04 May What Is Problem-Solving? Steps, Techniques, and Best Practices Explained
Have you ever encountered a complex problem, and didn’t know how to begin solving it?
It’s a common experience that most of us have faced at some point in our personal or professional lives.
We encounter various challenges every day that require creative thinking and innovative solutions, whether it’s finding a way to better manage finances or improving customer satisfaction.
In doing so, we often feel disarrayed because it could be a major challenge that requires a bullet-proof process and structural approach with solid outcomes instead of a quick fix.
But the question is; how effective are you at solving your problems?
Do you tend to rely on your intuition or do you prefer to take a more systematic approach to problem solving?
The crux of the matter is; Whether you’re facing pressing issues at your workplace or experiencing unexpected roadblocks in your personal life, problem-solving is a highly valuable skill that you need to work on.
The ability to solve problems effectively can have a substantial impact.
If you approach problems like a boss and use critical thinking, creativity, and a solid process, you’ll be ready to handle any challenges that come your way.
So, if you’re looking to learn how to do it like a pro, you’re at the right place.
What is Problem-Solving?
Problem-solving is a distinct process that goes beyond dealing with everyday problems.
It helps you to think outside of the box and come up with more creative solutions.
As with any other skill, there is an efficient way and a non-efficient way to solve problems.
While it may be tempting to choose the quickest fix for the problem, it is rarely the most effective solution.
Here’s the thing; Quick fixes often lead to more significant issues down the road, but they often end up being time-wasting and ineffective in the long run.
However, by following a clear and systematic problem-solving process, you can eliminate inefficiencies and wasted time, transform challenges into opportunities, and handle any problems with ease.
It is also important to remember that problem-solving is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Different problems require different strategies and techniques, and it is essential to have a diverse set of problem-solving skills to handle various challenges.
The skills needed for problem-solving are:
1. Critical and systematic thinking
2. Problem identification
3. Information gathering
4. Creative thinking
5. Flexibility and adaptability
7. Collaboration and teamwork
8. Communication skills
The key to success is breaking down problems into smaller, manageable parts, identifying their root causes, and developing more effective solutions.
By breaking down the process into 5 clear steps, you can tackle even the most complex issues.
How can you get started with the process? Let me show you …
The 5 Stages for Effective Problem-Solving
If you’re looking to tackle your challenges and problems in an organized way, consider these 5 stages as a guide to help you solve the problems with assurance and clarity.
The 5 Stages of Problem-solving:
1. Define the problem
2. Ideate on the solution
3. Choose the best strategy
4. Implement your solution
5. Analyze the results
We’ll now take an in-depth look at each stage of the process.
1-Define the problem
When it comes to problem-solving, many people tend to jump straight to the solution space without taking the time to define and frame the challenge clearly in the problem space.
Exploring the problem space first can help you better understand the issue, leading to more effective outcomes in the solution space.
To learn more about the problem and solution space, please refer to the Double Diamond design process model developed by the British Design Council in 2005.
Source: Double Diamond design process model developed by the British Design Council
It’s also important to avoid jumping to conclusions and assuming that the obvious solution is always the best course of action.
Defining and framing the challenge helps you focus on solving the actual problem and prioritize important issues instead of being distracted by irrelevant options and problems.
This first step in this process should help you understand the scope of the problem, identify underlying issues, and narrow focus to the most important aspects.
Make sure that you’re addressing the root cause of the issue, rather than just treating its symptoms.
For example, If your website isn’t generating leads or sales, you might think that fine adjustments might be required in; design, color contrast, layout, and typefaces.
But the real root cause of the challenge can be; a weak call-to-action that is confusing visitors.
That’s why it is necessary to take a close look at the whole frame instead of just focusing on one corner.
When framing the problem, it is better to expand your perspective.
🎯 Problem-Framing Exercises
There are exercises that can help you achieve this and some of my favorite exercises include Expert Interviews, Mind Mapping, 5 Whys, and How Might We.
Expert Interviews: An expert interview is a type of research method that involves talking to someone who has extensive knowledge and experience in a particular field or subject area, in order to gain insights and information that can be used to inform innovation or problem-solving efforts.
Mind Mapping: Start by creating a central idea or problem statement in the middle of the page and branch out with related ideas and subtopics. This technique can help you visualize connections and relationships between different aspects of the problem and identify potential solutions.
5 Whys: This technique involves asking “why” five times in order to get to the root cause of the problem. For example, if the problem is “the website is not generating leads”, you might ask, “why is the website not generating leads?” and then continue to ask until you reach the underlying cause.
