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8-step problem solving process, organizational effectiveness.

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Step 1: Define the Problem

Step 2: Clarify the Problem

Step 3: Define the Goals

Step 4: Identify Root Cause of the Problem

Step 5: Develop Action Plan

Step 6: Execute Action Plan

Step 7: Evaluate the Results

Step 8: Continuously Improve

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The definition of mediation as a dispute resolution process and how to use mediation to manage conflict

By Lawrence Susskind — on May 23rd, 2023 / Mediation

process of solving a problem

The definition of mediation is often as contextual as the conflict it attempts to resolve. Mediation is often thought of as a last step to adjudicate disputes .

In this article, professor Lawrence Susskind spells out the hidden advantages of using mediation early in the process to solve problems and reach voluntary compliance agreements. He reveals the three requirements necessary for problem-solving mediation using a practical negotiation case study.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) holds multinational corporations to appropriately high standards of corporate social responsibility. OECD member states include thirty of the major economies of the world.

Back in 2006, they adopted guidelines regarding human rights, environmental protection, the rights of workers and child protection. In 2016, they were in the throes of a ten year review. Every member country appointed an NCP — a National Contact Point — to investigate claims that multinational corporations headquartered in their country, or their subsidiaries wherever they might be located, had violated the guidelines. The NCPs investigated as best they could (often with very limited staff and budget).

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How Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Resolves Disputes and Creates Value for Each Side

The assumption is that being called out by a national government would push multinationals to correct whatever guideline infractions they or their subsidiaries may have committed. Unfortunately, it was been hard for the NCPs to complete many of the needed investigations, particularly those filed by unions or NGOs in far off corners of the world. On some occasions, NCPs did not find sufficient evidence that the guidelines had been violated, but there were clearly circumstances that needed attention. At a recent meeting of all the NCPs and some of their constituent organizations (including their Trade Union Advisory Group, their Business and Industry Advisory Group, and OECDWatch) the NCPs were reminded that their goal should be to rectify inappropriate practices, not just determine whether the guidelines had been violated. More generally, the NCPs were urged to step back from their adjudicatory (or investigatory) efforts and build their problem-solving capabilities.

Definition of Mediation as a Problem Solving Process

In particular, they were urged to take their mediation mandate seriously.

I am very supportive of a “problem-solving” view of mediation. In too many situations, mediation is viewed as the last step in adjudication (i.e. when impasse has been reached), rather than as the first step in a collaborative effort to head off a problem or work out a creative solution.

When a complaint is filed, an NCP must determine whether the charges should be taken seriously. It sometimes does this by asking its national embassy to “make inquiries” about the reputation of the company against whom a complaint has been filed. Then, it might follow up with a call to the company and ask for “its version” of the story. In short, the NCP tries to determine whether the company has, in fact, violated the OECD corporate social responsibility guidelines. They proceed this way because their primary goal is to determine the legitimacy of the claims that are brought. If, however, the NCP’s goal were to correct inappropriate practices or implement appropriate remedies, it might, instead, select a qualified mediator — located in the place where the infraction presumably occurred — to meet informally with the relevant parties and see what might be worked out. The more informal the interaction, the less likely the parties are to overstate their claims or react defensively. If such problem-solving fails, the NCP can always revert to its investigatory role.

If you were a company accused of violating OECD guidelines, wouldn’t you prefer to meet privately with a neutral party (who would keep what you said confidential) than to have to defend yourself in a public way as an official investigation gets underway? From the standpoint of preserving your corporate image, mediation is certainly preferable. If you were a trade union or an environmental NGO concerned about the actions of a company in your area, wouldn’t you prefer to have a professional mediator bring everyone together to respond to your concerns than to wait a year or longer while an invisible agency (often in another part of the world) determines whether OECD guidelines have been violated and then writes a report?Adjudication in the absence of enforcement (and that is the situation in globally) won’t guarantee change. Mediation leading to voluntary agreements will almost always guarantee compliance with whatever has been worked out.

