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Sudoku for Beginners: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
Are you a beginner when it comes to solving Sudoku puzzles? Do you find yourself frustrated and unsure of where to start? Fear not, as we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to improve your problem-solving skills through Sudoku.
Understanding the Basics of Sudoku
Before we dive into the strategies and techniques, let’s first understand the basics of Sudoku. A Sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid that is divided into nine smaller 3×3 grids. The objective is to fill in each row, column, and smaller grid with numbers 1-9 without repeating any numbers.
Starting Strategies for Beginners
As a beginner, it can be overwhelming to look at an empty Sudoku grid. But don’t worry. There are simple starting strategies that can help you get started. First, look for any rows or columns that only have one missing number. Fill in that number and move on to the next row or column with only one missing number. Another strategy is looking for any smaller grids with only one missing number and filling in that number.
Advanced Strategies for Beginner/Intermediate Level
Once you’ve mastered the starting strategies, it’s time to move on to more advanced techniques. One technique is called “pencil marking.” This involves writing down all possible numbers in each empty square before making any moves. Then use logic and elimination techniques to cross off impossible numbers until you are left with the correct answer.
Another advanced technique is “hidden pairs.” Look for two squares within a row or column that only have two possible numbers left. If those two possible numbers exist in both squares, then those two squares must contain those specific numbers.
Benefits of Solving Sudoku Puzzles
Not only is solving Sudoku puzzles fun and challenging, but it also has many benefits for your brain health. It helps improve your problem-solving skills, enhances memory and concentration, and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In conclusion, Sudoku is a great way to improve your problem-solving skills while also providing entertainment. With these starting and advanced strategies, you’ll be able to solve even the toughest Sudoku puzzles. So grab a pencil and paper and start sharpening those brain muscles.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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8-step problem solving process, organizational effectiveness.
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Step 1: Define the Problem
- What is the problem?
- How did you discover the problem?
- When did the problem start and how long has this problem been going on?
- Is there enough data available to contain the problem and prevent it from getting passed to the next process step? If yes, contain the problem.
Step 2: Clarify the Problem
- What data is available or needed to help clarify, or fully understand the problem?
- Is it a top priority to resolve the problem at this point in time?
- Are additional resources required to clarify the problem? If yes, elevate the problem to your leader to help locate the right resources and form a team.
- Consider a Lean Event (Do-it, Burst, RPI, Project).
- ∙Ensure the problem is contained and does not get passed to the next process step.
Step 3: Define the Goals
- What is your end goal or desired future state?
- What will you accomplish if you fix this problem?
- What is the desired timeline for solving this problem?
Step 4: Identify Root Cause of the Problem
- Identify possible causes of the problem.
- Prioritize possible root causes of the problem.
- What information or data is there to validate the root cause?
Step 5: Develop Action Plan
- Generate a list of actions required to address the root cause and prevent problem from getting to others.
- Assign an owner and timeline to each action.
- Status actions to ensure completion.
Step 6: Execute Action Plan
- Implement action plan to address the root cause.
- Verify actions are completed.
Step 7: Evaluate the Results
- Monitor and Collect Data.
- Did you meet your goals defined in step 3? If not, repeat the 8-Step Process.
- Were there any unforeseen consequences?
- If problem is resolved, remove activities that were added previously to contain the problem.
Step 8: Continuously Improve
- Look for additional opportunities to implement solution.
- Ensure problem will not come back and communicate lessons learned.
- If needed, repeat the 8-Step Problem Solving Process to drive further improvements.
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Sometimes, it is not enough to just cope with the problems – they need to be solved.
Most people engage in problem solving every day. It occurs automatically for many of the small decisions that need to be made on a daily basis.
For example, when making a decision about whether to get up now or sleep in for an extra 10 minutes, the possible choices and the relative risks and benefits of obeying the alarm clock or sleeping later come automatically to mind.
Larger problems are addressed in a similar way. For example: “I have tasks that need to be done by the end of the week. How am I going to get them all done on time?”
After considering the possible strategies, 1 is chosen and implemented. If it proves to be ineffective, a different strategy is tried.
People who can define problems, consider options, make choices, and implement a plan have all the basic skills required for effective problem solving.