How Might We (HMW): No matter what challenge you’re facing, reframe it as a “How Might We” statement. This method can generate novel ideas, expand the scope of potential solutions, and transform your problem into a more optimistic statement, without suggesting any particular resolution.
Considering the example explained above, we can reframe it as: “How might we increase lead conversion through our website?”
Now, with a well-defined problem in hand, you’ve set yourself up for the next stage of the problem-solving process. Ready?
2-Ideate the solution
Are you ready to put on your thinking cap and challenge conventional thinking?
The ideation phase is where the magic happens and it’s time to let your imagination run.
In this stage of the problem-solving process, it’s important to explore unconventional solutions, question established assumptions, and approach the problem from different angles.
The goal is to generate as many solutions as possible, regardless of how feasible they may seem.
Don’t worry about having all the right answers now – this is the time to explore all the possibilities and push boundaries.
Remember, the goal is not to have a fully polished solution at this stage but a range of potential options that can be refined and improved later on.
During this ideation phase, it’s normal for competing ideas and viewpoints to collide, which may feel confusing. However, this is not an issue at this stage.
Accept the confusion and have faith that the right solution will emerge through the process.
Adopt the “quantity over quality” mantra and let your creative impulses run wild!
For effective ideation sessions, it is best to organize them as workshops to avoid the negative effects of open team discussions, such as groupthink and team politics.
💡 Ideation Exercises
Here are some of our favorite exercises that can help jumpstart the brainstorming process including Lightning Demos, SCAMPER, Crazy 8s, and Brainwriting.
Lightning Demos: The purpose of lightning demos is to share ideas and inspire creativity by showcasing existing key features, concepts, or functions of a product, much like show-and-tell sessions we used to have in school. They can be used for any product or problem you’re trying to solve.
SCAMPER: Is a mnemonic that stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Another Use, Eliminate, and Reverse. It is a versatile creative thinking tool that encourages users to approach problems and challenges from different angles and generate new ideas and solutions by modifying or transforming existing ones. It can be used in various contexts, including product design, marketing, process improvement, and problem-solving.
Crazy 8s: Crazy 8s is a rapid ideation technique that involves folding a sheet of paper into eight sections and generating eight different ideas in eight minutes, with a focus on quantity over quality. It is often used in Design Sprints and other time-constrained brainstorming sessions to quickly generate a large number of ideas and stimulate creativity.
Brainwriting: It is a technique that aims to promote diversity of thought and minimize groupthink by allowing participants to build on each other’s ideas in a non-judgmental and collaborative way. It can be particularly useful in large groups or when participants are hesitant to speak up in traditional brainstorming sessions.
3-Choose the best strategy
Now comes the crucial step of narrowing down your options and deciding on the best solution to consider.
By leveraging the insights gained during the ideation phase, you can make informed and strategic decisions that align with your objectives.
It is crucial to approach this step with an open mind and willingness to compromise and collaborate with your team members for smooth decision-making.
Making decisions can be a daunting task but when it comes to choosing the best strategy for your project, it is important to have an organized approach.
♟️ Strategy Exercises
Different exercises for this are the Impact Effort Matrix, Six Thinking Hats, and Storyboarding.
Dot Voting: Dot Voting helps to prioritize ideas and solutions quickly without getting stuck in circular discussions. It can be used in all phases of a problem-solving session. To save time, it’s recommended to determine the number of dot voting sessions needed in advance. Running a dot voting session is simple: set a timer for about 5 minutes and let team members vote on their preferred ideas.
Impact Effort Matrix: An Impact effort matrix is a tool used to prioritize and organize ideas or projects based on their potential impact and the effort required to implement them. It helps teams to focus on high-impact ideas that can be implemented with low effort, and identify ideas that may require more resources or may not be worth pursuing.
Six Thinking Hats: This tool for structured thinking and decision-making involves assigning different “hats” to individuals in a group. These “hats” represent different modes of thinking, such as logic, emotion, creativity, caution, and control. By encouraging diverse perspectives, it can help generate creative ideas, analyze complex issues, and enhance collaboration within teams.
Storyboarding: A storyboard is a visual tool that helps predict and explore how users will experience a product. It’s a series of sketches like a movie that shows how people will use the product. Once you’ve made a decision, it is equally important to make sure that everyone is committed to it. This requires clear communication of the reasoning behind the decision, as well as active efforts to get everyone on board.
An experienced facilitator can be a valuable asset in this process, helping to guide the team through prioritizing solutions, defining the next steps, and ensuring that everyone is aligned and committed to the chosen course of action.
4-Implement your solutions
It’s important to recognize that, regardless of how innovative, creative, or original your idea may be, its potential for success hinges on the strength of its execution.
There’s this book we love called “Anything you want” by Derek Sivers.
