sharing. When people work together to generate multiple novel ideas and evaluate solutions, they are also more likely to arrive at an effective decision, which will improve business processes and reduce waste over time. In fact, CPS is so important that some companies now list creative problem solving skills as a job criteria.

MacLeod reiterates the vitality of creative problem solving in the workplace. “Problem solving is crucial for all groups and teams,” she says. “Leaders need to know how to guide the process, hear all voices and involve all members - it’s not easy.”

“This mental process [of CPS] is especially helpful in work environments where individuals and teams continuously struggle with new problems and challenges posed by their continuously changing environment,” adds Carella. 

Problem Solving Best Practices

By nature, creative problem solving does not have a clear-cut set of do’s and don’ts. Rather, creating a culture of strong creative problem solvers requires flexibility, adaptation, and interpersonal skills. However, there are a several best practices that you should incorporate:

  • Use a Systematic Approach: Regardless of the technique you use, choose a systematic method that satisfies your workplace conditions and constraints (time, resources, budget, etc.). Although you want to preserve creativity and openness to new ideas, maintaining a structured approach to the process will help you stay organized and focused. 
  • View Problems as Opportunities: Rather than focusing on the negatives or giving up when you encounter barriers, treat problems as opportunities to enact positive change on the situation. In fact, some experts even recommend defining problems as opportunities, to remain proactive and positive.
  • Change Perspective: Remember that there are multiple ways to solve any problem. If you feel stuck, changing perspective can help generate fresh ideas. A perspective change might entail seeking advice of a mentor or expert, understanding the context of a situation, or taking a break and returning to the problem later. “A sterile or familiar environment can stifle new thinking and new perspectives,” says Carella. “Make sure you get out to draw inspiration from spaces and people out of your usual reach.”
  • Break Down Silos: To invite the greatest possible number of perspectives to any problem, encourage teams to work cross-departmentally. This not only combines diverse expertise, but also creates a more trusting and collaborative environment, which is essential to effective CPS. According to Carella, “Big challenges are always best tackled by a group of people rather than left to a single individual. Make sure you create a space where the team can concentrate and convene.”
  • Employ Strong Leadership or a Facilitator: Some companies choose to hire an external facilitator that teaches problem solving techniques, best practices, and practicums to stimulate creative problem solving. But, internal managers and staff can also oversee these activities. Regardless of whether the facilitator is internal or external, choose a strong leader who will value others’ ideas and make space for creative solutions.  Mattimore has specific advice regarding the role of a facilitator: “When facilitating, get the group to name a promising idea (it will crystalize the idea and make it more memorable), and facilitate deeper rather than broader. Push for not only ideas, but how an idea might specifically work, some of its possible benefits, who and when would be interested in an idea, etc. This fleshing-out process with a group will generate fewer ideas, but at the end of the day will yield more useful concepts that might be profitably pursued.” Additionally, Carella says that “Executives and managers don’t necessarily have to be creative problem solvers, but need to make sure that their teams are equipped with the right tools and resources to make this happen. Also they need to be able to foster an environment where failing fast is accepted and celebrated.”
  • Evaluate Your Current Processes: This practice can help you unlock bottlenecks, and also identify gaps in your data and information management, both of which are common roots of business problems.

MacLeod offers the following additional advice, “Always get the facts. Don’t jump too quickly to a solution – working through [problems] takes time and patience.”

Mattimore also stresses that how you introduce creative problem solving is important. “Do not start by introducing a new company-wide innovation process,” he says. “Instead, encourage smaller teams to pursue specific creative projects, and then build a process from the ground up by emulating these smaller teams’ successful approaches. We say: ‘You don’t innovate by changing the culture, you change the culture by innovating.’”

Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

Learning how to effectively solve problems is difficult and takes time and continual adaptation. There are several common barriers to successful CPS, including:

  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only search for or interpret information that confirms a person’s existing ideas. People misinterpret or disregard data that doesn’t align with their beliefs.
  • Mental Set: People’s inclination to solve problems using the same tactics they have used to solve problems in the past. While this can sometimes be a useful strategy (see Analogical Thinking in a later section), it often limits inventiveness and creativity.
  • Functional Fixedness: This is another form of narrow thinking, where people become “stuck” thinking in a certain way and are unable to be flexible or change perspective.
  • Unnecessary Constraints: When people are overwhelmed with a problem, they can invent and impose additional limits on solution avenues. To avoid doing this, maintain a structured, level-headed approach to evaluating causes, effects, and potential solutions.
  • Groupthink: Be wary of the tendency for group members to agree with each other — this might be out of conflict avoidance, path of least resistance, or fear of speaking up. While this agreeableness might make meetings run smoothly, it can actually stunt creativity and idea generation, therefore limiting the success of your chosen solution.
  • Irrelevant Information: The tendency to pile on multiple problems and factors that may not even be related to the challenge at hand. This can cloud the team’s ability to find direct, targeted solutions.
  • Paradigm Blindness: This is found in people who are unwilling to adapt or change their worldview, outlook on a particular problem, or typical way of processing information. This can erode the effectiveness of problem solving techniques because they are not aware of the narrowness of their thinking, and therefore cannot think or act outside of their comfort zone.

According to Jaffa, the primary barrier of effective problem solving is rigidity. “The most common things people say are, ‘We’ve never done it before,’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” While these feelings are natural, Jaffa explains that this rigid thinking actually precludes teams from identifying creative, inventive solutions that result in the greatest benefit.

“The biggest barrier to creative problem solving is a lack of awareness – and commitment to – training employees in state-of-the-art creative problem-solving techniques,” Mattimore explains. “We teach our clients how to use ideation techniques (as many as two-dozen different creative thinking techniques) to help them generate more and better ideas. Ideation techniques use specific and customized stimuli, or ‘thought triggers’ to inspire new thinking and new ideas.” 

MacLeod adds that ineffective or rushed leadership is another common culprit. “We're always in a rush to fix quickly,” she says. “Sometimes leaders just solve problems themselves, making unilateral decisions to save time. But the investment is well worth it — leaders will have less on their plates if they can teach and eventually trust the team to resolve. Teams feel empowered and engagement and investment increases.”

Strategies for Problem Cause Identification

As discussed, most experts agree that the first and most crucial step in problem solving is defining the problem. Once you’ve done this, however, it may not be appropriate to move straight to the solution phase. Rather, it is often helpful to identify the cause(s) of the problem: This will better inform your solution planning and execution, and help ensure that you don’t fall victim to the same challenges in the future. 

Below are some of the most common strategies for identifying the cause of a problem:

  • Root Cause Analysis: This method helps identify the most critical cause of a problem. A factor is considered a root cause if removing it prevents the problem from recurring. Performing a root cause analysis is a 12 step process that includes: define the problem, gather data on the factors contributing to the problem, group the factors based on shared characteristics, and create a cause-and-effect timeline to determine the root cause. After that, you identify and evaluate corrective actions to eliminate the root cause.

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Problem Solving Techniques and Strategies

In this section, we’ll explain several traditional and creative problem solving methods that you can use to identify challenges, create actionable goals, and resolve problems as they arise. Although there is often procedural and objective crossover among techniques, they are grouped by theme so you can identify which method works best for your organization.

Divergent Creative Problem Solving Techniques

Brainstorming: One of the most common methods of divergent thinking, brainstorming works best in an open group setting where everyone is encouraged to share their creative ideas. The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible – you analyze, critique, and evaluate the ideas only after the brainstorming session is complete. To learn more specific brainstorming techniques, read this article . 

Mind Mapping: This is a visual thinking tool where you graphically depict concepts and their relation to one another. You can use mind mapping to structure the information you have, analyze and synthesize it, and generate solutions and new ideas from there. The goal of a mind map is to simplify complicated problems so you can more clearly identify solutions.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI): The basic assumption of AI is that “an organization is a mystery to be embraced.” Using this principle, AI takes a positive, inquisitive approach to identifying the problem, analyzing the causes, and presenting possible solutions. The five principles of AI emphasize dialogue, deliberate language and outlook, and social bonding. 

Lateral Thinking: This is an indirect problem solving approach centered on the momentum of idea generation. As opposed to critical thinking, where people value ideas based on their truth and the absence of errors, lateral thinking values the “movement value” of new ideas: This means that you reward team members for producing a large volume of new ideas rapidly. With this approach, you’ll generate many new ideas before approving or rejecting any.

Problem Solving Techniques to Change Perspective

Constructive Controversy: This is a structured approach to group decision making to preserve critical thinking and disagreement while maintaining order. After defining the problem and presenting multiple courses of action, the group divides into small advocacy teams who research, analyze, and refute a particular option. Once each advocacy team has presented its best-case scenario, the group has a discussion (advocacy teams still defend their presented idea). Arguing and playing devil’s advocate is encouraged to reach an understanding of the pros and cons of each option. Next, advocacy teams abandon their cause and evaluate the options openly until they reach a consensus. All team members formally commit to the decision, regardless of whether they advocated for it at the beginning. You can learn more about the goals and steps in constructive controversy here . 

Carella is a fan of this approach. “Create constructive controversy by having two teams argue the pros and cons of a certain idea,” he says. “It forces unconscious biases to surface and gives space for new ideas to formulate.”

Abstraction: In this method, you apply the problem to a fictional model of the current situation. Mapping an issue to an abstract situation can shed extraneous or irrelevant factors, and reveal places where you are overlooking obvious solutions or becoming bogged down by circumstances. 