The Definition of Mediation as a Problem Solving Process

Mediation as problem-solving requires three things:

(1) a willingness on the part of all the relevant stakeholders to work together to resolve the problem or deal with the situation;

(2) the availability of a trusted “neutral” with sufficient knowledge and skill to manage difficult conversations ; and

(3) an agreement on procedural ground rules (i.e., confidentiality, timetable, agenda, good faith effort, etc.). OECD and its NCPs are seriously considering emphasizing problem-solving mediation in the years ahead.

Read More on Professor Susskind’s Blog

Leave comment below and tell us how you approach mediation using these concepts?

Lawrence Susskind, Ford professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology; author of  Built to Win ; co-author of  Breaking Robert’s Rules  and  Breaking the Impasse

Originally published in 2010.

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I like that you pointed out how mediation leading to voluntary agreements would almost always guarantee compliance with whatever has been worked out. I was watching a very interesting show on the TV earlier and it showed how mediation works. It looked very useful, and I heard there are even establishments now that offer professional mediation solutions.

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Creative Education Foundation

What is CPS?

Cps = c reative p roblem s olving, cps is a proven method for approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way. it helps you redefine the problems and opportunities you face, come up with new, innovative responses and solutions, and then take action..

process of solving a problem

Why does CPS work?

CPS begins with two assumptions:

Osborn noted there are two distinct kinds of thinking that are essential to being creative:

Divergent thinking.

Brainstorming is often misunderstood as the entire Creative Problem Solving process.   Brainstorming is the divergent thinking phase of the CPS process.   It is not simply a group of people in a meeting coming up with ideas in a disorganized fashion. Brainstorming at its core is generating lots of ideas.  Divergence allows us to state and move beyond obvious ideas to breakthrough ideas. (Fun Fact: Alex Osborn, founder of CEF, coined the term “brainstorm.” Osborn was the “O” from the ad agency BBDO.)

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking applies criteria to brainstormed ideas so that those ideas can become actionable innovations.  Divergence provides the raw material that pushes beyond every day thinking, and convergence tools help us screen, select, evaluate, and refine ideas, while retaining novelty and newness.

To drive a car, you need both the gas and the brake.

But you cannot use the gas and brake pedals at the same time — you use them alternately to make the car go. Think of the gas pedal as Divergence , and the brake pedal as Convergence . Used together you move forward to a new destination.

Each of us use divergent and convergent thinking daily, intuitively. CPS is a deliberate process that allows you to harness your natural creative ability and apply it purposefully to problems, challenges, and opportunities.

process of solving a problem

The CPS Process

Based on the osborn-parnes process, the cps model uses plain language and recent research., the basic structure is comprised of four stages with a total of six explicit process steps. , each step uses divergent and convergent thinking..

process of solving a problem

Learner’s Model based on work of G.J. Puccio, M. Mance, M.C. Murdock, B. Miller, J. Vehar, R. Firestien, S. Thurber, & D. Nielsen (2011)

Explore the Vision.   Identify the goal, wish, or challenge.

Gather Data.   Describe and generate data to enable a clear understanding of the challenge.

Formulate Challenges. Sharpen awareness of the challenge and create challenge questions that invite solutions.

Explore Ideas. Generate ideas that answer the challenge questions.

Formulate Solutions. To move from ideas to solutions. Evaluate, strengthen, and select solutions for best “fit.”

Formulate a Plan.  Explore acceptance and identify resources and actions that will support implementation of the selected solution(s).

Explore Ideas. Generate ideas that answer the challenge question

Core Principles of Creative Problem Solving

An effective problem solving process for IT professionals

1. what is the actual problem.

This should be the first question an IT professional should ask when it comes to troubleshooting various IT related issues – even if only to verify the information that has already been provided. Typically this will mean having a conversation with the individual or group of individuals that reported the problem in the first place. It’s certainly not unheard of for the reported problem to get muddied or distorted when going through multiple people or channels before you first hear of it.

