## 7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process

September 1, 2016 | Leadership Articles

## An effective problem-solving process is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones.

## Step 1: Identify the Problem

What are things like when they are the way we want them to be?

And then ask this important question: How much variation from the norm is tolerable?

## Step 2: Analyze the Problem

## Step 3: Describe the Problem

The most important question of all, when describing your problem: Is your premise correct?

## Step 4: Look for Root Causes

## Step 5: Develop Alternate Solutions

## Step 6: Implement the Solution

## Step 7: Measure the Results

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## Seven Step Problem Solving Technique

Ever heard people say (or perhaps said yourself) things like :

“I wished we hadn’t jumped to that solution so quickly.”

“I think we may have solved the wrong problem.”

“It was only at the end that I realised we had acted too quickly with too little information.”

“The solution we went ahead with turned out to be impractical and too expensive.”

## The seven step problem solving technique covers:

- Finding the right problem to solve
- Defining the problem
- Analysing the problem
- Developing possibilities
- Selecting the best solution
- Implementing
- Evaluating and learning

## 1 Find the Right Problems to Solve

How do you go about finding the right problems to solve?

## 2 Define the Problem

## 3 Analyse the Problem

One of the most important aspects of analysing any situation is involving the right people.

- Who knows? – about the situation/opportunity, or who has the information we need to solve it/realise it
- Who cares? – that something is done about it
- Who can? – do something about the solution

## 4 Develop Possibilities

- focus collective attention on the situation
- connect ideas and deeper insight
- create forward momentum and move to action

## 5 Select the Best Solution

- 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?

## 6 Implement

- carefully defined the problem, and the desired outcome
- analysed the problem at length
- collected every available item of information about it
- explored all possible avenues, and generated every conceivable option
- chosen the best alternative after considerable deliberation.

The implementation process can then effectively follow a project management model of:

Make sure that the three “who’s” are with you!

During the seven step problem solving process you should build the commitment of those:

- who care – they want to see a solution,
- who can – they are able to make it happen
- who know – they can help you implement effectively.

## 7 Evaluate and Learn from the seven step problem solving technique

- How you carried out the seven step problem solving process
- The effectiveness of the solution you implemented. Did it deliver the outcomes you expected?

- Use your problem solving skills to ask: “is it the right problem to solve?”
- Then ensure that any problem solving activity asks the question: “what opportunities are created by this problem?”

## The eighth problem solving step

- Tool 1: When you don’t know what to do
- Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving
- Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve
- Tool 4: Problem solving check-list
- Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team
- Tool 5: Problem analysis in 4 steps
- Tool 5a: Using 4 Step problem analysis with your team
- Tool 6: Questions that create possibilities
- Tool 6a: Using the 5 questions with your team
- Tool 6b: Putting creativity to work – 5 alternate questions
- Tool 6c: Workshop outline
- Tool 7: Evaluating alternatives
- Tool 8: Creative thinking techniques A-Z
- Tool 9: The 5 Whys technique

## Further Reading

>> return to problem solving hub, looking for more resources.

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## 7 Steps for Effective Problem Solving

Below are concise descriptions of the 7 steps for effective problem solving .

## Step 1: Identifying the Problem

## Step 2: Defining Goals

## Step 3: Brainstorming

## Step 4: Assessing Alternatives

## Step 5: Choosing the Solution

## Step 6: Active Execution of the Chosen Solution

## Step 7: Evaluation

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## Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace

Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.

- Be clear about what the problem is.
- Remember that different people might have different views of what the issues are.
- Separate the listing of issues from the identification of interests (that’s the next step!).

2. Understand everyone’s interests.

- This is a critical step that is usually missing.
- Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution.
- The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests.
- This is the time for active listening. Put down your differences for awhile and listen to each other with the intention to understand.
- Separate the naming of interests from the listing of solutions.

3. List the possible solutions (options)

- This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity.
- Separate the listing of options from the evaluation of the options.

- What are the pluses and minuses? Honestly!
- Separate the evaluation of options from the selection of options.

5. Select an option or options.

- What’s the best option, in the balance?
- Is there a way to “bundle” a number of options together for a more satisfactory solution?

