What is problem solving and why is it important
By Wayne Stottler , Kepner-Tregoe
- Problem Solving & Decision Making Over time, developing and refining problem solving skills provides the ability to solve increasingly complex problems Learn More
For over 60 years, Kepner-Tregoe has been helping companies across industries and geographies to develop and mature their problem-solving capabilities through KT’s industry leading approach to training and the implementation of best practice processes. Considering that problem solving is a part of almost every person’s daily life (both at home and in the workplace), it is surprising how often we are asked to explain what problem solving is and why it is important.
Problem solving is at the core of human evolution. It is the methods we use to understand what is happening in our environment, identify things we want to change and then figure out the things that need to be done to create the desired outcome. Problem solving is the source of all new inventions, social and cultural evolution, and the basis for market based economies. It is the basis for continuous improvement, communication and learning.
If this problem-solving thing is so important to daily life, what is it?
Problem-solving is the process of observing what is going on in your environment; identifying things that could be changed or improved; diagnosing why the current state is the way it is and the factors and forces that influence it; developing approaches and alternatives to influence change; making decisions about which alternative to select; taking action to implement the changes; and observing impact of those actions in the environment.
Each step in the problem-solving process employs skills and methods that contribute to the overall effectiveness of influencing change and determine the level of problem complexity that can be addressed. Humans learn how to solve simple problems from a very early age (learning to eat, make coordinated movements and communicate) – and as a person goes through life problem-solving skills are refined, matured and become more sophisticated (enabling them to solve more difficult problems).
Problem-solving is important both to individuals and organizations because it enables us to exert control over our environment.
Fixing things that are broken
Some things wear out and break over time, others are flawed from day-1. Personal and business environments are full of things, activities, interactions and processes that are broken or not operating in the way they are desired to work. Problem-solving gives us a mechanism for identifying these things, figuring out why they are broken and determining a course of action to fix them.
Humans have learned to identify trends and developed an awareness of cause-and-effect relationships in their environment. These skills not only enable us to fix things when they break but also anticipate what may happen in the future (based on past-experience and current events). Problem-solving can be applied to the anticipated future events and used to enable action in the present to influence the likelihood of the event occurring and/or alter the impact if the event does occur.
Individuals and organizations do not exist in isolation in the environment. There is a complex and ever-changing web of relationships that exist and as a result, the actions of one person will often have either a direct impact on others or an indirect impact by changing the environment dynamics. These interdependencies enable humans to work together to solve more complex problems but they also create a force that requires everyone to continuously improve performance to adapt to improvements by others. Problem-solving helps us understand relationships and implement the changes and improvements needed to compete and survive in a continually changing environment.
Problem solving isn’t just about responding to (and fixing) the environment that exists today. It is also about innovating, creating new things and changing the environment to be more desirable. Problem-solving enables us to identify and exploit opportunities in the environment and exert (some level of) control over the future.
Problem solving skills and the problem-solving process are a critical part of daily life both as individuals and organizations. Developing and refining these skills through training, practice and learning can provide the ability to solve problems more effectively and over time address problems with a greater degree of complexity and difficulty. View KT’s Problem Solving workshop known to be the gold standard for over 60 years.
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Introduction to Problem Solving Skills
What is problem solving and why is it important.
The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it’s raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk. If you don't want to get wet, you can drive, or take the bus. You might decide to call a friend for a ride, or you might decide to go to the store another day. There is no right way to solve this problem and different people will solve it differently.
Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.
Why is problem solving important? Good problem solving skills empower you not only in your personal life but are critical in your professional life. In the current fast-changing global economy, employers often identify everyday problem solving as crucial to the success of their organizations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions, and to show independence and initiative to employers.
Throughout this case study you will be asked to jot down your thoughts in idea logs. These idea logs are used for reflection on concepts and for answering short questions. When you click on the "Next" button, your responses will be saved for that page. If you happen to close the webpage, you will lose your work on the page you were on, but previous pages will be saved. At the end of the case study, click on the "Finish and Export to PDF" button to acknowledge completion of the case study and receive a PDF document of your idea logs.
What Does Problem Solving Look Like?
The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution. There are two basic types of strategies: algorithmic and heuristic.
Algorithmic strategies are traditional step-by-step guides to solving problems. They are great for solving math problems (in algebra: multiply and divide, then add or subtract) or for helping us remember the correct order of things (a mnemonic such as “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to remember which way the clock changes for daylight saving time, or “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” to remember what direction to turn bolts and screws). Algorithms are best when there is a single path to the correct solution.
But what do you do when there is no single solution for your problem? Heuristic methods are general guides used to identify possible solutions. A popular one that is easy to remember is IDEAL [ Bransford & Stein, 1993 ] :
- I dentify the problem
- D efine the context of the problem
- E xplore possible strategies
- A ct on best solution
IDEAL is just one problem solving strategy. Building a toolbox of problem solving strategies will improve your problem solving skills. With practice, you will be able to recognize and use multiple strategies to solve complex problems.
Watch the video
What is the best way to get a peanut out of a tube that cannot be moved? Watch a chimpanzee solve this problem in the video below [ Geert Stienissen, 2010 ].
Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.
- [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.
Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.
- [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.
Developing Problem Solving Processes
Problem solving is a process that uses steps to solve problems. But what does that really mean? Let's break it down and start building our toolbox of problem solving strategies.
What is the first step of solving any problem? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and identify the right cause of the problem. This may sound obvious, but similar problems can arise from different events, and the real issue may not always be apparent. To really solve the problem, it's important to find out what started it all. This is called identifying the root cause .
Example: You and your classmates have been working long hours on a project in the school's workshop. The next afternoon, you try to use your student ID card to access the workshop, but discover that your magnetic strip has been demagnetized. Since the card was a couple of years old, you chalk it up to wear and tear and get a new ID card. Later that same week you learn that several of your classmates had the same problem! After a little investigation, you discover that a strong magnet was stored underneath a workbench in the workshop. The magnet was the root cause of the demagnetized student ID cards.
The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather information. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution. Ask yourself questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? When was the last time it worked correctly? What has changed since then? Can you diagram the process into separate steps? Where in the process is the problem occurring? Be curious, ask questions, gather facts, and make logical deductions rather than assumptions.
Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters, describe his problem solving process [ ForaTv, 2010 ]. As you watch this section of the video, try to identify the questions he asks and the different strategies he uses.
Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important. Your list may be different from other people in your class—that's ok!
- [Page 3: Developing Problem Solving Processes] Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important.
“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” — Thomas J. Watson , founder of IBM
Voices From the Field: Solving Problems
In manufacturing facilities and machine shops, everyone on the floor is expected to know how to identify problems and find solutions. Today's employers look for the following skills in new employees: to analyze a problem logically, formulate a solution, and effectively communicate with others.
In this video, industry professionals share their own problem solving processes, the problem solving expectations of their employees, and an example of how a problem was solved.
Meet the Partners:
- Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a comprehensive, fully accredited high school with special programs in Health Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Work-Based Learning.
- Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prepares its students with applied manufacturing technical skills, providing hands-on experience at industrial laboratories and manufacturing facilities, and instructing them in current technologies.
- H.C. Starck in Newton, Massachusetts, specializes in processing and manufacturing technology metals, such as tungsten, niobium, and tantalum. In almost 100 years of experience, they hold over 900 patents, and continue to innovate and develop new products.
- Nypro Healthcare in Devens, Massachusetts, specializes in precision injection-molded healthcare products. They are committed to good manufacturing processes including lean manufacturing and process validation.
Now that you have a couple problem solving strategies in your toolbox, let's practice. In this exercise, you are given a scenario and you will be asked to decide what steps you would take to identify and solve the problem.
Scenario: You are a new employee and have just finished your training. As your first project, you have been assigned the milling of several additional components for a regular customer. Together, you and your trainer, Bill, set up for the first run. Checking your paperwork, you gather the tools and materials on the list. As you are mounting the materials on the table, you notice that you didn't grab everything and hurriedly grab a few more items from one of the bins. Once the material is secured on the CNC table, you load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets.
Bill tells you that since this is a rerun of a job several weeks ago, the CAD/CAM model has already been converted to CNC G-code. Bill helps you download the code to the CNC machine. He gives you the go-ahead and leaves to check on another employee. You decide to start your first run.
What problems did you observe in the video?
- [Page 5: Making Decisions] What problems did you observe in the video?
- What do you do next?
- Try to fix it yourself.
- Ask your trainer for help.
As you are cleaning up, you think about what happened and wonder why it happened. You try to create a mental picture of what happened. You are not exactly sure what the end mill hit, but it looked like it might have hit the dowel pin. You wonder if you grabbed the correct dowel pins from the bins earlier.
You can think of two possible next steps. You can recheck the dowel pin length to make sure it is the correct length, or do a dry run using the CNC single step or single block function with the spindle empty to determine what actually happened.
- Check the dowel pins.
- Use the single step/single block function to determine what happened.
You notice that your trainer, Bill, is still on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem to him. Bill asks if you know what the end mill ran into. You explain that you are not sure but you think it was the dowel pin. Bill reminds you that it is important to understand what happened so you can fix the correct problem. He suggests that you start all over again and begin with a dry run using the single step/single block function, with the spindle empty, to determine what it hit. Or, since it happened at the end, he mentions that you can also check the G-code to make sure the Z-axis is raised before returning to the home position.
- Run the single step/single block function.
- Edit the G-code to raise the Z-axis.
You finish cleaning up and check the CNC for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. You check your paperwork and gather the components and materials again. You look at the dowel pins you used earlier, and discover that they are not the right length. As you go to grab the correct dowel pins, you have to search though several bins. For the first time, you are aware of the mess - it looks like the dowel pins and other items have not been put into the correctly labeled bins. You spend 30 minutes straightening up the bins and looking for the correct dowel pins.
Finally finding them, you finish setting up. You load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do a dry run of the part. Everything looks good! You are ready to create your first part. The first component is done, and, as you admire your success, you notice that the part feels hotter than it should.
You wonder why? You go over the steps of the process to mentally figure out what could be causing the residual heat. You wonder if there is a problem with the CNC's coolant system or if the problem is in the G-code.
- Look at the G-code.
After thinking about the problem, you decide that maybe there's something wrong with the setup. First, you clean up the damaged materials and remove the broken tool. You check the CNC machine carefully for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. It is time to start over again from the beginning.
You again check your paperwork and gather the tools and materials on the setup sheet. After securing the new materials, you use the CNC single step/single block function with the spindle empty, to do a dry run of the part. You watch carefully to see if you can figure out what happened. It looks to you like the spindle barely misses hitting the dowel pin. You determine that the end mill was broken when it hit the dowel pin while returning to the start position.
After conducting a dry run using the single step/single block function, you determine that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin on its return to the home position. You discuss your options with Bill. Together, you decide the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis before returning to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. You are ready to create your first part. It works. You first part is completed. Only four more to go.
As you are cleaning up, you notice that the components are hotter than you expect and the end mill looks more worn than it should be. It dawns on you that while you were milling the component, the coolant didn't turn on. You wonder if it is a software problem in the G-code or hardware problem with the CNC machine.
It's the end of the day and you decide to finish the rest of the components in the morning.
- You decide to look at the G-code in the morning.
- You leave a note on the machine, just in case.
You decide that the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code.
While editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis, you notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and at the end of the code. The coolant command error caught your attention because your coworker, Mark, mentioned having a similar issue during lunch. You change the coolant command to turn the mist on.
- You decide to talk with your supervisor.
- You discuss what happened with a coworker over lunch.
