The 6 Steps to Problem Solving

Challenges.

Difficulties.

Obstacles.

Mishaps.

Adversities.

Have you encountered them? Well of course — everyone does. They are, in fact, considered as a constant companion of life. These things are widely known as problems.

Certain situations become a problem when you aim for an outcome but could not immediately figure out how to achieve it.

Problems can be anything ranging from minor annoyances to a total disaster. They can cause doubt, bring hardships, and even ruin your mood and day. They need to be overcome quickly yet carefully. They require a creative and well thought-out solution to improve the situation and reach a desired condition.

Certain situations become a problem when you aim for an outcome but could not immediately figure out how to achieve it. People who are faced with this kind of situation have to think well and construct appropriate action plans to surpass the obstacles that are blocking their desired goal.

These obstacles vary widely in kind and importance — they can either be mild or really serious, depending on your priorities.

But obviously, a problem no longer becomes a problem if you just know how to respond to it. Most people see problem solving as a one-step action: if you have a problem, you obviously have to solve it. However, to be more prudent in finding long-term and more effective solutions, you need to step back, understand what the problem really is, and treat the problem-solving process with a more systematic approach.

Sometimes, you can clearly see what the solution to your problem is, but you just don’t know how to get there. There are times when you can’t even define what is really wrong, making it more challenging to know how to fix something.

Problem-solving is a cognitive process which depends on how you perceive the problem, its importance to you, what you know about it, and the target condition you desire to reach. Two people may have the same problem, but the same solution may not be as effective to one as with the other.

There are stages to be followed, and careful approach and implementation of each stage will greatly affect the success in solving your problem.

Because both problems and solutions vary greatly, you also have to be flexible. Sometimes, you can clearly see what the solution to your problem is, but you just don’t know how to get there. There are times, however, when you can’t even define what is really wrong, making it more challenging to know how to fix something.

The following six-step problem-solving model is highly flexible and practical in efficiently addressing a problem, regardless of what it is. The model is designed to be followed one step at a time, but you may find some steps that don’t require as much attention as the others. This, again, depends on your unique situation.

Here are the 6 simple steps to problem solving:

1. Define the Problem

Knowing what it is that needs to be solved is the most crucial step in solving a problem. The clearer you know about the nature of the problem, the easier for you to be able to find the best action plan to fix it.

Sometimes, we commonly mistake a symptom to be the problem itself. A symptom is a circumstance that is the result of a deeper, underlying condition. Mistaking symptom as the problem can cause a waste of time and effort trying to remedy the consequences instead of the root cause of the situation.

Using gap analysis can help you dig deeper into defining a problem. This process lets you compare your current state versus the future state you want to be in, and to identify the gaps in between which you need to bridge by solving the problem.

2. Analyze the Problem

The next important step is to analyze the problem. Here, you decide what type of problem it is. Identify certain obstacles that you need to overcome, and determine which path you need to take to reach your goal. You need to dig to the root causes of the problem and see past the distracting symptoms to the real issues that need to be fixed.

The five-why analysis is a tool that will help you understand and identify the real problem by asking “Why?” a number of times (ideally at least five times) to dig through each layer of symptoms until you arrive at the root cause of the problem.

3. Identify Potential Solutions

The third step is to identify as many potential solutions as you can, thinking of a lot of possible ways to close the gap. Creative brainstorming is recommended.

Asking the what, where, when, who, why, and how about the causes will lead you to various possibilities. This will also lead you to the most possible best solution.

“Every problem has a solution. You just have to be creative enough to find it.”

Travis Kalanick

4. Choose the Best Solution

Carefully evaluate the ideas that you have generated so you can choose the best solution. It’s possible that more options could present themselves while doing this.

Rate each possible solution you have come up with in the previous step according to the following sample criteria:

  • How effective it will be
  • How much time and effort it will need
  • What is the cost of the solution
  • How likely it is to satisfy all involved parties

These criteria may vary depending on the problem you are facing and your current situation. Reflect on your ideas carefully and try to see all possible outcomes — then visualize how effective and easy they are to implement.

5. Create an Action Plan

As soon as you determine the best solution to your problem, map out your action plan using the following procedure:

  • Determine the steps that must be taken
  • Delegate tasks to task-owners when necessary
  • Decide on deadlines for completing the actions
  • Estimate the cost on implementing such actions
  • Create a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Plan B often comes in handy.

This step lets you narrow down the best ways to implement your chosen solution, taking into consideration the possible constraints that apply.

6. Implement Solutions and Review Progress

The final step is to implement your best solution — this is an ongoing process. Make sure that the needed resources remain available.

Monitor the progress of the situation, ensuring that you are getting closer to your desired state. This is very important lest all your hard work will just go down the drain. A checklist is a tool that will help you track what has already been completed, and this will also serve as a reminder on what still needs to be done.

By mindfully following each of these steps, generating solutions is a fact-driven, objective, and reliable process.

Repeat the process whenever new problems arise.

The six-step problem solving model is adaptable. Don’t skip any of the six stages, but you may control the amount of time you spend on each step based on the needs of your unique situation. This model, along with the tools it provides, is an effective and systematic approach to finding the best solution to any problem.

By mindfully following each step, generating solutions is a fact-driven, objective, and reliable process. It encourages you to understand and know the root cause, allows you to generate ideas from others, makes you more creative and open-minded when brainstorming for solutions, and lets you monitor the progress of your action plans to ensure they are working as expected.

The next time you find yourself in a problematic situation, try to use this problem-solving model and see how it works for you.


Source: Skillsoft Ireland Limited


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