7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

- Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (If-then!).
- How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?
- Create opportunities to evaluate the agreements and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)

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## The 7 Steps to Problem Solving

Effective problem solving, document.write("page last modified on: " + document.lastmodified +"");.

When should problem solving be used?

## STEP 1: The Right Problem to Solve

- Being as specific as possible what exactly is the problem to be solved?
- a clearly and concisely defined problem avoids confusion.
- A vaguely defined problem could be interpreted as something different.
- Can the problem be broken down further?
- A problem in its most simple form is in the best state for solving.
- Complex problems are possibly multiple smaller problems.
- Is the problem exactly the same from multiple perspectives? If not, can it be reworded so that it is?
- Problems can look different to different people.
- Solving for one person will not necessarily solve for everyone.
- Is there anyone who thinks it is not a problem? Why not?
- Any doubt is worth looking into, they could know something you don’t.
- It is always a possibility that you or your perceptions are the problem.
- Is the problem a symptom of a deeper, underlying condition?
- Fixing the problem will stop future symptoms.
- Fixing a symptom is only temporary.
- Is the problem one that can be solved? If no, can the problem be redefined?
- How to get to work with a broken leg is a problem that can be solved.
- A broken leg itself is not a problem because it can’t be solved, it's broken.
- Can the problem be defined as an opportunity?
- An opportunity is something positive we generally look forward to and want to take advantage of.
- A problem is generally something negative we don’t like and simply want to get rid of.
- Is the problem a beneficial one to solve? Why?
- The most beneficial problem is often a good place to start.
- The world is full of problems and unfortunately we can’t solve them all.
- Are you trying to solve a problem? Or are you confusing cause and effect?
- Building an airstrip so a plane has somewhere to land can be solving a problem.
- Building an airstrip because you know planes land on them does not guarantee a plane.

## STEP 2: Analyse the Problem

- What does the problem currently affect?
- People or yourself?
- Environment?
- Organisation?
- What will be the benefits of solving the problem? And by how much?
- Credibility?
- Productivity?
- Reputation?
- What influences the problem?
- Does anything seem to aggravate or spread the problem?
- Does anything seem to reduce or delay the problem?
- Does anything tend to speed up / slow down the problem?
- Can the problem be simulated, recreated or acted out in another setting?
- Is there a specific example of an extreme case?
- What would be needed to solve the problem?
- Will new tools and/or policies be required?
- Will new equipment be required?
- Will new people be required?
- Could any new problems arise?
- What would happen if no solution can be found?
- Will a solution be available at a later date?
- What would be the next best thing to finding a complete solution?
- Is there a way to delay the problem?
- What would be the next best thing to solving the problem?
- Is there a chance the problem will go away on its own?
- Is there a way to change the problem for the better?

- Why do you want to achieve a solution?
- Is it something you personally want to do?
- Is it something you have been told to do?
- Is it something you feel you have to do?
- Why did the problem arise in the first place?
- Can the exact cause of the problem be pin pointed?
- Were there numerous reasons for the problem starting?
- Was a problem expected to occur at the time?
- Why was the problem allowed to escalate as far as it has?
- How much further can the problem escalate?
- Have previous attempts at solving the problem been made?
- Does the problem benefit anything/anyone else?

- How long has the problem been around?
- Has it always been a problem?
- Has it got worse over time?
- Has the problem occurred at a previous time?
- How will the situation be different once the problem is solved?
- In particular what will be different?
- Can you guarantee the situation will be different?
- How relevant is the information available?
- Is the information up to date?
- Was the information created for the specific purpose it will be used for?
- Does the information need to be modified?
- How can I find out more information on the problem and possible solutions?
- Is all available information available?
- Is any information not available? Why not?
- Will additional research be required?
- Can additional people get involved with finding a solution?
- Is there an expert who can be approached?
- Are additional resources required?

- Where did the problem arise?
- Has the problem always existed?
- Can the exact starting point of the problem be pin pointed?
- Why did the problem arise where it did?
- Where is the problem currently located?
- Is the problem in a single or multiple locations?
- Can the problem be contained in its current location until it is dealt with?
- Is there a chance the problem will spread to different locations?
- Is the “where” component to the problem important? If so, why?