People often rephrase things when dictating what someone else previously said, so it’s quite possible for the original complaint to turn into something completely different as it passes through different people:

“The Amazon website tends to lock up my web browser whenever I add items into my Cart.” Mary, Sales Department.
“Helpdesk? Mary’s internet isn’t working when she’s online shopping.” See how SMB business and tech leaders are using networking technology for competitive advantage Research Strategies Checklist Welcome to the big leagues Mary’s Boss
“Please help Mary so she can browse shopping sites. I think the internet filter is probably blocking that category.” John, creating Helpdesk ticket

We’ve all encountered these types of scenarios in the past and they can be really frustrating, even more so when the issues are much more important than whether a single employee is capable of adding items to their Amazon shopping cart.

The point here being,  don’t take what’s being told to you for granted . Spend the time necessary to verify that what is being reported to you is actually what’s occurring and the original reason the issue was raised in the first place. Furthermore, taking the time to speak with the source, in this case, Mary, allows you to ask important follow-up questions that can further aid in diagnosing the problem as its being reported.

2. Who is experiencing the problem?

Without knowledge of who is experiencing the problem, your ability to focus your troubleshooting efforts into a precise area will be diminished and you might wind up going off in a direction that’s not even necessary or even remotely related to the source of the problem. One of the questions that should be asked is, who exactly is experiencing the problem?

Is it (for example):

Every organization is different as it relates to the “Who”, but there are stark differences in the following scenario and what could be the underlying issue relating to the company’s IP Phones when the IT professional called in to solve the problem has a clearer understanding of “Who” is actually affected:

Problem solving

Single User

process of solving a problem

A group/dept. of users

process of solving a problem

Remote/branch office

process of solving a problem

Main and remote offices

The point here is, when the IT professional starts to  understand “Who” is really affected , they can eliminate having to navigate down unnecessary paths while troubleshooting and can instead work towards narrowing down their troubleshooting efforts to a more specific and concise area. In the case of the single user above, why waste time troubleshooting the VPN tunnel when only Jerry is affected by the issue? This is why  knowing the “Who” is extremely important.

Here’s another example of something an IT Professional or Wireless Engineer hears from time to time.   “Help!  Wireless is completely down in the entire building.  Everyone is reporting problems” .   In these situations, do yourself a favor and pay special attention to words or phrases such as “entire”, “everyone”, and “completely down” when problems are reported.  These “all-inclusive” phraseologies tend to exaggerate what’s really happening and have the potential to lead you astray.

It’s not uncommon that while investigating the problem, the IT Professional or Wireless Engineers quickly learns that the “entire” building, or “everyone”, or that the wireless network being “completely down” (which, for example, in a school, might affect 3,000+ users) turns out to be a single wireless Access Point being down in one small office that is affecting 5 actual users (not, 3,000+ users as “everyone” seems to imply).

Bear in mind,  problems can sometimes be overblown and overstated , especially when a user, or group of users, is regularly frustrated with or intimated by technology (any IT professional has likely experienced those high-maintenance users that cry wolf over just about anything!).

Problem solving process - lightbulb

3. When did the problem start?

Knowing when the problem actually started (with attention to finite details such as the exact day and exact time) can often provide a better understanding of the problem and help trigger more definitive ideas and potential solutions relating to the underlying root cause that a given IT professional is expected to solve. Imagine being brought into a new customer to resolve critical problems with their Internet Services and being told,

“The internet pipe is a problem. People are randomly seeing spotty performance and oddball issues whenever web surfing and we don’t know why.”

Now, a less-experienced IT professional might just start diving headfirst into firewall logs, bandwidth monitoring, opening up a trouble-ticket directly with the ISP and trying to figure out what is going on, but someone with more experience will first pause to ask additional questions , wanting more specifics as to “When” the problem started happening.

For a problem solving process you need to know when the problem started.

Certainly looking back into firewall logs and bandwidth utilization metrics over the last 2 week period makes sense knowing the issue presented itself within the last 10 days, but it hardly warrants spending much time at all looking back at logs and bandwidth utilization metrics from 3+ months ago. That being said, once again, try to VERIFY the information being told to you . Perhaps the person giving you the answer vaguely remembers that it was 10 days ago, but in truth, it’s only been 3 days!

In this particular situation where the internet is being reported as sporadic, it’s altogether possible that roughly 11 days ago, another on-site computer technician decided to enable the UTM (Unified Threat Management) functionality within their firewall to allow for additional Antivirus inspection, IDS (Intrusion Detection Services), Geo-IP Filtering, and a plethora of other goodies typically included in UTM feature-sets.

