Seven Step Problem Solving Technique
What's the problem?
What's the problem?
Our seven step problem solving technique provides a structured basis to help deliver outcomes and solutions to your problems. (But if you’re in hurry, click here for our “manage in a minute” tip: 7 Problem Solving Steps).
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.”
A structured process helps ensure you stay on track with what you really need to do, to solve a problem.
You’ll find a brief explanation of these points below. Once you’ve read these, you can find more details, in our comprehensive guide to problem solving: What’s the Problem (with a tool for each or our problem solving steps).
Surprised to start with this step? Not many problem solving processes include this step, yet it is absolutely crucial. Think how often we spend time and resources on problems which don’t necessarily demand such attention. Ask yourself “Is it the right problem to solve?”. This is also one of the most important stages in our seven step problem solving technique. Why?
Well too often our approach to problem solving is reactive, we wait for the problems to arise. So firstly in our seven step problem solving process, we advocate taking a proactive approach, go and find problems to solve; important and valuable problems. The real starting point then for any problem solving process is to find the right problem to solve.
How do you go about finding the right problems to solve?
That’s what we set to answer in our problem solving skill article: “Finding the Right problems to Solve”. You will find useful management tips in this activity to start the problem solving process by looking firstly at the possibilities in your current issues and then secondly looking to the future.
It is very tempting to gloss over this step and move to analysis and solutions. However, like the first step, it is one of the secrets of effective problem solving and helps to differentiate our seven step problem solving technique. Combining problems that are valuable to solve, with defining exactly what you are trying to solve, can dramatically improve the effectiveness of the problem solving process. The secret to defining the problem, is really about attitude. Try to see every problem as an opportunity.
This is the crucial attitude which will then help you define the problem in a way which focuses on the potential and opportunity in the situation. Peter Drucker advocates that we should starve problems and start feeding opportunities. Perhaps because we don’t see the right problems to solve or the opportunity in solving them. Essentially Drucker suggests that we should move from a problem focus to an opportunity focus.
Define your problem as an opportunity! Our problem solving activity tool does just that, providing a process to frame your problem as an opportunity and a question checklist to help you define what exactly the problem is, and why it is worth your while solving it. The question checklist also leads you through a structured set of questions to start the analysis of the problem. Which is the next step in the seven step problem solving technique.
Analysis is a process of discovery of the facts, finding out what you know about the situation. The problem solving activity question checklist leads you through a set of questions to identify the nature of the problem and to analyse what it is and what it isn’t.
One of the most important aspects of analysing any situation is involving the right people.
In “the best management tools ever: a good question” we suggest using Reg Revans approach of asking three questions:
These questions are fundamental management tips. They help us to identify the people who need to come together, in order to take appropriate action to solve an issue or realise an opportunity.
Analysis often requires a detailed examination of the situation. This is an important element in seven step problem solving.
An excellent approach to detailed examination is adopted in our structured problem solving technique which uses four steps to improve processes in your organisation. This management tool firstly helps you define the current situation, then challenges all aspects of that current process. The third and fourth steps are to develop options and then seek an optimal solution. The tool leads us from analysis to the next two stages in our seven step problem solving technique, that is developing options and selecting a solution.
The previous steps will have already revealed plenty of possibilities for solving the problem and realising the opportunities. At this stage it is important to give time and space for creative solutions. Placing a high value on the ideas of others is a crucial leadership concept and facilitator skill when generating ideas to solve problems.
We have already suggested that for effective problem solving you need to ensure that you find the right problems to solve and then ask yourself what opportunities are created by solving this problem. But how do you focus on opportunities?
We have developed a tool, the power of positive thinking, which helps you to focus on those opportunities, using 5 questions that create opportunities. A group process is recommended to help get possible solutions from a wide range of people – solutions which can create significant opportunities for the organisation.
A second resource provides a great process to explore new possibilities and potential. In “the best management tools ever: a good question” there is a tool which groups questions to help you:
A rich range of possible solutions opens up the opportunities. When you consider you have plenty of ideas with potential it’s time to make a decision.
The next phase in our seven step problem solving technique is to consider the number of solutions found. It’s likely that more than one will be viable so how do you decide which solution to select? There will be constraints restricting what you can do, issues about whether solutions fit within what is currently done, and various stakeholders views to consider. Solutions therefore need to be evaluated. A powerful way to do this has been proposed by Peter Drucker. In our business planning tool, “business goal setting“, we suggest using Drucker’s three criteria as a filter to select ideas to take forward. To screen your ideas apply the three filter tests:
Take you time answering these questions. You may well find that many of the other stages in our business goal setting article can help in the problem solving process. Especially if the problem is of organisational significance and its solution could impact the direction the business or unit takes.
Implementing the seven step problem solving technique moves to a project implementation process. But before putting your decision into effect check that you have:
To implement first make sure that you follow project management guidelines, particularly to be clear on the outcomes, ask yourself what will be different when you solve the problem and realise the opportunity.
Secondly what are the objectives, these should clearly demonstrate how you will get to the outcomes. Gaining clarity on these, and acceptance from the various stakeholders is crucial to succeeding.
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:
You will have done some things really well by applying this seven step problem solving technique. It would be all too easy to forget them in rushing to solve the next problem, or to implement the solution. You should evaluate at least two areas:
You should also ask what you are now able to do, or what you could do next, now that you have improved things by solving the problem. What further opportunities can you now realise that you weren’t able to before?
This seven step problem solving technique ensures you follow a systematic process but it also emphasises two secrets of effective problem solving:
Once you’ve read this article, turn the seven step problem solving technique into eight steps, with our great-value e-guide: What’s the Problem?! A comprehensive guide to problem solving, complete with these 9 essential tools:
Try our great value e-guides