The 8 Problem Solving Steps
These 8 Problem Solving Steps are for doing projects and achieving objectives. These include, but are not limited to: Easy to difficult projects and objectives, straight forward and fast to complex and time consuming.
And...everything in between!
By thinking through a project or objective, logical and rational alternatives are determined based on facts, data, experience, and common sense.
Then, make informed decisions to solve a well thought out objective based on well grounded confidence.
Note: These 8 problem solving steps are not the only way to approach problems. However, the vast majority of problem solving will have some, if not all of these steps.
This process has two parts.
Part I: Define your project or objective.
Examples of projects are:
- Building a home office for yourself
- Building a home patio
- Putting in home tiling
Examples of achieving objectives are:
- Going on a great vacation
- Purchasing the right car
- Saving enough for your retirement
Part II: Structure your problem solving steps, then do it.
Structuring a task can be challenging. By using the problem solving steps noted below you will maximize your time and minimize frustration.
When working with these problem solving steps, continually ask questions throughout the process. Questions help to ensure a deeper understanding of your mission and how to handle it effectively.
Asking well thought out questions lead to more worthwhile questions. When one question leads to another question after an answer it is called begging the question. For example, when you ask the question: “Have I addressed a problem solving step similar to this before?” and the answer is “yes”, this begs the next question: “How did I do this last time?”
Step 1: Use your past knowledge
Have you encountered this type of task before?
- If so, what did you do then to address it?
- Were you successful in your approach?
- What did you do right?
- What did you do wrong?
- Do you know anyone who has had this problem before?
- If so, talk with that person (or people) and get some advice on how to handle the problem.
- Knowing what you know from past experiences, book knowledge and help from others, what can you apply to do the task at hand?
Step 2: Visualize your desired results
Visualizing the desired results helps you focus on what is needed to address your mission. By determining the desired results you can work backwards and determine the steps needed to get the desired results.
Ask the following questions:
- What outcome do you want?
- Is this outcome realistic?
- Why not?
- What steps (working backwards) can you take to get this result?
Discussing your desired outcome with friends, family or coworkers can be helpful to clarify what you want to achieve.
Others can frequently spark ideas and ways of looking at things that you may not have thought of yourself.
Step 3: Frame your project or objective
Sometimes the most difficult part of doing any task is deciding where to begin. This part of the process can be simplified by framing. Framing means defining what you need to do.
To frame your mission you will need to consider the following:
- How much research will you have to do?
- Where will you find the information you need?
- Will you use the Internet?
- Will you use books?
- Will you need expert help?
- How much time will it take?
- How much help from others will you need?
- How much assistance?
- Will you need other materials or equipment?
- What will you need?
- How much will the material/equipment cost?
- When will you need it?
- What are the consequences?
- Are the consequences large or small?
The greater the project or objective the more time should be invested in defining, researching and getting the resources you need.
Next, take a clean sheet of paper and write down questions that need to be answered.
This process is similar to making a grocery check list of items to buy. You make a list of things needed so you can get in and out of the store quickly. Such a list might include:
Making a check list for doing a task is also helpful. However, in this case the check list is of questions that need to be answered.
For example, suppose you want to go on a vacation. Use the generic considerations noted earlier to create the following questions.
- What is your budget for the vacation?
- How long can you afford to be gone due to work?
-- Due to other obligations?
- What time of year would you like to go?
- Where would you like to go?
- How will you get there?
As you write down questions this begins a train of thought. Writing down questions also encourages you to dig deeper, not taking things at face value and investigating further.
For example, the first question: What is your budget for the vacation?, begs the questions:
* How much money do you have available for a vacation?
* Are you willing to put the vacation on your credit card?
--If so, how much?
Step 4: Collect the facts and data
Next, determine the resources you will need to investigate your task to collect facts and data.
Step 5: Determine your available options
Once you have collected the facts and data you can come up with several potential options. Review the good and the bad of each option.
Step 6: Pick a solution and implement
After collecting and reviewing the facts and data and defining available options, select a solution and implement it.
Sometimes the solution is obvious. Other times you have to do a comparison study.
Feelings, emotions, intuition, past history and the magnitude of your solution may hold you back from deciding.
Strive to keep procrastination to a minimum. If you are having a tough time making a decision, review Dealing With Uncertainty from Step 6: Make Your Decision of: The 7 Decision Making Steps
Step 7: Modify or change if required
You may require more than one attempt to get a good solution. Consequently, after implementing your solution you may need to modify it. Sometimes significant changes may be required.
Only after applying a solution will you know if the results are what you desired. If it becomes obvious that you didn’t make a good decision, rethink it and choose a different solution if possible.