Sometimes following a step-by-step procedure for defining problems, generating solutions, and implementing solutions can make the process of problem solving seem less overwhelming.
Six step guide to help you solve problems
Step 1: identify and define the problem.
- State the problem as clearly as possible. For example: “I don’t have enough money to pay the bills.”
- Be specific about the behaviour, situation, timing, and circumstances that make it a problem. For example: “I need to pay the phone and gas bills, and I don’t have enough money to cover both this month.”
Step 2: Generate possible solutions
- List all the possible solutions; don’t worry about the quality of the solutions at this stage.
- Try to list at least 15 solutions, be creative and forget about the quality of the solution.
- If you allow yourself to be creative you may come up with some solutions that you would not otherwise have thought about.
Step 3: Evaluate alternatives
- The next step is to go through and eliminate less desirable or unreasonable solutions.
- Order the remaining solutions in order of preference.
- Evaluate the remaining solutions in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.
Step 4: Decide on a solution
- Specify who will take action.
- Specify how the solution will be implemented.
- Specify when the solution will be implemented. For example: tomorrow morning, phone the gas company and negotiate to pay the gas bill next month.
Step 5: Implement the solution
- Implement the solution as planned.
Step 6: Evaluate the outcome
- Evaluate how effective the solution was.
- Decide whether the existing plan needs to be revised, or whether a new plan is needed to better address the problem.
- If you are not pleased with the outcome, return to step 2 to select a new solution or revise the existing solution, and repeat the remaining steps.
Problem solving is something we do every day.
Some problems are small or easily solved - others are more complicated and can seem overwhelming.
One way of tackling problems is to use a specific and systematic problem solving procedure. If you’ve tried to solve certain problems without much success, try these steps out and see if they help.
Learning to solve problems effectively will help you to minimise the level of stress in your life and improve your overall sense of well-being.
Try it out and see.
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Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222, mental health emergency response line (mherl).
- Metro callers: 1300 55 788
- Peel: 1800 676 822
- Rural and remote areas 1800 552 002
- Most people engage in problem solving daily.
- Sometimes following a step-by-step process to define problems, consider options and make choices can make problem solving less overwhelming.
- You can always talk to your doctor or mental health practitioner and ask for help.
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7 Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Our lives are full of problems. And the biggest problem is finding an effective solution to any problem. Seems funny, right? But it’s true. Every day, from your personal to professional life, you have to deal with different kinds of problems, and it’s not unnatural that sometimes you struggle to solve them. Though in the end, you find a solution, it takes too much effort and time. Don’t you think it would be better if you could find the solution in the first place? That’s where problem-solving skills would help you a way out.
Problem-solving skills are vital to have in professional life. Many issues arise in the workplace and giving a quick touch up on them is an unwritten duty for you. In a professional setting, it doesn’t matter that much what solution you find to a problem. Rather it matters how you find that solution and how much time it takes. In this case, another skill which is Problem Solving Skills merges up with problem-solving skills. Both are important for your regular duties in the workplace and your job growth, especially when you’re in a leadership or management position.
7 Key Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
However, everyone is by born a problem solver. But the thing that counts is how efficiently the problem is being solved. That’s why you should nurture problem-solving skills to become an ultimate problem solver. In this article, you’re going to explore seven effective steps that will help you improve your problem-solving skills. So, without further ado, let’s dig deeper.
Step 1: Define The Problem
The first thing that comes when solving a problem is identifying and defining the problem. Without knowing the problem, you can’t move further. So, have a clear understanding of the problem for which you’re going to find a solution. Define the problem and make it precise. Since you won’t be working alone, describe the context, and make sure it is understandable by others who are involved in the decision-making process. However, different people have different perspectives on what a problem is, and you should keep it in your mind.
Step 2: Analyse The Problem
The second step to solving a problem is analysing the problem. It helps you understand the nature of the problem and find the possible ways out. Develop some creative problem-solving questions in this stage, such as why it is a problem, why it is required to solve it, how to find the solution, what barriers and opportunities lie within the problem, what effect it will cause if the problem isn’t resolved, etc.
Develop these questions and assign answers to them. In the end, you’ll find a clear picture of the whole situation. This will help you prepare your strategy to solve the problem.
