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Problem Solving Questions

5 quick tips...

Problem Solving Questions

5 quick tips...

Here are 5 problem solving questions which we think are understated ideas at the heart of effective problem solving. Yet they’re often missed in our rush towards seeking a solution.

We also list key articles on this site where you can find more comprehensive checklists and tools, with other structured problem solving questions. But first, what better way to begin these tips than with a pertinent quote from the great Peter Drucker:

Do not focus on finding an answer: focus on defining the question.

Part of our manage in a minute series, you can read this article to gain fresh perspectives and challenge current practice by asking 5 crucial problem solving questions.

1 Have you got a problem to solve or just a decision to make?

Sometimes a good deal of  time can be saved by just making a decision rather than trying to ‘solve’ something that might not really be a problem at all. This is especially the case if you take our next question into account. For more insights into this point, read our article: decision making problems.

2 Have you found a problem that’s important enough to solve?

This is one of the best questions you can ask because it prompts you towards effective prioritisation of resources (not least your time!). Most problem solving processes miss this crucial stage of “problem finding” and as a result tend to become re-active processes, that mainly focus on problems as they emerge. Asking this question is an essential problem solving skill for finding the “right” problems to solve.

3 Have you defined the problem clearly and expressed it as a potential opportunity?

One common difficulty in problem solving is failing to clearly define the problem in the first place. And a key aspect of this should be ensuring that we position the problem as an opportunity. Framing a problem as a potential positive fundamentally changes the problem solving process. From one which simply tries to fix something, to one that encourages exploration of possibilities.

4 What can you now do, or what could you do next, by solving the problem?

A problem solving process shouldn’t end with implementation. Solving a problem should lead to an appreciation of what you’re now able to do. Firstly, to value the benefits derived from solving the problem and secondly to ask: what should we look at next?

5 Are there any wider opportunities that can now be realised?

Finally, solving a problem should be seen as a springboard to wider opportunities. The previous question might be viewed as a review of operational practices or planning but think about reviewing the bigger picture. How has this problem affected strategic plans or planning?

Problem Solving Questions: Some Further Thoughts

You’ll find a wide range of articles and other resources on the Happy Manager, which use problem solving questions as the basis for solving management problems. Here are a few you might find useful:

Best Management Tools Ever? – A Good Question
The best management tools are good questions but why are they so important, and how can we ask better questions?

5 Whys: Getting to Root Causes, Fast!
Asking why 5 times: “the 5 Whys”, is a simple but powerful tool to use with any problem solving activity. It’s a technique to help you get past the symptoms of a problem and to find its root causes.

Problem Solving Technique: 4 Steps To Improve Your Processes
Using questions to analyse, challenge and improve business and management processes is a very useful skill.

Problem Solving Activity – A Question Checklist For Problem Solving
This question checklist is a simple but effective problem solving activity. It’s straightforward 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.

Problem Solving Skill
This is a useful tool to help you find the right problems to solve. Asking “why not” is an effective way to seek innovation and encourage creativity.

The Power of Positive Thinking: 5 Questions to Transform Problem Solving
Go from problem-solving to opportunity-creating using the power of positive thinking. This tool also uses 5 problem solving questions to help you radically change the way you solve problems.

Seven Step Problem Solving Process
Contains links to a wide range of tools to help you solve problems. Alternatively, if you want a quick overview then read our manage in a minute article: 7 Problem Solving Steps.

Still pressed for time? Follow this link for the full list of Manage in a Minute pages.

Problem solving resources

What's the Problem?If you want some help in putting these problem solving questions to work, look at 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 your site from one page to another

I think you’re a genius in problem solving 🙂

Jersey - Indonesia

I love your e-guides

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

Kenneth - United States

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