Analogical Thinking: Also called analogical reasoning , this method relies on an analogy: using information from one problem to solve another problem (these separate problems are called domains). It can be difficult for teams to create analogies among unrelated problems, but it is a strong technique to help you identify repeated issues, zoom out and change perspective, and prevent the problems from occurring in the future. .

CATWOE: This framework ensures that you evaluate the perspectives of those whom your decision will impact. The factors and questions to consider include (which combine to make the acronym CATWOE):

  • Customers: Who is on the receiving end of your decisions? What problem do they currently have, and how will they react to your proposed solution?
  • Actors: Who is acting to bring your solution to fruition? How will they respond and be affected by your decision?
  • Transformation Process: What processes will you employ to transform your current situation and meet your goals? What are the inputs and outputs?
  • World View: What is the larger context of your proposed solution? What is the larger, big-picture problem you are addressing?
  • Owner: Who actually owns the process? How might they influence your proposed solution (positively or negatively), and how can you influence them to help you?
  • Environmental Constraints: What are the limits (environmental, resource- and budget-wise, ethical, legal, etc.) on your ideas? How will you revise or work around these constraints?

Complex Problem Solving

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM): For extremely complex problems, SSM can help you identify how factors interact, and determine the best course of action. SSM was borne out of organizational process modeling and general systems theory, which hold that everything is part of a greater, interconnected system: This idea works well for “hard” problems (where logic and a single correct answer are prioritized), and less so for “soft” problems (i.e., human problems where factors such as personality, emotions, and hierarchy come into play). Therefore, SSM defines a seven step process for problem solving: 

  • Begin with the problem or problematic situation 
  • Express the problem or situation and build a rich picture of the themes of the problem 
  • Identify the root causes of the problem (most commonly with CATWOE)
  • Build conceptual models of human activity surrounding the problem or situation
  • Compare models with real-world happenings
  • Identify changes to the situation that are both feasible and desirable
  • Take action to implement changes and improve the problematic situation

SSM can be used for any complex soft problem, and is also a useful tool in change management . 

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): This method helps teams anticipate potential problems and take steps to mitigate them. Use FMEA when you are designing (redesigning) a complex function, process, product, or service. First, identify the failure modes, which are the possible ways that a project could fail. Then, perform an effects analysis to understand the consequences of each of the potential downfalls. This exercise is useful for internalizing the severity of each potential failure and its effects so you can make adjustments or safeties in your plan. 

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Problem Solving Based on Data or Logic (Heuristic Methods)

TRIZ: A Russian-developed problem solving technique that values logic, analysis, and forecasting over intuition or soft reasoning. TRIZ (translated to “theory of inventive problem solving” or TIPS in English) is a systematic approach to defining and identifying an inventive solution to difficult problems. The method offers several strategies for arriving at an inventive solution, including a contradictions matrix to assess trade-offs among solutions, a Su-Field analysis which uses formulas to describe a system by its structure, and ARIZ (algorithm of inventive problem solving) which uses algorithms to find inventive solutions. 

Inductive Reasoning: A logical method that uses evidence to conclude that a certain answer is probable (this is opposed to deductive reasoning, where the answer is assumed to be true). Inductive reasoning uses a limited number of observations to make useful, logical conclusions (for example, the Scientific Method is an extreme example of inductive reasoning). However, this method doesn’t always map well to human problems in the workplace — in these instances, managers should employ intuitive inductive reasoning , which allows for more automatic, implicit conclusions so that work can progress. This, of course, retains the principle that these intuitive conclusions are not necessarily the one and only correct answer. 

Process-Oriented Problem Solving Methods

Plan Do Check Act (PDCA): This is an iterative management technique used to ensure continual improvement of products or processes. First, teams plan (establish objectives to meet desired end results), then do (implement the plan, new processes, or produce the output), then check (compare expected with actual results), and finally act (define how the organization will act in the future, based on the performance and knowledge gained in the previous three steps). 

Means-End Analysis (MEA): The MEA strategy is to reduce the difference between the current (problematic) state and the goal state. To do so, teams compile information on the multiple factors that contribute to the disparity between the current and goal states. Then they try to change or eliminate the factors one by one, beginning with the factor responsible for the greatest difference in current and goal state. By systematically tackling the multiple factors that cause disparity between the problem and desired outcome, teams can better focus energy and control each step of the process. 

Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model: This technique was developed by Tim Hurson, and is detailed in his 2007 book Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking . The model outlines six steps that are meant to give structure while maintaining creativity and critical thinking: 1) Ask “What is going on?” 2) Ask “What is success?” 3) Ask “What is the question?” 4) Generate answers 5) Forge the solution 6) Align resources. 

Control Influence Accept (CIA): The basic premise of CIA is that how you respond to problems determines how successful you will be in overcoming them. Therefore, this model is both a problem solving technique and stress-management tool that ensures you aren’t responding to problems in a reactive and unproductive way. The steps in CIA include:

  • Control: Identify the aspects of the problem that are within your control.
  • Influence: Identify the aspects of the problem that you cannot control, but that you can influence.
  • Accept: Identify the aspects of the problem that you can neither control nor influence, and react based on this composite information. 

GROW Model: This is a straightforward problem solving method for goal setting that clearly defines your goals and current situation, and then asks you to define the potential solutions and be realistic about your chosen course of action. The steps break down as follows:

  • Goal: What do you want?
  • Reality: Where are you now?
  • Options: What could you do?
  • Will: What will you do?

OODA Loop: This acronym stands for observe, orient, decide, and act. This approach is a decision-making cycle that values agility and flexibility over raw human force. It is framed as a loop because of the understanding that any team will continually encounter problems or opponents to success and have to overcome them.

There are also many un-named creative problem solving techniques that follow a sequenced series of steps. While the exact steps vary slightly, they all follow a similar trajectory and aim to accomplish similar goals of problem, cause, and goal identification, idea generation, and active solution implementation.

MacLeod offers her own problem solving procedure, which echoes the above steps:

“1. Recognize the Problem: State what you see. Sometimes the problem is covert. 2. Identify: Get the facts — What exactly happened? What is the issue? 3. and 4. Explore and Connect: Dig deeper and encourage group members to relate their similar experiences. Now you're getting more into the feelings and background [of the situation], not just the facts.  5. Possible Solutions: Consider and brainstorm ideas for resolution. 6. Implement: Choose a solution and try it out — this could be role play and/or a discussion of how the solution would be put in place.  7. Evaluate: Revisit to see if the solution was successful or not.”

Many of these problem solving techniques can be used in concert with one another, or multiple can be appropriate for any given problem. It’s less about facilitating a perfect CPS session, and more about encouraging team members to continually think outside the box and push beyond personal boundaries that inhibit their innovative thinking. So, try out several methods, find those that resonate best with your team, and continue adopting new techniques and adapting your processes along the way. 

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

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Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

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How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , Simon London speaks with Charles Conn, CEO of venture-capital firm Oxford Sciences Innovation, and McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin about the complexities of different problem-solving strategies.

Podcast transcript

Simon London: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , with me, Simon London. What’s the number-one skill you need to succeed professionally? Salesmanship, perhaps? Or a facility with statistics? Or maybe the ability to communicate crisply and clearly? Many would argue that at the very top of the list comes problem solving: that is, the ability to think through and come up with an optimal course of action to address any complex challenge—in business, in public policy, or indeed in life.

Looked at this way, it’s no surprise that McKinsey takes problem solving very seriously, testing for it during the recruiting process and then honing it, in McKinsey consultants, through immersion in a structured seven-step method. To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

Charles and Hugo, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here.

Hugo Sarrazin: Our pleasure.

Charles Conn: It’s terrific to be here.

Simon London: Problem solving is a really interesting piece of terminology. It could mean so many different things. I have a son who’s a teenage climber. They talk about solving problems. Climbing is problem solving. Charles, when you talk about problem solving, what are you talking about?

Charles Conn: For me, problem solving is the answer to the question “What should I do?” It’s interesting when there’s uncertainty and complexity, and when it’s meaningful because there are consequences. Your son’s climbing is a perfect example. There are consequences, and it’s complicated, and there’s uncertainty—can he make that grab? I think we can apply that same frame almost at any level. You can think about questions like “What town would I like to live in?” or “Should I put solar panels on my roof?”

You might think that’s a funny thing to apply problem solving to, but in my mind it’s not fundamentally different from business problem solving, which answers the question “What should my strategy be?” Or problem solving at the policy level: “How do we combat climate change?” “Should I support the local school bond?” I think these are all part and parcel of the same type of question, “What should I do?”

I’m a big fan of structured problem solving. By following steps, we can more clearly understand what problem it is we’re solving, what are the components of the problem that we’re solving, which components are the most important ones for us to pay attention to, which analytic techniques we should apply to those, and how we can synthesize what we’ve learned back into a compelling story. That’s all it is, at its heart.

I think sometimes when people think about seven steps, they assume that there’s a rigidity to this. That’s not it at all. It’s actually to give you the scope for creativity, which often doesn’t exist when your problem solving is muddled.

Simon London: You were just talking about the seven-step process. That’s what’s written down in the book, but it’s a very McKinsey process as well. Without getting too deep into the weeds, let’s go through the steps, one by one. You were just talking about problem definition as being a particularly important thing to get right first. That’s the first step. Hugo, tell us about that.