Step 3: Develop Potential Solutions
Once you’re done with analysing the problem, you have to look for potential solutions to the problem. Note that I said solutions, not a solution. It’s essential to come up with multiple viable solutions to a problem. Because you don’t know yet what outcomes the action is going to bring about. That’s why you should have alternatives in all possible ways to solve the problem so that you can compare them and pick the best one.
In this regard, you have to set a standard with which you will compare the expected outcomes of the potential solutions. However, don’t use the standard to judge the solutions, instead, use it only for coming up with ideas.
Step 4: Evaluate The Options
After listing down the potential solutions to the problem, your next task is to analyse and evaluate the options. This will help you determine the most effective and suitable solution to the problem. Now it comes how to evaluate the options. Do it almost in the same way you’ve analysed the problem before. This means asking some questions and comparing the answers for different options. So, the creative problem-solving questions that you’ll make to evaluate the problem may look like the followings:
- Is the solution easily achievable?
- How much effort and resources it will take?
- Does it fit the organizational processes and cultures?
- What are the pros and cons of the solution?
- What is the possible outcome of this solution?
- Is it well suited to the time and budget?
Prepare the answers for each of the options and compare them. Then eliminate those which don’t pass the criteria and tailor the list for further action.
Step 5: Select The Best Option
After evaluating all the possible solutions and tailoring the list, you have a concise list of solutions to the problem. Now you have to choose the best solution among these options. Select the solution that is best fitted to the organizational cultures and goals, and meets all the criteria that you set for evaluating the options. In this case, your experience, courage, and decision-making skills will help you to determine the option.
However, you may consult your peers as it would give you different insights into the situation. After selecting the best-suited solution, make the necessary documentation, and submit to the authority for approval.
Step 6: Implement The Solution
You’ve selected the solution to the problem and got it approved by the higher authority. Now it’s time to go for action and showcase your problem-solving skills. So, at first, you have to prepare a detailed work plan putting all the necessary things into it. You have to ensure that every one of your team understands the plan and what are their responsibilities to make the plan fruitful. So, you should communicate well with everyone involved in the plan.
Also, your plan should include actions to be taken if something goes wrong or doesn’t go just like as you thought it would. This is important to make a concrete plan. After setting the plan, arrange everything you require and put your solution into action, and wait for the results.
Step 7: Measure The Results
Your duty isn’t finished with the implementation of your solution. You have to keep track to measure the results and make sure the plan is performing well to solve the problem. Great leaders always keep follow-ups and proper documentation of their actions. It’s helpful in their future challenges and acts as a guideline for their successors. Moreover, it will help you show a scalable and notable outcome of your plan to the authority.
Now it’s time to wrap up. Following these seven simple steps will strengthen your problem-solving skills and make you an efficient problem solver in your organization. However, problem-solving is a vast topic, and there are even more things to explore about it which aren’t possible to include in a single article. If you want to explore more and develop your problem-solving skills, it will be better to take training on this.
But how can you attend formal training when you’ve lots of duties to do? In this case, you can consider taking online training where you can learn anytime from anywhere, and most importantly, without juggling your regular schedule. To help you in this regard, Training Express is offering an online course on problem-solving skills where you’ll be learning from experts. So what are you waiting for? Have a look at this.
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7 Steps to an Effective Problem-Solving Process
September 1, 2016 | Leadership Articles
An effective problem-solving process is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones.
Being a successful leader doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems. Rather, it means that you know how to solve problems effectively as they arise. If you never had to deal with any problems, chances are pretty high that your company doesn’t really need you. They could hire an entry-level person to do your job!
Unfortunately, there are many examples of leaders out there who have been promoted to management or leadership positions because they are competent and excel in the technical skills needed to do the work. These people find themselves suddenly needing to “think on their feet” and solve problems that are far more high-level and complicated than they’ve ever really had to deal with before. Are there tools available to these people to help them solve the problem correctly and effectively? Absolutely!
Today, I am going to introduce you to the Seven Steps of Effective Problem Solving that Bullet Proof® Managers are learning about, developing, and implementing in their teams.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
What are things like when they are the way we want them to be?
This question helps you find the standard against which we’re going to measure where we are now. If things were going the way we want them to go, what does that look like? If this person were doing the job we want him or her to do, what would they be doing?
