10 Effective Problem Solving Steps

When many people are doing work in an organization, Problems are the central element there. There are different kinds of problems.

A fundamental part of every leader’s role is finding ways to solve them efficiently and timely. So, being a confident problem solver is really important to your success.

There are different ways to solve each problem according to the nature of the problem.

Everybody can benefit from having good problem solving skills as strong problem solving skills can make a huge difference to your career.

Problem-solving often involves decision-making, and decision-making is very significant element for leadership.

Problem solving and decision-making are significant skills for business and life. A good leader should have these skills to run the organization effectively.

What is problem Solving

Problem Solving can be defined as it is a process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. It may include mathematical and systematically operations.

The term problem-solving is used in many disciplines, with different perception, and often with different terminologies.

  • in psychology it is a mental process
  • in computer science It is a computerized process

Common features of problem

All problems have two features in common:

problem solving steps


Problems involve setting out the objectives of a person’s ambition to achieve some desired results and can include avoiding a situation.

Goals can be anything that you wish to achieve as well as where you want to be.

For example, if you are a leader of an organization then your main goal may be to maximise profits.


Barrier is a circumstance or obstacle that keeps people apart from progress.

Where there is a barrier, there is a problem. If there are no barriers in the way of achieving desired results, then there would be no problem.

Problem solving involves overcoming the barriers or obstacles that prevent the immediate achievement of desired goals.

For example, If the leader of the organization wants to maximise profits and he/she has to face challenges and needs to introduce a change to run an organization effectively.

The leader needs to attempt to recognise these barriers and remove them or find other ways or accept the change to achieve the desired goals of the organization.

Types of Problems

Problems can also be classified into two different types

problem solving steps

Ill-defined problems and well-defined problems, from which suitable solutions are to be made.

  • Ill-defined problems are those that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solution.
  • Well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solution paths, and clear expected solutions.

These problems also allow for more initial planning than ill-defined problems.

Being able to solve problems sometimes involves dealing with pragmatics (logic) and semantics (interpretation of the problem).

The ability to understand what the goal of the problem is and what rules could be applied represents the key to solving the problem.

Sometimes the problem requires some abstract thinking and coming up with a creative solution.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_solving

Problem Solving Steps

There are days when you get to hear things which make you think back to situation that could have been handled better.

For example, “I wish we had not made that decision quickly,” or “If only we had not jumped to conclusions”.

There is apparent regret regarding decisions and solutions implemented in a scenario in the past; however, if you follow the following problem solving steps for guideline, you will never need to voice or hear such regrets.

Here are very effective problem solving steps

Step 1- Detective the Right Problems to Solve

One of the most crucial and important problem solving steps is, to be able to play detective in order to identify the cause of the problem, as well as the problem itself.

In an organization, there are bound to be problems which have to be dealt with head on, and in order to be able to do that, you need to address the root of the problem and then figure out a long term solution.

Before you get on with it, make sure that you are actually looking for the correct problem which needs to be solved.

Start with problems is like the wastage of resources- pinpoints the where and why. Once you have decided on a problem within your organization, it is time to move towards step 2.

Step 2-Defining

There is a fine line between knowing what the problem is, and being able to define it.

It is very important to begin this problem-solving journey with a concise and obvious problem statement.

Although defining the problem may seem like it has already been covered in step 1, truth is, most problems are rarely as simple as they may seem at first.

If you do not have a brief problem statement, it could lead to one of the following situations:

  • Unnecessary time in recognizing the cause and nature of the problem due to a broad problem statement.
  • Influence the team to a particular solution of the problem or solution implementation rather than identifying the root cause of the problem.

There is often more depth to the problem. So, step 1 is like uncovering secrets while step 2 is like getting to their roots.

If you want to solve this problem effectively, then the best way to go about would be to combine all of the valuables in order to solve exactly what you are trying to solve.

The real secret behind step 2 is to have the right kind of attitude.

Instead of dealing with the problem like a mere hurdle in your way, see it as an opportunity for yourself and your organization to grow and learn.

Step 3- Collect Evidence of Problem

This step of problem solving focuses on getting information/data to clearly demonstrate that the problem does exist.

This step is a quick exercise. The output of this step will be a list of evidence statements or graphs, to demonstrate that the problem exists, the nature of problem and its size.

Step 4- Analysing

When we talk about this problem solving step, it is time to analyze as we have detected and defined the problem.
Here, you unearth insights which help you arrive to a conclusion to solving your problem.

However, in order to get a proper analysis, you must have the right team with a clear idea of what they are dealing with and how it is supposed to be dealt with.

Your team can be formed by asking yourself 3 simple questions.

  • Who knows about the situation and has the right information?
  • Who cares about the current situation and is responsible for doing something about it?
  • Who can handle this situation well with a positive attitude?