Unfortunately, as a direct result, the firewall’s processors/CPUs have become overloaded and cannot move traffic through it quickly enough to keep up with the additional processing demands required when the firewall’s UTM feature-set was enabled.

4. Is the problem intermittent or constant?

Another key element to an effective problem solving process is finding out if the reported issue is occurring constantly or whether it’s only occurring intermittently? Problems that are constant, or fixed , are generally (though not always) easier to troubleshoot . Whereas problems that are intermittent and seemingly random, are generally more difficult to troubleshoot.

How many times have we as IT professionals been called in to troubleshoot a problem, only to find that upon our arrival, the issue suddenly doesn’t seem to exist anymore yet no one did anything specific to actually resolve the problem!? Those situations can be really frustrating, not only for the IT professional but for the end-user as well because the likelihood of the issue reappearing is rather high (and most likely reappears just a few short moments after the IT professional has left!)

The best thing to do in these scenarios is document WHEN the issue occurred and how LONG it lasted before it miraculously “fixed itself”, so the next time that same problem is reported, you might be able to piece together some crude and basic assumptions or theories based on WHEN it happened previously and how LONG it lasted each time.

Wireless chaos only at lunchtime?!

Problem solving techniques identity odd wireless issues

5. What changed recently?

This is one question that is unfortunately not asked often enough, is just plain overlooked, or in other cases is just completely disregarded (shame on you if you fall into that category!). Technology is a very touchy and hypersensitive beast , and more often than not, it doesn’t take too kindly to introducing changes. Even the changes that are supposed to solve and prevent other known problems, often result in the introduction of new and unexpected problems.

It’s not unheard of that sometimes even routine maintenance on equipment can cause problems .

Take for example, updating firmware on a network switch . This should be a relatively trouble-free routine operation, but suddenly users are reporting that they’re occasionally having problems logging into their desktops. It’s happening to more than one user, in fact, it’s being reported sporadically throughout the building early in the morning hours when most employees arrive for the start of their shift.

“What Changed” recently? Over the weekend you decided to update the firmware on your edge switches and now the port security that was set up on the switches using AAA authentication with Radius, isn’t behaving as expected. Unfortunately, it looks like the new firmware update might have introduced a random bug! What’s the solution? Back rev your switches , or look for ever newer firmware code that might resolve the problem.

Man looking at purple screen of death

You haven’t changed anything with the VMWare software itself, still running on the same trusted vSphere 6.0 Update 1 release that has been rock solid and problem-free in your environment. So “What Changed” recently? Wait a minute, come to think of it, the host server that is regularly crashing recently had an additional 64GB of memory added to it one week ago! Might be worth removing that extra 64GB of memory and seeing if the problem goes away. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time new or additional hardware was the result of the underlying issue .

6. Can the problem be recreated?

Another helpful step for effective problem solving is trying to recreate the actual problem. As discussed before, reported problems can either be of a constant or intermittent nature. Taking the time to re-create the problem can be beneficial and especially helpful in cases where you might need to break out tools such as Wireshark to capture packets and network traffic for future analysis and evaluation. IT professionals have to make use of such tools in more complex technical support issues especially when the flow of network traffic is in question or when there’s a need to examine whether the traffic is making it from the source to destination devices.

If possible, take advantage of any sandbox or test environments that are available. Having these environments gives you the flexibility to recreate the issue and effectively “break” things on purpose, without putting your production network or systems at risk and without interrupting services that end-users are relying on during standard business hours.

Recreating the problem is also advantageous in situations where the IT professional may need to involve 3rd party technical support from a vendor as well. Often, these vendors will have the means to establish remote sessions to take control of your desktop (or the machine in which you’ve successfully recreated the problem on), which gives the vendor the ability to actually see the issue while it’s occurring to further help diagnose what is happening.