As you reflect on the residual heat problem, you think about the machining process and the factors that could have caused the issue. You try to think of anything and everything that could be causing the issue. Are you using the correct tool for the specified material? Are you using the specified material? Is it running at the correct speed? Is there enough coolant? Are there chips getting in the way?
Wait, was the coolant turned on? As you replay what happened in your mind, you wonder why the coolant wasn't turned on. You decide to look at the G-code to find out what is going on.
From the milling machine computer, you open the CNC G-code. You notice that there are no coolant commands. You add them in and on the next run, the coolant mist turns on and the residual heat issues is gone. Now, its on to creating the rest of the parts.
Have you ever used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've probably have, even if you didn't realize it.
You notice that your trainer, Bill, is on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem with the end mill breaking, and how you discovered that items are not being returned to the correctly labeled bins. You think this caused you to grab the incorrect length dowel pins on your first run. You have sorted the bins and hope that the mess problem is fixed. You then go on to tell Bill about the residual heat issue with the completed part.
Together, you go to the milling machine. Bill shows you how to check the oil and coolant levels. Everything looks good at the machine level. Next, on the CNC computer, you open the CNC G-code. While looking at the code, Bill points out that there are no coolant commands. Bill adds them in and when you rerun the program, it works.
Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .
Talking with Bill, you discuss the best way to fix the problem. Bill suggests editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to its home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Following the setup sheet, you re-setup the job and use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part. It works. Since you need four of each component, you move on to creating the rest of them before cleaning up and leaving for the day.
It's a new day and you have new components to create. As you are setting up, you go in search of some short dowel pins. You discover that the bins are a mess and components have not been put away in the correctly labeled bins. You wonder if this was the cause of yesterday's problem. As you reorganize the bins and straighten up the mess, you decide to mention the mess issue to Bill in your afternoon meeting.
You describe the bin mess and using the incorrect length dowels to Bill. He is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are not the first person to mention similar issues with tools and parts not being put away correctly. Chances are there is a bigger safety issue here that needs to be addressed in the next staff meeting.
In any workplace, following proper safety and cleanup procedures is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money.
You now know that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin. It seems to you that the easiest thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis position of the spindle before it returns to the home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code, raising the Z-axis. Starting over, you follow the setup sheet and re-setup the job. This time, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part.
At the end of the day, you are reviewing your progress with your trainer, Bill. After you describe the day's events, he reminds you to always think about safety and the importance of following work procedures. He decides to bring the issue up in the next morning meeting as a reminder to everyone.
In any workplace, following proper procedures (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. One tool to improve communication is the morning meeting or huddle.
The next morning, you check the G-code to determine what is wrong with the coolant. You notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and also at the end of the code. This is strange. You change the G-code to turn the coolant on at the beginning of the run and off at the end. This works and you create the rest of the parts.
Throughout the day, you keep wondering what caused the G-code error. At lunch, you mention the G-code error to your coworker, John. John is not surprised. He said that he encountered a similar problem earlier this week. You decide to talk with your supervisor the next time you see him.
You are in luck. You see your supervisor by the door getting ready to leave. You hurry over to talk with him. You start off by telling him about how you asked Bill for help. Then you tell him there was a problem and the end mill was damaged. You describe the coolant problem in the G-code. Oh, and by the way, John has seen a similar problem before.
Your supervisor doesn't seem overly concerned, errors happen. He tells you "Good job, I am glad you were able to fix the issue." You are not sure whether your supervisor understood your explanation of what happened or that it had happened before.
The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor that something is not going well, it is important to remember that timing, preparation, and attitude are extremely important.
It is the end of your shift, but you want to let the next shift know that the coolant didn't turn on. You do not see your trainer or supervisor around. You decide to leave a note for the next shift so they are aware of the possible coolant problem. You write a sticky note and leave it on the monitor of the CNC control system.
How effective do you think this solution was? Did it address the problem?
In this scenario, you discovered several problems with the G-code that need to be addressed. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring and avoid injury to personnel. The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your co-workers or supervisor that there is a problem, it is important to remember that timing and the method of communication are extremely important.
You are able to fix the coolant problem in the G-code. While you are glad that the problem is fixed, you are worried about why it happened in the first place. It is important to remember that if a problem keeps reappearing, you may not be fixing the right problem. You may only be addressing the symptoms.
You decide to talk to your trainer. Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .
Over lunch, you ask your coworkers about the G-code problem and what may be causing the error. Several people mention having similar problems but do not know the cause.
You have now talked to three coworkers who have all experienced similar coolant G-code problems. You make a list of who had the problem, when they had the problem, and what each person told you.
When you see your supervisor later that afternoon, you are ready to talk with him. You describe the problem you had with your component and the damaged bit. You then go on to tell him about talking with Bill and discovering the G-code issue. You show him your notes on your coworkers' coolant issues, and explain that you think there might be a bigger problem.
You supervisor thanks you for your initiative in identifying this problem. It sounds like there is a bigger problem and he will need to investigate the root cause. He decides to call a team huddle to discuss the issue, gather more information, and talk with the team about the importance of communication.
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis ( RCA ) is a method of problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of an issue. Root cause analysis helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. RCA uses clear cut steps in its associated tools, like the "5 Whys Analysis" and the "Cause and Effect Diagram," to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:
- Determine what happened.
- Determine why it happened.
- Fix the problem so it won’t happen again.
RCA works under the idea that systems and events are connected. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it developed into the problem you're now facing. Root cause analysis can prevent problems from recurring, reduce injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money. There are many different RCA techniques available to determine the root cause of a problem. These are just a few:
- Root Cause Analysis Tools
- 5 Whys Analysis
- Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram
- Pareto Analysis
How Huddles Work
Communication is a vital part of any setting where people work together. Effective communication helps employees and managers form efficient teams. It builds trusts between employees and management, and reduces unnecessary competition because each employee knows how their part fits in the larger goal.
One tool that management can use to promote communication in the workplace is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting where everyone is standing in a circle. A daily team huddle ensures that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, reiterated problems and safety issues, and how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.
The most important thing to remember about huddles is that they are short, lasting no more than 10 minutes, and their purpose is to communicate and identify. In essence, a huddle’s purpose is to identify priorities, communicate essential information, and discover roadblocks to productivity.
Who uses huddles? Many industries and companies use daily huddles. At first thought, most people probably think of hospitals and their daily patient update meetings, but lots of managers use daily meetings to engage their employees. Here are a few examples:
- Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk? , uses the daily huddle as an operational tool to take the pulse of his employees and as a motivational tool. Watch a morning huddle meeting .
- Fusion OEM, an outsourced manufacturing and production company. What do employees take away from the daily huddle meeting .
- Biz-Group, a performance consulting group. Tips for a successful huddle .
One tool that can be useful in problem solving is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination . The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually. Like most problem solving techniques, brainstorming is a process.
- Define a clear objective.
- Have an agreed a time limit.
- During the brainstorming session, write down everything that comes to mind, even if the idea sounds crazy.
- If one idea leads to another, write down that idea too.
- Combine and refine ideas into categories of solutions.
- Assess and analyze each idea as a potential solution.
When used during problem solving, brainstorming can offer companies new ways of encouraging staff to think creatively and improve production. Brainstorming relies on team members' diverse experiences, adding to the richness of ideas explored. This means that you often find better solutions to the problems. Team members often welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and can provide buy-in for the solution chosen—after all, they are more likely to be committed to an approach if they were involved in its development. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond.
- Watch Peggy Morgan Collins, a marketing executive at Power Curve Communications discuss How to Stimulate Effective Brainstorming .
- Watch Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, a digital content company, and her team share their top five rules for How to Effectively Generate Ideas .
Importance of Good Communication and Problem Description
Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide when you talk to your supervisor.
Tips for clear communication of an issue:
- Provide a clear summary of your problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
- Avoid including your opinion or personal attacks in your explanation.
- Avoid using words like "always" or "never," which can give the impression that you are exaggerating the problem.
- If this is an ongoing problem and you have collected documentation, give it to your supervisor once you have finished describing the problem.
- Remember to listen to what's said in return; communication is a two-way process.
Not all communication is spoken. Body language is nonverbal communication that includes your posture, your hands and whether you make eye contact. These gestures can be subtle or overt, but most importantly they communicate meaning beyond what is said. When having a conversation, pay attention to how you stand. A stiff position with arms crossed over your chest may imply that you are being defensive even if your words state otherwise. Shoving your hands in your pockets when speaking could imply that you have something to hide. Be wary of using too many hand gestures because this could distract listeners from your message.
The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas or concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor or co-worker about something that is not going well, keep in mind that good timing and good attitude will go a long way toward helping your case.
Like all skills, effective communication needs to be practiced. Toastmasters International is perhaps the best known public speaking organization in the world. Toastmasters is open to anyone who wish to improve their speaking skills and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so. To learn more, visit Toastmasters International .
Methods of Communication
Communication of problems and issues in any workplace is important, particularly when safety is involved. It is therefore crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. As issues and problems arise, they need to be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important skill because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.
There are many different ways to communicate: in person, by phone, via email, or written. There is no single method that fits all communication needs, each one has its time and place.
In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response through their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.
Email: Email has become the communication standard for most businesses. It can be accessed from almost anywhere and is great for things that don’t require an immediate response. Email is a great way to communicate non-urgent items to large amounts of people or just your team members. One thing to remember is that most people's inboxes are flooded with emails every day and unless they are hyper vigilant about checking everything, important items could be missed. For issues that are urgent, especially those around safety, email is not always be the best solution.
Phone: Phone calls are more personal and direct than email. They allow us to communicate in real time with another person, no matter where they are. Not only can talking prevent miscommunication, it promotes a two-way dialogue. You don’t have to worry about your words being altered or the message arriving on time. However, mobile phone use and the workplace don't always mix. In particular, using mobile phones in a manufacturing setting can lead to a variety of problems, cause distractions, and lead to serious injury.
Written: Written communication is appropriate when detailed instructions are required, when something needs to be documented, or when the person is too far away to easily speak with over the phone or in person.
There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for your situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.
Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?
- [Page 6:] Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?
Summary of Strategies
In this exercise, you were given a scenario in which there was a problem with a component you were creating on a CNC machine. You were then asked how you wanted to proceed. Depending on your path through this exercise, you might have found an easy solution and fixed it yourself, asked for help and worked with your trainer, or discovered an ongoing G-code problem that was bigger than you initially thought.
When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. Although, each path in this exercise ended with a description of a problem solving tool for your toolbox, the first step is always to identify the problem and define the context in which it happened.
There are several strategies that can be used to identify the root cause of a problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred. RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the “5 Why Analysis" or the “Cause and Effect Diagram,” to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:
Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue defined, the next step is to explore possible strategies to fix the problem.
If you are not sure how to fix the problem, it is okay to ask for help. Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t have the answer. When you collaborate to solve problems you improve workplace communication and accelerates finding solutions as similar problems arise.
One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually.
Depending on your path through the exercise, you may have discovered that a couple of your coworkers had experienced similar problems. This should have been an indicator that there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed.
In any workplace, communication of problems and issues (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.
One strategy for improving communication is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting with everyone standing in a circle. A daily team huddle is a great way to ensure that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, any problems or safety issues are identified and that team members are aware of how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.
To learn more about different problem solving strategies, choose an option below. These strategies accompany the outcomes of different decision paths in the problem solving exercise.
- View Problem Solving Strategies Select a strategy below... Root Cause Analysis How Huddles Work Brainstorming Importance of Good Problem Description Methods of Communication
Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide during your meeting.
- Provide a clear summary of the problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response in their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.
There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for the situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.
"Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” — Richard Sloma
Problem Solving: An Important Job Skill
Problem solving improves efficiency and communication on the shop floor. It increases a company's efficiency and profitability, so it's one of the top skills employers look for when hiring new employees. Recent industry surveys show that employers consider soft skills, such as problem solving, as critical to their business’s success.
The 2011 survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing ," polled over a thousand manufacturing executives who reported that the number one skill deficiency among their current employees is problem solving, which makes it difficult for their companies to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.
In this video, industry professionals discuss their expectations and present tips for new employees joining the manufacturing workforce.
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Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders in Any Industry
- 17 Jan 2023
Any organization offering a product or service is in the business of solving problems.
Whether providing medical care to address health issues or quick convenience to those hungry for dinner, a business’s purpose is to satisfy customer needs .
In addition to solving customers’ problems, you’ll undoubtedly encounter challenges within your organization as it evolves to meet customer needs. You’re likely to experience growing pains in the form of missed targets, unattained goals, and team disagreements.
Yet, the ubiquity of problems doesn’t have to be discouraging; with the right frameworks and tools, you can build the skills to solve consumers' and your organization’s most challenging issues.
Here’s a primer on problem-solving in business, why it’s important, the skills you need, and how to build them.
Access your free e-book today.
What Is Problem-Solving in Business?
Problem-solving is the process of systematically removing barriers that prevent you or others from reaching goals.
Your business removes obstacles in customers’ lives through its products or services, just as you can remove obstacles that keep your team from achieving business goals.
Design thinking , as described by Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , is a human-centered , solutions-based approach to problem-solving and innovation. Originally created for product design, design thinking’s use case has evolved . It’s now used to solve internal business problems, too.
The design thinking process has four stages :
- Clarify: Clarify a problem through research and feedback from those impacted.
- Ideate: Armed with new insights, generate as many solutions as possible.
- Develop: Combine and cull your ideas into a short list of viable, feasible, and desirable options before building prototypes (if making physical products) and creating a plan of action (if solving an intangible problem).
- Implement: Execute the strongest idea, ensuring clear communication with all stakeholders about its potential value and deliberate reasoning.
Using this framework, you can generate innovative ideas that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise.
Another, less structured approach to challenges is creative problem-solving , which employs a series of exercises to explore open-ended solutions and develop new perspectives. This is especially useful when a problem’s root cause has yet to be defined.
You can use creative problem-solving tools in design thinking’s “ideate” stage, which include:
- Brainstorming: Instruct everyone to develop as many ideas as possible in an allotted time frame without passing judgment.
- Divergent thinking exercises: Rather than arriving at the same conclusion (convergent thinking), instruct everyone to come up with a unique idea for a given prompt (divergent thinking). This type of exercise helps avoid the tendency to agree with others’ ideas without considering alternatives.
- Alternate worlds: Ask your team to consider how various personas would manage the problem. For instance, how would a pilot approach it? What about a young child? What about a seasoned engineer?
It can be tempting to fall back on how problems have been solved before, especially if they worked well. However, if you’re striving for innovation, relying on existing systems can stunt your company’s growth.
Related: How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips
Why Is Problem-Solving Important for Leaders?
While obstacles’ specifics vary between industries, strong problem-solving skills are crucial for leaders in any field.
Whether building a new product or dealing with internal issues, you’re bound to come up against challenges. Having frameworks and tools at your disposal when they arise can turn issues into opportunities.
As a leader, it’s rarely your responsibility to solve a problem single-handedly, so it’s crucial to know how to empower employees to work together to find the best solution.
Your job is to guide them through each step of the framework and set the parameters and prompts within which they can be creative. Then, you can develop a list of ideas together, test the best ones, and implement the chosen solution.
Related: 5 Design Thinking Skills for Business Professionals
4 Problem-Solving Skills All Leaders Need
1. problem framing.
One key skill for any leader is framing problems in a way that makes sense for their organization. Problem framing is defined in Design Thinking and Innovation as determining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve.
“Before you begin to generate solutions for your problem, you must always think hard about how you’re going to frame that problem,” Datar says in the course.
For instance, imagine you work for a company that sells children’s sneakers, and sales have plummeted. When framing the problem, consider:
- What is the children’s sneaker market like right now?
- Should we improve the quality of our sneakers?
- Should we assess all children’s footwear?
- Is this a marketing issue for children’s sneakers specifically?
- Is this a bigger issue that impacts how we should market or produce all footwear?
While there’s no one right way to frame a problem, how you do can impact the solutions you generate. It’s imperative to accurately frame problems to align with organizational priorities and ensure your team generates useful ideas for your firm.
To solve a problem, you need to empathize with those impacted by it. Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and experiences. While many believe empathy is a fixed trait, it’s a skill you can strengthen through practice.
When confronted with a problem, consider whom it impacts. Returning to the children’s sneaker example, think of who’s affected:
- Your organization’s employees, because sales are down
- The customers who typically buy your sneakers
- The children who typically wear your sneakers
Empathy is required to get to the problem’s root and consider each group’s perspective. Assuming someone’s perspective often isn’t accurate, so the best way to get that information is by collecting user feedback.
For instance, if you asked customers who typically buy your children’s sneakers why they’ve stopped, they could say, “A new brand of children’s sneakers came onto the market that have soles with more traction. I want my child to be as safe as possible, so I bought those instead.”
When someone shares their feelings and experiences, you have an opportunity to empathize with them. This can yield solutions to their problem that directly address its root and shows you care. In this case, you may design a new line of children’s sneakers with extremely grippy soles for added safety, knowing that’s what your customers care most about.
Related: 3 Effective Methods for Assessing Customer Needs
3. Breaking Cognitive Fixedness
Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind in which you examine situations through the lens of past experiences. This locks you into one mindset rather than allowing you to consider alternative possibilities.
For instance, your cognitive fixedness may make you think rubber is the only material for sneaker treads. What else could you use? Is there a grippier alternative you haven’t considered?
Problem-solving is all about overcoming cognitive fixedness. You not only need to foster this skill in yourself but among your team.
4. Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment
As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment conducive to problem-solving. In a psychologically safe environment, all team members feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, which are likely influenced by their personal opinions and experiences.
If employees are penalized for “bad” ideas or chastised for questioning long-held procedures and systems, innovation has no place to take root.
By employing the design thinking framework and creative problem-solving exercises, you can foster a setting in which your team feels comfortable sharing ideas and new, innovative solutions can grow.
How to Build Problem-Solving Skills
The most obvious answer to how to build your problem-solving skills is perhaps the most intimidating: You must practice.
Again and again, you’ll encounter challenges, use creative problem-solving tools and design thinking frameworks, and assess results to learn what to do differently next time.
While most of your practice will occur within your organization, you can learn in a lower-stakes setting by taking an online course, such as Design Thinking and Innovation . Datar guides you through each tool and framework, presenting real-world business examples to help you envision how you would approach the same types of problems in your organization.
Are you interested in uncovering innovative solutions for your organization’s business problems? Explore Design Thinking and Innovation —one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses —to learn how to leverage proven frameworks and tools to solve challenges. Not sure which course is right for you? Download our free flowchart .
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7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More Successful Manager
Discover what problem-solving is, and why it's important for managers. Understand the steps of the process and learn about seven problem-solving skills.
1Managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a particular department, and sometimes a whole company, using their problem-solving skills regularly. Managers with good problem-solving skills can help ensure companies run smoothly and prosper.
If you're a current manager or are striving to become one, read this guide to discover what problem-solving skills are and why it's important for managers to have them. Learn the steps of the problem-solving process, and explore seven skills that can help make problem-solving easier and more effective.
What is problem-solving?
Problem-solving is both an ability and a process. As an ability, problem-solving can aid in resolving issues faced in different environments like home, school, abroad, and social situations, among others. As a process, problem-solving involves a series of steps for finding solutions to questions or concerns that arise throughout life.
The importance of problem-solving for managers
Managers deal with problems regularly, whether supervising a staff of two or 100. When people solve problems quickly and effectively, workplaces can benefit in a number of ways. These include:
Increased job fulfillment
Satisfied clients or customers
Better cooperation and cohesion
Improved environments for employees and customers
7 skills that make problem-solving easier
Companies depend on managers who can solve problems adeptly. Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork.
As a manager , you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first. Then, you’ll use analytical skills to distinguish between ineffective and effective solutions.
Effective communication plays a significant role in problem-solving, particularly when others are involved. Some skills that can help enhance communication at work include active listening, speaking with an even tone and volume, and supporting verbal information with written communication.
3. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in any situation. People with emotional intelligence usually solve problems calmly and systematically, which often yields better results.
Emotional intelligence and resilience are closely related traits. Resiliency is the ability to cope with and bounce back quickly from difficult situations. Those who possess resilience are often capable of accurately interpreting people and situations, which can be incredibly advantageous when difficulties arise.
When brainstorming solutions to problems, creativity can help you to think outside the box. Problem-solving strategies can be enhanced with the application of creative techniques. You can use creativity to:
Approach problems from different angles
Improve your problem-solving process
Spark creativity in your employees and peers
Adaptability is the capacity to adjust to change. When a particular solution to an issue doesn't work, an adaptable person can revisit the concern to think up another one without getting frustrated.
Finding a solution to a problem regularly involves working in a team. Good teamwork requires being comfortable working with others and collaborating with them, which can result in better problem-solving overall.
Steps of the problem-solving process
Effective problem-solving involves five essential steps. One way to remember them is through the IDEAL model created in 1984 by psychology professors John D. Bransford and Barry S. Stein [ 1 ]. The steps to solving problems in this model include: identifying that there is a problem, defining the goals you hope to achieve, exploring potential solutions, choosing a solution and acting on it, and looking at (or evaluating) the outcome.
1. Identify that there is a problem and root out its cause.
To solve a problem, you must first admit that one exists to then find its root cause. Finding the cause of the problem may involve asking questions like:
Can the problem be solved?
How big of a problem is it?
Why do I think the problem is occurring?
What are some things I know about the situation?
What are some things I don't know about the situation?
Are there any people who contributed to the problem?
Are there materials or processes that contributed to the problem?
Are there any patterns I can identify?
2. Define the goals you hope to achieve.
Every problem is different. The goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving depend on the scope of the problem. Some examples of goals you might set include:
Gather as much factual information as possible.
Brainstorm many different strategies to come up with the best one.
Be flexible when considering other viewpoints.
Articulate clearly and encourage questions, so everyone involved is on the same page.
Be open to other strategies if the chosen strategy doesn't work.
Stay positive throughout the process.
3. Explore potential solutions.
Once you've defined the goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving , it's time to start the process. This involves steps that often include fact-finding, brainstorming, prioritizing solutions, and assessing the cost of top solutions in terms of time, labor, and money.
4. Choose a solution and act on it.
Evaluate the pros and cons of each potential solution, and choose the one most likely to solve the problem within your given budget, abilities, and resources. Once you choose a solution, it's important to make a commitment and see it through. Draw up a plan of action for implementation, and share it with all involved parties clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing. Make sure everyone understands their role for a successful conclusion.
5. Look at (or evaluate) the outcome.
Evaluation offers insights into your current situation and future problem-solving. When evaluating the outcome, ask yourself questions like:
Did the solution work?
Will this solution work for other problems?
Were there any changes you would have made?
Would another solution have worked better?
As a current or future manager looking to build your problem-solving skills, it is often helpful to take a professional course. Consider Improving Communication Skills offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. You'll learn how to boost your ability to persuade, ask questions, negotiate, apologize, and more.
You might also consider taking Emotional Intelligence: Cultivating Immensely Human Interactions , offered by the University of Michigan on Coursera. You'll explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills common to people with emotional intelligence, and you'll learn how emotional intelligence is connected to team success and leadership.
