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Five Steps to Solving a Problem

Every employee in your firm encounters problems as they navigate changing variables, tight manufacturing deadlines, and other issues. Hence, problem-solving is an integral component of corporate culture and it requires an open mind, flexibility, and adaptability.

Fundamentally, the problem-solving process involves a deep understanding of a particular challenge and the search for an effective solution. Today, most employers want employees with problem-solving skills to help things run smoother in the company.

However, the complexity of a business problem may overwhelm you, and it helps to break the challenge down into a series of steps. Luckily, we have compiled some simple steps to effective problem solving below.

  1. Identify the Problem

When most people face a problem, they try to find the right solution straight away. But, this tendency is the most common mistake in problem-solving, especially if the problem is too big to tackle in one go. Skilled problem solvers know that the solution of the problem comes at the end of the process rather than at the beginning of the process.

Problem description might seem straightforward but is often the most difficult step in problem-solving. Generally, different people have different perspectives of what the issues are. Hence, ask lots of questions and gather as much information as possible to get the full picture of the challenge. Then, identify the expectation or standard that the problem has violated.

  1. Determine the Root Cause of the Problem

Who is responsible for the problem? When did the problem first appear? How does the problem manifest in business operations? These questions provide valuable information to identify the root of the issue.

Good problem solvers define the true root causes of particular problems to prevent their recurrence. As such, perform a root cause analysis to distinguish between human, organizational, and physical causes.

For instance, outdated software may be the cause of the company’s network issues, while understaffing may be the reason for customer refund issues.

You can use tools like flowcharts and cause-and-effect diagrams to illustrate the specifics of the problem. This step will test your patience as it is quite tedious, but it will help you find a satisfactory solution to your problem.

  1. Generate all Potential Solutions

This step leaves lots of room for brainstorming and creativity. Specifically, invite suggestions from all stakeholders impacted by the problem. Active listening is especially important in this step as everyone will have their own perspective on the issues at hand.

Above all, don’t reject any new idea, even if it sounds implausible. Often, leaders prejudge some ideas that can become viable solutions after deliberate evaluation. Hence, open the feedback channels to encourage all participants in the brainstorming session to come up with a list of possible solutions. Write down this list of ideas to track the variety of solutions your team raises.

  1. Choose a Solution

Once you have the list of options, it is time to assess them in-depth. First, eliminate unhelpful and impractical ideas. Then, narrow down the workable solutions to a few best options.

The next logical step is defining the budget and parameters to judge the remaining ideas. For instance, you can eliminate solutions that will be too expensive to implement in terms of time, personnel, and data.

A scale can assist the evaluation process, where you rate the workable solutions from 1 to 10 based on various factors like risk, efficacy, timeliness, adaptability, and cost. Sometimes the obvious solution is based on facts and figures. In other cases, feelings and intuition lead you to a satisfactory solution.

If the problem affects many people, leverage teamwork to scale down the number of options. The biggest challenge will be identifying the perfect solution for everyone due to different views, but this approach reduces potential conflicts.

  1. Implement the Solution and Monitor Progress

While the earlier step focuses on choosing the best solution, this one deals with the implementation of an action plan. Sometimes, new problems arise at this stage if you don’t identify or structure the right problem in the initial steps.

When implementing the solutions, draft clear goals, set the deadline, and identify the parties involved in the action plan. Since the solution may fail to have the required impact, act in short iterations as you test the outcomes and solicit feedback. Additionally, monitor compliance and follow-through and make contingency agreements about the company’s future state.

Also, don’t get too attached to one solution. Instead, make room for experimentation with other useful solutions your team has identified. It is necessary to restart the problem-solving process in some cases, particularly if the problem returns.

Final Words

The above systematic approach to problem-solving will help you identify the general problem, its root causes, and possible ways to solve it. If you are dealing with a complex issue, it is best to break the solution into simple steps. Then, trial the solution in short iterations, monitor progress, and invite feedback to improve the solution. Ultimately, the above model will enhance your employees’ problem-solving skills.