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My Introspective

by Laurus Nobilis
My BrainCast

Tool Box

Problem Solving - Part 2 (E)


Problem Solving




What are the tools for approaching problem solving? How to define the problem, analyze it and to find solution?


Posted: Jun 2009









Second part of problem Solving deals with analyzing of probable causes of problem, analyzing of problem from different perspective and finally with application of analytical thinking to problem identification.

Analyze Probable Causes When Solving Problems

The ability to quickly discover the source of a problem is helpful when you must solve problems under pressure. To cut down on the time wasted pursuing unlikely alternatives, follow these steps for the next few weeks until you are satisfied with your ability to quickly eliminate dead-end alternatives:

  • Develop a chart for each problem. Place the following headings across the top of the chart: “Potential Cause” “Profitability of Cause (1-100)”; Investigation Needed”; “Effort Required (1-5)”; and “Order of Investigation”.

  • For each problem generate a list of possible causes down the left margin of the chart in order of profitability.

  • For each cause, rate its probability of being the main cause of the problem. Use a scale from 1 to 100 with 1 being the lowest probability.

  • For each cause, determine what must be done and what investigative steps must be taken in order to verify that it is the “main” cause.

  • Rate the effort required to investigate whether the cause listed is the cause of the problem. Use a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 representing the least effort.

  • Balance the probability of the cause with the amount of investigation required. Based on this analysis, determine the order in which you will investigate the causes. Also identify any alternatives you can drop altogether.

  • Review your analysis with colleagues and ask for feedback. Adjust your investigation plan as appropriate


Analyze Problems From Different Points of View


For every problem statement, get in the habit of forcing yourself to generate at least 5 alternative solutions. This practice helps you to not only be more creative in your problem solving, but it also ensures that you have chosen the best solution among other possibilities.


It is critical to examine problems and issues from different perspectives. Not only will this improve the quality of your decisions, but it is also likely to increase others’ acceptance of your decisions because you can demonstrate that you have taken their interests and concerns into account. The best approach is to assemble representatives of each point of view (for example, different functions, levels, and so forth) and get their viewpoints firsthand.

If that is not possible, try the following:

  • List all perspectives/points of view that have a bearing on the issue. Examples may include those of employees, customers, managers, suppliers, or the general public. Alternatively, the various perspectives might be defined as operations, finance, marketing, legal, etc.

  • Look at the issue from each person’s perspective. Put yourself in their place. How would they define the issue?

  • For each alternative you are considering, identify and write down the pros and cons from each perspective. For example, what would employees gain and what would they lose? Which alternative would be preferable to them?

  • Take your list of alternatives to a trusted representative for each perspective and ask for feedback to see if you are aligned with their thinking.

Apply Analytical Thinking in Problem Identification

The first critical step in problem solving is to specify as clearly and succinctly as possible the actual content of cause of the issue or problem. By investing the time to gain clarity on the “real” problem, you will have a better sense of what information needs to be gathered and how it should be evaluated as well as who should be involved in the process.

  • When presented with a problem or issue, define your problem by writing down brief responses to the following questions:

  • What is the crux of this issue - what major questions, problems, challenges, or opportunities does this issue raise?

  • What is the potential impact of this issue - does it have significant consequences or ramifications? If so, what are they?

  • What other functions are likely to be affected by this issue?

  • What do others or I expect to accomplish by resolving this issue?

In addition, you may want to consider the answers to these important questions:

  • What is the current situation?

  • What facts are known, and what is still unknown?

  • When does the problem occur or not occur?

  • What opinions and feelings do people have about the situation?

  • What associated problems are present?

  • What assumptions were made that might need to be challenged?

  • What does the “real” problem seem to be?

Once you have considered these questions, you then follow-up by gaining input from others to ensure you are seeing the problem from different points of view, especially for those people who are closest to the problem. Following these basic rules will help you to have structured approach to problems, they analysis and problems resolution.


Recommended Reading: 
Problem Solving - Part 1



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