Problem Solving in Five Steps

Document created by 1050210 on Nov 17, 2014Last modified by 1002028 on Nov 18, 2014
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Published Date: 11/17/2014


Reneé Watkins

By Reneé Watkins


In both our personal life and professional life, there are always problems in need of a solution. Some problems are easily solved, as the problem may be a very small one, or the solution may be extremely obvious and easily implemented. Other problems may be larger or more difficult due to a solution that may not be quite so obvious. How do we attack a problem that seems to have no solution or appears to be too difficult?


Here are five steps to follow that can put you on track for finding a solution to even the most challenging of problems:


Understand exactly what the problem is


Many people spend a lot of time trying to fix the undesired result or “symptom” created by the problem instead of solving the root cause or problem itself. Albert Einstein once said, “If I were informed the world was in danger of coming to an end in 60 seconds, I would spend the first 59 seconds formulating the question and the 60th second solving for it.” Avoid attacking the problem with your first reaction. Think about what is really causing the issue. You may have to dig deep to see the real problem.


Identify your stakeholders


Most problems impact more than just you. Make a list of everyone impacted by the problem and how they are impacted. These are the stakeholders. They may be customers, other employees, suppliers or management. Understanding how the stakeholders are affected can help identify a common thread linking the problem to the stakeholders and the stakeholders to each other. This common thread is sometimes the key to solving the problem.


Identify the issues


Problems are usually born out of multiple issues that intersect at a particular point in a process. Even simple problems are the result of multiple smaller problems, each contributing to the larger problem. Going one level deeper and solving some of the smaller problems will serve to provide you with a solution to the larger problem.




Now that you have identified everything you need to know, start generating ideas for possible solutions. Gather your stakeholders and start brainstorming ideas for a solution. Quantity of ideas is more important at this point than quality. Do not overthink this. No idea is a bad idea during this process. Once you have all your ideas listed, start talking through them as a way of testing each idea as a possible solution and eliminate the ones that are either impractical or simply will not work. Again, it is important your idea solves the problem, not just the symptoms of the problem or the undesired results it produces.




After you select two or three possible solutions to the problem, test each solution before you roll it out as part of a process or procedure. Expand your stakeholder group to include more people who are impacted by the problem and who will therefore be impacted by your intended solution. Walk through your solution with them to get their feedback and to gain their support. Most importantly, listen to what they say. Sometimes a solution to fix one problem can lead to the creation of a new problem. Make sure you understand both the positives and the negatives your solution can have.