Tennessee Tech. “ The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd ed.) , https://www.tntech.edu/cat/pdf/useful_links/idealproblemsolver.pdf.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.
JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images
From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.
What Is Problem-Solving?
In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.
A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.
Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.
The problem-solving process involves:
- Discovery of the problem
- Deciding to tackle the issue
- Seeking to understand the problem more fully
- Researching available options or solutions
- Taking action to resolve the issue
Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.
Problem-Solving Mental Processes
Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:
- Perceptually recognizing the problem
- Representing the problem in memory
- Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
- Identifying different aspects of the problem
- Labeling and describing the problem
There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.
An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.
In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.
One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.
There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.
Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.
If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.
While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.
Trial and Error
A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.
This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.
In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.
Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .
Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.
How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life
If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:
- Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
- Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
- Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
- Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.
Obstacles to Problem-Solving
Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:
- Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
- Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
- Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
- Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.
How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:
- Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
- Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
- Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
- Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
- Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
- Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.
You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.
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Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517
Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7
Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality . Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050
Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition . Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .
Mayer RE. Thinking, problem solving, cognition, 2nd ed .
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
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- Career Planning
- Skills Development
What Are Problem-Solving Skills?
Definition & Examples of Problem-Solving Skills
- Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.
Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.
Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.
Problem-solving is considered a soft skill (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.
How Problem-Solving Skills Work
Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.
To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.
Theresa Chiechi / The Balance
There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.
1. Analyze Contributing Factors
To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.
To do this, you'll use skills like :
- Data gathering
- Data analysis
- Historical analysis
2. Generate Interventions
Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.
This involves skills like :
- Creative thinking
- Project design
- Project planning
3. Evaluate Solutions
Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.
This requires several skills, including:
- Test development
4. Implement a Plan
Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.
This requires skills like:
- Project management
- Project implementation
- Time management
- Benchmark development
5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness
Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.
- Customer feedback
Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.
When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.
Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:
When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.
Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills
- Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.
If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.
During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .
Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.
- It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
- Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness.
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The Collins English dictionary defines it as: the act or process of finding solutions to problems, especially by using a scientific or analytical approach. It is a vital everyday skill that you will need to have for your personal and professional life.
- Why is it important
How can I get better?
How can i demonstrate this when applying for jobs, why is it important.
- Employers like to see good problem solving skills because it also helps to show them you have a range of other competencies such as logic, creativity, resilience, imagination, lateral thinking and determination.
- It is a vital skills for your professional and personal life.
- It is a key skill that is assessed at job interviews..
- It is an essential skill for managers and all senior level roles.
- Those with good problem-solving skills are a valuable and trusted asset in any team – these are the people who think of new ideas, better ways of doing things, make it easier for people to understand things or help save customers time and money.
- They are proactive thinkers who like to get things done.
- Can help you progress more quickly and boost your career opportunities.
Problem-solving and critical thinking Employers look for individuals with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In this free short three-week online course from RIT you’ll learn how to develop these key skills and how to develop a framework to help you assess and analyse a situation, design a solution, and ultimately win in a competitive scenario.
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Problem-solving – it’s a process Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analysing and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. This article from VeryWellMind identifies some key parts of the process.
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Problem solving is vital at all levels
We often associate the skill of problem-solving with those in senior positions. After all, they have more responsibilities, as well as the authority to tackle any issues that may arise. While it’s not very likely that you will be asked to find a solution to a major business issue on your first day of a new job, the way you handle even the smallest of problems will demonstrate to an employer how well you can deal with larger ones. If your boss doubts your ability to overcome difficulties that come your way, they may not trust you with more responsibility, or consider you for a managerial role later on.
Knowing how to solve problems is therefore of paramount importance vital. Luckily, there are many ways you can develop the skill, and learning how to demonstrate it can prove invaluable at job interviews.
Acquiring a new skill doesn’t have to feel like work. You can easily build your problem-solving ability through gaming, either online or with classic board games. How many times have you played your favourite game and got stuck on the same level for hours, before you finally found a way around it? Putting yourself in a situation, even a fictional one, where you have to think creatively will help you develop the same mind-set in your everyday life. You can then apply these skills and behaviours to your professional life, too.
Don’t run away
When the going gets tough, we all have the tendency to want to hide away instead of facing the problem and coming up with a solution. Unfortunately, wishing a problem away will not make it disappear, so dealing with it promptly can be essential in keeping you sane! Even if there is no solution, the way you handle the consequences and minimise the negative impact will make you feel more powerful and able to handle any adversities.
Asking for help or advice is not a weakness! It is actually welcomed by many employers, especially while you are still learning the ropes. Listen to what people with more experience have to say, and then try to figure out if you can apply their advice to solve your problem. This will not only help you handle it with more confidence, but it will also show that you are proactive, and not afraid to consult your seniors.
History repeats itself
Perhaps the problem you are facing has happened before. In this case, if the solution was successful, you might want to follow it. If it wasn’t, you can eliminate all the ways you can’t solve the problem.
Do your research
Having all the facts can really help you understand a problem better and even identify where something went wrong. While trusting your instinct, and proposing a solution is fine, it’s wise to have some facts in your back pocket to help you convince your team, or your boss. That way, you will not only have presented them with a solution, but you will also have the facts to justify your way of thinking if you come up against any criticism.
Don’t look for problems
While spotting mistakes is a great skill, creating problems out of nowhere is not! Sometimes the simplest solution is the answer, and trying to prove yourself by tackling a problem you created will probably give you a reputation of being a trouble maker, rather than the hero you want to be seen as.
This article by topuniversities may also help when learning how to solve problems. It describes how you should handle the problem solving process.
Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee – this article from Targetjobs.com has some excellent guidance on how employers assess problem solving in your job applications and when you start work.
Demonstrating that you are a great problem solver is not always easy, as there is only so much you can include in your CV. However, one of the most common interview questions is designed to assess this skill. So, what do you say when an interviewer asks: ‘Give us an example of a situation where you faced a difficult problem?’
It can be very tempting to make up a situation, to try and make yourself sound like the master of problem-solving. However, it’s always best to be truthful, even if you feel like your example refers to a minor problem. Do try to think of a situation, perhaps in your student life, where you came across an obstacle and managed to tackle it effectively. It could be something like working as part of a project team, or writing your dissertation, for example.
If you simply can’t recall having faced any major issues at university, then use your personal life as an example. Maybe you like playing chess, which will also show your ability to think strategically. Or perhaps you travelled abroad and had problems with your booking, or finding your way around in a new country where you didn’t speak the language.
Remember, the important thing is to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet, remain calm in stressful situations and contribute to finding a solution.
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The importance of problem solving skills in the workplace
Test your candidates' problem-solving skills with testgorilla.
The importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace can’t be overstated. Every business and every job role has its problems. From entry-level hires to senior staffers, every one of your employees will face challenges that don’t can’t be answered by a quick Google search.
Table of contents
What are problem solving skills, why are problem solving skills important, how to assess problem solving skills, hire candidates who can think for themselves.
That’s why employers must hire people with problem-solving skills, especially for roles that require dealing with complex business challenges, tight deadlines, and changing variables. A good example is when you have to hire leaders in the workplace.
But what are problem-solving skills? And how do they come into play in the workplace? Most importantly, how can you evaluate candidates’ skills before you hire them.
To fully comprehend the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace, it’s important first to understand the broad skillset they are comprised of. Generally, problem-solving refers to a person’s ability to successfully manage and find solutions for complex and unexpected situations.
Candidates with great problem-solving skills have a combination of both analytical and creative thinking. They’re comfortable with making decisions and confident enough to rise to challenges in the workplace.
These candidates possess a combination of analytical, creative, critical thinking skills and a high level of attention to detail. As a result, they will quickly identify problems when they arise and identify the most effective solutions. They’ll also identify the factors and forces that might have caused the problem and instigate changes to mitigate future challenges.
There are six key problem-solving skills that you should look for when assessing job candidates:
1. Listening skills
Active listeners are generally great problem solvers. They can listen to those around them to gather the information needed to solve the problem at hand. They recognize the importance of valuing others’ opinions and experiences to help understand why the problem occurred and the best course of action to remedy it.
2. Analytical thinking skills
Analytical thinkers can identify the logical reasons why a problem occurred, what the long-term effects of the issue could be, and identify how effective different solutions might be to select the most practical one.
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3. Creative thinking skills
Creative thinkers can balance their analytical skills with creative solutions. Creative thinking skills allow individuals to uncover innovative and progressive solutions to problems. They’re able to provide new perspectives and provide imaginative and experimental solutions to all kinds of problems.
4. Communication skills
Problem solvers should also possess great communication skills . The ability to effectively relay complex information thoroughly yet succinctly is a huge benefit for employers working in fast-paced environments.
5. Decision-making skills
Those with problem-solving skills will also possess the ability to make decisions and be confident in them. This is important, as most problem-solving steps involve making firm decisions to provide a successful outcome.
Although problem-solvers need to be independent thinkers, it’s also vital for them to work well as part of a team. Determining the best solution often requires collaboration, so it’s important that candidates can demonstrate how they can motivate others to come up with the best solutions and work with them to help develop and implement solutions.
Problem-solving skills allow you to find candidates who are cognitively equipped to handle anything their jobs throw at them.
Problem solvers can observe, judge, and act quickly when difficulties arise when they inevitably do. Moreover, they are not afraid of the unknown, which is invaluable to employers who rely on their employees to identify and solve problems.
There are several important benefits of problem-solving skills in the workplace. Below, we’ll go through five of the most significant traits that all problem solvers can bring to their roles and workplaces.
1. Ability to organize their time intelligently
Time management skills can often be underlooked as one of the benefits of problem-solving skills in the workplace. However, those with problem-solving abilities also typically possess stellar time-management skills. The ability to manage their time wisely and laser-focus on what’s important to the business will lead to better decision-making and business impact.
2. Ability to prioritize, plan, and execute strategies
Problem solvers have no issue with carefully assessing customer and client needs and how to prioritize, plan, and execute strategies for how to meet them. They can manage all moving parts since they can strategize how best to meet multiple unique demands.
3. Ability to think outside the box
Problem solvers can often identify opportunities in problems. Thinking outside of the box is an important problem-solving skill in the workplace since it can often lead to better outcomes than had been expected originally.
4. Ability to work under pressure
This is often one of the most important benefits of problem-solving skills in the workplace. Problem solvers often have personalities that respond well under pressure, including accelerated deadlines and changing project parameters.
Depending on your workplace culture, you might prefer someone who can deliver quick solutions or someone who takes their time to identify the next steps — both are valid problem-solving qualities.
5. Ability to address risk
Planning is an important problem-solving skill. Problem solvers are not just equipped to deal with the problem at hand but are also able to anticipate problems that will arise in the future based on trends, patterns, experience, and current events.
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Many organizations use problem-solving interview questions to identify the right candidates for their job openings. However, the most effective way to assess problem-solving skills is with pre-employment skills tests .
That’s because skills tests provide an objective way to quantify a candidate’s problem-solving skills in a way that isn’t possible during an interview.
How problem solving skills tests work
Tests like TestGorilla’s problem-solving skills test . assist organizations in finding candidates who quickly identify the key elements of the problem and work through the problem at speed without making mistakes. By presenting candidates with a wide range of questions related to typical problem-solving scenarios, hiring teams can rank their candidates based on an intensive assessment of each candidate’s skill level.
An example of a question offered by TestGorilla’s pre-employment problem-solving test
The test specifically evaluates whether a candidate can perform problem-solving tasks like:
creating and adjust schedules
prioritizing items based on a given set of rules
interpreting data and applying logic to make decisions
analyzing textual and numerical information to draw conclusions
As you can see, even the best interviewer would have trouble assessing each of these skill areas while still covering other questions that need to be asked in an interview.