And then ask this important question: How much variation from the norm is tolerable?
Therein lies the problem. From an engineering perspective, you might have very little tolerance. From a behavioral perspective, you might have more tolerance. You might say it’s okay with me when this person doesn’t do it exactly as I say because I’m okay with them taking some liberty with this. Some other issue you may need 100% compliance.
Step 2: Analyze the Problem
At what stage is this problem? This helps you identify the urgency of the problem, and there are generally three stages.
The emergent stage is where the problem is just beginning to happen. It does not cause an immediate threat to the way business operates every day. It is just beginning to happen and you have time on your side to be able to correct it without it causing much damage to the processes it is affecting. The mature stage is where this problem is causing more than just minor damage. Some amount of damage has been done, and you need to jump on it immediately to fix it before it becomes a problem where the consequences may be greater, deeper, and more expensive if we don’t solve this problem fast.
The third stage is the crisis stage, when the problem is so serious it must be corrected immediately. At this stage, real damage has been done to company processes, reputation, finances, etc. that will have potentially long-term effects on your ability to do business.
Step 3: Describe the Problem
You should be able to describe a problem by writing it in the form of a statement and you should do it in 12 words or less, assuming it’s not a complicated, scientific problem. This way, you have clarity exactly what the issue is. Then, perhaps try distributing it to your team to ensure they agree that this is the root of the problem, that it makes sense, and everyone that is working toward a solution is working toward the same goal.
The most important question of all, when describing your problem: Is your premise correct?
Let me give you an example of what I mean. We’ve all heard – or read – the story of the engineer’s take on the old “half empty, half full” question. A speaker holds up the glass of water and asks if the glass is half empty or half full, a discussion within the group ensues, and you generally expect some sort of lesson in optimism, etc. from it. In this version, an engineer is in the room and answers, “I see this glass of water as being twice the size it needs to be.”
You see, sometimes when you are the one in charge of the problem, you tend to set the premise of the problem from your own perspective. But, that premise may not be accurate, or it may just need an alternate perspective from which to see it. If your premise is not correct, or at least incomplete, you are not fully understanding the problem and considering all the best options for a solution.
Step 4: Look for Root Causes
This step involves asking and answering a lot of questions. Ask questions like: What caused this problem? Who is responsible for this problem? When did this problem first emerge? Why did this happen? How did this variance from the standard come to be? Where does it hurt us the most? How do we go about resolving this problem?
Also, ask the most important question: Can we solve this problem for good so it will never occur again? Because an important aspect to leadership is coming up with solutions that people can use for a long-term benefit, rather than having to deal with the same problems over and over and over.
Step 5: Develop Alternate Solutions
Just about any problem you have to deal with has more solutions to it than the one that you think of first. So, it is best to develop a list of alternate solutions that you and your team can assess and decide which one will be the best for the particular problem. I often use the ⅓ + 1 Rule to create consensus around one – or the top two or three solutions – that will be best for everyone involved.
Then rank those solutions based on efficiency, cost, long-term value, what resources you have and that you can commit to the solution of the problem. Then, look at every one of those solutions carefully and decide what you believe to be the best solution to this problem at this time.
Step 6: Implement the Solution
Implementing the solution you decide on can include creating an implementation plan. It could also include planning on what happens next if something goes wrong with the solution if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. Implementation means that everyone on your team knows and understands their part in making the solution work, that there are timelines for execution, and also that you have a system in place to track whether or not the solution has corrected the problem.
Step 7: Measure the Results
From your implementation plan in step 6, make sure you track and measure the results so you can answer questions such as: Did it work? Was this a good solution? Did we learn something here in the implementation that we could apply to other potential problems?
These seven simple steps will help you become a more effective, efficient problem solver in your organization. As you practice this process and develop the skills, these steps will become more natural to you until the point that you are using them without noticing!
About Crestcom International, LLC.
Crestcom International, LLC is an international leadership development organization, training more than one million leaders for 25,000 businesses in over 60 countries across the globe. Crestcom achieves this through a blend of live-facilitated multimedia video, interactive exercises, and shared learning experiences. Crestcom implements action plans and coaching accountability sessions to ensure measured development in key leadership competency areas. For more information, please contact your local Crestcom representative found here .
