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    Problem Solving Techniques: Steps, Tips, Example

    By Shashwat Khatri
    17 Nov'22  9 min read
    Problem Solving Techniques: Steps, Tips, Example
    Synopsis

    Problem solving techniques are some of the most practical set of techniques that are required in all fields and areas of study, a whole array of professions and careers, and in general everyday life. This article provides a few creative problem solving techniques, techniques of resolving conflict, and the steps of problem solving methods.

    Problem Solving Techniques: Steps, Tips, Example
    Synopsis

    Problem solving techniques are some of the most practical set of techniques that are required in all fields and areas of study, a whole array of professions and careers, and in general everyday life. This article provides a few creative problem solving techniques, techniques of resolving conflict, and the steps of problem solving methods.

    Problems are part and parcel of everyday life. Be it with school projects and assignments, or in your own personal pursuits and ambitions, problems highlight how things are less than what they can be and what needs fixing so the whole thing doesn’t spin out of control. It takes a deliberate effort to understand how to go about solving problems, for it is a skill unto itself. Problem solving skills make one an asset wherever they go, which is also why recruiters and organizations look for people who can effectively employ problem solving techniques and skills.

    In this guide, we take a look at what are problem solving skills, problem analysis and the different problem solving techniques as well as the individual steps of problem solving methods so that you can learn and benefit from their use in your own work.

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    Steps Of Problem Solving Method

    All problem solving techniques and problem solving methodology share a few common steps that one needs to know about. These are as follows:

    Defining the problem - This is harder than it sounds. A good problem solver doesn’t just go with what s/he feels is the problem, and instead takes into account what everyone else involved thinks about it too. Half the battle is won if you can define the problem at hand as thoroughly as possible, so make sure you specify the problem the best you can, listen to others, and learn to differentiate opinions from facts.

    Example: If you’re organizing a school campus cleaning drive, the use of plastic might be the main problem.

    List possible solutions - The next step involves brainstorming and generating all possible solutions. Take everyone’s ideas into consideration and all alternatives that pertain to the goal, without judgment. This step is even more important if you’re working with creative problem solving techniques and ensures that you and your team do not miss out on any creative magic. Categorize the solutions if needed, based on short and long term solutions, for example, and let the brainstorming process dictate.

    Example: Continuing with our campus cleaning drive example, a few solutions that you can come up with might include imposing fines for littering, banning plastic, adding bins near the mess or canteen, etc.

    Evaluate and select the best solution - The third step is to investigate and analyze all listed solutions. This is the stage to evaluate all alternatives and take them through the paces to see which of them work as a potential solution and which are doomed to fail. Take inputs from everyone involved and select the best option.

    Example: Not all the solutions for our campus cleaning drive are going to work, so we pick the one that is most effective, which could be adding more bins where crowds tend to gather.

    Create and implement a plan - For the last and most crucial bit, create a systematized plan of action around your chosen solution. You may also want to create a contingency plan in case things don’t pan out as planned. Then implement the plan, monitor it, and make changes wherever required. Again, consult with your team on all these for any of the problem solving methods to work.

    Example: To add more dustbins, we can plan a meeting with the school authorities, organize funds to purchase dustbins, and identify key areas where they should be placed.

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    Creative Types Of Problem Solving Techniques

    Now that we’ve seen the basic steps of problem solving techniques and problem solving methodology, let’s discuss a few creative techniques of resolving conflict and problem solving that you can implement.

    The Problem Tree

    This is a great visual problem solving method that encourages you to identify and analyze problems thoroughly and in an organized manner. It requires you to brainstorm a list of problems that you are faced with and organize them in a hierarchy. The basis of this could be from most to least important or urgent problems or any other parameter that seems appropriate.

    Example: For our campus cleaning drive, the problem of plastic is accompanied by various other problems, such as the lack of segregating dustbins on campus, lack of awareness among students about proper disposal., etc.

    The key here is to categorize them so that you can easily see how the problems relate to one another and how they can be best resolved.

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    The Six Thinking Hats

    problem solving method, techniques of resolving conflict, creative problem solving techniquesThe Six Thinking Hats Technique

    Two heads are better than one, and six are definitely so, at least with this problem solving method. Using this type of problem solving techniques, have each member of your group wear a different hat, representing a different perspective to come up with solutions to a problem. Here are the six different perspectives:

    • White hat - The wearer uses facts and data to come up with a solution.

    • Black hat - This wearer will flag caution and convey important departures from good decision making.

    • Red hat - This hat wearer goes by their gut reaction, basing their solutions solely on their intuition and how they feel.

    • Green hat - This hat explores every fresh alternative and possibility, bringing as much creative spin to the solutions as possible.

    • Yellow hat - Wear this hat when you want to accentuate the positive elements of an idea and balance out the black hat perspective.