If you’re convinced of the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace and want to build a team of employees that can think independently and solve their own problems without needing constant supervision, assess problem-solving skills during the hiring process. Using a problem-solving assessment is an easy way to evaluate your candidates’ overall analytical skills so that you can benefit from this essential skillset.
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To address its increased recruitment needs and influx of applicants for roles that include customer support and leadership, Dyninno Group implemented TestGorilla. See how the Dyninno Group of companies improved candidate screening and recruitment productivity by 400%.
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Why Problem Solving is Important in the Workplace
Ben is responsible for talent analytics at Test Partnership and is often who you will speak to if you book a demo .
What is Problem Solving?
- What is an example of Problem Solving?
Why Problem Solving Matters?
How to improve problem solving, how to assess candidates on their problem solving, our recommended test partnership assessments for measuring problem solving.
Problem solving in the workplace refers to a person’s ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations and find solutions to complex business challenges. Employees with exceptional problem solving ability will carefully analyse the problem, identify a range of potential solutions, and correctly identify the most effective of the available solutions to remedy the situation. This ensures that employees in complex work who are relied upon to find effective solutions to key business issues are maximally equipped to deal with modern problems that face 21st century businesses.
Those with good problem solving ability will move the business forward more effectively.
Those lacking problem solving ability will inevitably recommend ineffective solutions to key business issues, solutions which will either fail to resolve the underlying issue or indeed exasperate it. For example, they may misinterpret the information presented to them, fail to identify effective solutions to problems, or provide solutions which are unsuitable or indeed counterproductive. Employees with poor problem solving ability cannot be relied upon when the unexpected happens, shifting the burden on other staff. As a result, problem solving ability is a common core competency when hiring professional, managerial, or technical roles, and highly prized by HR professionals and hiring managers.
What is an Example of Problem Solving?
Problem-solving refers to the ability to identify and resolve problems in an effective and efficient manner. An example of problem-solving can be seen in the role of a customer service representative. A customer service representative is responsible for handling customer complaints and issues, and finding a solution that will satisfy the customer.
Watch a video instead?
If you would prefer to watch a video, here Ben outlines why problem solving is important in the workplace:
Problem solving ability is essential to performance in any role where issues need to be dealt with quickly, or where the issues that employees face are particularly complex. For example, management consultants are expected to solve particularly complex issues that their clients may be facing, and within very specific time-frames. Should a consultant fail to provide a solution within the specified timeframe, this will inevitably look bad in the eyes of the client, sullying the relationship and potentially negatively impacting the consultancy’s reputation. However, a consultant with exceptional problem solving ability will most likely provide effective solutions to the client’s problems and provide them within the requisite time period.
"As a competency, problem solving is a common performance criterion for roles that require staff to solve urgent or complex problems." Ben Schwencke Consultant
As a competency, problem solving is a common performance criterion for roles that require staff to solve urgent or complex problems. These include, but are not limited to: management consultants, IT professionals, finance professionals, legal professionals, data scientists, managers, and executives. As a general rule, the more the role involves employees providing solutions to complex or urgent problems, the more important problem solving ability will be, and the more damage employees could potential cause if they lack those essential problem solving abilities in the workplace.
When a customer contacts a company with a problem, the customer service representative must first listen carefully to the customer's complaint and understand the issue. They then need to gather information and assess the situation to determine the cause of the problem.
They must evaluate different options and choose the best course of action to resolve the problem.
Next, they must evaluate different options and choose the best course of action to resolve the problem. Finally, they must implement the chosen solution and follow up to ensure that the problem has been fully resolved.
Problem solving as a psychological construct is underpinned predominantly by specific cognitive abilities. The ability to solve quantitative problems for example, is underpinned by a person’s level of numerical reasoning , and their ability to solve qualitative problems is underpinned by their verbal reasoning . Indeed, the academic research in this field suggests that the predictive validity of ability tests is largely attributable to problem solving abilities. Aptitude test questions are essentially just cognitive problems, and a candidate’s ability to solve them serves as a very useful proxy for their overall problem solving ability.
Other assessments may also measure problem solving to some degree, particularly certain assessment centre exercises, such as case study exercises. Here, candidates will be presented with a particular workplace relevant problem and told to generate solutions to that problem. Although this can be an effective method of assessing problem solving ability, assessment centre exercises are quite resource intensive, and are thus only suitable for the later stages of the recruitment process. Ability tests, however, can be used early in the recruitment process, ensuring that all subsequent candidate hold the requisite level of problem solving ability.
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- Insights verbal reasoning
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The Importance of Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace
November 10, 2022 - job & career.
Hands-on Management 3.0 leadership workshops focus on tangible practices to help managers, team leaders, middle management, and C-level executives increase employee engagement and foster transformational change within their organizations. Start Your Leadership Journey Today!
According to Management 3.0 Facilitator Ilija Popjanev , problem solving is essential for individuals and organizations as it enables us to control all aspects of our business environment. In this article, Ilija looks into problem-solving skills, how the problem-solving process works, and which tools help you to advance this skill set.
In this article you will learn about:
What is Problem Solving?
- Problem-Solving in Six Easy Steps
Why is Problem-Solving so Important for Leaders, Teams, and Organizations?
Problem-solving techniques in the workplace, better employee experience by using problem-solving tools from management 3.0, how do employees develop problem-solving skills, what skills make a good problem solver.
In the last few years, we have been living 100% in the VUCA world, with so many unpredictable and complex threats and challenges. As a result, organizations must create a sense of urgency to redesign their present business models and to rebuild the foundations for the future of work.
All companies now need effective problem-solving skills and tools at all levels, starting with individuals and teams, and finishing with their leaders and managers. This new reality enables growth and success only for those well-equipped and empowered by effective problem-solving skills and tools.
One of the behaviors of Management 1.0 style is to constantly look for ways to stop “fighting fires,”. Instead, the Management 3.0 style seeks to “find the root cause” of the problem, and then to refocus, improve, and plan a different way for fulfilling workplace tasks.
Management 3.0 provides effective tools and principles for building the system for effective problem solving. It provides us with techniques we can use to understand what is happening in our world, to identify things we want to change, and then apply everything that needs to be done to achieve the desired outcome. We live by the motto: fail fast, recover quickly, and learn from the failures.
The agile way of working does not mean being perfect, but instead it allows for failures and sees them as opportunities to learn, grow, and adapt . Perfection is useless if we do not provide value fast for our customers. That is why problem solving is the foundation for continuous improvement, learning, and collaboration, which leads to innovations and success in ever-changing economies and the new normal that we now live in.
The definition of problem solving according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: “The process or act of finding a solution to a problem.” Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary describes problem solving as: “The process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues.”
For me, Problem-solving is a process of understanding and owning the problem, constant pursuit for solutions and improvements, and putting into action the best option for the desired outcome.
Understanding context and interacting with our teammates are the essence of effective problem-solving. We must clearly understand the complexity of our environment and the specifics of the context because things continuously change and evolve. Here, the Complexity Thinking Guidelines may help you to better understand what is happening and how to navigate complex environments more effectively.
We must have a lens through which to see problems as opportunities to improve, and regard our teams as sources of knowledge and experience. We have to connect people and opportunities in ways that can facilitate the best solutions for the problems that we are handling. Try using the Personal Maps , an excellent tool for bringing teams together and fostering diversity, respect, trust, and collaboration.
Today, all innovations and solved problems are team efforts because teams constantly improve their toolbox and competencies. Teams want to create something that was not there before, and which maximize their knowledge and resources.
To accomplish that, they need to build a process in a few easy steps:
- Be present, observe what is happening in your world, and define the problem.
- Review where you are now and what influences that state.
- Constantly improve and change things by using creative tools and tactics.
- Seek solutions and alternatives to make changes more effective.
- Make team decisions about which tools and solutions should be used.
- Implement improvements, monitor the process, and constantly adapt!
At this stage, by following the Management 3.0 principle of “Improving the system,” you can use the tools Celebration Grids , combined with Yay! Questions , to best engage the team in the problem-solving process, while keeping track of what is working well, what can be changed, and what new options exist.
Documenting everything is an integral part of the problem-solving process. By using Celebration Grids, you are gamifying the process and keeping the team flow and energy on a higher level.
Also read: What type of problem-solver are you?
Problem-solving is crucial for everyone: individuals, teams, leaders, organizations, and ultimately for all stakeholders because it empowers us to better control the environment and everything that is going on in our world. Try using Delegation Poker so that teams can become more empowered to solve problems both alongside leaders and within their organization.
Today, the speed of problem solving is important, and that is why organizations must give more power and authority on a team level , so employees can react quickly and even prevent problems. As a leading indicator, the Management 3.0 tool Problem Time can help you measure the time spent on uncompleted problem-solving tasks and activities; this is a valuable add-on to “lead and cycle time” lagging indicators, with which you measure the time taken on completed tasks.
Developing and refining problem-solving skills through constant practice and experimentation can refine the ability to solve problems and address issues with more complexities.
We may face various challenges in our daily work, and effective problem-solving can make a difference.
Make a Difference with Problem-Solving
- Problem-solving skills are important if you want to add more value . As an agilist, your objective is not to be perfect but to maximize the value you provide for all stakeholders. Start fast, deliver value early, manage failures and prioritize tasks by setting the urgency criteria.
- Problem-solving skills are important if you need to improve your results. You have to accept the complexity of success factors and better understand the need for changes and improvements in a continually uncertain environment. Results depend on your problem-solving skills!
- Problem-solving skills are important if you have to fix things that do not work. When your processes are not working as planned, problem solving will give you the structure and mechanisms to identify issues, figure out why things are broken, and take actions to fix them.
- Problem-solving skills are important when you have to address a risk. Sharpen your problem-solving skills to anticipate future events better and increase the awareness of cause-and-effect relationships. This enables you to take the right actions and influence the outcomes if issues do occur.
- Problem-solving skills are important if you work simultaneously on several projects. You should apply the same problem-solving techniques when you work on multiple projects, business functions, market segments, services, systems, processes, and teams. Standardize and scale!
- Problem-solving skills are important when you want to seize the day. Problem solving is all about innovation , building new things, and changing the system into a better one. This can help us to identify opportunities even in challenging times and prepare us for the future. You can visualize the process with the Meddles Game to better understand your ideas, solutions, and activities. It is a great way to engage your team as you can build the problem-solving concept and it is an effective tool for influencing all stakeholders affected by the problem.
Also read: Collaborative Leadership explained .
Solving complex problems may be difficult, but problems will be solved when we use the right tools. Besides the powerful Management 3.0 tools I already mentioned, as a big fan of Lean and Liberating structures, I think you can find lots of problem-solving techniques to use in your daily business.
Here is my short list of tools and techniques:
- 5 Whys – a great way to uncover the root cause is to understand the problem better.
- Fishbone analysis – for visual analysis of the root causes of a problem. Easy to combine with ‘5 Whys’ or ‘Mind mapping’ to brainstorm and determine the cause and effect of any problem.
- Silent brainstorming – gives everyone a chance to participate in idea generation as not only the loudest people, but also the quiet ones, will participate equally. Everyone’s opinion has the same weight.
- Mind maps – structured visual diagrams to share your ideas, concepts, and solutions the same way your brain does. You explain the problems quickly, then share fresh ideas, and finally come to a team consensus that can lead to an effective solution.
- Six thinking hats – enable your team to consider problems from different angles, focusing on facts, creative solutions, or why some solutions might not work.
- Agreement certainty matrix – another tremendous visual tool for brainstorming problems and challenges by sorting them into simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic domains to later agree on what approach should be used to solve the concrete problems affecting a team.