- Who are the stakeholders?
- Who is affected by this problem?
- Who will be affected once it is solved?
- Does anyone think that it is not a problem? What is different about their perspective?
- Who knows about the problem?
- Who has the information needed to solve or release the problem or issue?
- Who can do something or take action as a possible solution?
- Does anyone/s need to be informed about the problem?
- How do processes currently work where the problem is occurring?
- Who does what?
- With what information?
- Using what tools?
- Communicating with whom?
- In what time frame?
- Using what format?

- When did the problem first appear?
- What was its initial impact?
- How was it identified?
- Who identified it first?
- How did it start?
- Where did it start?
- Why did it start?
- What initially started it?
- When did it start?
- When does a solution need to be found?
- Would it be better to wait for a better time to implement a solution?
- Is too late to look for solutions?

## STEP 3: Define the Problem

- Define exactly what the problem is.
- Define exactly what needs to be solved.
- Define your problem as an opportunity.
- Define the desired outcome.

## STEP 4: Develop Opportunities (Possible Solutions)

## STEP 5: Select the Best Solution

- Operational validity: Can the solution actually be implemented or is it just an idea?
- Economic validity: Is the solution economical? Will the solution bring an economic result?
- Degree of Complexity: Is the solution simple to implement or are there complexities involved?
- Ease of Implementation: Is the solution ready to go and easy to install?
- Stakeholder interest: Does the solution satisfy everyone’s interests.
- Potential Risk: Does the solution bring any additional risk with it?
- Personal commitment: Is the solution something that reflects the ideals of all involved? Is the solution something you believe in?
- End result: Will the solution solve all parts of the problem or will the problem just be reduced or concealed?

## STEP 6: Implement the Solution

- Planning and documentation of a new solution/s
- When will the solution be implemented?
- Where will the solution be implemented?
- How is the solution to be implemented?
- What has to be done before the solution is implemented?
- How long will the solution take to start working?
- What time frame is the solution expected to take before the problem is solved?
- Have monitoring provisions been put in place?
- What are the key signs to look for to indicate the solution is working?
- Who will need to be notified about the changes about to take place?
- At what stages will the progress be reviewed?
- Have contingency arrangements been put in place for if the solution doesn’t work?
- What will be the next step if the solution doesn’t work?
- If required, have all agreements been documented and signed?
- How will it be confirmed that the problem has been solved?
- Are steps required to remove or disable the solution?
- What will happen once the problem has been solved?
- Putting the solution into action
- Put the solution into action
- Monitor the progress and effect of the solution
- Test and ensure the solution is meeting expectations and outcomes

## STEP 7: Evaluate and Learn

- How effective was that particular solution?
- Did the solution achieve the desired outcomes?
- What consequences did problem solving activity have on my situation?

## 7 Steps to Better Problem Solving

2=Planning, 4=Control, Productivity

What are your most significant project problems? Perhaps you have some of these problems:

- Communication issues
- Changing requirements
- Lack of clear goals
- Insufficient budget
- Scope creep
- Team members failing to complete their activities

## 7 Steps to Problem Solving

- 1 Define the problem. People often jump to the wrong conclusions. Work with your team and key stakeholders to define the specific problem . Vague and loosely defined problems lead to poor solutions. Individuals often see the dilemma differently. Consequently, it's critical to reconcile differences into a unified problem statement.
- 2 Define the causes of the problem. Consider a personal problem – the family expenses have been over budget for the last three months. What is causing this problem? Eating out too much? Unexpected health care expenses? Using the credit cards too much? Try a cause and effect diagram to help you and your team discover the causal factors.
- 3 Define the decision criteria. This step is rarely considered. Before identifying solutions, work with the decision makers to determine how you will make the decision. For example, let's assume that you plan to purchase a software solution. The criterion could include: 1) cost, 2) ease of implementation, 3) the vendor's track record with other customers, and 4) how long the vendor has existed.

