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Problem Solving Activity

Problem Solving Activity: A Question Checklist to Investigate Problems

This question checklist is a simple but effective problem solving activity. It’s straighforward to use and easy to adapt to any specific circumstance.

Using a set of structured questions encourages both broad and deep analysis of your situation or problem. The questions themselves may be simple, but when used as part of the checklist, they become a powerful management tool.

This tool uses a question hierarchy (see our article Best Management Tool Ever? A Good Question for more advice on how to build and use good management questions).

In this hierarchy, “what” broadly states the situation or problem although “why” is arguably the most powerful question you can ask. Asking “why” forces you to consider the significance of the problem and thus the nature of your response.

It can be especially valuable when applied as part of the well known problem solving technique, 5 Whys. The repeated asking of “why”? can enable deep analysis of problems, essential for getting to root causes.

Next you should use “how”, “where”, “who” and “when”. These questions are designed to both deepen and broaden analysis.

When combined into a question checklist, they become both a tool for analysing and solving problems, and the basis for an action plan.

The table below shows the structure of the question checklist, and includes some examples of more detailed, follow-up questions. It’s easy to develop a checklist to suit your own situation but don’t just use the question checklist for problem solving. You could also use it for routine situation analysis or to consider how you might deal with opportunities.


Problem solving activity

Problem solving activity – the question checklist tool

Problem Solving Activity – Using The Question Checklist Tool

Use the question checklist to build a set of questions for the problem or opportunity you’re investigating.

Problem Solving Activity

Tools techniques and checklists in our problem solving guide

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  • Spend some time thinking about the checklist yourself, before briefing your team. You may find it useful to read our “T-break” article: Career Builder: Building Your Own Education for some tips on sharing knowledge in the workplace.
  • Schedule one or more meetings with your team, to generate ideas about the problem or situation.
  • Starting with the “what” questions, discuss all the responses and agree a common understanding of the situation or problem. Flip chart the feedback.
  • Spend as much time as you need asking “why”?
  • Repeat the activity for each of the primary questions. This may be easier in small groups or teams, for more complex situation.
  • What next – decide before the team session what you intend to do next, subject to what is discovered in the analysis and feedback. End with actions to be completed, either in summary, or in preparation for any subsequent meeting. Ensure these are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bounded.

You’ll find a really interesting application of the idea of using checklists in this article on the BBC website: Dr Atul Gawande’s checklist for saving lives.

If checklists can make such a difference in life critical activities such as surgery, what benefit can they make to how we manage?

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