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A step-by-step guide to problem solving
Let’s face it, having to deal with problems can really suck, making you feel paralysed and out of control. Whatever the scale of your issues, there are steps you can take to feel more in control. And while you might not always make the right choice, you can learn how to feel comfortable with the decisions you make.
This can help if:
- you’re facing a difficult problem or decision
- you’re feeling overwhelmed by your options
- you want to learn how to make better decisions.
Why problem solving is useful
Whether you’re at a crossroads with a decision, or you’ve got a problem that’s wearing you down, if you approach the issue proactively, you can avoid those crappy feelings of self-doubt and hopelessness. Focus on what you can do, instead of the things that are out of your control, and feel satisfied that you’ve done the best you can.
8 steps to problem solving
Step 1 . Define the problem. What exactly is going on? Sometimes a problem just seems too big to tackle. However, if you make a list and break it down into smaller parts that you can make a start on solving, it’ll feel more manageable.
Step 2 . Set some goals. Focus on the steps you can take to resolve things, rather than just thinking about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you wish you had more money. Make a list of all the ways you can save or earn more. It could mean walking to school rather than taking the bus, or applying for a part-time job.
Step 3. Brainstorm possible solutions. Be creative and come up with as many solutions as you can think of. Some ideas may be way out there, but don’t worry about evaluating them yet. If you want to solve a conflict you’re having with your parents by escaping on a rainbow unicorn, write it down! Keep an open mind and list anything that comes to mind, plausible or not.
Step 4. Rule out any obvious poor options. Okay, reality check. Evaluate your list of ideas and rule out the ones that are unrealistic or unhelpful. Bye-bye, rainbow unicorn. But how about trying to see things from your parents’ point of view? That option should probably stay on your list.
Step 5. Examine the consequences. Go through the options you’ve got left and for each one write a list of their pros and cons.
Step 6. Identify the best solutions . Now it’s time to make a decision. Look at your list of options, and pick out the ones that are most practical and helpful. There may be one obvious solution, or some might work in combination.
Step 7. Put your solutions into practice. Have faith in yourself and make the commitment to try out one of your solutions.
Step 8. How did it go? So, you tried it out. What happened? If you had more than one solution and the first didn’t work, move on to another one.
What to do when you can’t fix the issue
Despite your best efforts, you may still not be able to fix something. If you’ve tried a few strategies but haven’t had any success, you might try to focus on your coping skills instead, to help you deal with things as they are.
If you’re experiencing a lot of negative feelings because of your issue, it’s important to look after yourself. Take time out to do something you enjoy. You might also find it helpful to talk to someone you trust who can give you moral support. If your situation is interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to get some professional help .
What can I do now?
- Grab a notebook and start brainstorming ideas for solving the problem.
- If a solution is proving to be elusive, focus on your coping skills .
- Talk to someone you trust about your problem and see if they have any insights to offer.
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Six steps to becoming a better problem solver.
Whether you are a Cisco Networking Academy student, a parent, an intern, a rookie, or the president of a large corporation you are going to have to face problems at some point.
Problems which will need solutions to solve them.
They are part of everyone’s life.
Like it or not, we all have to make decisions. And the decisions we make need to solve the problems we face. Whether you want to fix a bug in your network, hit a deadline, secure that promotion or start your own company – however big or small, we all set objectives and goals for ourselves that require us to solve problems.
Being good at problem-solving is in big demand. Employers routinely add it to their wish-list. How many times have you seen “problem solvers wanted” in job descriptions? As far as tech goes, the ability to resolve challenges effectively is fast becoming an essential skill for recruitment.
So how do you sharpen this particular skill? Is there an approach or strategy to problem-solving that can be mastered or improved?
Well, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a systematic approach built on well-defined steps can help you find solutions that yield real, sustainable, and scale-able solutions – whatever the problem.
Problem-Solving: A Step by Step Approach
1. Identify the problem?
There is no better starting point than defining what it is that needs to be fixed.
It means taking the time to thoroughly review the situation - separating the symptoms from the cause . Making your diagnosis is about understanding what hurts and why. This takes time and might mean doing a bit of research to reveal the underlying issues behind the problem.
2. Determine the Root Causes
Once you have identified what your problem is, you need to figure out why it is.