Step 5- Identification of Impacts or Opportunities

This problem solving step focuses on recognizing the benefits, if this problem solving is successful.

At this stage you need to take in mind two different perspectives.

  • To fix the problem that stands in the way of expected results.
  • To make efforts to take results to a new level of performance.

In each case the output will be a list of statements. The impact statements and opportunity statements should be stated in terms of loss of time, money, product and processing.

Step 6- Development of Possibilities

The previous steps will have plenty of possibilities for solving the problems. At this problem solving step it is time to get the team together and discuss possible solutions to the problem.

By focusing on the right problems, defining them, and analyzing them, you have already made it easier for your team to be able to come up with creative solutions using problem solving techniques in order to tackle this issue.

As an effective leader you need to provide an environment where people can exchange their ideas.

Sharing of ideas is very important leadership skills as well as it is necessary to generate ideas to solve problems.

When you consider you have plenty of ideas with potential it’s time to make a decision.

Step 7- Generate Possible Causes

This problem solving step will help you to find out the root cause of the problem.

The team need to start with a “blank slate”.

The team can sort out most possible major causes using data and its collective knowledge and experience.

The best tool to facilitate this step is the Cause and Effect Diagram and this can be done by those people who are closest to the problem and have strong knowledge about that.

Steps 8- The ‘Best’ Solution

At this step your team has developed the possible outcomes and solutions of the problem.

You have more than one will be feasible solutions so how do you decide which solution to select?

It is time to narrow it down to the ‘best’ solution of the problem. While selecting the final solution of your problem you need to keep in mind some issues including the following.

  • Restriction about what you can do.
  • Issues about whether solutions fit within the scenario or not?
  • What is currently done?
  • Various stakeholders views to consider.
  • Therefore solutions need to be evaluated.

Here is Druckers three criteria as a filter to select ideas to take forward. To screen your ideas apply the three filter tests:

problem solving steps

Operational validity

Can you take action on this idea, or can you only talk about it? Can you really do something right away to bring about the kind of future you desire?

Economic validity

Will the idea produce economic result? What would be the early indicators that it was working?

Personal commitment

Do you really believe in the idea? Do you really want to be that kind of people; do that kind of work, and run that kind of business?

Source: http://www.the-happy-manager.com/articles/seven-step-problem-solving/

Step 9- Implementation

This is time to accept and carry out the chosen course of action.

Implementation means acting on the chosen solution.

You need to identify the original problem carefully otherwise more problems might be arising during implementation.

Before putting your decision into effect you need to check out following things:

  • Carefully defined the problem, and the desired results
  • Analysed the problem in detail
  • Gathering all information about the problem
  • Looked at all possibilities making every feasible option
  • Select the best option after considerable reflection.

At the time of implementation you need to consider two most important issues.

You need to follow the guidelines and focus on desired results. You should realize that what would be different when you are going to solve the problem and what opportunities you can avail.

You should focus on the objectives that should be clear describing the desired outcomes. Participation of all members is very important to get success.

The implementation process can then effectively follow a project management model. This project management model is described below.

problem solving steps

Step 10- Evaluation & Learning

Evaluation and learning is the last problem solving step. Never rush ahead; always thoroughly evaluate the situation, learn, and then implement a creative solution.

Going ahead and rushing into it headfirst will only complicate the situation further and the likelihood of being sidetracked increases manifold.

Two Secrets for Effective Problem Solving

These problem solving steps focus on two secrets for effective problem solving.

  • Is it the right problem to solve
  • What opportunities are created by this problem?

problem solving steps

Problem Solving Methods

Here are two main problem solving methods that are very helpful for you.

Kipling Method

The 5W1H questions are what is known as the Kipling Method. This method is named after the author Rudyard Kipling who wrote the poem:

I have six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
I call them What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who

The 5W1H questions are:

problem solving steps
Kipling Method is very helpful in gathering data/information to catch the current situation as well as to define the problem precisely.

For Example: “What is the problem, when and where did it occur, who did it affect, why is it a problem, and how did it occur?”

Onho Method

Onho Method is about asking WHY to find out the root cause of the problem.

This is so simple and easy method.

According to Onho Method you need to keep in mind some steps to find out the root cause of problem.

  • Problem has been defined
  • Break it down
  • Set targets for improvements
  • Begin investigation of the root causes.

The Kipling Method vs. The Ohno Method

Here is a fantastic comparison of two problem solving methods, The Kipling Method and The Ohno Method.

problem solving steps

In Kipling Method WHY is used for “why did it happen?”

In Onho Method WHY is used be “why is it a problem?”

The Kipling Method 5W1H should be used for creating a good problem statement, not asking about causes.

The Ohno Method is used to find out the causes of the problem, asking why, why, why, why, why, why, why..?

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