Finding the right problem-solving tools is easier than you think and regardless of the problem at hand, the right tools will work to solve it and produce great results every time. Whether you’re a business owner or an individual, problems are going to pop up now and then and it is good to know that there are solutions that can help you solve those problems efficiently. Below are 55 of those solutions.
Business Problem Solving 101
Businesses often look to professional problem-solving techniques because these are usually more effective at solving the types of problems that they encounter. They usually start with some basic steps that have been proven to be effective and these include:
- Identify what the problem is to make it easier to know what to do next.
- Identify the root causes of the problem. How and why did the problem arise in the first place?
- Brainstorm your various solutions with other business people.
- Determine which of these solutions will produce the best results.
- Implement the solution; then analyze it so that you can determine what, if anything, went wrong.
Without knowing how to get started, you simply won’t be able to solve the problems that you’re dealing with so a step-by-step process is usually the best. There are also many specific, well-tested tools and techniques for solving problems and these include the following:
- The A3 problem solving report, which is designed mostly for improvement teams and makes continuous improvement the ultimate goal
- The clean sheet process redesign, which allows people to step away from their current state and completely transform their workflow process
- The consensus decision-making matrix, which divides the issue into primary and secondary components so that achieving consensus is much simpler
- Mind mapping, which consists of a non-linear diagram that allows people to organize and link all available information on a certain issue
- The population health driver diagram, which is designed to improve community health problems and starts by identifying primary and secondary drivers to the problem
- The SCAMPER technique (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse), which improves existing processes or creates new ones to solve the problem at hand
- The solvability and control matrix, which helps you divide problems into those that can be solved easily and those that should be brought to the quality improvement team
- The 8D customer complaint resolution report, which helps solve customer complaints through an eight-step process
- The analytic cause tree, which gets to the root of the problem so that you can resolve the issue
Many of these techniques are specific to a certain industry or a certain problem area, which makes them even more effective in the end. Here are a few more examples of these problem-solving tools:
- The community stakeholder services map, which is a map showing the physical locations of each of your services so that you can see where all of them are
- The diagnostic force field analysis, which is a tool used when you want to assess the strength of restrainers and drivers
- Nine windows, which is a technique that helps you come up with solutions by looking at the problem through nine different lenses, including time and space factors
- The process value analysis, which helps teams develop a ratio of function to cost by assigning a value to each step in the process
Tools and Techniques Include Both Standard and More Complex Ones
Because there are so many tools and techniques to help you solve problems more efficiently, it is easy to find one that is right for you. Below are some more tools that you can use in your business life and even in your personal life:
- General brainstorming. When more than one person is involved, it is always much easier to come up with a viable solution.
- Creating a flowchart. The chart comes in various forms, including top-down and sequential flowcharts, and they get very detailed so that the right answer is easily found.
- Using the SWOT method. This looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats when trying to find a viable solution.
- Using the 5 “why”s solution. This involves a series of questions and works well with problems that have to do with human interactions.
- Using the drill down technique. This breaks everything down into much smaller components.
- Solving the problem analytically. This can include an eight-part technique that starts with defining the problem and ends with making a final decision.
Making These Tools More Individualized
There are also tools and techniques that work great for specific situations but can be used by many different companies. Once you determine the type and the severity of your work-related problem, the best problem-solving technique should be easy to find. These include the following:
- The PDCA method consists of steps to plan, do, check, and act on the problem at hand. This works well when you’re in a crisis mode.
- Risk analysis techniques do great for quality improvement problems. These techniques include FMEA, or failure mode and effects analysis, which helps anticipate problems and reduce certain risks.
- The Jidoka swarming method requires the process to cease as soon as a problem is recognized so that it doesn’t get any worse.
Getting Specific Is the Key
If you do some research online, you can find much more detail on all of these and many other problem-solving tools. There are even templates you can use to ensure that you apply the techniques correctly. Most of them are foolproof methods that are easy to apply and whether you’re a manufacturing company or a retail outlet, you should be able to find the one right for you in no time.
The more personalized a tool or technique is, the more effective it will be for you. Problem-solving techniques and methods can be used to determine what the problem is or to determine the effectiveness of a specific solution. Some of these tools and methods include:
- The gap analysis, which evaluates a company’s performance against a pre-set benchmark
- Fishbone diagrams, which are also cause-and-effect diagrams and look specifically at machinery and equipment, people, methods, and materials
- Pareto charts, which are most often used in operations management and are great process management tools.
