Problem Solving

Problem solving is a valuable skill that can really only be learnt, and perfected, through continual practice. A wide range of problem solving models and techniques are available to assist in evaluating and solving diverse problems of varying degrees of complexity. As a manager you, are encouraged to find the model which best works for you - one that is flexible and can be adapted to suit your own specific circumstances. Over time, your model of choice should become an automatic and integral part of your working practices.

Problem Solving Definition

A problem is the distance between how things currently are and the way they should be. Problem solving forms the ‘bridge’ between these two elements. In order to close the gap, you need to understand the way things are (problem) and the way they ought to be (solution).

Difference between Problem Solving and Decision Making

Although there is a clear distinction between problem solving and decision making, the two are often confused. Problem solving differs fundamentally from decision making. A problem occurs when something is not behaving as it should, something is deviating from the norm or something goes wrong. Decision making is a case of choosing between different alternatives. Decision making is required in response to the question: "Which computer shall I buy?" Problem solving is needed in response to the statement: "My computer won't work".

Most problem solving methods follow a common pattern, beginning with a definition of the problem, moving on to the consideration of potential solutions, and culminating with the selection, testing and implementation of a chosen course of action. Divergent thinking techniques can be helpful in generating creative ideas, while convergent thinking can assist in structuring and evaluating potential solutions.

Problems can be classified into one of two categories: the ‘fix-it’ or the ‘do-it’ scenario:

  • Fix-it – solving an existing problem, (e.g. a current product range is falling short of its sales targets). An immediate short-term solution could be to increase marketing activity, for example.
  • Do-it – moving you in the right direction for what you want to achieve, (e.g. a new product range needs to be introduced to compete with market rivals). This type of problem will require longer term planning in order to achieve its objectives.

Irrespective of the severity or complexity of the problem, the process should:

  • be systematic and thorough
  • provide evidence to show how the problem was solved
  • avoid a rush to a solution without first understanding the cause of the problem
  • enable possible causes to be assessed

Problem Solving Process and Framework

Effective managers include below actions into their problem solving strategies.

1. Define and understand the problem
2. Assess the scale of the problem
3. Gather relevant information
4. Identify the root causes
5. Test the hypothesis
6. Involve others
7. Consider the proposed solution(s)
8. Test the proposed solution
9. Champion your decision
10. Monitor the results

To learn more about problem solving and detailed description of the action checklist, view the guide below:

Download the guide  pdf-icon Solving problems


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