5 Steps to Make your Problem-Solving Process Easier

No matter what kind of job you have, the chances of a problem arising at some point is almost inevitable. If the problem isn’t taken care of immediately with proper action, it could potentially get worse. No one wants to be in a hostile work environment, so it’s crucial to be aware of how to properly solve an issue. Here are five steps guaranteed to make your problem-solving process easier.

What is Problem Solving?

Before we can even begin to explain what problem-solving is, we need to define what a problem is. A problem is any type of disturbance from normality that is hindering progress. A problem can be time-consuming and energy wasting. They can be as little as a disagreement, to as big as miscommunication that costs millions of dollars to fix. Another problem-solving technique is identifying if whether it prevents you from reaching your goal. No matter the size of the issue, it is always solved using a similar process in which you identify it at hand, gather possible solutions, choose the best possible outcome, and implement it moving forward. That is commonly known as the problem-solving process. If a company neglects any problems in the workplace, it could potentially get worse and cause failure.

Problem-solving and failure go hand in hand. If there are any hiccups in that process, everything can easily go awry. For example, if a sales team isn’t aware of the latest quota change from the last quarter, the team’s expectations might not be met. That is why we spend so much time and attention on problem-solving because it can be the difference in a successful business and a failure. According to Forbes.com, some common barriers that will prevent companies from being successful problem-solvers include the inability to see a problem, lack of respect, and failure to include all parts involved with the problem, among others. Here are some other ways a business can fail:

  •       Training employees is not a priority
  •       Employees not following proper policies and procedures
  •       Poorly written guidelines
  •       Employees placed in the wrong position
  •       Quality control practices aren’t met
  •       Maintenance of equipment is ignored
  •       Poor design or engineering of a product or machinery
  •       Cheap or low-quality materials

There are certain skills required by any individual who partakes in the problem-solving process. These skills include being able to do research and make not only rational decisions but decisions involved with emotional intelligence. Risk management is another skill that is imperative to making a successful decision in business. Your team should all be able to work together in the problem-solving process. It’s very possible your problems start at one of these skills if anyone in your team is lacking them. In fact, in 2013 the Association of American Colleges and Universities released a report claiming that 93 percent of employers agree, “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Here are a few more skills required to problem-solve:

  • Team building
  • Good communication
  • Active listening
  • Creativity
  • Analysis
  • Brainstorming

There are many benefits to problem-solving in an organization. First, it creates an environment that is hostile-free and encourages everyone to speak their mind when a problem occurs. Team building can be stronger when resolving problems together as a team. Ultimately, problem-solving increases confidence and empowerment within the workforce. If an entire organization can problem-solve efficiently, they can spend their time more wisely.

5 Steps to Better Problem-Solving

Step 1: Identify the Problem

As obvious as it may sound, the first step in the problem-solving process is to identify the root of the issue. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t always easily identifiable and requires extra analysis to get the source. One method used in this step is Toyota’s “Five Whys” technique. In the event of a problem, ask yourself the five whys: Who, What, When, Why, and Where. By asking yourself these questions in associations with the problem, you will discover exactly where the problem is coming from. If that isn’t enough, there are three steps you can take to better identify a problem.

  1. Explore the situation: Expand on the problem to try to get to the bottom of it. If the source of the problem is coming from an individual, try putting yourself in their shoes
  2. Draft a problem statement: Reduce the problem into the simplest of terms and put it on paper
  3. Try to answer the question: “why is this current situation a problem?”- Once you’ve boiled it down to one source, you will then be able to better assess the situation better

Let’s take a coffee shop for example. Say the coffee shop has slowly been losing business in the last quarter, despite having a very successful two years prior. The owners of the restaurant want to better understand why they are suddenly losing business. First, the owner explores the situation and looks at all the possible reasons this is happening. They look at their employees, their daily routines, and training procedures; while also observing the local competition and any regional situations, such as being in a college town. After looking at every single possible reason, the owners figure out what is causing the problem and write it down: It’s the summer and most of their clientele (students) are away for the summer. Finally, the owners answer the question “why is this current situation a problem?” After further evaluation, they realize the problem is a limited market and must expand to get more business.