Hugo Sarrazin: It is surprising how often people jump past this step and make a bunch of assumptions. The most powerful thing is to step back and ask the basic questions—“What are we trying to solve? What are the constraints that exist? What are the dependencies?” Let’s make those explicit and really push the thinking and defining. At McKinsey, we spend an enormous amount of time in writing that little statement, and the statement, if you’re a logic purist, is great. You debate. “Is it an ‘or’? Is it an ‘and’? What’s the action verb?” Because all these specific words help you get to the heart of what matters.

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Simon London: So this is a concise problem statement.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah. It’s not like “Can we grow in Japan?” That’s interesting, but it is “What, specifically, are we trying to uncover in the growth of a product in Japan? Or a segment in Japan? Or a channel in Japan?” When you spend an enormous amount of time, in the first meeting of the different stakeholders, debating this and having different people put forward what they think the problem definition is, you realize that people have completely different views of why they’re here. That, to me, is the most important step.

Charles Conn: I would agree with that. For me, the problem context is critical. When we understand “What are the forces acting upon your decision maker? How quickly is the answer needed? With what precision is the answer needed? Are there areas that are off limits or areas where we would particularly like to find our solution? Is the decision maker open to exploring other areas?” then you not only become more efficient, and move toward what we call the critical path in problem solving, but you also make it so much more likely that you’re not going to waste your time or your decision maker’s time.

How often do especially bright young people run off with half of the idea about what the problem is and start collecting data and start building models—only to discover that they’ve really gone off half-cocked.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah.

Charles Conn: And in the wrong direction.

Simon London: OK. So step one—and there is a real art and a structure to it—is define the problem. Step two, Charles?

Charles Conn: My favorite step is step two, which is to use logic trees to disaggregate the problem. Every problem we’re solving has some complexity and some uncertainty in it. The only way that we can really get our team working on the problem is to take the problem apart into logical pieces.

What we find, of course, is that the way to disaggregate the problem often gives you an insight into the answer to the problem quite quickly. I love to do two or three different cuts at it, each one giving a bit of a different insight into what might be going wrong. By doing sensible disaggregations, using logic trees, we can figure out which parts of the problem we should be looking at, and we can assign those different parts to team members.

Simon London: What’s a good example of a logic tree on a sort of ratable problem?

Charles Conn: Maybe the easiest one is the classic profit tree. Almost in every business that I would take a look at, I would start with a profit or return-on-assets tree. In its simplest form, you have the components of revenue, which are price and quantity, and the components of cost, which are cost and quantity. Each of those can be broken out. Cost can be broken into variable cost and fixed cost. The components of price can be broken into what your pricing scheme is. That simple tree often provides insight into what’s going on in a business or what the difference is between that business and the competitors.

If we add the leg, which is “What’s the asset base or investment element?”—so profit divided by assets—then we can ask the question “Is the business using its investments sensibly?” whether that’s in stores or in manufacturing or in transportation assets. I hope we can see just how simple this is, even though we’re describing it in words.

When I went to work with Gordon Moore at the Moore Foundation, the problem that he asked us to look at was “How can we save Pacific salmon?” Now, that sounds like an impossible question, but it was amenable to precisely the same type of disaggregation and allowed us to organize what became a 15-year effort to improve the likelihood of good outcomes for Pacific salmon.

Simon London: Now, is there a danger that your logic tree can be impossibly large? This, I think, brings us onto the third step in the process, which is that you have to prioritize.

Charles Conn: Absolutely. The third step, which we also emphasize, along with good problem definition, is rigorous prioritization—we ask the questions “How important is this lever or this branch of the tree in the overall outcome that we seek to achieve? How much can I move that lever?” Obviously, we try and focus our efforts on ones that have a big impact on the problem and the ones that we have the ability to change. With salmon, ocean conditions turned out to be a big lever, but not one that we could adjust. We focused our attention on fish habitats and fish-harvesting practices, which were big levers that we could affect.

People spend a lot of time arguing about branches that are either not important or that none of us can change. We see it in the public square. When we deal with questions at the policy level—“Should you support the death penalty?” “How do we affect climate change?” “How can we uncover the causes and address homelessness?”—it’s even more important that we’re focusing on levers that are big and movable.

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Simon London: Let’s move swiftly on to step four. You’ve defined your problem, you disaggregate it, you prioritize where you want to analyze—what you want to really look at hard. Then you got to the work plan. Now, what does that mean in practice?

Hugo Sarrazin: Depending on what you’ve prioritized, there are many things you could do. It could be breaking the work among the team members so that people have a clear piece of the work to do. It could be defining the specific analyses that need to get done and executed, and being clear on time lines. There’s always a level-one answer, there’s a level-two answer, there’s a level-three answer. Without being too flippant, I can solve any problem during a good dinner with wine. It won’t have a whole lot of backing.

Simon London: Not going to have a lot of depth to it.

Hugo Sarrazin: No, but it may be useful as a starting point. If the stakes are not that high, that could be OK. If it’s really high stakes, you may need level three and have the whole model validated in three different ways. You need to find a work plan that reflects the level of precision, the time frame you have, and the stakeholders you need to bring along in the exercise.

Charles Conn: I love the way you’ve described that, because, again, some people think of problem solving as a linear thing, but of course what’s critical is that it’s iterative. As you say, you can solve the problem in one day or even one hour.

Charles Conn: We encourage our teams everywhere to do that. We call it the one-day answer or the one-hour answer. In work planning, we’re always iterating. Every time you see a 50-page work plan that stretches out to three months, you know it’s wrong. It will be outmoded very quickly by that learning process that you described. Iterative problem solving is a critical part of this. Sometimes, people think work planning sounds dull, but it isn’t. It’s how we know what’s expected of us and when we need to deliver it and how we’re progressing toward the answer. It’s also the place where we can deal with biases. Bias is a feature of every human decision-making process. If we design our team interactions intelligently, we can avoid the worst sort of biases.

Simon London: Here we’re talking about cognitive biases primarily, right? It’s not that I’m biased against you because of your accent or something. These are the cognitive biases that behavioral sciences have shown we all carry around, things like anchoring, overoptimism—these kinds of things.

Both: Yeah.

Charles Conn: Availability bias is the one that I’m always alert to. You think you’ve seen the problem before, and therefore what’s available is your previous conception of it—and we have to be most careful about that. In any human setting, we also have to be careful about biases that are based on hierarchies, sometimes called sunflower bias. I’m sure, Hugo, with your teams, you make sure that the youngest team members speak first. Not the oldest team members, because it’s easy for people to look at who’s senior and alter their own creative approaches.

Hugo Sarrazin: It’s helpful, at that moment—if someone is asserting a point of view—to ask the question “This was true in what context?” You’re trying to apply something that worked in one context to a different one. That can be deadly if the context has changed, and that’s why organizations struggle to change. You promote all these people because they did something that worked well in the past, and then there’s a disruption in the industry, and they keep doing what got them promoted even though the context has changed.

Simon London: Right. Right.

Hugo Sarrazin: So it’s the same thing in problem solving.

Charles Conn: And it’s why diversity in our teams is so important. It’s one of the best things about the world that we’re in now. We’re likely to have people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds, each of whom sees problems from a slightly different perspective. It is therefore much more likely that the team will uncover a truly creative and clever approach to problem solving.

Simon London: Let’s move on to step five. You’ve done your work plan. Now you’ve actually got to do the analysis. The thing that strikes me here is that the range of tools that we have at our disposal now, of course, is just huge, particularly with advances in computation, advanced analytics. There’s so many things that you can apply here. Just talk about the analysis stage. How do you pick the right tools?

Charles Conn: For me, the most important thing is that we start with simple heuristics and explanatory statistics before we go off and use the big-gun tools. We need to understand the shape and scope of our problem before we start applying these massive and complex analytical approaches.

Simon London: Would you agree with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: I agree. I think there are so many wonderful heuristics. You need to start there before you go deep into the modeling exercise. There’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening, though. In some cases, for some types of problems, it is even better to set yourself up to maximize your learning. Your problem-solving methodology is test and learn, test and learn, test and learn, and iterate. That is a heuristic in itself, the A/B testing that is used in many parts of the world. So that’s a problem-solving methodology. It’s nothing different. It just uses technology and feedback loops in a fast way. The other one is exploratory data analysis. When you’re dealing with a large-scale problem, and there’s so much data, I can get to the heuristics that Charles was talking about through very clever visualization of data.

You test with your data. You need to set up an environment to do so, but don’t get caught up in neural-network modeling immediately. You’re testing, you’re checking—“Is the data right? Is it sound? Does it make sense?”—before you launch too far.

Simon London: You do hear these ideas—that if you have a big enough data set and enough algorithms, they’re going to find things that you just wouldn’t have spotted, find solutions that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of. Does machine learning sort of revolutionize the problem-solving process? Or are these actually just other tools in the toolbox for structured problem solving?

Charles Conn: It can be revolutionary. There are some areas in which the pattern recognition of large data sets and good algorithms can help us see things that we otherwise couldn’t see. But I do think it’s terribly important we don’t think that this particular technique is a substitute for superb problem solving, starting with good problem definition. Many people use machine learning without understanding algorithms that themselves can have biases built into them. Just as 20 years ago, when we were doing statistical analysis, we knew that we needed good model definition, we still need a good understanding of our algorithms and really good problem definition before we launch off into big data sets and unknown algorithms.

Simon London: Step six. You’ve done your analysis.