7. Are benchmarks and logs available?

Having some kind of benchmarking tool available to track and record network and server performance is beyond measure in terms of its overall value when helping an IT professional track down challenging technical issues. One of the key areas worth checking when problems are being reported is looking at the actual METRICS over a historical period of time. Metrics can prove to be invaluable when trying to figure out: Whether the problem reported actually exists or is a false positive

Maybe you’ve been in a situation where someone reports, “The file server is really slow today!” Without historical benchmarks available, taking a look at the current server performance may not yield any fruitful results because the CPU, disk, network, and memory counters all SEEM to be operating at a reasonable level, but based on and compared to what exactly?

With historical benchmarks available, there is a foundation to actually compare today’s performance on the server as it relates to the CPU, Disk, Network, and Memory (and any other metric/counter you want) VERSUS what the server has been utilizing for the past days, weeks, or months prior.

What historical benchmarks might help you discover is, that according to the historical data, perhaps there is absolutely NO difference in the server performance today versus previous days, weeks, or months? The complaint of “The file server is really slow today” turns out to be a false positive in that case, proven by the metrics an historical benchmarks. Finding the real cause and resolution to the user’s complaint is going to require you to start looking into other areas aside from the server itself. Perhaps it’s a client-side issue or networking issue.

Having benchmarks available is crucial in taking out illogical guess-work and assumptions, and replacing them with hard evidence and facts to back up your problem solving process. There are countless software options available that will give you the data you need for metrics, though we often recommend using PRTG from Paessler, which is a wonderful utility for acquiring benchmarks on your network and servers.

Logs are another important thing to consider during the troubleshooting process. Going back into log history can give a stumped IT Professional some additional clues as to what is going on, especially in cases where the question of “ When did the problem start?” remains unanswered.

Having network devices (switches, routers, firewalls, wireless, etc.) sending their log information to a dedicated syslog server (for example, Kiwi Syslog Server from SolarWinds) gives someone the opportunity to search for entries related to particular devices (by IP address) for specific warning messages or error messages.

Syslog messages and the historical information gathered here can sometimes help point the IT Professional in the right direction, not to mention, the logs themselves can be extremely valuable to the vendor of the product as well when they are involved in troubleshooting what is happening.

8. I’m officially stuck – now what?

Alright, so you find yourself in one of those rather unpleasant circumstances where you’ve asked all the right questions, dug into your resourceful bag of tricks, and find that you’ve exhausted all your technical knowledge and ability to track down the source of the problem. What do you do now? The first step is DON’T PANIC . Effective problem solving is, more often than not, substantially reduced when the IT professional is stressed out and under pressure (although in some rare cases, people tend to flourish under these “trial by fire” scenarios). Keeping panic at bay will help a person to remain calm, focused, and continue to allow them to logically walk through the problem solving process.

This is however, easier said than done, when there are countless emails and phone calls coming in demanding an update as to when the source of the problem will be fixed (and let’s not forget, potentially angry bosses that might be clueless as to why the problem is taking more than 10 minutes to resolve!).

External help can shorten your problem solving process

The second step is just that, call in the cavalry! Let’s face it, there will always be instances where even the most seasoned IT professional needs assistance from peers, vendors or other resources . None of us are capable of knowing absolutely everything. When you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for help! What does that mean?

Problem solving process - lightbulb

The problem solving process in summary

Be sure to give yourself the absolute best chance to combat those dreaded technical support issues. The next time someone contacts you and yells in a panic, “Email is broken!” understand that you can more quickly deduct what is actually going on and help minimize the amount of time necessary to resolve the problem by simply asking the right questions :

Keep in mind, however, that not only do you need answers to those questions, but you need answers that are accurate .

As stated earlier, this means the IT professional may need to take the necessary time to validate the answers being provided to them. Inaccurate answers and misinformed facts will send you down the wrong troubleshooting path and unnecessarily prolong the amount of time necessary to resolve complex technical support issues. So get your facts straight!

Having the answers to these questions will allow you to immediately narrow down the scope of the problem and the potential areas at fault, conduct tests, formulate conclusions, and resolve problems even faster than you may have anticipated.

You should also read:

5 practical steps to avoid a cyber attack

Understanding the e-rate process [download primer].