- What is behind it?
- What is causing it?
- Can it be quantified or qualified.
- What is going on at a core level?
Because as you work towards solving your problem, you are going to want to find a solution that deals with the causes and not just the symptoms, right? So again, take the time to investigate the situation. Collect information, analyze your findings, and refine your diagnosis.
3. Find Multiple Solutions
Being a good problem-solver means thinking innovatively and that means thinking outside the box. Do not settle for the first solution you find. Push the boat out. Find as many alternative solutions as you can. And then find some more.
This might mean looking for solutions in unusual places or from unusual sources – talking to a different set of colleagues, keeping an open mind, or being receptive to the interchange of ideas or perspectives. Whatever if it takes, once you have a set of alternative solutions, subject them all to analysis.
4. Find the Solution that will Work Best
Easier said than done? Not necessarily. Go about it logically. Answer these questions:
- Is it technically viable?
- Is it scale-able?
- Do you have the resources?
- What are the risks? Can they be managed?
- Does your solution benefit as many people as possible?
- Can it be measured? How will you measure it?
5. Plan and Implement Your Solution
Give this part plenty of thought too. Build a really tight plan to execute your solution. You will need to cover who, what, when, and how you will implement your plan.
And just as importantly, you will need to think about how you are going to determine if your solution was a success, which leads us to the final step.
6. Measure the Success of Your Solution
How does it measure against your goals? Have you met your objectives? Have you stayed within budget? Is the work complete? Can you see a measurable outcome?
Evaluating the success of your solution is a vital – and often neglected step – because it shows you clearly whether your solution is the correct one, or whether you need to go back to step one and start over. Because a key part of problem-solving effectively is about being prepared to get it wrong – and to learn from your mistakes.
Remember that all problems are simply puzzles waiting to be solved. Practice using these six steps to build your problem solving acumen and you will find that your abilities being highly valued.
Being Positive means Better Problem Solving
Problem solving skills are fundamental to being a successful technologist. Employers and industry research support the notion that skilled problem solvers are in high-demand.
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4 Steps to Efficiently Solve Problems
Problems—we all have to deal with minor or major problems in our personal or professional lives. Having a consistent problem-solving approach can be very helpful, and demonstrating strong problem-solving skills can help you stand out in your career.
In this blog post, I’m going to cover a simple problem-solving framework. Although much of what I discuss can be applied to any type of problem, I’ll focus on using the framework from a professional standpoint.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
Categories of Problems
Work-related problems can generally be categorized by the area they impact most. That’s not to say a problem can’t impact multiple areas, but usually there is an area of primary impact. I find it useful to categorize problems into the following three categories:
- People —These problems center around people, their expectations, and their interactions with other people.
- Product —These problems are related to what you produce at work. The “product” can be tangible or intangible. If you’re a home builder, your product would be houses. If you’re a software developer, the product would be the application you work on. If you’re a sales professional, you produce sales. Problems in this category are often related to the “product” not meeting the expectations of the customer or stakeholder.
- Process —These problems are related to the processes you use at work, generally in the context of producing the work product. The problem could be the process isn’t producing the desired result, the process isn’t being followed, or the process doesn’t account for enough scenarios.
Although the framework described in the sections below works with each of these categories, the specific approaches you take might vary. For example, if you’re dealing with a process-related problem, a group discussion to analyze the problem likely makes sense. If it’s a people problem, group discussions can be counterproductive, particularly in the early stages.
The Steps (and the Pre-Step)
The framework consists of four steps and a very important pre-step. The four steps are as follows:
- Analyze —Understand the root cause.
- Plan —Determine how to resolve the problem.
- Implement —Put the resolution in place.
- Evaluate —Determine if the resolution is producing the desired results.
I’ll discuss these steps further below, but first I want to discuss an important precursor—triage. In emergency medical situations, the triage process is used to prioritize patients: do they need immediate attention to survive, or do they have injuries that aren’t immediately life threatening? Sometimes, we’re faced with more problems than we can immediately solve, so it’s helpful to prioritize them. I find the following questions to be useful in this process:
- Is there an immediate action I need to take to reduce the impact of the problem?
- Is there a reasonable degree of likelihood I can solve this problem?