Step 2: Generate potential solutions

The next step is to create a list of possible solutions to the problem you’ve discovered. There are many ways to generate solutions. Brainstorming is the first way to think of a potential answer. This can be done individually or in a group setting. The latter is recommended, because the more input, the better, simply because different perspectives can lead to different solutions. There are more models for this situation that can help you create solutions, including:

  • Means-End Analysis– An artificial intelligence analysis that looks at the ultimate goal and finds the best possible way of attaining that goal
  • Root Cause Analysis–  This method is used to get to the root of the problem. There are four steps to find the root cause. Identify the problem, establish a timeline, distinguish between root causes and other factors, and create a cause graph
  • Lean Prioritization Method– This method is created within a two by two matrix with the X and Y-axis ranging from low to high. The X-axis is labeled as effort, while the Y-axis is labeled value. Inside the two by two matrix label the four squares with quick wins, big bets, maybes, and time sinks. Evaluate all of the problems and situations and put them in the appropriate categories to figure out where to focus your attention

Step 3: Choose one solution

Once a list of possible solutions has been made, it’s time to put your decision-making skills to the test. In order to find the best solution for the problem, analyze every possible resolution and decide which is best for the situation you are in. One might want to consider many elements before choosing one solution. These elements include efficacy, practicality, timeliness, resources, and cost. Also, consider who is involved before making any final decisions. The process of elimination is another good way to narrow your choices down. This is also where risk management will be used to help make a decision. Like brainstorming, choosing a solution doesn’t have to be done alone.

Step 4: Implement the solution you’ve chosen

Now that a solution has been chosen, it’s time to implement it throughout the necessary departments, areas, or people. On average, it takes about 66 days for a new habit to become automatic, according to a recent study that was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. In other words, change doesn’t happen overnight. To make a new change to any business, planning, patience, and persistence are all required.

  • Planning- Understand that timing is everything, and when a company implements a new strategy, they often take a lot of time to implement the new idea. Decide on clear goals, address any issues or possible obstacles, and create a plan. It’s also very important to practice proper communication skills across the entire organization so that everyone knows what is expected
  • Patience– Change is scary and not everyone is always acceptable to the idea, that’s why it’s important to stay patient throughout this process. Try implementing the plan little by little so that employees aren’t overwhelmed. Encourage each other and make sure everyone understands the goal behind this change, and that everyone is participating in making that change possible
  • Persistence– Finally, continuous application and monitorization of these changes are crucial. As an employer, you must make sure all of your employees are practicing the changes every week, so that old habits can fall behind. If an employee is being inconsistent, you might have another problem on your hands

Step 5: Evaluate results

The final part of the problem-solving process is to analyze the results. This can be done after a couple of weeks, months, or years, depending on what you are trying to change or achieve. It’s important to remember why this problem started in the first place and how it was affecting the company. Ask yourself any of the following questions to better evaluate results:

  • Are any of our processes being interrupted by the previous problem?
  • Are there any new problems to arise since this process has begun?
  • Is there a possibility the issue can return?
  • Is everyone aware of the original problem, the solution created, and why it was created?
  • Do you need to change any policy, procedure, or personnel to avoid this from happening again?

Sometimes it is necessary to start the process completely over. To make the problem-solving process easier, it’s best to simplify the solution as much as possible. Try to focus on the solution rather than the problem. Finally, be in the correct mentality to want to change. This includes having the right mindset language, both are positive and open-minded. With enough practice, any problem can be solved.

Next Steps

Problems will always occur no matter what situation you are in, so it’s important to know how to conquer them before they get out of hand. Do you want to learn more about the process of problem-solving and how you can apply it to fix any problem in your company?  You can learn about different strategies that will help alleviate any workplace problems in KnowledgeCity’s course on Problem Solving in 5 Easy Steps. Use this information to take control of any problems in the work-life, or even at home.

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Clifford Thornton

Thanks for this terrific article! I am a mentor to undergraduate students and I was
researching problem solving philosophies, methodologies, and techniques. This was a perfect
resource! I like the way that you provided practical examples and also provided various
methodologies and systems for problem solving. I think that’s always good to provide people options as certain methodologies may be best geared for certain disciplines, industries, or situations.

I took special note of these key quotes:

“because the more input, the better, simply because different
perspectives can lead to different solutions.”

“It’s important to remember why this problem started in the first place and how it was affecting the company.”

Thanks again for making this great information publicly available.


Clifford Thornton

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