- Conversation café – enables the team to engage in productive conversations, with less arguing but more active listening, solving the problem in rounds of dialogues until reaching a consensus regarding the best problem-solving approach.
- Design thinking – when you are struggling for fresh ideas, the 5-step process will help you empathize with the problem, then begin defining and developing new ideas, before prototyping and testing them.
Edward Deming’s PDCA is the most known concept for continuous improvement and problem solving. You can gamify your events using the Change Management Game , a card game where PDCA will help you define the problem, take action, collect feedback, and adopt the new solution.
The “carrot and stick” approach, or in HR language, “pay for performance,” does not work anymore, especially for roles that require problem-solving, creativity, and innovative thinking. Creative people need a higher level of authority and empowerment to self-manage challenges and problem scenarios. When leaders and organizations create such systems, they foster intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction among these people. Creatives are seeking self-actualization through their careers.
This is one more case which calls for Management 3.0’s Delegation Poker to define the levels of authority in terms of problem-solving issues, as well as Moving Motivators to define key motivators for increasing productivity and employee satisfaction by changing behavior.
Improving Employee Experience with Problem-Solving
1. Use problem solving as a key motivator – have in mind Millennials and Gen Z creative workers ’ affinity towards tasks in which they feel challenged and have a sense of meaning. Provide them with big and tough problems to solve and use challenging tasks to keep them constantly engaged.
2. Continuous improvement can make a difference – creatives seek a sense of purpose and think outside of the box, so encouraging the ‘How can we execute this task better?’ mindset and problem solving become powerful tools for creating sustainable corporate culture.
3. Don’t connect solving problems with rewards – it can kill the perceived intrinsic value of the activity; it will disengage and dissatisfy employees. Autonomy, trust, respect, and gratitude will do the job.
4. Apply the seven rules for creative managers – unleash the power of diversity , and cooperation, rely on merits, optimize exploration, open boundaries, keep options open, and update your workplace.
We start solving problems from a very early age (the alphabet, learning to eat, driving a bicycle etc.). Then, everyday activities sharpen our problem-solving skills and enable us to solve more complex issues.
As an adult, you can still develop your problem-solving skills by:
- Daily practicing of logic games, such as chess, and puzzles like Sudoku.
- Video games can teach you how to deal with failure and persist in achieving your goals.
- Keep an idea journal or blog as a collection of all your ideas, thoughts, and patterns.
- Think outside of the box – take a different perspective to understand the problem better.
- Practice brainstorming combined with mind mapping, working with your team.
- Put yourself in new situations – take on a challenging project at work.
- Start using the “what if” mindset in daily circumstances and test new approaches.
- Read more books on creativity and articles which cover your areas of interest.
I also believe coaching can help build creativity and problem-solving skills, encouraging people to take greater ownership of their work and commit to corporate goals. A coach can provide clear guidance as to what is important at the moment; they help people better, focus, and move into action. By asking powerful questions and challenging others to think outside of the box, the coach removes their barriers and lets them see the situation from a new perspective.
Coaching can provide structure so people develop their own expertise and insights to contribute better when problems arise and the pressure to succeed is growing.
The interview is an excellent opportunity to research a candidate’s problem-solving skills, and STAR questions should be related to their previous experience dealing with problems. A candidate with good problem-solving skills can quickly embed in the team and become a valuable asset for the company.
In my Agility in HR workshops , we regularly discuss interview questions. Some popular STAR questions are:
- “If you cannot find a solution to a problem, how do you deal with the situation?”
- “How do you react when faced with unexpected problems or challenges?”
- “Describe an occasion when you had to adapt at the last minute. How did you handle this?”
Problem-solving requires the ability to identify a problem, find the root cause, create solutions, and execute them. All these steps are essential for achieving the desired results.
Some of the skills that problem solvers must constantly sharpen are:
- Collaborative communication . Clear communication is essential when you explain the problem and the solution to your teammates. During brainstorming sessions, asking the right questions to determine the root cause , as well as synergic collaboration are needed.
- Active listening is important to prevent mistakes as you can absorb the details your colleagues tell you about the problem. Use open-ended questions for clarification, and always be open to feedback and views that differ from yours.
- Coachability. The willingness to accept feedback and the ability to improve. Learning from more experienced people, being curious to ask many questions, constructively using your ego, skipping excuses and blaming others, and accepting Feedback Wraps from your coach.
- Decision making . Problems cannot be solved without risk-taking and bringing important decisions (including relevant data, levels of delegation, alternative solutions etc.) to the forefront.
- Critical thinking . Be 100% objective when you try to find the cause of the problem. Skip ego trips and personal biases. Identify your mistakes in the thinking process and show personal accountability .
- Research and data analysis . Proper research allows you to diagnose the actual problem, not just the symptoms. If the cause of the problem is not immediately apparent, you can use the power of data to discover the issue’s history, some patterns, future trends, etc.
- Persistence . Trust in the problem-solving process you have designed and follow every step with patience and persistence; even when you fail repeatedly, do not give up. Keep moving and remember Thomas Edison’s quote: “I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work.”
In the new VUCA world we now live in, problem solving is a crucial soft skill, and employers are actively seeking people with this skill set because they can prepare for problems before they arise. Problem solvers better identify opportunities, understand their environment, create a solution, and generate ideas that lead to great results and success.
According to a study made by LinkedIn Learning in August 2022 , future skills are rapidly changing, and problem solving is among the top soft skills employers search for from their candidates, as well as communication and leadership skills.
Using all aforementioned tools and practices from Management 3.0, following the guides, and sharpening your skills, will help you not only to be effective in resolving the problems that may arise, but also to solve them with enthusiasm and passion. They will create a higher level of engagement and collaboration in the team and help unleash people’s creativity and innovation. A win-win for everyone!
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How Students Can Rethink Problem Solving
Finding, shaping, and solving problems puts high school students in charge of their learning and bolsters critical-thinking skills.
As an educator for over 20 years, I’ve heard a lot about critical thinking , problem-solving , and inquiry and how they foster student engagement. However, I’ve also seen students draw a blank when they’re given a problem to solve. This happens when the problem is too vast for them to develop a solution or they don’t think the situation is problematic.
As I’ve tried, failed, and tried again to engage my students in critical thinking, problem-solving, and inquiry, I’ve experienced greater engagement when I allow them to problem-find, problem-shape, and problem-solve. This shift in perspective has helped my students take direct ownership over their learning.
Encourage Students to Find the Problem
When students ask a question that prompts their curiosity, it motivates them to seek out an answer. This answer often highlights a problem.
For example, I gave my grade 11 students a list of topics to explore, and they signed up for a topic that they were interested in. From that, they had to develop a research question. This allowed them to narrow the topic down to what they were specifically curious about.
Developing a research question initiated the research process. Students launched into reading information from reliable sources including Britannica , Newsela , and EBSCOhost . Through the reading process, they were able to access information so that they could attempt to find an answer to their question.
The nature of a good question is that there isn’t an “answer.” Instead, there are a variety of answers. This allowed students to feel safe in sharing their answers because they couldn’t be “wrong.” If they had reliable, peer-reviewed academic research to support their answer, they were “right.”
Shaping a Problem Makes Overcoming It More Feasible
When students identify a problem, they’re compelled to do something about it; however, if the problem is too large, it can be overwhelming for them. When they’re overwhelmed, they might shut down and stop learning. For that reason, it’s important for them to shape the problem by taking on a piece they can handle.
To help guide students, provide a list of topics and allow them to choose one. In my experience, choosing their own topic prompts students’ curiosity—which drives them to persevere through a challenging task. Additionally, I have students maintain their scope at a school, regional, or national level. Keeping the focus away from an international scope allows them to filter down the number of results when they begin researching. Shaping the problem this way allowed students to address it in a manageable way.
Students Can Problem-Solve with Purpose
Once students identified a slice of a larger problem that they could manage, they started to read and think about it, collaborate together, and figure out how to solve it. To further support them in taking on a manageable piece of the problem, the parameters of the solution were that it had to be something they could implement immediately. For example, raising $3 million to build a shelter for those experiencing homelessness in the community isn’t something that students can do tomorrow. Focusing on a solution that could be implemented immediately made it easier for them to come up with viable options.
With the problem shaped down to a manageable piece, students were better able to come up with a solution that would have a big impact. This problem-solving process also invites ingenuity and innovation because it allows teens to critically look at their day-to-day lives and experiences to consider what actions they could take to make a difference in the world. It prompts them to look at their world through a different lens.
When the conditions for inquiry are created by allowing students to problem-find, problem-shape and problem-solve, it allows students to do the following:
- Critically examine their world to identify problems that exist
- Feel empowered because they realize that they can be part of a solution
- Innovate by developing new solutions to old problems
Put it All Together to Promote Change
Here are two examples of what my grade 11 students came up with when tasked with examining the national news to problem-find, problem-shape, and problem-solve.
Topic: Indigenous Issues in Canada
Question: How are Indigenous peoples impacted by racism?
Problem-find: The continued racism against Indigenous peoples has led to the families of murdered women not attaining justice, Indigenous peoples not being able to gain employment, and Indigenous communities not being able to access basic necessities like healthcare and clean water.
Problem-shape: A lot of the issues that Indigenous peoples face require government intervention. What can high school teens do to combat these issues?
Problem-solve: Teens need to stop supporting professional sports teams that tokenize Indigenous peoples, and if they see a peer wearing something from such a sports team, we need to educate them about how the team’s logo perpetuates racism.
Topic: People With Disabilities in Canada
Question: What leads students with a hearing impairment to feel excluded?
Problem-find: Students with a hearing impairment struggle to engage with course texts like films and videos.
Problem-shape: A lot of the issues that students with a hearing impairment face in schools require teachers to take action. What can high school teens do to help their hearing-impaired peers feel included?
Problem-solve: When teens share a video on social media, they should turn the closed-captioning on, so that all students can consume the media being shared.
Once my students came up with solutions, they wanted to do something about it and use their voices to engage in global citizenship. This led them to create TikTok and Snapchat videos and Instagram posts that they shared and re-shared among their peer group.
The learning that students engaged in led to their wanting to teach others—which allowed a greater number of students to learn. This whole process engendered conversations about our world and helped them realize that they aren’t powerless; they can do things to initiate change in areas that they’re interested in and passionate about. It allowed them to use their voices to educate others and promote change.
9 reasons why problem solving skills are critical for your career.
When considering your career, you’re likely looking for a way to set yourself apart from everyone else at work.
You may be looking for ways to grow in your career.
And you’re possibly wondering what skills will be most beneficial.
And you want to ensure you have job security, or that you’ll be able to get a job easily if anything happens to the one you have now.
You want to make sure you’re seen as a valuable asset to your organization.
But perhaps it’s not only out of fear that you want to develop new skills. Most likely you really do want to bring value to your team.
Problem solving skills are an amazing way to do that.
Here’s a list of nine perfect reasons why problem-solving skills are great for your career.
9 Reasons to Develop Problem-Solving Skills
1. Your project is likely going to encounter problems.
No matter how well you plan, problems will likely arise. When you can pull your team together to address the problem, you give your project a greater chance of succes.
2. As a project manager, it’s your role to help your team solve problems.
Your team is looking to you to lead them through problem-solving. You may not have all the answers, but you need to know how to facilitate problem-solving sessions with your team.
3. You can apply these skills across teams.
If you work for a large organization and want to move around the company, problem-solving skills can work with any team.
You’ll be able to take these skills to any other team you move to, and start working right away!