- If I can solve the problem, can I solve it in a timely manner?
- If I can solve the problem, will it make a significant difference?
The answers to these questions can help you prioritize the order in which you should focus on particular problems. If a problem is causing significant and immediate pain, then you need to stabilize the situation first—often by addressing the symptoms.
For example, if a customer is upset, you need to address their immediate pain before attempting to resolve the root problem. Once you’ve done so, you can move on to prioritization. If a problem is solvable, can be solved quickly, and has a significant impact, you should focus on it first. If you aren’t sure the problem can be solved, or solving it won’t have a positive impact, then it should be lower on the priority list.
Once this prioritization has been completed, you can analyze the problem.
The goal for analyzing the problem is to understand the root cause(s). (Yes, problems can have more than one root cause.) If you can address the root cause, you can prevent the problem from recurring. It’s important during this process to get multiple perspectives on why the problem occurs. If the problem is in the Product or Process categories, I like to use a group of approximately five people to discuss the root causes. If it’s a person problem, a group setting might be counterproductive and individual conversations are better. However, for Person problems, it’s critical to get multiple perspectives.
There are many techniques for getting to the root cause of problems. One popular and effective approach is the “ 5 whys .” With this approach, you iteratively ask “Why?” about the problem and then each answer until you get to a root cause. For example:
- Why did the upgrade fail? -> The prerequisite updates weren’t installed.
- Why weren’t the prerequisites installed? -> The person performing the install didn’t know there were prerequisites.
- Why didn’t the person performing the install know there were prerequisites? -> They didn’t read the release notes.
- Why didn’t they read the release notes? -> The release notes aren’t included or linked to from the installer.
- Why aren’t the release notes included or linked to from the installer? -> Because the release notes aren’t always required reading for an upgrade.
When using the “5 whys” approach, it’s important to look for process failures as the root cause. In many cases, it’s easy to get to a why such as “There wasn’t enough time” or “We didn’t have enough people.” If you want to fix the root cause, you need to get to “Why did the process fail to alert us of the problem?”
Once you have one or more root causes, you can start looking at how to resolve them going forward. This is another great time in the process to involve multiple people. Having multiple perspectives can produce innovative approaches to address the root causes. It’s also important to remember you might need multiple solutions if you have multiple root causes.
Brainstorming is a good way to generate ideas, but it’s helpful to have a method to manage all the ideas that can be produced. Affinity Grouping is an approach that has been around for a long time, and for good reason—it works well. After generating ideas, you group and potentially combine the similar ones. The various ideas in each group can lead to a better, more rounded solution.
An important aspect of the solution(s) you develop is that you can measure the outcomes. I’ve seen many great ideas that simply didn’t result in the desired outcomes for reasons that couldn’t be anticipated. If you’re able to measure successful outcomes (and unsuccessful outcomes), it helps you adjust more quickly and pivot to different solutions if needed.
Now it’s time to put the solution in place. How you do so can vary significantly depending on what the solution is. However, a key consideration should be how the solution will be monitored. This is why it’s important to define what success looks like in the planning stage. Those measurements are what you will monitor.
It’s important to allow some time before moving to the next step. How much time? It depends—it can be helpful to look at how many times the new solution has been used when determining this. For the example above about release notes, imagine you decided to add an “IMPORTANT” note in a new version of an installer to link people to the release notes. If a week has passed, but only one person has downloaded the new version, then you probably don’t have a large enough sample size to evaluate the solution yet. Conversely, if it’s only been 24 hours, but 50 people have downloaded the new version, you have a much better sample to work with.
Evaluating the solution requires looking at the outcomes objectively and determining if they match expectations. Often, you will find the solution did improve things, but perhaps not as much as you would have liked. If that’s the case, you can refine and iterate on the solution. It might take a few iterations to get the outcomes you would like.
What if the outcomes really don’t match expectations? This scenario often indicates the root cause wasn’t fully understood, and you might need to jump back to the Analyze step. Revisiting the problem with the additional insight of what did not work can help you uncover other root causes.
The next time you’re faced with a problem at work, think TAPIE :
Problem solving is a process—and it’s one we need to be able to carry out in a thoughtful and timely manner throughout our careers. Our ability to consistently and efficiently address problems can be what sets us apart.
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