Charles Conn: I take six and seven together, and this is the place where young problem solvers often make a mistake. They’ve got their analysis, and they assume that’s the answer, and of course it isn’t the answer. The ability to synthesize the pieces that came out of the analysis and begin to weave those into a story that helps people answer the question “What should I do?” This is back to where we started. If we can’t synthesize, and we can’t tell a story, then our decision maker can’t find the answer to “What should I do?”

Simon London: But, again, these final steps are about motivating people to action, right?

Charles Conn: Yeah.

Simon London: I am slightly torn about the nomenclature of problem solving because it’s on paper, right? Until you motivate people to action, you actually haven’t solved anything.

Charles Conn: I love this question because I think decision-making theory, without a bias to action, is a waste of time. Everything in how I approach this is to help people take action that makes the world better.

Simon London: Hence, these are absolutely critical steps. If you don’t do this well, you’ve just got a bunch of analysis.

Charles Conn: We end up in exactly the same place where we started, which is people speaking across each other, past each other in the public square, rather than actually working together, shoulder to shoulder, to crack these important problems.

Simon London: In the real world, we have a lot of uncertainty—arguably, increasing uncertainty. How do good problem solvers deal with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: At every step of the process. In the problem definition, when you’re defining the context, you need to understand those sources of uncertainty and whether they’re important or not important. It becomes important in the definition of the tree.

You need to think carefully about the branches of the tree that are more certain and less certain as you define them. They don’t have equal weight just because they’ve got equal space on the page. Then, when you’re prioritizing, your prioritization approach may put more emphasis on things that have low probability but huge impact—or, vice versa, may put a lot of priority on things that are very likely and, hopefully, have a reasonable impact. You can introduce that along the way. When you come back to the synthesis, you just need to be nuanced about what you’re understanding, the likelihood.

Often, people lack humility in the way they make their recommendations: “This is the answer.” They’re very precise, and I think we would all be well-served to say, “This is a likely answer under the following sets of conditions” and then make the level of uncertainty clearer, if that is appropriate. It doesn’t mean you’re always in the gray zone; it doesn’t mean you don’t have a point of view. It just means that you can be explicit about the certainty of your answer when you make that recommendation.

Simon London: So it sounds like there is an underlying principle: “Acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty. Don’t pretend that it isn’t there. Be very clear about what the uncertainties are up front, and then build that into every step of the process.”

Hugo Sarrazin: Every step of the process.

Simon London: Yeah. We have just walked through a particular structured methodology for problem solving. But, of course, this is not the only structured methodology for problem solving. One that is also very well-known is design thinking, which comes at things very differently. So, Hugo, I know you have worked with a lot of designers. Just give us a very quick summary. Design thinking—what is it, and how does it relate?

Hugo Sarrazin: It starts with an incredible amount of empathy for the user and uses that to define the problem. It does pause and go out in the wild and spend an enormous amount of time seeing how people interact with objects, seeing the experience they’re getting, seeing the pain points or joy—and uses that to infer and define the problem.

Simon London: Problem definition, but out in the world.

Hugo Sarrazin: With an enormous amount of empathy. There’s a huge emphasis on empathy. Traditional, more classic problem solving is you define the problem based on an understanding of the situation. This one almost presupposes that we don’t know the problem until we go see it. The second thing is you need to come up with multiple scenarios or answers or ideas or concepts, and there’s a lot of divergent thinking initially. That’s slightly different, versus the prioritization, but not for long. Eventually, you need to kind of say, “OK, I’m going to converge again.” Then you go and you bring things back to the customer and get feedback and iterate. Then you rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. There’s a lot of tactile building, along the way, of prototypes and things like that. It’s very iterative.

Simon London: So, Charles, are these complements or are these alternatives?

Charles Conn: I think they’re entirely complementary, and I think Hugo’s description is perfect. 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 contrasting teams, so that we do have divergent thinking. The best teams allow divergent thinking to bump them off whatever their initial biases in problem solving are. For me, design thinking gives us a constant reminder of creativity, empathy, and the tactile nature of problem solving, but it’s absolutely complementary, not alternative.

Simon London: I think, in a world of cross-functional teams, an interesting question is do people with design-thinking backgrounds really work well together with classical problem solvers? How do you make that chemistry happen?

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah, it is not easy when people have spent an enormous amount of time seeped in design thinking or user-centric design, whichever word you want to use. If the person who’s applying classic problem-solving methodology is very rigid and mechanical in the way they’re doing it, there could be an enormous amount of tension. If there’s not clarity in the role and not clarity in the process, I think having the two together can be, sometimes, problematic.

The second thing that happens often is that the artifacts the two methodologies try to gravitate toward can be different. Classic problem solving often gravitates toward a model; design thinking migrates toward a prototype. Rather than writing a big deck with all my supporting evidence, they’ll bring an example, a thing, and that feels different. Then you spend your time differently to achieve those two end products, so that’s another source of friction.

Now, I still think it can be an incredibly powerful thing to have the two—if there are the right people with the right mind-set, if there is a team that is explicit about the roles, if we’re clear about the kind of outcomes we are attempting to bring forward. There’s an enormous amount of collaborativeness and respect.

Simon London: But they have to respect each other’s methodology and be prepared to flex, maybe, a little bit, in how this process is going to work.

Hugo Sarrazin: Absolutely.

Simon London: The other area where, it strikes me, there could be a little bit of a different sort of friction is this whole concept of the day-one answer, which is what we were just talking about in classical problem solving. Now, you know that this is probably not going to be your final answer, but that’s how you begin to structure the problem. Whereas I would imagine your design thinkers—no, they’re going off to do their ethnographic research and get out into the field, potentially for a long time, before they come back with at least an initial hypothesis.

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Hugo Sarrazin: That is a great callout, and that’s another difference. Designers typically will like to soak into the situation and avoid converging too quickly. There’s optionality and exploring different options. There’s a strong belief that keeps the solution space wide enough that you can come up with more radical ideas. If there’s a large design team or many designers on the team, and you come on Friday and say, “What’s our week-one answer?” they’re going to struggle. They’re not going to be comfortable, naturally, to give that answer. It doesn’t mean they don’t have an answer; it’s just not where they are in their thinking process.

Simon London: I think we are, sadly, out of time for today. But Charles and Hugo, thank you so much.

Charles Conn: It was a pleasure to be here, Simon.

Hugo Sarrazin: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Simon London: And thanks, as always, to you, our listeners, for tuning into this episode of the McKinsey Podcast . If you want to learn more about problem solving, you can find the book, Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything , online or order it through your local bookstore. To learn more about McKinsey, you can of course find us at McKinsey.com.

Charles Conn is CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation and an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office. Hugo Sarrazin is a senior partner in the Silicon Valley office, where Simon London, a member of McKinsey Publishing, is also based.

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Let’s face it: Things don’t always go according to plan. Systems fail, wires get crossed, projects fall apart.

Problems are an inevitable part of life and work. They’re also an opportunity to think critically and find solutions. But knowing how to get to the root of unexpected situations or challenges can mean the difference between moving forward and spinning your wheels.

Here, we’ll break down the key elements of problem solving, some effective problem solving approaches, and a few effective tools to help you arrive at solutions more quickly.

So, what is problem solving?

Broadly defined, problem solving is the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. But you already knew that. Understanding problem solving frameworks, however, requires a deeper dive.

Think about a recent problem you faced. Maybe it was an interpersonal issue. Or it could have been a major creative challenge you needed to solve for a client at work. How did you feel as you approached the issue? Stressed? Confused? Optimistic? Most importantly, which problem solving techniques did you use to tackle the situation head-on? How did you organize thoughts to arrive at the best possible solution?

Solve your problem-solving problem  

Here’s the good news: Good problem solving skills can be learned. By its nature, problem solving doesn’t adhere to a clear set of do’s and don’ts—it requires flexibility, communication, and adaptation. However, most problems you face, at work or in life, can be tackled using four basic steps.

First, you must define the problem . This step sounds obvious, but often, you can notice that something is amiss in a project or process without really knowing where the core problem lies. The most challenging part of the problem solving process is uncovering where the problem originated.

Second, you work to generate alternatives to address the problem directly. This should be a collaborative process to ensure you’re considering every angle of the issue.

Third, you evaluate and test potential solutions to your problem. This step helps you fully understand the complexity of the issue and arrive at the best possible solution.

Finally, fourth, you select and implement the solution that best addresses the problem.

Following this basic four-step process will help you approach every problem you encounter with the same rigorous critical and strategic thinking process, recognize commonalities in new problems, and avoid repeating past mistakes.

In addition to these basic problem solving skills, there are several best practices that you should incorporate. These problem solving approaches can help you think more critically and creatively about any problem:

You may not feel like you have the right expertise to resolve a specific problem. Don’t let that stop you from tackling it. The best problem solvers become students of the problem at hand. Even if you don’t have particular expertise on a topic, your unique experience and perspective can lend itself to creative solutions.

Challenge the status quo

Standard problem solving methodologies and problem solving frameworks are a good starting point. But don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and push boundaries. Good problem solvers find ways to apply existing best practices into innovative problem solving approaches.

Think broadly about and visualize the issue

Sometimes it’s hard to see a problem, even if it’s right in front of you. Clear answers could be buried in rows of spreadsheet data or lost in miscommunication. Use visualization as a problem solving tool to break down problems to their core elements. Visuals can help you see bottlenecks in the context of the whole process and more clearly organize your thoughts as you define the problem.  