    • Blue hat - This hat wearer organizes all other hats and their solutions and makes sure that they remain relevant and follow the rules.

    Example: For our campus cleaning drive, we have six different people look for solutions from six different perspectives. The White hat takes a purely logistical approach, the Black hat highlights where existing mechanisms are going wrong, the Red hat may suggest fining people for plastic use, the Green hat may suggest making participation in campus cleaning drive compulsory, the Yellow hat may highlight how the existing mechanisms may need to be tweaked, and, finally, the Blue hat ensures that all solutions remain relevant to the problem of plastic on campus.

    Circle around the hats and let all members assume the different roles at least once. Such problem solving techniques work best in groups, but you can try this problem solving method by yourself as well, wearing different hats one at a time and tackling the problem from different perspectives.

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    SWOT Analysis

    SWOT analysis is one of the more popular techniques of resolving conflict and solving problems. This tried-and-true formula of categorizing and focusing on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can facilitate group discussion and brainstorming sessions. Having the different ideas and concerns be clustered in the four quadrants can provide enough insight into how to approach the next steps of problem solving method.

    Example: The SWOT of each solution are taken into consideration for our cleaning drive. For instance, for the proposed solution of fining students for littering, its Strength lies in deterrence, its Weakness in its unpopularity, the Opportunity in having enough time to consider long-term solutions, and the Threat could come from concerned parents.

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    Fishbone Analysis

    This is another one of the creative problem solving techniques that allows you to get to the heart of the problem. Identify the main problem and have it annotated as the head of the fish. Then think upon all of the likely causes of this problem and list them to the left, grouped into categories. These make up the ‘bones’ of the problem. Use the resultant fish skeleton to identify and analyse the root causes and address them individually to solve your main problem.

    Example: The problem of plastic on campus is the fish’s head. Other contributing problems, such as lack of bins, environmental awareness, and the indifference of authorities make up the bones of the fish.

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    The 5 Why's

    This is a Socratic problem solving method that will force you to get to the root cause of the problem quickly. Ask yourself “why” the problem occurred and answer as objectively as possible. Then ask yourself “Why” four more times, delving ever deeper into the problem with each subsequent answer. At some stage, you will hit upon the root cause of the problem after which you can start to look for a solution in the right direction. Such problem solving techniques are ideal when you are working on a problem alone, though they work equally well when looking for solutions in a group.

    Example: Why is plastic a problem? - Students don’t care. Why? - Because they don’t know any better. Why? - Because environmental awareness isn’t taught in school or at home. Why? - Because plastic is everywhere, etc.

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    Impact And Effort Matrix

    Often the solutions that we come up with are either too resource-hungry or not impactful enough. This is where such efficient techniques of resolving conflict come in. As per this technique, let the team members generate solutions and categorize them in a 2x2 matrix. Divide the quadrants based on impact and effort such that you end up with the following four quadrants:

    • High Effort, High Impact - These are all the solutions that require a lot of work, but because they have a big impact, the efforts are justified.
    • Low Effort, High Impact - These solutions are the best as they don’t require much work but still yield impactful results.
    • High Effort, Low Impact - These are the kind of solutions you should steer clear of. They take in way too much effort for minimal impact.
    • Low Effort, Low Impact - These solutions are justified insofar as they’re yielding some results without taking away precious resources.

    Example: For campus cleaning, getting all students to take part is a High effort, High impact solution. Fining for littering and plastic use is Low effort, High Impact. Tackling the administration is High effort, Low impact. Posting flyers and posters around campus about the need for reducing plastic is a Low effort, Low Impact solution.

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    Tips To Get The Most Out Of Problem Solving Techniques

    There are certain tips that will benefit you greatly when implementing the problem solving techniques mentioned above.

    • Be objective - It is important to maintain objectivity for all the steps of a problem solving method. No matter which creative problem solving techniques you are using, an unbiased approach will lend credibility to the whole process and keep the solutions relevant.
    • Give each alternative its due - Do not brush a possible solution aside without consideration. Listen to others and inspire them to come up with creative ways to tackle the problem. You can do this by asking questions such as “How can we…” or “What should we…”, ensuring all the while that you allow everyone to have their say.
    • Write things down - Ask each member to write down their ideas and concerns, be it in a notebook or on post-its. Bring these together on a board for discussion. Writing things down will ensure that all the brains working together stay on the same page.

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    Coming up with effective solutions to problems is an important skill to have. Knowing which problem solving techniques to use and how to go about the whole process will ensure that you have the tools required to deal with problems as and when they arise.

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    Shashwat Khatri is a psychology graduate. He is a content developer with Careers360.

    • Human activities
    • Cognition
    • Problem solving
    • Cognitive science
    • Psychological concepts
    • Psychology
    • Brainstorming
    • SWOT analysis
    • Branches of science
    • Concepts in metaphysics

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