He says that ideas are like multipliers for execution, which basically means that a mediocre or average idea could be worth millions if executed well, whereas a seemingly brilliant idea could fail completely with poor execution. It’s wild, right?
So, if you want to take your problem-solving to the next level, it is necessary to focus on execution and make sure that you have the right people and right resources in place.
Execution, as defined by Derek Sivers, is the process of turning ideas into reality by taking tangible actions towards achieving your goals.
This could include activities such as prototyping, development, or any other concrete steps taken to bring your ideas to life. More on that later.
Well, the impact of execution can not be overstated.
Here’s an example that can help explain Derek Sivers’ concept that ideas are worthless without execution, using Apple’s iPhone.
📱 Great Idea ✖ Brilliant Execution
The original iPhone by Apple was a highly innovative product in the market, often referred to as a breakthrough handheld computer. During its time, this new device quickly became one of the fastest-selling smartphones, completely taking over the market. It was actually a “great idea” with “brilliant execution” making $150,000,000.
You can see how this plays out in the calculation scoring table of idea versus execution below. To see the true value, you need to multiply the idea score by the execution score.
🧮 Great Idea = x15
🧮 Brilliant Execution = $10,000,000
Great Idea x Brilliant Execution = $150,000,000
📱 Weak Idea ✖ Brilliant Execution
When comparing the original iPhone to the latest iPhone, the innovation leap is no longer as significant as it was initially. While there are new technologies and features, such as additional cameras, the overall idea in terms of innovation is relatively “weak” compared to the beginning. The idea of adding more cameras is not unique, as other smartphone companies have similar features with high-quality cameras. However, the execution is still “brilliant”, resulting in $10,000,000 for Apple.
See how this is reflected in the idea vs execution scoring table below.
🧮 Weak Idea = x1
🧮 Brilliant Execution = $10,000,000
Weak Idea x Brilliant Execution = $10,000,000
The original iPhone was revolutionary, thanks to a “great idea” and “brilliant execution”.
Although recent iPhones have lacked significant innovation in terms of new ideas, Apple’s skill in executing brilliantly still results in high sales numbers every year.
This demonstrates how both ideation and execution are crucial for creating successful products.
To put it simply, the same idea can either have little impact on the market or can become a sales success. The only difference between these two outcomes is the execution.
Therefore, instead of focusing on coming up with crazy and innovative ideas to disrupt the market, concentrate on perfecting your execution.
This step is likely the least complicated in the problem-solving process since it requires less alignment and decision-making and more execution.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help you optimize and improve your execution process.
Let’s talk about one of our favorite parts of the problem-solving process: prototyping.
You can identify and address solution flaws quickly before fully investing in a solution.
This means that prototyping can help you prevent the need for costly implementations down the line.
We believe that prototyping is a key step in bringing solutions to life that customers truly need.
Why? Because you can test your ideas by creating a sample of the solution before making the final product.
This helps you find and fix problems early, which saves time and money by avoiding the need to go back to earlier production steps.
So, if you’re not already incorporating prototyping into your problem-solving process, we highly recommend giving it a try!
Paper prototyping, wireframing, storyboarding, and user journey mapping are a few exercises that you can try.
5-Analyze the results
Now that you’re so close to the finishing line, the hard work isn’t finished yet.
This step is all about evaluating your efforts and measuring your success.
Once you’ve implemented your solution, take the time to reflect on the process as a whole.
Ask yourself and the team what worked well and what could be improved upon the next time.
Did you encounter any unexpected roadblocks? Were there any areas where you could have been more efficient?
Moreover, taking stock of the impact the solution has had is also important.
Did it solve the problem at hand? Are there any lingering issues that need to be addressed?
To be specific, you can use different exercises like collecting feedback from the involved members, data analysis, and retrospectives to identify the areas of improvement in the problem-solving process leading to the effectiveness of the solution.
Remember to consider all perspectives, remain focused on the desired outcome, and be flexible in your approach.
With practice, you’ll develop a problem-solving mindset that will help you overcome any obstacle that comes your way.
As we conclude our discussion on problem-solving, it is evident that problem-solving is not just a skill but a complete process that can transform challenges into success.
With a clear and systematic approach, we can create solutions that are both effective and efficient while maintaining confidence in our abilities.
However, it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Keep in mind the five stages of problem-solving: defining, ideating, choosing, implementing, and analyzing.
Allow them to guide you as you face your challenges with confidence.
Get in Touch
If you’re interested in learning more about our problem-solving methodology and how it can benefit your business, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
We’re confident that our approach will be a great fit for your needs.
We’ll be thrilled to guide you through the entire workshopping process and ensure your satisfaction with the results.