Hypothesize, test, and try again

It might be cliche, but there’s truth in the old adage that 99% of inspiration is perspiration. The best problem solvers ask why, test, fail, and ask why again. Whether it takes one or 1,000 iterations to solve a problem, the important part—and the part that everyone remembers—is the solution.

Consider other viewpoints

Today’s problems are more complex, more difficult to solve, and they often involve multiple disciplines. They require group expertise and knowledge. Being open to others’ expertise increases your ability to be a great problem solver. Great solutions come from integrating your ideas with those of others to find a better solution. Excellent problem solvers build networks and know how to collaborate with other people and teams. They are skilled in bringing people together and sharing knowledge and information.

4 effective problem solving tools

As you work through the problem solving steps, try these tools to better define the issue and find the appropriate solution.

Root cause analysis

Similar to pulling weeds from your garden, if you don’t get to the root of the problem, it’s bound to come back. A root cause analysis helps you figure out the root cause behind any disruption or problem, so you can take steps to correct the problem from recurring. The root cause analysis process involves defining the problem, collecting data, and identifying causal factors to pinpoint root causes and arrive at a solution.

root cause analysis example table

Less structured than other more traditional problem solving methods, the 5 Whys is simply what it sounds like: asking why over and over to get to the root of an obstacle or setback. This technique encourages an open dialogue that can trigger new ideas about a problem, whether done individually or with a group. Each why piggybacks off the answer to the previous why. Get started with the template below—both flowcharts and fishbone diagrams can also help you track your answers to the 5 Whys.

5 Whys analysis

Brainstorming

A meeting of the minds, a brain dump, a mind meld, a jam session. Whatever you call it, collaborative brainstorming can help surface previously unseen issues, root causes, and alternative solutions. Create and share a mind map with your team members to fuel your brainstorming session.

Gap analysis

Sometimes you don’t know where the problem is until you determine where it isn’t. Gap filling helps you analyze inadequacies that are preventing you from reaching an optimized state or end goal. For example, a content gap analysis can help a content marketer determine where holes exist in messaging or the customer experience. Gap analysis is especially helpful when it comes to problem solving because it requires you to find workable solutions. A SWOT analysis chart that looks at a problem through the lens of strengths, opportunities, opportunities, and threats can be a helpful problem solving framework as you start your analysis.

SWOT analysis

A better way to problem solve

Beyond these practical tips and tools, there are myriad methodical and creative approaches to move a project forward or resolve a conflict. The right approach will depend on the scope of the issue and your desired outcome.

Depending on the problem, Lucidchart offers several templates and diagrams that could help you identify the cause of the issue and map out a plan to resolve it.  Learn more about how Lucidchart can help you take control of your problem solving process .

About Lucidchart

Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidchart.com.

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Sometimes you're faced with challenges that traditional problem solving can't fix. Creative problem solving encourages you to find new, creative ways of thinking that can help you overcome the issue at hand more quickly.

Solve issues faster with the root cause analysis process

Root cause analysis refers to any problem-solving method used to trace an issue back to its origin. Learn how to complete a root cause analysis—we've even included templates to get you started.

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Problem solving techniques: Steps and methods

types of problem solving methodologies

Posted on May 29, 2019

Constant disruption has become a hallmark of the modern workforce and organisations want problem solving skills to combat this. Employers need people who can respond to change – be that evolving technology, new competitors, different models for doing business, or any of the other transformations that have taken place in recent years.

In addition, problem solving techniques encompass many of the other top skills employers seek . For example, LinkedIn’s list of the most in-demand soft skills of 2019 includes creativity, collaboration and adaptability, all of which fall under the problem-solving umbrella.

Despite its importance, many employees misunderstand what the problem solving method really involves.

What constitutes effective problem solving?

Effective problem solving doesn’t mean going away and coming up with an answer immediately. In fact, this isn’t good problem solving at all, because you’ll be running with the first solution that comes into your mind, which often isn’t the best.

Instead, you should look at problem solving more as a process with several steps involved that will help you reach the best outcome. Those steps are:

  • Define the problem
  • List all the possible solutions
  • Evaluate the options
  • Select the best solution
  • Create an implementation plan
  • Communicate your solution

Let’s look at each step in a little more detail.

It's important you take the time to brainstorm and consider all your options when solving problems.

1. Define the problem

The first step to solving a problem is defining what the problem actually is – sounds simple, right? Well no. An effective problem solver will take the thoughts of everyone involved into account, but different people might have different ideas on what the root cause of the issue really is. It’s up to you to actively listen to everyone without bringing any of your own preconceived notions to the conversation. Learning to differentiate facts from opinion is an essential part of this process.

An effective problem solver will take the opinions of everyone involved into account

The same can be said of data. Depending on what the problem is, there will be varying amounts of information available that will help you work out what’s gone wrong. There should be at least some data involved in any problem, and it’s up to you to gather as much as possible and analyse it objectively.

2. List all the possible solutions

Once you’ve identified what the real issue is, it’s time to think of solutions. Brainstorming as many solutions as possible will help you arrive at the best answer because you’ll be considering all potential options and scenarios. You should take everyone’s thoughts into account when you’re brainstorming these ideas, as well as all the insights you’ve gleaned from your data analysis. It also helps to seek input from others at this stage, as they may come up with solutions you haven’t thought of.

Depending on the type of problem, it can be useful to think of both short-term and long-term solutions, as some of your options may take a while to implement.

One of the best problem solving techniques is brainstorming a number of different solutions and involving affected parties in this process.

3. Evaluate the options

Each option will have pros and cons, and it’s important you list all of these, as well as how each solution could impact key stakeholders. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to three or four, it’s often a good idea to go to other employees for feedback just in case you’ve missed something. You should also work out how each option ties in with the broader goals of the business.

There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.

4. Select an option

Only now should you choose which solution you’re going to go with. What you decide should be whatever solves the problem most effectively while also taking the interests of everyone involved into account. There may be a way to merge two options together in order to satisfy more people.

5. Create an implementation plan

At this point you might be thinking it’s time to sit back and relax – problem solved, right? There are actually two more steps involved if you want your problem solving method to be truly effective. The first is to create an implementation plan. After all, if you don’t carry out your solution effectively, you’re not really solving the problem at all. 

Create an implementation plan on how you will put your solution into practice. One problem solving technique that many use here is to introduce a testing and feedback phase just to make sure the option you’ve selected really is the most viable. You’ll also want to include any changes to your solution that may occur in your implementation plan, as well as how you’ll monitor compliance and success.

6. Communicate your solution

There’s one last step to consider as part of the problem solving methodology, and that’s communicating your solution . Without this crucial part of the process, how is anyone going to know what you’ve decided? Make sure you communicate your decision to all the people who might be impacted by it. Not everyone is going to be 100 per cent happy with it, so when you communicate you must give them context. Explain exactly why you’ve made that decision and how the pros mean it’s better than any of the other options you came up with.

Prove your problem solving skills with Deakin

Employers are increasingly seeking soft skills, but unfortunately, while you can show that you’ve got a degree in a subject, it’s much harder to prove you’ve got proficiency in things like problem solving skills. But this is changing thanks to Deakin’s micro-credentials. These are university-level micro-credentials that provide an authoritative and third-party assessment of your capabilities in a range of areas, including problem solving. Reach out today for more information .

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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."

types of problem solving methodologies

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

types of problem solving methodologies

  • 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."

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  • A Step-by-Step Guide to A3 Problem Solving Methodology

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Problem-solving is an important component of any business or organization. It entails identifying, analyzing, and resolving problems in order to improve processes, drive results, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. A3 Problem solving is one of the most effective problem-solving methodologies.

A3 Problem solving is a structured and systematic approach to problem-solving that originated with the lean manufacturing methodology. It visualizes the problem-solving process using a one-page document known as an A3 report. The A3 report provides an overview of the problem, data analysis, root causes, solutions, and results in a clear and concise manner.

A3 Problem Solving has numerous advantages, including improved communication, better decision-making, increased efficiency, and reduced waste. It is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes and industries, and it is especially useful for solving complex and multi-faceted problems.

In this blog post, we will walk you through the A3 Problem Solving methodology step by step. Whether you are new to A3 Problem Solving or simply want to improve your skills, this guide will help you understand and apply the process in your workplace.

Table of Contents

What is a3 problem solving.

A3 Problem Solving is a structured and systematic approach to problem-solving that makes use of a one-page document called an A3 report to visually represent the process. The A3 report provides an overview of the problem, data analysis, root causes, solutions, and results in a clear and concise manner. The method was created within the framework of the Lean manufacturing methodology and is based on the principles of continuous improvement and visual management.

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Origin and History of A3 Problem Solving

A3 Problem Solving was developed by Toyota Motor Corporation and was first used in the manufacture of automobiles. The term “A3” refers to the size of the paper used to create the report, which is an ISO standard known as “A3”. The goal of the A3 report is to provide a visual representation of the problem-solving process that all members of the organisation can easily understand and share. A3 Problem Solving has been adopted by organisations in a variety of industries over the years, and it has become a widely used and recognised method for problem-solving.

Key Principles of A3 Problem Solving

The following are the key principles of A3 Problem Solving:

  • Define the problem clearly and concisely
  • Gather and analyze data to gain a deep understanding of the problem
  • Identify the root causes of the problem
  • Develop and implement effective solutions
  • Evaluate results and continuously improve

These principles serve as the foundation of the A3 Problem Solving methodology and are intended to assist organisations in continuously improving and achieving their objectives. Organizations can effectively solve problems, identify areas for improvement, and drive results by adhering to these principles.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Importance of clearly defining the problem.