The toughest part of changing any decision is the admission that we are human and make mistakes.
In our society many people are schooled to think that mistakes are failures. In reality, mistakes are an important part of the learning process.
We all make mistakes, no matter how hard we try. Getting over them, admitting the errors and getting on with improving our decisions is crucial to critical thinking and decision making.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Step 8: Review your lessons learned
Each time you use these problem solving steps to do a new project or objective you gain more experience. This experience is invaluable for future undertakings.
Think about the lessons you learned. Ask yourself:
- What went right?
- What went wrong?
- What would you have done differently?
Consider other ways you could have handled your task that would have given you similar or better results. If this was a difficult task to do then consider writing it (and the solution) down on paper or in your computer. You can study this information in the future for ideas if/when you encounter a similar task and then use the problem solving steps again.Learning these 8 problem solving steps will help you to approach projects and objectives with a new found confidence.
There are many tools that are explored on this website that will help strengthen your ability at each of these problem solving steps.
These Problem Solving Tools are referenced below and they define which Problem Solving Steps they are most useful on.
(Can be used on: Any Step)
Ben Franklin Close
(Can be used on: Step 6)
(Can be used on: Step 2)
Gathering True Facts and Data
(Can be used on: Step 4)
Train of Thought
(Can be used on: Steps 2,5,6 & 7)
(Can be used on: Steps 2,5,6 & 7)
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Return from Problem Solving Steps to Problem Solving Techniques
On a daily basis, we face problems and situations that should be evaluated and solved, and we are challenged to understand different perspectives to think about these situations. Most of us are building our cognitive thinking based on previous similar situations or experiences. However, this may not guarantee a better solution for a problem, as our decision may be affected by emotions, non-prioritized facts, or other external influences that reflect on the final decision. Therefore, critical thinking tends to build a rational, open-mined process that depends on information and empirical evidence.
The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” The process tends to help us judge and evaluate situations based on understanding the related data, analyze it, build a clear understanding of the problem, choose the proper solution, and take actions based on the established solution.
The critical thinking process prevents our minds from jumping directly to conclusions. Instead, it guides the mind through logical steps that tend to widen the range of perspectives, accept findings, put aside personal biases, and consider reasonable possibilities. This can be achieved through six steps: knowledge, comprehension, application, analyze, synthesis, and take action. Below is a brief description of each step and how to implement them.
Step 1: Knowledge
For every problem, clear vision puts us on the right path to solve it. This step identifies the argument or the problem that needs to be solved. Questions should be asked to acquire a deep understanding about the problem. In some cases, there is no actual problem, thus no need to move forward with other steps in the critical thinking model. The questions in this stage should be open-ended to allow the chance to discuss and explore main reasons. At this stage, two main questions need to be addressed: What is the problem? And why do we need to solve it?
Step 2: Comprehension
Once the problem is identified, the next step is to understand the situation and the facts aligned with it. The data is collected about the problem using any of the research methods that can be adopted depending on the problem, the type of the data available, and the deadline required to solve it.
Step 3: Application
This step continues the previous one to complete the understanding of different facts and resources required to solve the problem by building a linkage between the information and resources. Mind maps can be used to analyze the situation, build a relation between it and the core problem, and determine the best way to move forward.
Step 4: Analyze
Once the information is collected and linkages are built between it the main problems, the situation is analyzed in order to identify the situation, the strong points, the weak points, and the challenges faced while solving the problem. The priorities are set for the main causes and determine how they can be addressed in the solution. One of the commonly used tools that can be deployed to analyze the problem and the circumstances around it is the cause effect diagram, which divides the problem from its causes and aims to identify the different causes and categorize them based on their type and impact on the problem.
Step 5: Synthesis
In this stage, once the problem is fully analyzed and all the related information is considered, a decision should be formed about how to solve the problem and the initial routes to follow to take this decision into action. If there are number of solutions, they should be evaluated and prioritized in order to find the most advantageous solution. One of the tools that contribute choosing the problem solution is the SWOT analysis that tends to identify the solution’s strength, weakness, opportunity, and threats.
Step 6: Take Action
The final step is to build an evaluation about the problem that can be put into action. The result of critical thinking should be transferred into action steps. If the decision involves a specific project or team, a plan of action could be implemented to ensure that the solution is adopted and executed as planned.
The critical thinking method can be adopted to replace emotions and perusal biases when trying to think about a situation or a problem. The time for adopting critical thinking varies based on the problem; it may take few minutes to number of days. The advantage of deploying critical thinking is that it contributes to widening our perspectives about situations and broadening our thinking possibilities. However, these steps should be translated into a plan of action that ensures that the decided resolution is well achieved and integrated between all the involved bodies.