Problems can exact a serious toll on a situation when left unaddressed. In a world full of tragedies, uncertainties, crises, and persistent problems, it is necessary for people to learn how to solve problems and find the best solutions possible. Problem solving is not only required in a work environment but also in all aspects of life. Problem solving can be defined as the process of defining a problem, determining and analyzing its root causes, recognizing, prioritizing, and choosing the best solution, and finally, executing the chosen solution.
It is well known that great leaders can solve problems because problems always exist. The founder, and the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center wrote in a Harvard Business Review article that “the people we saw driving impactful, world-changing initiatives just didn’t look like old-school leadership material — and didn’t seem to want to.” Instead, problem-led leadership, “a distinctive style of leadership,” was more prominent.
Here are 8 steps to effective problem solving.
Step 1: Recognize and Accept the Problem
To solve any problem after recognizing it, you must first accept the problem. This can occur when you acknowledge that the problem exists; then commit and devote yourself to attempting to solve the problem. Acknowledging the problem isn’t imaginary and actually exists can save half of the effort and trouble. When people deny or ignore the existence of a problem, they will never start dealing with it. How will you treat a disease you believe it doesn’t exist? After accepting the problem, you have to take accountability for your life and know that you are capable of establishing control and steering it in the right direction.
Step 2: Identify the Problem Accurately and Specifically
Ask yourself: What do I know about the problem? What do others know about it? What is my situation? What results am I aiming for in this circumstance? Then view the problem from different perspectives. Identify all the components and parts of this problem. After doing this, you are able to state the detailed problem clearly.
Step 3: Analyze the Problem
Evaluate the stage of the problem; there are three stages total.
- Emergent stage: The problem is just starting to occur, there are no big dangers.
- Mature stage: The problem leads to bigger dangers but still you can fix it before more severe threats occur.
- Crisis stage: The problem is so dangerous and even after solving it, some long-term effects will linger.
Knowing the stage will help to choose the way, speed, cost, and resources for handling the problem. You can evaluate the situation by using a “SWOT” analysis tool created by Albert Humphrey, a management consultant at Stanford Research Institute.
- S stands for Strengths: internal positive factors
- W stands for Weaknesses: internal negative factors
- O stands for Opportunities: external positive factors
- T stands for Threats: external negative factors
Step 4: Know the Root Causes
Dig deep to ‘know’ the real and fundamental causes of the problem. Ask questions like, who is responsible for the problem? What caused it? When did the problem arise? Moreover, you have to know what exactly occurred, and why it occurred?
- Define the problem which what already done previously.
- Collect data about the problem.
- Identify possible causes.
To identify causes, follow the sequence of events that caused the problem, the conditions and situations that allowed the problem, and other problems which surround the core problem.
There are some techniques and tools we use to know the root causes.
- The 5 Whys technique created by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries, in which you ask “why” five or more times until you find the root causes and exact reasons for the problem.
- The cause and effect diagram (Fishbone Diagram) created by the late Kaoru Ishikawa, Professor in the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Tokyo, in which you draw a diagram like a skeleton of a fish. The head of the fish is the problem and its fins are the major causes. Then categorize and write the core and major causes that led to the problem. Then find and write the sub-causes of the major causes, because every cause has something smaller that caused it. This tool helps you to know all the tiny details of the causes, to be able to solve it quickly.
Step 5: Generate Alternate Solutions
To generate possible solutions, understand the limitations and boundaries of the situation. Then develop all the possible solutions within the restrictions and resources you have. To reach the potential solutions, discuss the problem with others to get different views. The probability of finding the best solution is greater when the number of people involved is bigger, because each person has a unique, distinguishable view that leads to different solution. Start brainstorming to generate ideas to solve the problem but change your perspective while brainstorming to understand the situation from different point of views. After generating various solutions, begin to list all the advantages and disadvantages of each individual solution; then compare them.
Step 6: Decide on and Select the Best Solution
Choose the best solution or a combination of some multiple solutions. To do this, compare all the solutions, then attempt to combine alternatives together, and finally, try out each solution in your imagination. Following this, you can decide on the steps you will take to act on the alternative. There are some tools that can help us to make decisions faster when problem solving. One of them is Six Thinking Hats, developed by Edward de Bono, a psychologist, philosopher, inventor, and author.
- White Hat – Objective: Focus on facts, figures, data, numbers, and information
- Red Hat – Feelings: Focus on feelings, intuition, and emotions
- Black Hat – Negative: Focus on caution, restrictions, difficulties, judgment, and assessment
- Yellow Hat – Positive: Focus on benefits, feasibility, and optimism
- Green Hat – Creative: Focus on creative ideas, alternatives, suggestions, and proposals
- Blue Hat – Process: Focus on summaries, steps, procedures, conclusions, and reflections on the process
Putting on different “hats” enables you to better adapt mentally to a situation, whether it is a work meeting, a conversation that requires you to be more assertive or empathetic, or a moment of reflection.
Step 7: Execution of the Chosen Solution
After deciding which solution is the best fit, create an implementation plan. This plan involves all the steps, procedures, resources, and duration needed to implement the solution. Then devote yourself to execute the solution, based on the timeline written in your plan. It is important to make a contingency plan which contains a ‘back-up’ solution that fits the bill, if the first solution doesn’t work well.
Step 8: Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Solution
This step is done in parallel to the execution step. Compare the results of the solution with the goals you need to reach. Measure and track the solutions’ results to know whether it worked well or not. If there is a big disparity, then make adjustments to or change the plan.
These steps can assist you during the problem-solving process so that you can be a more effective, creative, efficient, and skillful problem solver. The more you practice this process, the more you will acquire the skills, until you use them subconsciously, without even realizing you are applying them.
Mina Fangrari holds a Bachelor of Science in Logistics and Supply Chain Management from the Arab Academy for Science Technology & Maritime Transport (AASTMT), ranked third in his major. He is the recipient of two fully-funded scholarships from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Mina was previously director of the AAST Entrepreneurship Society. Mina was awarded the Dean’s List (Fall 2018) at the University of the Incarnate Word, Texas, for his academic achievement, and by the Institute of International Education for his academic performance and community service. Mina had many internship experiences at big multinational and national companies in the fields of supply chain, logistics, marketing, and project management. He is a professional soft-skills, entrepreneurship, and critical thinking trainer. He is also the founder of the Prodigy-برودوجي videos program. He studied 720 hours of Professional Skills Training Program at The American University in Cairo. Mina has a TOT in career counseling by Edraak.