The first step in the A3 Problem Solving process is critical because it lays the groundwork for the remaining steps. To define the problem clearly and accurately, you must first understand the problem and identify the underlying root cause. This step is critical because if the problem is not correctly defined, the rest of the process will be based on incorrect information, and the solution developed may not address the issue effectively.

The significance of defining the problem clearly cannot be overstated. It aids in the collection and analysis of relevant data, which is critical for developing effective solutions. When the problem is clearly defined, the data gathered is more relevant and targeted, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. This will enable the development of solutions that are more likely to be effective because they are founded on a thorough and accurate understanding of the problem.

However, if the problem is not clearly defined, the data gathered may be irrelevant or incorrect, resulting in incorrect conclusions and ineffective solutions. Furthermore, the process of collecting and analysing data can become time-consuming and inefficient, resulting in resource waste. Furthermore, if the problem is not accurately defined, the solutions developed may fail to address the root cause of the problem, resulting in ongoing issues and a lack of improvement.

Techniques for Defining the Problem

The first step in the A3 Problem Solving process is to clearly and accurately define the problem. This is an important step because a clearly defined problem will help to ensure that the appropriate data is collected and solutions are developed. If the problem is not clearly defined, incorrect data may be collected, solutions that do not address the root cause of the problem, and time and resources may be wasted.

A problem can be defined using a variety of techniques, including brainstorming , root cause analysis , process mapping , and Ishikawa diagrams . Each of these techniques has its own advantages and disadvantages and can be used in a variety of situations depending on the nature of the problem.

Best Practice for Defining the Problem

In addition to brainstorming, root cause analysis, process mapping, and Ishikawa diagram s, best practices should be followed when defining a problem in A3 Problem Solving. Among these best practices are:

  • Define the issue in a specific and quantifiable way: It is critical to be specific and concise when defining the problem, as well as to quantify the problem in terms of its impact. This will help to ensure that all stakeholders understand the problem and that data collection is focused on the right areas.
  • Focus on the problem’s root cause: The A3 Problem Solving methodology is intended to assist organisations in identifying and addressing the root cause of a problem, rather than just the symptoms. Organizations can ensure that their solutions are effective and long-lasting by focusing on the root cause of the problem.
  • Ascertain that all stakeholders agree on the problem’s definition: All stakeholders must agree on the definition of the problem for the A3 Problem Solving process to be effective. This ensures that everyone is working towards the same goal and that the solutions developed are relevant and appropriate.
  • Consider the problem’s impact on the organisation and its stakeholders: It is critical to consider the impact of the problem on the organisation and its stakeholders when defining it. This will assist in ensuring that the appropriate data is gathered and that the solutions developed are relevant and appropriate.

Organizations can ensure that their problem is defined in a way that allows for effective data collection, analysis, and solution development by following these best practices. This will aid in the development of appropriate solutions and the effective resolution of the problem, resulting in improvements in the organization’s processes and outcomes.

Step 2: Gather Data

Gathering data in a3 problem solving.

Data collection is an important step in the A3 Problem Solving process because it allows organisations to gain a thorough understanding of the problem they are attempting to solve. This step entails gathering pertinent information about the problem, such as data on its origin, impact, and any related factors. This information is then used to help identify root causes and develop effective solutions.

One of the most important advantages of data collection in A3 Problem Solving is that it allows organisations to identify patterns and trends in data, which can be useful in determining the root cause of the problem. This information can then be used to create effective solutions that address the problem’s root cause rather than just its symptoms.

In A3 Problem Solving, data collection is a collaborative effort involving all stakeholders, including those directly impacted by the problem and those with relevant expertise or experience. Stakeholders can ensure that all relevant information is collected and that the data is accurate and complete by working together.

Overall, data collection is an important step in the A3 Problem Solving process because it serves as the foundation for effective problem-solving. Organizations can gain a deep understanding of the problem they are attempting to solve and develop effective solutions that address its root cause by collecting and analysing relevant data.

Data Collection Methods

In A3 Problem Solving, several data collection methods are available, including:

  • Observations
  • Process diagrams

The best data collection method will be determined by the problem being solved and the type of data required. To gain a complete understanding of the problem, it is critical to use multiple data collection methods.

Tools for Data Analysis and Visualization

Once the data has been collected, it must be analysed and visualised in order to gain insights into the problem. This process can be aided by the following tools:

  • Excel Spreadsheets
  • Flow diagrams
  • Pareto diagrams
  • Scatter Plots
  • Control diagrams

Histogram

These tools can assist in organising data and making it easier to understand. They can also be used to generate visual representations of data, such as graphs and charts, to communicate the findings to others.

Finally, the data collection and analysis step is an important part of the A3 Problem Solving process. Organizations can gain a better understanding of the problem and develop effective solutions by collecting and analysing relevant data.

Step 3: Identify Root Causes

Identifying the root causes of the problem is the third step in the A3 Problem Solving process. This step is critical because it assists organisations in understanding the root causes of a problem rather than just its symptoms. Once the underlying cause of the problem is identified, it can be addressed more effectively, leading to more long-term solutions.

Overview of the Root Cause Analysis Process

The process of determining the underlying causes of a problem is known as root cause analysis. This process can assist organisations in determining why a problem is occurring and what can be done to prevent it from recurring in the future. The goal of root cause analysis is to identify the underlying cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms, allowing it to be addressed more effectively.

To understand Root cause analysis in more detail check out RCA in our Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Course Root Cause Analysis section

Techniques for Identifying Root Causes

There are several techniques for determining the root causes of a problem, including:

  • Brainstorming
  • Ishikawa diagrams (also known as fishbone diagrams)
  • Root Cause Tree Analysis

These methods can be used to investigate the issue in-depth and identify potential root causes. Organizations can gain a deeper understanding of the problem and identify the underlying causes that must be addressed by using these techniques.

Best Practices for Conducting Root Cause Analysis

It is critical to follow these best practices when conducting root cause analysis in A3 Problem Solving:

  • Make certain that all stakeholders participate in the root cause analysis process.
  • Concentrate on determining the root cause of the problem rather than just its symptoms.
  • Take into account all potential root causes, not just the most obvious ones.
  • To identify root causes, use a systematic approach, such as the 5 Whys or root cause tree analysis.

Organizations can ensure that root cause analysis is carried out effectively and that the root cause of the problem is identified by adhering to these best practises. This will aid in the development of appropriate solutions and the effective resolution of the problem.

Step 4: Develop Solutions

Developing solutions is the fourth step in the A3 Problem Solving process. This entails generating ideas and options for dealing with the problem, followed by selecting the best solution. The goal is to develop a solution that addresses the root cause of the problem and prevents it from recurring.

Solution Development in A3 Problem Solving

A3 solution development Problem solving is an iterative process in which options are generated and evaluated. The data gathered in the previous steps, as well as the insights and understanding gained from the root cause analysis, guide this process. The solution should be based on a thorough understanding of the problem and address the underlying cause.

Techniques for Developing Solutions

There are several techniques that can be used to develop solutions in A3 Problem Solving, including:

  • Brainwriting
  • Solution matrix
  • Multi voting
  • Force field analysis

These techniques can help to generate a range of options and to select the best solution.

Best Practice for Developing Solutions

It is critical to follow the following best practices when developing solutions in A3 Problem Solving:

  • Participate in the solution development process with all stakeholders.
  • Make certain that the solution addresses the underlying cause of the problem.
  • Make certain that the solution is feasible and achievable.
  • Consider the solution’s impact on the organisation and its stakeholders.

Organizations can ensure that the solutions they develop are effective and sustainable by adhering to these best practises. This will help to ensure that the problem is addressed effectively and that it does not reoccur.

Step 5: Implement Solutions

The final and most important step in the A3 Problem Solving methodology is solution implementation. This is the stage at which the identified and developed solutions are put into action to address the problem. This step’s goal is to ensure that the solutions are effective, efficient, and long-lasting.

The implementation Process

The implementation process entails putting the solutions developed in the previous step into action. This could include changes to processes, procedures, and systems, as well as employee training and education. To ensure that the solutions are effective, the implementation process should be well-planned and meticulously executed.

Techniques for Implementing Solutions

A3 Problem Solving solutions can be implemented using a variety of techniques, including:

  • Piloting the solution on a small scale before broadening its application
  • Participating in the implementation process with all relevant stakeholders
  • ensuring that the solution is in line with the goals and objectives of the organisation
  • Monitoring the solution to determine its effectiveness and make any necessary changes

Best Practice for Implementing Solutions

It is critical to follow these best practices when implementing solutions in A3 Problem Solving:

Make certain that all relevant stakeholders are involved and supportive of the solution. Have a clear implementation plan that outlines the steps, timeline, and resources required. Continuously monitor and evaluate the solution to determine its efficacy and make any necessary changes. Encourage all stakeholders to communicate and collaborate openly. Organizations can ensure that solutions are effectively implemented and problems are effectively addressed by adhering to these best practices. The ultimate goal is to find a long-term solution to the problem and improve the organization’s overall performance.

In conclusion, A3 Problem Solving is a comprehensive and structured methodology for problem-solving that can be applied in various industries and organisations. The A3 Problem Solving process’s five steps – Define the Problem, Gather Data, Identify Root Causes, Develop Solutions, and Implement Solutions – provide a road map for effectively addressing problems and making long-term improvements.

