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Problem Solving Technique

A 4-step tool

Problem Solving Technique

A 4-step tool

This tool contains a useful problem solving technique: “Critical Examination”. Use its structured questioning process to help improve your business processes.

The questions in this tool are designed to help you examine your business processes, and to help identify possible improvements. The tool uses Kipling’s six honest serving men: what, why, when, how, where and who (as discussed in our article: Best Management Tools Ever? – A Good Question!

This problem solving technique is part of our comprehensive Seven Step Problem Solving process. Starting with the flow-diagram (below), it will help guide you from an assessment of the current situation, to challenging why things are done in a particular way, to option generation, and finally to the selection of appropriate solutions.

Not sure which of your business processes to begin with? You may want to look at our article: Problem Solving Skill. This discusses the often underrated skill of finding the right problems to solve. It will also help you focus on improving those processes which create the best opportunities.

The 4 Steps

Now apply the systematic, structured, questioning technique, detailed below. It encourages you to: summarise the current situation; challenge it; consider options; choose the best or optimal. Think about this process yourself, then involve any team members as appropriate. Encourage creativity but ensure each step is taken in a thorough and disciplined manner.

Problem Solving Technique

Critical Examination Technique

The real value in using this tool is in conjunction with the right questions. Read through the points below then look at the sample questions for each step in the table below. As before, go through this process with any appropriate team members.

1: Current

Answer the questions in the first column. These summarize the present process method, asking: what; how; when; where; and who.

2: Challenge

Challenge each of your answers by asking “why?”

3: Options

Use column three to help you generate a range of improvement options.

4: Optimal

Use column four to help you decide on the best option.


Problem Solving Technique

Critical Examination Technique (Adapted from Michael Tucker’s: Successful Process Management in a Week)


Tips To Implement The Critical Examination Technique
To make improvements to a process, work with the team responsible for that process.

Use step 1 to:

  • identify the purpose of the process;
  • explore what customers and stakeholders expect the process to deliver.

Use step 2 to:

  • analyse how the process works, and its resource requirements;
  • explore ways of measuring its efficiency and effectiveness.

Use step 3 to:

  • examine ways to improve the process;
  • assess the implications and consequences of these improvements.

To help with group creativity, and to focus on the opportunities that solving this problem might create, consider using the management tips in 5 Questions to Transform Problem Solving.

Use step 4 to:

  • decide on the best option, given available resources.

A final tip:

Look for the small changes to the process which could have a big impact on the process as a whole.

Ask the question: “What small change would significantly improve the process?”

If you want to read more management tips for problem solving our Seven Step Problem Solving Process is a good place to start.

Click on this link to download our free, problem solving management tool: Problem Solving Technique: 4 Steps to Improve Your Processes. Or, for our bumper pack of problem solving techniques, tips, tools and more, follow the link to our problem solving products.

More problem solving techniques

What's the Problem?Once you’ve read this article, put our problem solving technique to good use with our great-value e-guide: What’s the Problem?! A comprehensive guide to problem solving, complete with these 9 essential tools:

  • 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


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I’m teaching team leaders and team members 7 Step Problem Solving and found your site very enlightening and useful for my classes!!!

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I think you’re a genius in problem solving 🙂

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I am designing a new Management Development programme for my company and your Goal Setting guide has really helped.

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