Jesse Rink

Jesse is the owner of Source One Technology and has been providing IT consulting services to Enterprises , SMBs , schools , and nonprofits in Waukesha , Milwaukee , Dane , Washington , Jefferson , Ozaukee , Kenosha , Racine counties and across Wisconsin for over 18 years.

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Microsoft deployment toolkit and windows deployment services, 2 thoughts on “an effective problem solving process for it professionals”.

Found your article very interesting. I can definitely identify with all of the points you made, especially troubleshooting. Either you can or cant troubleshoot and think logically through an issue or problem. You are right in mentioning that its something you really cannot teach. One other thing that helps with a logically stepping through the process is documentation. There should always be a repository where network diagrams, server builds, OS versions etc., are kept. I understand that a lot of times these documents cannot be relied upon due to being out of date and it seems most people scoff at the idea of keeping good documentation. But I believe it to be important to help with any troubleshooting. You also mentioned the question, Did anything change? or What changed? A big issue when attempting to troubleshoot. Every place I have worked at, always used a change management process that documented every single change, no matter how small. Of course these places had to by law (SOX audits) because they were publicly traded companies. Just wanted to say, good article!

That is a great article with some excellent questions. Working with students and teachers, I’d throw in a few extra suggestions.

1. What is a reasonable timeline for solving the problem? Often times a lack of communication to this question leads to frustration and long term mistrust regarding the reliability of technology. Asking what needs to be done from the end user’s perspective, and knowing their timeline for completion is helpful. Giving them a reasonable amount of time in which they can expect the issue to be resolved sets everybody up for success around reasonable expectations.

2. Suggest potential work-arounds when necessary — Standing in front of a group of adults and attempting to present when the technology is not working is overwhelming and frustrating. The same tech failure when you are working with a group of students and you start to lose their attention — it’s a nightmare! Knowing what tools your district provides for staff and their general purpose may allow you to offer some potential work-around ideas until the problem is resolved. There is not a fix for everything, but when you can suggest a reasonable alternative in the moment, you offer more than just tech support — you offer customer service.

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Problem solving related topics.

What is Problem Solving?.

Quality Glossary Definition: Problem solving

Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.

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Problem Solving Chart


The Problem-Solving Process

In order to effectively manage and run a successful organization, leadership must guide their employees and develop problem-solving techniques. Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below.

1. Define the problem

Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes .

The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps. These steps support the involvement of interested parties, the use of factual information, comparison of expectations to reality, and a focus on root causes of a problem. You should begin by:

2. Generate alternative solutions

Postpone the selection of one solution until several problem-solving alternatives have been proposed. Considering multiple alternatives can significantly enhance the value of your ideal solution. Once you have decided on the "what should be" model, this target standard becomes the basis for developing a road map for investigating alternatives. Brainstorming and team problem-solving techniques are both useful tools in this stage of problem solving.

Many alternative solutions to the problem should be generated before final evaluation. A common mistake in problem solving is that alternatives are evaluated as they are proposed, so the first acceptable solution is chosen, even if it’s not the best fit. If we focus on trying to get the results we want, we miss the potential for learning something new that will allow for real improvement in the problem-solving process.

3. Evaluate and select an alternative

Skilled problem solvers use a series of considerations when selecting the best alternative. They consider the extent to which:

4. Implement and follow up on the solution

Leaders may be called upon to direct others to implement the solution, "sell" the solution, or facilitate the implementation with the help of others. Involving others in the implementation is an effective way to gain buy-in and support and minimize resistance to subsequent changes.

Regardless of how the solution is rolled out, feedback channels should be built into the implementation. This allows for continuous monitoring and testing of actual events against expectations. Problem solving, and the techniques used to gain clarity, are most effective if the solution remains in place and is updated to respond to future changes.

You can also search articles , case studies , and publications  for problem solving resources.

Innovative Business Management Using TRIZ

Introduction To 8D Problem Solving: Including Practical Applications and Examples

The Quality Toolbox

Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action

One Good Idea: Some Sage Advice ( Quality Progress ) The person with the problem just wants it to go away quickly, and the problem-solvers also want to resolve it in as little time as possible because they have other responsibilities. Whatever the urgency, effective problem-solvers have the self-discipline to develop a complete description of the problem.