Every problem is a gift. Without them we wouldn’t grow. Tony Robbins
4. You’ll stand out…in a good way.
If you can work with a team to solve problems, others will notice.
The ability to walk a team through problem-solving sessions and come up with solutions will get you noticed, in a good way.
And others will begin to trust you as a resource to help solve problems.
5. You’ll have the confidence to handle tough problems that arise unexpectedly.
Whether you’re new in your role and suffer from imposter syndrome , or have been in your role for years, the ability to solve problems will increase your confidence.
And you’ll be calm in the face of challenges since you’ll have the tools to work through them.
6. There will always be problems and the ability to solve them will make you indispensable.
Alright…no one is completely indispensable.
But your ability to solve problems will make you a much more valuable team member than if you had a narrow skillset.
7. With problem-solving skills, you can make improvements in many situations.
Even if your organization isn’t staring at a glaring problem, there are always opportunities to improve. You’ll be able to isolate problem areas so you can increase efficiency, save money, or make customers happier.
This is a huge asset to any organization.
8. Problem-solving skills are highly valued in all businesses and organizations.
Even if you do become the Most Valuable Team Member (MVTM), you can’t guarantee there won’t be market disruptors that impact your job. Taxi drivers didn’t anticipate Uber , after all.
Or there may be a merger that displaces you.
You need to be ready for anything.
This means you need to develo valuable skills that will get you hired elsewhere quickly.
Problem-solving skills are a perfect addition to your skillset.
9. You don’t have to have all the answers to solve problems.
Many problems shouldn’t be solved in isolation. They require collaboration for the best results.
Knowing how to lead a team through a collaborative problem-solving session gets you the best results in many situations.
And knowing how to identify experts, bring the right stakeholders together, and come up with and execute the best solution will make you a superstar.
As you can see, there are many ways problem-solving skills are great for your career.
Learn about several problem-solving tools with these posts:
- 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis: a Problem-Solving Tool to Get to the Root of the Problem
- How to Use the Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram as an Awesome Problem-Solving Tool
- How to Run a Successful Brainstorming Session for Productive Problem-Solving
About The Author
Leigh Espy is a project manager and coach with experience working in startups, government, and the corporate world. She works with project managers who want to improve their skills and grow in their career, and entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them get more done. She also remembers her early career days and loves working with new project managers and those who want to make a career move into project management.
Hi Leigh, I’m a project manager in a energy efficiency project & would like to touch base on some of the challenges I encounter. Let me know how best to communicate with you. Thanks for your useful posts. Thad
Hi Thad! Email me at leigh[at]espy.net. Looking forward to talking with you. I’m glad you’re finding the posts helpful!
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Why Problem Solving Skills are Important in the Workplace
Posted on Tue, October 26, 2021 by Vicki Mann
In the modern workplace, problem solving skills are no less than essential. Needless to say, the world of work is not always plain sailing. No matter what role or industry you find yourself in, challenging situations are not just likely, but to be very much expected. Every role imaginable will come with its own unique set of problems that need to be solved, but what ties these situations together is their spontaneity and their need to be met with problem-solving and creative thinking. Unforeseen circumstances that will continuously arise can only be approached with practicality, common sense and personal skill. Problem solving techniques are at the heart of these abilities, and they can be applied to just about every work-related task, from organisation to communication and collaboration, managing deadlines to maintaining interpersonal relationships with colleagues. Due to the necessity of problem-solving techniques in every workplace, it could not be more important that employers use cognitive ability tests when sifting through applications to optimise recruitment selection.
What are problem solving skills?
So, what are problem-solving skills? Problem-solving in the workplace entails a range of techniques: working around unexpected new issues, managing changing variables, the confidence to approach a new task and the knowledge of how to solve interpersonal problems. It also includes certain intrinsic qualities, such as practicality and confidence: that is, the capacity to spot when something is going wrong and raise questions which might help to solve it in the workplace. A problem solver can confidently find and manage solutions for complex and unexpected situations. Problem-solving skills involve a balance of analytical thinking, creative thinking, and critical thinking skills. Analytical thinking skills are crucial when it comes to identifying a problem, and creativity is key in finding methods to solve it. Critical thinking enables somebody to see which solution might be the most effective. Problem-solving skills are useful both in the short-term and the long-term. A candidate with good problem-solving skills will ensure that obstacles are surmounted in the moment, and the best solution is found, but they will also be able to identify the variables that gave rise to the problem in the first place, and make changes to prevent similar issues occurring in the future. In this sense, problem-solving skills are the key to approaching most complex issues and finding more enduring solutions. A good problem-solver is an asset to any organisation, and is likely to perform their job more successfully. In order to make objective hiring decisions and select the candidates with the best problem-solving capacities, your organisation will need to test for specific skills. These skills involve the ways in which a person deals with real life situations, and may not be apparent from conventional techniques such as interview questions, which do not necessarily indicate how a candidate would solve a problem in the workplace. Pre-employment skills tests, on the other hand, are a bias-free solution, ensuring that your organisation hires the applicants best suited to their roles. When assessing an applicant's capacity for problem-solving, there are six key skills which are tested.
1. Collaboration Skills
Although problem-solving is something which exists within each individual to a greater or lesser degree, it also determines how an individual is able to interact with a group and complete a task collaboratively. Reaching a good solution and setting it in motion often requires collaboration. A problem solver knows that working with others successfully (regardless of their personality type ) is the best route to solve most of the challenges that crop up both in the workplace and in everyday life.
2. Communication Skills
When problems arise in any organisation, it is important that employees can approach them calmly, communicate the situation to others in clear and succinct terms and work together to solve it. Complex problems require good communicators, those who can simplify the situation and express the main issues in order to come to an efficient solution.
3. Decision-Making Skills
The capacity and confidence to make a quick decision and stick to it is a crucial problem-solving technique. In a complicated situation, coming to a level-headed decision quickly and committing to it is crucial to solving the issue.
4. Analytical Thinking Skills
The analytical mindset is necessary in confronting any problem or task and reaching a solution. It is imperative that a candidate, when faced with an issue, is able to analyse the situation and identify what has gone wrong. Analytical thinking skills are also key in the ability to select the best out of a range of possible solutions.
5. Creative Thinking Skills
Creative thinking is an important capacity when it comes to coming up with methods to solve a problem in the workplace. The potential to approach a complicated issue from a variety of angles, and to apply the imagination to overcoming a task makes it easier to solve a problem in an efficient way.
6. Listening Skills
Problem-solving skills rely on the fundamental faculty of listening. Listening is the surest method to collect information about an issue, weigh up different perspectives and opinions, and begin to understand a problem in order to solve it. The facility to listen to coworkers in the workplace is also a way to prevent complicated and problematic situations from occurring in the first place! Needless to say, in the world of work today, these techniques are invaluable, and it is essential that employers use psychometric measures to test for problem-solving skills in order to improve recruitment. Knowing a candidate's ability in these key areas is important, and can prevent the risk of a bad hire. Recruitment tests are very important, as getting the hire wrong does not just cost money, it also results in a loss of time and loss of productivity. Pre-employment testing, particularly tests which measure an applicant's capacity to solve a problem, and decide on the best solution, are a cost-efficient means to improve the recruitment process and ensure your company's success and growth.
How to assess candidates' problem-solving skills
We offer different pre-employment tests which accurately assess an applicant's strength in key areas and their technique in identifying good solutions to problems in the workplace.
Situational Judgement Tests
The Situational Judgement Test is a kind of psychometric test that measures soft skills such as common sense, non-academic behaviours, technique in identifying solutions and practical intelligence. The tests work in a realistic and practical way, presenting applicants with a variety of different workplace situations which they might encounter when performing the functions that the job requires. Undoubtedly, the capacity to see which course of action a prospective employee would take or which solution they would choose in a given situation gives the employer a valuable insight into their specific skill set, and how they might respond to the demands of the job.
Logic-Based Aptitude Tests
Our logical reasoning tests measure a candidate's non-verbal intelligence - their capacity to analyse situations, extract rules, and find the right solution using logical and abstract reasoning. This is an in-depth cognitive test and so it provides an accurate indication of how successful a candidate will be when faced with workplace problems which they have to solve. Unlike most aptitude tests, logical reasoning tests do not measure knowledge in a particular subject area, simply their thought problem-solving process. This means that it is a useful tool in the recruitment process for any employer to evaluate applicants in any field.
The option to create your own tests tailored to the demands of your organisation is a successful means of guaranteeing the right hires and ensuring good job performance. At Skillsarena, we have the expertise to create a quiz or any other testing experience that will assess the problem-solving skills that are most necessary to your particular company. The importance of problem-solving skills in the modern workplace cannot be overstated. In order to make sure that your company grows, it is imperative that employees have the analytical and creative skills necessary to solve any problems they might face in their jobs. Our Situational Judgement Tests , Logical Reasoning Tests , and Bespoke Tests are the best method of guaranteeing a good hire, testing an applicant's capacity to solve a real problem in ways that can't be measured by interview questions alone. As an employer, you know which skills and problem-solving techniques are most important for your particular company. At Skillsarena, we help you evaluate these abilities in applicants, and in doing so we make sure that your organisation is productive and successful. Get started with Skillsarena today to bring out the best in your candidates. After taking a look through our test offerings, create an account with our self-service system . This way, we can get you started with your Skillsarena profile as soon as possible. If you require any assistance, give us a call on 0203 693 2201 or send an email to [email protected] . We look forward to hearing from you!
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Why is Problem Solving Skills Important to Learn?
What are problem solving skills? Problem solving skills can be defined as an act to define a problem, finding the root cause of the problem (including performing identification, setting a priority, and choosing the right solution alternatives), and implementing the solution that is chosen.
Problem solving skills are required not only in business life but also in daily lives. However, not many people think of this as a must-have set of skills of life. As a result, not many people are dealing with problems in a right way.
But why does problem solving skill become important? This is because this kind of skill will help us to resolve the dispute happening not only within our relationship with others, but also resolving the problems within ourselves.
According to some Kepner-Tregoe, problem solving is the main idea of human evolution. Problem solving abilities will make it possible to them to keep thriving. That is why an effective problem solving becomes important not only in working situation but also in the setting of daily life,
You might wonder ‘what is problem solving skills’ method that we have already talked about. Well, there are various sources mentioning different amount of procedures you need to do when it comes to problem solving. However, problem-solving skills include these items mentioned below:
- Identifying the problem – Before getting too far, it’d be better to understand which kind of problem you are having.
- Define the problem – What comes next as the team problem solving strategies is to define the problem. If the previous step resembles to learning the situation, this procedure equals to writing down what the true problem is. Doing so will help you to further understand what acts you need to take.
- Exploring the problem – In this procedure, you are required to dig deeper what is causing the problem. By understanding what is there to fix, you can define what actions you need to take to start the fix.
- Start taking action – After you list down what the problems are and what actions you can take to resolve the problem, do what you can do. It is better to be done as soon as possible than making the problems getting unresolved. Or, getting bigger.
- Always look back – Once you’ve done what you can do in terms of resolving the problem, it’s time to evaluate yourself.
What You Can Get from Learning Problem Solving
As mentioned earlier, you can benefit many things from learning problem solving skills. Several benefits that you can get from that can be listed as follows:
- First, you can make yourself more sensitive in terms of identifying problem.
- Then, you will be used to brainstorm while thinking about any possible solutions.
- Next, you may also get trained for testing the solutions first before implementing it wholly.
- Lastly, by keeping the habit of ‘always look back’, you will learn that it is important to analyze results.
The Unexpected Benefit from Problem Solving
Now you know that learning problem solving skills will leave you nothing but some great benefits. But do you know that learning problem solving skills in the workplace will also give you the opportunity to grow yourself?