- Process flowcharts, which map out a specific process and all of the steps that are necessary in order to arrive at a solution using basic flowchart symbols familiar to most business people
- The CAPA method, or Corrective Action Preventative Action method, which follows the PDCA method of plan, do, check, and act
- The “Is-Is Not” method, which helps people determine the true cause of the problem area so that a proper solution can be developed
- The correlation method, which is a statistical method that finds and observes two variables and their consistency over time
- The affinity diagram, also called the KJ method, which is used in conjunction with a cause-and-effect diagram and looks at similar needs and features
- The tolerance analysis, which is used mostly by engineers and is useful for any business that deals with process stages that have different variations.
Of course, there are also skills that you should be aware of before you start developing your own problem-solving tools and techniques and these include the following:
- Divergent versus convergent thinking: the former relies on new ideas in order to develop multiple solutions to the problem, and the latter is used to devise one perfect solution.
- Personal problem solving versus mathematical problem solving: the latter involves logic only whereas the former usually incorporates emotions to come up with a solution.
- Semantics versus pragmatics: semantics involves how you interpret the problem whereas pragmatics refer to the logic of the problem at hand.
- Reproductive thinking: this type of thinking takes into consideration a past problem in order to decide if the current problem can benefit from the same solution.
- Idea generation: this is a form of brainstorming because it involves many people coming up with possible solutions to the problem.
If you want a fast solution to your problem, you can use the techniques known as creative problem solving, or CPS. CPS involves four core parts:
- Achieve a balance between convergent and divergent thinking.
- Defer judgment or suspend it altogether.
- Ask problems as if they are questions.
- Instead of saying “no, but …” say “yes, and…”
In addition, CPS is most effective when certain rules are followed and these include the following:
- Be systematic while preserving creativity and encouraging new ideas at the same time.
- Change your perspective when you need to, especially when things aren’t working right.
- Assign someone to be the leader or facilitator of the group that is coming up with these ideas so that it continues to move in the right direction.
- Don’t view problems as negative situations; instead, view them as opportunities for improvement.
- Make sure that you include people from different departments within the company when you’re developing these problem-solving tools and techniques.
The Right Tools Depend on the Overall Approach
Different tools and strategies can be found to solve any problem you have and most of them can be broken down into the type of technique that you choose to use, which is often decided by the type of problem involved. These techniques include:
- Those based on divergent thinking, such as brainstorming, mind mapping, appreciative inquiry (AI), and lateral thinking
- Those that help you change your perspective, such as constructive controversy, analogical thinking, abstraction, and CATWOE, which forces you to determine who your decision will affect
- Those that are needed for complex problem-solving situations, including soft systems methodology (SSM) and FMEA, which is discussed above.
- Those that use logic for solutions, including the theory of inventive problem solving (TIPS) and inductive reasoning
- Those that are process-oriented, which include the PDCA method already discussed, means-end analysis (MEA), Hurson’s model of productive thinking, the control-influence-accept (CIA) model, the grow-reality-options-will model (GROW), and the OODA loop, which uses observe, orient, decide, and act as its main components
As you can see, it isn’t that difficult to find a problem-solving technique that suits your needs. On any given website, there are dozens of tools and even templates that can help you solve nearly every problem that you’re dealing with so finding one that is perfect for you is not impossible or time-consuming.
Do These Techniques Always Work?
In most cases, problem-solving techniques work, especially since there are so many that are personalized to certain industries and types of thinking processes. However, there are ways that people can reduce the effectiveness of these tools and these include the following:
- Functional fixedness: this essentially means that you are not thinking outside the box, which can hinder the problem-solving process.
- Avoiding loss: this is when people are concentrating more on avoiding or minimizing losses and risks than they are coming up with the best solutions.
- Confirmation bias: this is when you seek proof of things you already believe and not potentially new ideas.
- Belief perseverance: this is believing in something even when evidence proves you wrong.
- Fixation: this is clinging to commonly held beliefs and not being open-minded to other possibilities.
This doesn’t mean that these barriers cannot be eliminated. In fact, once you understand them better, you can rid yourself or others from these aspects so that a problem can be solved quickly and efficiently.
Some Final Thoughts
There are so many proven problem-solving tools that you are all but guaranteed to find the one that is most effective for you. Researching them is important and so is being confident enough to move forward so that in the end, you’ll know that the solution you found is the best one for your needs. It also takes some open-mindedness because the more innovative you are, the more likely that the solution will be the one that produces the results you needed.