"You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." –Margaret Thatcher

- 4 Identify solutions. Now we can identify solutions. Brainstorming is a great tool for identifying ideas.
- 5 Select a solution. Let's say we've identified five solutions. We now apply our criterion as a filter for determining the best solution. If you like, you could score each solution for each criterion using a scale such as 1 to 5. Finally, total the scores and determine the best solution with your team.
- 6 Implement the solution. The previous steps are strategic; we are attempting to define the strategy of how we will move from our current state to the desired future state. Now, we take action.
- 7 Evaluate the results. None of our previous efforts matter if we fail to obtain the desired results. Periodically verify your results. For example, you could measure the results three months after the implementation, six months, and one year later. If you are not getting the desired results, why? Do we need to tweak the solution or did we make a poor strategic decision?

## Which Problem Do You Need to Solve?

## Project Risk Coach Tips

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## You may also like

Uncovering the benefits of clear risk statements, how to improve your project communication.

## 7 Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

## 7 Key Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

## Step 1: Define The Problem

## Step 2: Analyse The Problem

## Step 3: Develop Potential Solutions

## Step 4: Evaluate The Options

- Is the solution easily achievable?
- How much effort and resources it will take?
- Does it fit the organizational processes and cultures?
- What are the pros and cons of the solution?
- What is the possible outcome of this solution?
- Is it well suited to the time and budget?

## Step 5: Select The Best Option

## Step 6: Implement The Solution

## Step 7: Measure The Results

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## 7 Steps To Problem-Solving

## Understanding the 7 steps to problem-solving

## Moving through the 7 steps to problem-solving

## Step 1 – Define the problem

## Step 2 – Disaggregate the problem

## Step 3 – Prioritize issues

## Step 4 – Plan the analyses

## Step 5 – Conduct the analyses

## Step 6 – Synthesise the results

## Step 7 – Communicate

## Key takeaways

- 7 steps to problem-solving is a methodical approach to problem-solving based on the scientific method.
- Although a somewhat rigorous approach, the strategy can be learned by any business willing to devote the time and resources.
- Fundamentally, the 7 steps to problem-solving method involves formulating and then testing hypotheses. Through the process of elimination, a business can narrow its focus to the likely root cause of a problem.

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## How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

Charles and Hugo, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here.

Charles Conn: It’s terrific to be here.

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Simon London: So this is a concise problem statement.

Charles Conn: And in the wrong direction.

Simon London: What’s a good example of a logic tree on a sort of ratable problem?

## Would you like to learn more about our Strategy & Corporate Finance Practice ?

Simon London: Not going to have a lot of depth to it.

Hugo Sarrazin: So it’s the same thing in problem solving.

Simon London: Would you agree with that?

Simon London: Step six. You’ve done your analysis.

Simon London: But, again, these final steps are about motivating people to action, right?

Hugo Sarrazin: Every step of the process.

Simon London: Problem definition, but out in the world.

Simon London: So, Charles, are these complements or are these alternatives?

## Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Simon London: I think we are, sadly, out of time for today. But Charles and Hugo, thank you so much.

Charles Conn: It was a pleasure to be here, Simon.

Hugo Sarrazin: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

## IMAGES

## VIDEO

## COMMENTS

An effective problem-solving process is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones. · Step 1: Identify the Problem.

Seven Step Problem Solving Technique · 1 Find the Right Problems to Solve · 2 Define the Problem · 3 Analyse the Problem · 4 Develop Possibilities · 5 Select the

7 Steps for Effective Problem Solving · Step 1: Identifying the Problem · Step 2: Defining Goals · Step 3: Brainstorming · Step 4: Assessing

Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace · 1. Identify the issues. Be clear about what the problem is. · 3. List the possible

STEP 1: The Right Problem to Solve · STEP 2: Analyse the Problem · STEP 3: Define the Problem · STEP 4: Develop Opportunities (Possible Solutions).

7 Steps to Problem Solving · 4. Identify solutions. Now we can identify solutions. · 5. Select a solution. Let's say we've identified five solutions. · 6.

7 Key Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills · Step 1: Define The Problem · Step 2: Analyse The Problem · Step 3: Develop Potential Solutions · Step 4:

Moving through the 7 steps to problem-solving · Step 1 – Define the problem · Step 2 – Disaggregate the problem · Step 3 – Prioritize issues · Step

The most powerful thing is to step back and ask the basic questions—“What are we trying to solve? What are the constraints that exist? What are

Are you facing a challenging situation at work? Ed Muzio, author of "Make Work Great" explains a 7 step solution to effective problem