Diagnostic Quality Problem Solving: A Conceptual Framework And Six Strategies  ( Quality Management Journal ) This paper contributes a conceptual framework for the generic process of diagnosis in quality problem solving by identifying its activities and how they are related.

Weathering The Storm ( Quality Progress ) Even in the most contentious circumstances, this approach describes how to sustain customer-supplier relationships during high-stakes problem solving situations to actually enhance customer-supplier relationships.

The Right Questions ( Quality Progress ) All problem solving begins with a problem description. Make the most of problem solving by asking effective questions.

Solving the Problem ( Quality Progress ) Brush up on your problem-solving skills and address the primary issues with these seven methods.

Refreshing Louisville Metro’s Problem-Solving System  ( Journal for Quality and Participation ) Organization-wide transformation can be tricky, especially when it comes to sustaining any progress made over time. In Louisville Metro, a government organization based in Kentucky, many strategies were used to enact and sustain meaningful transformation.


Quality Improvement Associate Certification--CQIA

Certified Quality Improvement Associate Question Bank

Lean Problem-Solving Tools

Problem Solving Using A3

NEW   Root Cause Analysis E-Learning

Quality 101

Making the Connection In this exclusive QP webcast, Jack ReVelle, ASQ Fellow and author, shares how quality tools can be combined to create a powerful problem-solving force.

Adapted from The Executive Guide to Improvement and Change , ASQ Quality Press.

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7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

September 1, 2016 | Leadership Articles

7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

An effective problem-solving process is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones.

Being a successful leader doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems. Rather, it means that you know how to solve problems effectively as they arise. If you never had to deal with any problems, chances are pretty high that your company doesn’t really need you. They could hire an entry-level person to do your job!

Unfortunately, there are many examples of leaders out there who have been promoted to management or leadership positions because they are competent and excel in the technical skills needed to do the work. These people find themselves suddenly needing to “think on their feet” and solve problems that are far more high-level and complicated than they’ve ever really had to deal with before. Are there tools available to these people to help them solve the problem correctly and effectively? Absolutely!

Today, I am going to introduce you to the Seven Steps of Effective Problem Solving that Bullet Proof® Managers are learning about, developing, and implementing in their teams.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

What are things like when they are the way we want them to be?

This question helps you find the standard against which we’re going to measure where we are now. If things were going the way we want them to go, what does that look like? If this person were doing the job we want him or her to do, what would they be doing?

And then ask this important question: How much variation from the norm is tolerable?

Therein lies the problem. From an engineering perspective, you might have very little tolerance. From a behavioral perspective, you might have more tolerance. You might say it’s okay with me when this person doesn’t do it exactly as I say because I’m okay with them taking some liberty with this. Some other issue you may need 100% compliance.

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

At what stage is this problem? This helps you identify the urgency of the problem, and there are generally three stages.

The emergent stage is where the problem is just beginning to happen. It does not cause an immediate threat to the way business operates every day. It is just beginning to happen and you have time on your side to be able to correct it without it causing much damage to the processes it is affecting. The mature stage is where this problem is causing more than just minor damage. Some amount of damage has been done, and you need to jump on it immediately to fix it before it becomes a problem where the consequences may be greater, deeper, and more expensive if we don’t solve this problem fast.

The third stage is the crisis stage, when the problem is so serious it must be corrected immediately. At this stage, real damage has been done to company processes, reputation, finances, etc. that will have potentially long-term effects on your ability to do business.

Step 3: Describe the Problem

You should be able to describe a problem by writing it in the form of a statement and you should do it in 12 words or less, assuming it’s not a complicated, scientific problem. This way, you have clarity exactly what the issue is. Then, perhaps try distributing it to your team to ensure they agree that this is the root of the problem, that it makes sense, and everyone that is working toward a solution is working toward the same goal.

The most important question of all, when describing your problem: Is your premise correct?

Let me give you an example of what I mean. We’ve all heard – or read – the story of the engineer’s take on the old “half empty, half full” question. A speaker holds up the glass of water and asks if the glass is half empty or half full, a discussion within the group ensues, and you generally expect some sort of lesson in optimism, etc. from it. In this version, an engineer is in the room and answers, “I see this glass of water as being twice the size it needs to be.”