Organizations can improve their problem-solving skills and achieve better results by following the key principles, techniques, and best practices outlined in this guide. As a result, both the organisation and its stakeholders will benefit from increased efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. So, whether you’re an experienced problem solver or just getting started, consider incorporating the A3 Problem Solving methodology into your work and start reaping the benefits right away.

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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 Basics of Structured Problem-Solving Methodologies: DMAIC & 8D

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When it comes to solving a problem, organizations want to get to the root cause of the problem, as quickly as possible. They also want to ensure that they find the most effective solution to that problem, make sure the solution is implemented fully, and is sustained into the future so that the problem no longer occurs. The best way to do this is by implementing structured problem-solving. In this blog post, we’ll briefly cover structured problem-solving and the best improvement methodologies to achieve operational excellence. Before we dive into ways Minitab can help, let’s first cover the basics of problem-solving.

WHAT IS STRUCTURED PROBLEM-SOLVING?

Structured problem-solving is a disciplined approach that breaks down the problem-solving process into discrete steps with clear objectives. This method enables you to tackle complex problems, while ensuring you’re resolving the right ones. It also ensures that you fully understand those problems, you've considered the reasonable solutions, and are effectively implementing and sustaining them.

WHAT IS A STRUCTURED PROBLEM-SOLVING METHODOLOGY?

A structured problem-solving methodology is a technique that consists of a series of phases that a project must pass through before it gets completed. The goal of a methodology is to highlight the intention behind solving a particular problem and offers a strategic way to resolve it. WHAT ARE THE BEST PROBLEM-SOLVING METHODOLOGIES?

That depends on the problem you’re trying to solve for your improvement initiative. The structure and discipline of completing all the steps in each methodology is more important than the specific methodology chosen. To help you easily visualize these methodologies, we’ve created the Periodic Table of Problem-Solving Methodologies. Now let’s cover two important methodologies for successful process improvement and problem prevention: DMAIC and 8D .

DMAIC Methodology

8D is known as the Eight Disciplines of problem-solving. It consists of eight steps to solve difficult, recurring, or critical problems. The methodology consists of problem-solving tools to help you identify, correct, and eliminate the source of problems within your organization. If the problem you’re trying to solve is complex and needs to be resolved quickly, 8D might be the right methodology to implement for your organization. Each methodology could be supported with a project template, where its roadmap corresponds to the set of phases in that methodology. It is a best practice to complete each step of a given methodology, before moving on to the next one.

MINITAB ENGAGE, YOUR SOLUTION TO EFFECTIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING

Minitab Engage TM was built to help organizations drive innovation and improvement initiatives. What makes our solution unique is that it combines structured problem-solving methodologies with tools and dashboards to help you plan, execute, and measure your innovation initiatives! There are many problem-solving methodologies and tools to help you get started. We have the ultimate end-to-end improvement solution to help you reach innovation success.

Ready to explore structured problem-solving?

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types of problem solving methodologies

  • Collaboration |
  • Turn your team into skilled problem sol ...

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

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshot

Picture this, you're handling your daily tasks at work and your boss calls you in and says, "We have a problem." 

Unfortunately, we don't live in a world in which problems are instantly resolved with the snap of our fingers. Knowing how to effectively solve problems is an important professional skill to hone. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, what is the right process to use to ensure you get the most effective solution?

In this article we'll break down the problem-solving process and how you can find the most effective solutions for complex problems.

What is problem solving? 

Problem solving is the process of finding a resolution for a specific issue or conflict. There are many possible solutions for solving a problem, which is why it's important to go through a problem-solving process to find the best solution. You could use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew a Phillips head screw, but there is a better tool for the situation. Utilizing common problem-solving techniques helps you find the best solution to fit the needs of the specific situation, much like using the right tools.

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4 steps to better problem solving

While it might be tempting to dive into a problem head first, take the time to move step by step. Here’s how you can effectively break down the problem-solving process with your team:

1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved

One of the easiest ways to identify a problem is to ask questions. A good place to start is to ask journalistic questions, like:

Who : Who is involved with this problem? Who caused the problem? Who is most affected by this issue?

What: What is happening? What is the extent of the issue? What does this problem prevent from moving forward?

Where: Where did this problem take place? Does this problem affect anything else in the immediate area? 

When: When did this problem happen? When does this problem take effect? Is this an urgent issue that needs to be solved within a certain timeframe?

Why: Why is it happening? Why does it impact workflows?

How: How did this problem occur? How is it affecting workflows and team members from being productive?

Asking journalistic questions can help you define a strong problem statement so you can highlight the current situation objectively, and create a plan around that situation.

Here’s an example of how a design team uses journalistic questions to identify their problem:

Overarching problem: Design requests are being missed

Who: Design team, digital marketing team, web development team

What: Design requests are forgotten, lost, or being created ad hoc.

Where: Email requests, design request spreadsheet

When: Missed requests on January 20th, January 31st, February 4th, February 6th

How : Email request was lost in inbox and the intake spreadsheet was not updated correctly. The digital marketing team had to delay launching ads for a few days while design requests were bottlenecked. Designers had to work extra hours to ensure all requests were completed.

In this example, there are many different aspects of this problem that can be solved. Using journalistic questions can help you identify different issues and who you should involve in the process.

2. Brainstorm multiple solutions

If at all possible, bring in a facilitator who doesn't have a major stake in the solution. Bringing an individual who has little-to-no stake in the matter can help keep your team on track and encourage good problem-solving skills.

Here are a few brainstorming techniques to encourage creative thinking:

Brainstorm alone before hand: Before you come together as a group, provide some context to your team on what exactly the issue is that you're brainstorming. This will give time for you and your teammates to have some ideas ready by the time you meet.

Say yes to everything (at first): When you first start brainstorming, don't say no to any ideas just yet—try to get as many ideas down as possible. Having as many ideas as possible ensures that you’ll get a variety of solutions. Save the trimming for the next step of the strategy. 

Talk to team members one-on-one: Some people may be less comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting. Discuss the issue with team members individually and encourage them to share their opinions without restrictions—you might find some more detailed insights than originally anticipated.

Break out of your routine: If you're used to brainstorming in a conference room or over Zoom calls, do something a little different! Take your brainstorming meeting to a coffee shop or have your Zoom call while you're taking a walk. Getting out of your routine can force your brain out of its usual rut and increase critical thinking.

3. Define the solution

After you brainstorm with team members to get their unique perspectives on a scenario, it's time to look at the different strategies and decide which option is the best solution for the problem at hand. When defining the solution, consider these main two questions: What is the desired outcome of this solution and who stands to benefit from this solution? 

Set a deadline for when this decision needs to be made and update stakeholders accordingly. Sometimes there's too many people who need to make a decision. Use your best judgement based on the limitations provided to do great things fast.

4. Implement the solution

To implement your solution, start by working with the individuals who are as closest to the problem. This can help those most affected by the problem get unblocked. Then move farther out to those who are less affected, and so on and so forth. Some solutions are simple enough that you don’t need to work through multiple teams.

After you prioritize implementation with the right teams, assign out the ongoing work that needs to be completed by the rest of the team. This can prevent people from becoming overburdened during the implementation plan . Once your solution is in place, schedule check-ins to see how the solution is working and course-correct if necessary.

Implement common problem-solving strategies

There are a few ways to go about identifying problems (and solutions). Here are some strategies you can try, as well as common ways to apply them:

Trial and error

Trial and error problem solving doesn't usually require a whole team of people to solve. To use trial and error problem solving, identify the cause of the problem, and then rapidly test possible solutions to see if anything changes. 

This problem-solving method is often used in tech support teams through troubleshooting.

The 5 whys problem-solving method helps get to the root cause of an issue. You start by asking once, “Why did this issue happen?” After answering the first why, ask again, “Why did that happen?” You'll do this five times until you can attribute the problem to a root cause. 

This technique can help you dig in and find the human error that caused something to go wrong. More importantly, it also helps you and your team develop an actionable plan so that you can prevent the issue from happening again.

Here’s an example:

Problem: The email marketing campaign was accidentally sent to the wrong audience.

“Why did this happen?” Because the audience name was not updated in our email platform.

“Why were the audience names not changed?” Because the audience segment was not renamed after editing. 

“Why was the audience segment not renamed?” Because everybody has an individual way of creating an audience segment.

“Why does everybody have an individual way of creating an audience segment?” Because there is no standardized process for creating audience segments. 

“Why is there no standardized process for creating audience segments?” Because the team hasn't decided on a way to standardize the process as the team introduced new members. 

In this example, we can see a few areas that could be optimized to prevent this mistake from happening again. When working through these questions, make sure that everyone who was involved in the situation is present so that you can co-create next steps to avoid the same problem. 

A SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can help you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a specific solution. SWOT stands for:

Strength: Why is this specific solution a good fit for this problem? 

Weaknesses: What are the weak points of this solution? Is there anything that you can do to strengthen those weaknesses?

Opportunities: What other benefits could arise from implementing this solution?

Threats: Is there anything about this decision that can detrimentally impact your team?

As you identify specific solutions, you can highlight the different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each solution. 

This particular problem-solving strategy is good to use when you're narrowing down the answers and need to compare and contrast the differences between different solutions. 

Even more successful problem solving

After you’ve worked through a tough problem, don't forget to celebrate how far you've come. Not only is this important for your team of problem solvers to see their work in action, but this can also help you become a more efficient, effective , and flexible team. The more problems you tackle together, the more you’ll achieve. 

