There are many different models for solving problems. They all have merits, but it’s important to think about the overall process of problem solving as well. This includes identifying and prioritizing problems and opportunities and getting the right together to solve them.

Summary by The World of Work Project


How To Get Better At Problem Solving: An Overview

All teams have problems they could solve in order to become more effective or efficient at what they do. They also all have processes and ways of working that are not actually problems, but which could be more efficient. To make these improvements, a structured approach to problems solving and improvement really is required.

Solving problems isn’t always a linear process.

There are many methods that help teams and individuals solve specific problems or work to take advantage of opportunities. The overall process of problem solving remains fairly similar regardless of which method is used.

In all instances you need to identify problems or opportunities to work on, decide which ones you’ll tackle first, select the right people to work on them, come up with solutions, and finally work to implement the solutions you’ve identified.

1. Identify Problems and Opportunities

It might sound obvious, but the very first step of problem solving is to identify what to focus on. These could problems you face or opportunities to improve things for you or your team.

There are many ways to identify things teams can solve or improve. Often, team members, not leaders, are best place to identify what these are. There are many different tools that can be used to identify things to work on. These include: team member suggestions, team brainstorming, customer feedback requests, supplier interviews and feedback and, of course, any kind of mandatory change.

Getting people involved in identifying options has several benefits. It yields better options and also builds engagement and trust within teams. It also increases buy in at an early stage of problem solving, provided leaders really listen to their team members.

How will you find the problems you want to work on?

2. Prioritize Your Problems and Opportunities

Having a list of problems and opportunities that you can work on is great. In reality, though, not all of your options are going to be of equal importance.

You’ll identify some problems or opportunities that are very complex and take a lot of effort. Some will be very simple and easy to implement. You’ll identify some that if addressed would yield huge benefits, and some that may only yield minor benefits.

So how do you decide which ones you should work on first? There are many decision making tools to help with this process. The one we recommend is the “Ease Benefit Matrix“. It’s simply an easy too to help you rank your problems by return on effort.

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3. Choose the People to Solve the Problems

Addressing problems and opportunities for improvement should be a group activity, not an individual one. When you bring people together you bring together a wealth of understanding, creativity and challenge. This diveristy often leads to better solutions and outcomes. There is no “right” number of people for solving problems. However, the number of people required may increase as problems become larger and more complex.

It’s not just a case of getting people together, it’s important to get the right people together. In most instances, leaders are not the right people. Instead, the best people to solve problems are those that are close to the processes and issues being discussed. These people are normally not in leadership positions, but operational or functional ones. The types of people we’d consider potentially useful for solving problems include: team members, process owners, technical experts, peer groups, delivery project team members and potentially customers and suppliers.

Could these people help you solve a problem?

It’s more important for people involved in problems solving to have a great understanding of the situation than it is for them to understand the problem solving process. They can always be taught the problem solving approach that you choose to use.

The last point we’ll raise here is that we recommend bringing in a dedicated facilitator for complex problems or opportunities. Facilitators help ensure that conversations and meetings progress effectively. They should help ensure you progress successfully through your methodology to a solution. You can always train a member of your team to be a facilitator, if that’s your preferred approach.

4. Solve the problem

Now that you’ve identified you problems, prioritized them, chosen the one you want to work on first and identified the people you are going to work with, you need to actually solve the problem. This process involves working out what your solution to the problem is. It does not, though, include the process of actually making the problem go away.

There are many different methods available for problem solving. It’s worth reviewing them and choosing the one that feels best for your situation and specific problem.

5. Implementing the solution

Once you’ve completed your problem solving process, you probably have a good idea of what needs to happen next. You might even have a plan to help you do it.

It might feel like you’ve reached the end of the process, but you’re really just at the start. The process of implementing your solution is hugely important and will not happen without control and leadership.

Things won’t just happen on their own.

To ensure you actually implement your solution, you may wish to assign an overall project manager. This may simply be a named person in your team. They may be responsible for doing some of the required tasks, but more likely they will be a project manager and a coordinator.

One of the most important things to remember when looking to implement a solution like this is time. People need to have time set aside and free of other work to focus on their actions. If they don’t, then your problems won’t actually get solved.

Learning More

Thinking about what we do from different perspectives and with others is very helpful for decision making. Tools like the reframing matrix process or hackathons can help us do this.

Part of the reason we’re not great at problem solving is that we all have thinking habits and cognitive biases that restrict our creativity. In particular, these decision making biases often lead us towards bad (or irrational) decisions. And sometimes we make decisions just because ISLAGIATT

Solving problems as a team using things like The A3 Problem Solving Process improves our problem solving. Similarly, drilling into issues with the 5 Whys helps us understand root causes more and creating an ease/benefit matrix helps us decide what to focus on in the first place. When we are actually working on things like this in groups it’s useful to use techniques like silent brainstorming to get the best results.

To learn more about creativity, innovation and problem solving, you might enjoy the third of our three podcasts specifically on these topics. It focuses mainly on cognitive processes:

The World of Work Project View

Many individuals and organizations want to learn how to get better at problem solving.

This is because many people and teams do not use structured approaches to problem solving, and the lose out as a result. We really think that structured approaches improve efficiency and yield better solutions than ad-hoc approaches.

Whatever process you choose to use, it is always important to make sure that you’re solving the right problem and that you have the right people in the room. If you don’t, you’re not only wasting your own time, you’re wasting everyone else’s as well.

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The contents of this post have been based on our own experience in the world of work, so no specific references are provided.

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