You see, sometimes when you are the one in charge of the problem, you tend to set the premise of the problem from your own perspective. But, that premise may not be accurate, or it may just need an alternate perspective from which to see it. If your premise is not correct, or at least incomplete, you are not fully understanding the problem and considering all the best options for a solution.

Step 4: Look for Root Causes

This step involves asking and answering a lot of questions. Ask questions like: What caused this problem? Who is responsible for this problem? When did this problem first emerge? Why did this happen? How did this variance from the standard come to be? Where does it hurt us the most? How do we go about resolving this problem?

Also, ask the most important question: Can we solve this problem for good so it will never occur again? Because an important aspect to leadership is coming up with solutions that people can use for a long-term benefit, rather than having to deal with the same problems over and over and over.

Step 5: Develop Alternate Solutions

Just about any problem you have to deal with has more solutions to it than the one that you think of first. So, it is best to develop a list of alternate solutions that you and your team can assess and decide which one will be the best for the particular problem. I often use the ⅓ + 1 Rule to create consensus around one – or the top two or three solutions – that will be best for everyone involved.

Then rank those solutions based on efficiency, cost, long-term value, what resources you have and that you can commit to the solution of the problem. Then, look at every one of those solutions carefully and decide what you believe to be the best solution to this problem at this time.

Step 6: Implement the Solution

Implementing the solution you decide on can include creating an implementation plan. It could also include planning on what happens next if something goes wrong with the solution if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. Implementation means that everyone on your team knows and understands their part in making the solution work, that there are timelines for execution, and also that you have a system in place to track whether or not the solution has corrected the problem.

Step 7: Measure the Results

From your implementation plan in step 6, make sure you track and measure the results so you can answer questions such as: Did it work? Was this a good solution? Did we learn something here in the implementation that we could apply to other potential problems?

These seven simple steps will help you become a more effective, efficient problem solver in your organization. As you practice this process and develop the skills, these steps will become more natural to you until the point that you are using them without noticing!

About Crestcom International, LLC.

Crestcom International, LLC is an international leadership development organization, training more than one million leaders for 25,000 businesses in over 60 countries across the globe. Crestcom achieves this through a blend of live-facilitated multimedia video, interactive exercises, and shared learning experiences. Crestcom implements action plans and coaching accountability sessions to ensure measured development in key leadership competency areas. For more information, please contact your local Crestcom representative found here .

Interested in a free Leadership Skills Workshop with your team?

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Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace


Problem-solving and decision-making. Ask anyone in the workplace if these activities are part of their day and they answer ‘Yes!’ But how many of us have had training in problem-solving?  We know it’s a critical element of our work, but do we know how to do it effectively?

People tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the right answer; and they look for someone to blame. Being faced with a problem becomes a problem. And that’s a problem because, in fact, there are always going to be problems!

There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem: it has to be solved and we’re not sure how to find the best solution, and there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is. Most of us tend to be “conflict-averse”. We don’t feel comfortable dealing with conflict and we tend to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen. The goal of a good problem-solving process is to make us and our organization more “conflict-friendly” and “conflict-competent”.

There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job. Looked at in this way, we can almost begin to welcome problems! (Well, almost.)

Because people are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. Let me say that again. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That’s a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process.

Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.

1. Identify the issues.

2. Understand everyone’s interests.

3. List the possible solutions (options)

4. Evaluate the options.

5. Select an option or options.

6. Document the agreement(s).

7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

Effective problem solving does take some time and attention more of the latter than the former. But less time and attention than is required by a problem not well solved. What it really takes is a willingness to slow down. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape.

Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you’re having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests.

This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision. The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and necessary it is to use a disciplined process. If you’re just trying to decide where to go out for lunch, you probably don’t need to go through these seven steps!

Don’t worry if it feels a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice!

Tim Hicks is a conflict management professional providing mediation, facilitation, training, coaching, and consulting to individuals and organizations. From 2006 to 2014 he led the Master’s degree program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon as its first director. He returned to private practice in 2015. Tim is… MORE >

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