Looking for a tool to help solve problems on your team? Track project implementation with a work management tool like Asana .

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Explore Lean Thinking and Practice / Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving

Problem Solving graphic icon

Explore the process that’s foundational to assuring every individual becomes engaged by arming them with methods they can use to overcome obstacles and improve their work process.

leapers digging up problems

Overcoming obstacles to achieve or elevate a standard 

In a lean management system, everyone is engaged in ongoing problem-solving that is guided by two characteristics:

  • Everything described or claimed should be based on verifiable facts, not assumptions and interpretations. 
  • Problem-solving is never-ending; that is, it begins rather than ends when an improvement plan is implemented. The implementation process is a learning opportunity to discover how to make progress toward the target condition. 

Lean thinkers & practitioners understand that the problem-solving process is impeded if you make the common mistake of mechanically reaching for a familiar or favorite problem-solving methodology or, worse, jump quickly to a solution. 

Leaders and teams avoid this trap by recognizing that most business problems fall into four categories, each requiring different thought processes, improvement methods, and management cadences.

Problem-Solving

The Four Types of Problems

Type 1: Troubleshooting:   reactive problem-solving that hinges upon rapidly returning abnormal conditions to known standards. It provides some immediate relief but does not address the root cause.

Type 2: Gap from Standard: structured problem-solving that focuses on defining the problem, setting goals, analyzing the root cause, and establishing countermeasures, checks, standards, and follow-up activities. The aim is to prevent the problem from recurring by eliminating its underlying causes.

Type 3: Target Condition:   continuous improvement ( kaizen ) that goes beyond existing standards of performance. It may utilize existing methods in new, creative ways to deliver superior value or performance toward a new target state of improvement.

Type 4: Open-ended:  innovative problem-solving based on creativity, synthesis, and recognition of opportunity. It establishes new norms that often entail unexpected products, processes, systems, or value for the customer well beyond current levels. 

By helping everyone in the organization to understand the importance of taking ownership of seeing and solving all types of problems, lean thinking & practice:

  • Engenders a sense of empowerment and autonomy in all workers, which in turn promotes engagement in and ownership of the work process
  • Enables organizations to overcome obstacles at their source, so they do not become more significant problems upstream

Ultimately, building a problem-solving culture creates a competitive advantage that is difficult for competitors to match.  

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

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

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

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

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

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

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

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

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

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

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

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

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

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

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

The four stages are:

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

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

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

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

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

Creating a Problem Story

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

1. Identify a UDP

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

2. Move Forward in Time

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

3. Move Backward in Time

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

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

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

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

4. Break the Chains

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

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

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

Brainstorming

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

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

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

Alternate Worlds

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

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

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

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

Continue Developing Your Skills

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

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

types of problem solving methodologies

About the Author

Facility for Rare Isotope Beams

At michigan state university, international research team uses wavefunction matching to solve quantum many-body problems, new approach makes calculations with realistic interactions possible.

FRIB researchers are part of an international research team solving challenging computational problems in quantum physics using a new method called wavefunction matching. The new approach has applications to fields such as nuclear physics, where it is enabling theoretical calculations of atomic nuclei that were previously not possible. The details are published in Nature (“Wavefunction matching for solving quantum many-body problems”) .

Ab initio methods and their computational challenges

An ab initio method describes a complex system by starting from a description of its elementary components and their interactions. For the case of nuclear physics, the elementary components are protons and neutrons. Some key questions that ab initio calculations can help address are the binding energies and properties of atomic nuclei not yet observed and linking nuclear structure to the underlying interactions among protons and neutrons.

Yet, some ab initio methods struggle to produce reliable calculations for systems with complex interactions. One such method is quantum Monte Carlo simulations. In quantum Monte Carlo simulations, quantities are computed using random or stochastic processes. While quantum Monte Carlo simulations can be efficient and powerful, they have a significant weakness: the sign problem. The sign problem develops when positive and negative weight contributions cancel each other out. This cancellation results in inaccurate final predictions. It is often the case that quantum Monte Carlo simulations can be performed for an approximate or simplified interaction, but the corresponding simulations for realistic interactions produce severe sign problems and are therefore not possible.

Using ‘plastic surgery’ to make calculations possible

The new wavefunction-matching approach is designed to solve such computational problems. The research team—from Gaziantep Islam Science and Technology University in Turkey; University of Bonn, Ruhr University Bochum, and Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany; Institute for Basic Science in South Korea; South China Normal University, Sun Yat-Sen University, and Graduate School of China Academy of Engineering Physics in China; Tbilisi State University in Georgia; CEA Paris-Saclay and Université Paris-Saclay in France; and Mississippi State University and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University (MSU)—includes  Dean Lee , professor of physics at FRIB and in MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and head of the Theoretical Nuclear Science department at FRIB, and  Yuan-Zhuo Ma , postdoctoral research associate at FRIB.

“We are often faced with the situation that we can perform calculations using a simple approximate interaction, but realistic high-fidelity interactions cause severe computational problems,” said Lee. “Wavefunction matching solves this problem by doing plastic surgery. It removes the short-distance part of the high-fidelity interaction, and replaces it with the short-distance part of an easily computable interaction.”

This transformation is done in a way that preserves all of the important properties of the original realistic interaction. Since the new wavefunctions look similar to that of the easily computable interaction, researchers can now perform calculations using the easily computable interaction and apply a standard procedure for handling small corrections called perturbation theory.  A team effort

The research team applied this new method to lattice quantum Monte Carlo simulations for light nuclei, medium-mass nuclei, neutron matter, and nuclear matter. Using precise ab initio calculations, the results closely matched real-world data on nuclear properties such as size, structure, and binding energies. Calculations that were once impossible due to the sign problem can now be performed using wavefunction matching.

“It is a fantastic project and an excellent opportunity to work with the brightest nuclear scientist s in FRIB and around the globe,” said Ma. “As a theorist , I'm also very excited about programming and conducting research on the world's most powerful exascale supercomputers, such as Frontier , which allows us to implement wavefunction matching to explore the mysteries of nuclear physics.”

While the research team focused solely on quantum Monte Carlo simulations, wavefunction matching should be useful for many different ab initio approaches, including both classical and  quantum computing calculations. The researchers at FRIB worked with collaborators at institutions in China, France, Germany, South Korea, Turkey, and United States.

“The work is the culmination of effort over many years to handle the computational problems associated with realistic high-fidelity nuclear interactions,” said Lee. “It is very satisfying to see that the computational problems are cleanly resolved with this new approach. We are grateful to all of the collaboration members who contributed to this project, in particular, the lead author, Serdar Elhatisari.”

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the German Research Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences President’s International Fellowship Initiative, Volkswagen Stiftung, the European Research Council, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Security Academic Fund, the Rare Isotope Science Project of the Institute for Basic Science, the National Research Foundation of Korea, the Institute for Basic Science, and the Espace de Structure et de réactions Nucléaires Théorique.

Michigan State University operates the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) as a user facility for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics. Hosting what is designed to be the most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of today’s most pressing challenges. For more information, visit energy.gov/science.

Innovative Clustering-Driven Techniques for Enhancing Initial Solutions in Euclidean Traveling Salesman Problems with Machine Learning Integration

  • Research Article-Computer Engineering and Computer Science
  • Published: 18 May 2024

Cite this article

types of problem solving methodologies

  • Aymen Takie Eddine Selmi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3776-7630 1 ,
  • Mohamed Faouzi Zerarka 2 &
  • Abdelhakim Cheriet 2 , 3  

Integrating machine learning techniques within metaheuristics has shown promise for effectively solving combinatorial problems like the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP). However, key challenges remain in initializing metaheuristics to balance exploration and exploitation across vast search spaces. This paper introduces a novel clustering-driven technique for constructing high-quality initial solutions to Euclidean TSP instances. Our method uses hierarchical hybrid clustering with K-means, affinity propagation, and density peaks clustering to recursively partition cities into a compressed quadtree structure. A rigorous assessment using the Davies–Bouldin index and Gini coefficient optimizes intra- and inter-cluster quality and balance at each level. The multi-tiered decomposition strategically abstracts complex optimization landscapes into localized clusters that are solved efficiently in parallel within each using heuristics such as nearest neighbor and ant colony optimization. A genetic networking heuristic then interconnects independent intra-cluster solutions to construct unified inter-cluster routes. The clustering-guided initialization provides a diverse population of initialized tours that balance global exploration against localized exploitation. To validate our method, we conduct experiments using the generated solutions to seed a simulated annealing metaheuristic. This experimental evaluation will demonstrate this technique’s ability to initialize metaheuristics for TSP instances closer to optimality compared to traditional methods.

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Acknowledgements

This publication is the result of the work carried out in the project within the framework of the Doctoral Program of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Government of Algeria, which is implemented by LESIA and RLP Laboratories of the University of Biskra. Source code available on GitHub: https://github.com/aymentaki/Euclidean-TSP-Solver .

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LESIA Laboratory, Mohamed Khider University of Biskra, 07000, Biskra, Algeria

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Mohamed Faouzi Zerarka & Abdelhakim Cheriet

The National School of Artificial Intelligence, 16000, Algiers, Algeria

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Selmi, A.T.E., Zerarka, M.F. & Cheriet, A. Innovative Clustering-Driven Techniques for Enhancing Initial Solutions in Euclidean Traveling Salesman Problems with Machine Learning Integration. Arab J Sci Eng (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13369-024-09094-3

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