This is because the problem solving skills definition , example, and benefits mentioned above told you that it is important to always learn retrospectively and progressively. While you can learn how to learn in a retrospective way, progressively learning can help you to grow and learn a lot from your previous mistakes.
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Importance Of Problem-Solving Skills In The Workplace
November 10, 2022
Oxford Languages defines problem-solving as the process of finding solutions that help resolve complicated issues. Problems needing solutions vary from fundamental personal issues of "how do I turn on this laptop?" to more complex topics in academics and business.
What are problem-solving skills?
Problem-solving skills help us solve issues quickly and effectively and hold much importance in our personal and professional lives.
As humans, we all deal with problems. Even if we do not know how to fix the problem, we can process it and understand why it happened in the first place.
Then, we can apply logic to find some solutions to resolve it—no wonder most employers seek problem-solving skills in candidates. Solving problems is beneficial in almost every job role and can help support competency management .
What do problem-solving skills in the workplace look like?
At the core of business development, problem-solving skills enable employees to leverage the available resources to arrive at a solution productively that syncs with the company's integrity. Some examples of problem-solving in the workplace include:
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Troubleshooting and eliminating technical issues in a work laptop
- Solving any problems related to accounting, taxation, and customer billing
- Taking the initiative when a team member missed or overlooked something important
- Extracting a new piece of data that can guide a company's strategy in a specific area
In a nutshell, problem-solving is a part of everyone's work - whether they are a manager with years of experience or starting their first job. It may test your critical-thinking skills or involve the use of mathematical operations.
Why are problem-solving skills important in the workplace?
When prospective employers talk about problem-solving, their goal is to measure how candidates support the decision-making process in the company's everyday functioning by applying this skill. Here are four reasons why problem-solving is an important skill to have in the workplace:
1. Strategy prioritization, planning, and execution
Efficient problem-solvers can carefully assess customer requirements and put together a plan that helps them provide a brilliant service to their intended audience. Their forte lies in streamlining processes by removing bottlenecks.
2. Out-of-the-box thinking
Problem-solving and creative thinking go hand-in-hand. It is not a matter of putting a bandaid over an issue but finding a way to fix it dynamically and creatively. This attitude helps the business stay ahead of the curve and improves the workforce's capability over time.
3. Better time management
When a problem arises, it needs to be fixed at the earliest. Employees with excellent problem-solving skills are laser-focused on what is vital to the business and can roll with the punches and tight deadlines to deliver when it matters.
4. Risk management
Planning effectively is an essential problem-solving skill to have. Problem-solvers can react quickly to short-term situations without losing sight of the future. Their positive attitude towards learning agility helps them anticipate problems that may arise in the future based on past experiences, industry trends and patterns, and current events.
What are the four stages of problem-solving in the workplace?
Understanding the critical components involved in problem-solving will help you better demonstrate your expertise to your managers. Businesses rely on people who can assess different types of situations and calmly identify solutions. Strong problem-solvers are a valuable addition to any team. Here are the four stages of problem-solving that you must know about:
1. Understand the problem
First, analyze the situation carefully to learn more about the problem. Many employees jump to providing solutions before determining the cause of the problem. Try anticipating the behavior and response of the people affected by it.
Based on your preliminary observation, undertake the following activities to pinpoint the problem more accurately:
- Separate facts from opinions.
- Analyze company policies and procedures.
- Determine the process where the problem exists.
- Discuss with team members involved to gather more information.
When defining a problem, please stay focused on it rather than define it in terms of a solution at this stage. For instance, if the sales numbers need to be consistent in the next quarter, simply say the sales numbers are inconsistent.
A quick way to verify whether you understand what you are dealing with is to explain it to a fellow team member. This ties into your communication skills. If you can talk about the issue clearly with others, it means you understand the case in your hands.
Depending on the complexity of the problem, you may want to use flowcharts or cause-and-effect graphs to define the problem and its root causes.
2. List all possible solutions
Workplace solutions are either strategic or tactical. A strategic solution is a long-term fix for an issue. This requires you to take a series of steps to process the entire architecture of the problem.
On the other hand, a tactical solution is more of a short-term fix. It could be as simple as reusing a piece of code from your last development project to eliminate the irritating error message in your new one.
Brainstorm all possible ways to solve the existing problem. Problem-solving delivers better results with cognitive diversity . Therefore, make sure you get the team members affected by it and those who may have more experience with the type of challenge you are facing to brainstorm potential solutions. Conduct discussions face-to-face or virtually and use surveys.
Spot and remove every aspect that slows down your problem-solving. Ensure the ideas and suggestions put forward to align with the relevant goals and objectives. Create a list of 5-8 long-term and short-term solutions.
3. Evaluate the solutions
Assess the pros and cons of each solution and identify the resources required for their implementation, including personnel, time allocation, budget constraints, and data requirements. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the solution practical and easy to implement?
- Is it acceptable to everyone involved?
- Does it solve the problem smoothly without creating another problem?
- Does it fit within the company's procedures and policies?
The ability to promptly evaluate solutions ties into your management skills. Train yourself to identify as many parameters as possible, such as duration, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and practicality, so you can come up with the most effective solution in a shorter period.
4. Implement and monitor the progress of the chosen solution
Create an action plan to implement the solution. Define its objectives and divide them into measurable targets for monitoring the implementation. Set timelines for implementation. Communicate the plan to everyone involved.
After that, continuously monitor the progress to ensure your solution works. Gather feedback from others and data to check whether the solution helps resolve the problem. You may need to adjust the resolution if anything unexpected arises, so please be prepared for that.
What are the critical problem-solving skills in the workplace?
Problem-solving skills enable you to seek and engage candidates who are cognitively equipped to handle anything their jobs throw at them. Problem solvers can observe, judge, and act quickly when the situation demands it- without negatively impacting the business. Here are the top problem-solving skills in the workplace:
1. Decision-making prowess
Decision-making skills are an essential part of problem-solving. That is because you can only solve it if you wholly understand the problem and decide to do something about it. Decision-making skills help professionals quickly choose between two or more alternatives after evaluating the pros and cons of each.
Successfully communicating the problem and recommending solutions for it verbally and in writing is an art in itself. Proper communication ensures solutions are carried out effectively, and everyone involved in the conflict is on the same page.
Open-mindedness is essentially the willingness to look at things from a different perspective and consider new ideas. When you have a problem in front of you, review its various aspects to come up with the best solution possible. Being curious and aware helps one be a better problem-solver.
4. Analytics skills
Nearly all problem-solving cases require some form of analysis - forecasting, critical thinking, or troubleshooting. Analytical skills empower you to understand the problem better and develop practical solutions based on facts and evidence.
Collaboration is the key to ensuring communication lines are always open, problems are addressed cooperatively, and the team's objectives precede personal goals.
Team dynamics are critical to problem-solving as it helps you work well with others towards a common goal. Necessary collaboration skills include conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, empathy, sensitivity, and respect.
Over to you
In hiring, pre-employment aptitude tests assess qualities critical to most jobs, such as critical thinking, abstract reasoning, attention to detail, and so on. Problem-solving, specifically, is also a significant predictor of job performance .
However, this skill is as varied as the issues it is applied to. The best problem solvers use the same basic approach to identify and solve problems and incorporate all the skills and steps discussed in the blog post for successful results.
Adaface's aptitude tests help evaluate a candidate's ability to understand instruction, analyze the information at hand, and respond to complicated situations or problems.
The questions are designed to fetch insights into the candidates' problem-solving and coachability. Check them out!
- Problem-solving test
- Logical reasoning test
- Critical thinking test
Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.
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The Importance of Problem Solving Skills and Problem Resolution
Problem solving – the skill we all need.
In today’s world, organizations need problem solvers on their team. They need people they can rely on when the chips are down, and the levels of stress are up. People who can assess a situation with a fully lucid mind, in a calm, rational way are much sought after assets to any company. We all face challenges in our lives that require skills and experience to resolve. Our intrapersonal relationships with family members, people we deal with, our day-to-day decision making, a meeting with our doctor or bank manager may require tactful problem solving skills.
What is problem solving?
Problem solving involves first and foremost identifying the problem, secondly alternative solutions must be created. Next is the evaluation and selection of alternatives and lastly is the implementation stage where solutions are applied. It also involves diagnosing why a problem happened or happens, what factors cause it or influence it and taking action to change the pattern, therefore eliminating the problem.
To recap, the problem solving skills definition is the ability to identify and assess a certain difficult situation and having the skills to find the best or most effective solution. The person with an acute problem solving ability can hone in on the situation, and has the solution and the means to resolve the problem. Problem solving is getting to the route or cause of the problem and eliminating it. It is part of our day-to-day lives and whether the problem is big or small we all have to learn problem resolution. Finding the best way to resolve the problems so that they don’t recur and damage limitation are key to problem solving.
What are problem solving skills?
Problem-solving skills are important in all aspects of life, at work or within relationships with family and friends. Some people seem to have a natural problem solving ability. They manage to stay calm in a situation of crisis and chaos while the rest of us are unable to keep emotions out of it. If we take a closer look at the characteristics of people who are good at problem solving, we see that they have other skills that are connected to problem solving ability, some problem solving skills examples are: the ability to analyze, the ability to listen well, good communication skills, assertive decision-making ability, ability to identify and research information. Problem solving skills involve being able to make good decisions and assessing the risk of those decisions. Problem solving in the workplace is a much sought-after skill and during the selection stage many companies look for these other side-skills, easily identified during interviews, a good listener, a good communicator, researcher etc…
Problem solving in the workplace
Why is problem solving important in the workplace? The answer is simple- quick, efficient problem solving means a smoothly running organization that can stay on top of problems while focusing on their business. Problem-solving within the workplace allows us to have control over the work environment.
Problem solving examples in the workplace include risk management; being able to assess and manage risk and being aware of the cause-and-effect of what is going on in the work environment means the organization runs more smoothly. Anticipating obstacles, foreseeing problematic situations and implementing solutions are other examples. If your department has become a bit uninspired and lacking in creativity you could suggest weekly meetings to solicit new ideas and creativity. This could put the department back on its feet and get the buzz back between employees, who are given the chance to communicate their ideas with a positive outcome.
Problem solving in the workplace means improved performance where less disruption, thanks to quick-action problem solving skills, allows the business to thrive.
How can you improve problem-solving skills?
If you don’t consider yourself to be a problem solver then have a think about this; every day in our lives we have to problem solve…big and small “issues” are thrown our way daily that we have to deal with and resolve. It might just simply be coming up with a meal for dinner, getting in contact with the plumber for that broken pipe that has been leaking for two days… or making bigger decisions like changing jobs – but no-one avoids it.
Here are some ways to help you improve on your skills of problem solving :
Focus on the solution – don’t fixate on the problem. By only looking at the problem (which is causing stress) you are focusing on the negative side only, which affects how we think. That is not to say that the problem should be ignored, but focusing on solutions, trying to find the answer takes the negativity out of the situation.
Identify the problem – to help you do this, you should ask “why”. This will help you get to the cause of the problem and allow you to find a solution.
Make things simple – don’t make a stressful situation more complicated than it needs to be. Go back to basics and strip the problem bare – find the easiest and most obvious solution, which is, quite often, the simplest way.
The problem-solving skills definition includes the ability to communicate well, to think on your feet, to find the solution the easiest and quickest way possible. Lockdown Rooms offer not just a fun-filled activity, but they also help improve every single problem-solving skill. The combination of having to solve a puzzle, using communication, creativity, teamwork and listening skills will boost confidence in problem solving skills that will last long after you’ve left our escape rooms. Why not give us a call or get online to book a fun activity for your co-workers or friends?