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7 Powerful Problem-Solving Root Cause Analysis Tools

The first step to solving a problem is to define the problem precisely. It is the heart of problem-solving.

Root cause analysis is the second important element of problem-solving in quality management. The reason is if you don't know what the problem is, you can never solve the exact problem that is hurting the quality.

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Manufacturers have a variety of problem-solving tools at hand. However, they need to know when to use which tool in a manner that is appropriate for the situation. In this article, we discuss 7 tools including:

  • The Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram (IFD)
  • Pareto Chart
  • Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
  • Scatter Diagram
  • Affinity Diagram
  • Fault Tree Analysis (FTA)

1. The Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram IFD

fault finding and problem solving

The model introduced by Ishikawa (also known as the fishbone diagram) is considered one of the most robust methods for conducting root cause analysis. This model uses the assessment of the 6Ms as a methodology for identifying the true or most probable root cause to determine corrective and preventive actions. The 6Ms include:

  • Measurement,
  • Mother Nature- i.e., Environment

Related Training: Fishbone Diagramming

2. Pareto Chart

fault finding and problem solving

The Pareto Chart is a series of bars whose heights reflect the frequency or impact of problems. On the Chart, bars are arranged in descending order of height from left to right, which means the categories represented by the tall bars on the left are relatively more frequent than those on the right.

Related Training: EFFECTIVE INVESTIGATIONS AND CORRECTIVE ACTIONS (CAPA) Establishing and resolving the root causes of deviations, problems and failures

This model uses the 5 Why by asking why 5 times to find the root cause of the problem. It generally takes five iterations of the questioning process to arrive at the root cause of the problem and that's why this model got its name as 5 Whys. But it is perfectly fine for a facilitator to ask less or more questions depending on the needs.

fault finding and problem solving

Related training: Accident/Incident Investigation and Root Cause Analysis

4. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

FMEA is a technique used to identify process and product problems before they occur. It focuses on how and when a system will fail, not if it will fail. In this model, each failure mode is assessed for:

  • Severity (S)
  • Occurrence (O)
  • Detection (D)

A combination of the three scores produces a risk priority number (RPN). The RPN is then provided a ranking system to prioritize which problem must gain more attention first.

Related Training: Failure Mode Effects Analysis

5. Scatter Diagram

fault finding and problem solving

A scatter diagram also known as a scatter plot is a graph in which the values of two variables are plotted along two axes, the pattern of the resulting points revealing any correlation present.

To use scatter plots in root cause analysis, an independent variable or suspected cause is plotted on the x-axis and the dependent variable (the effect) is plotted on the y-axis. If the pattern reflects a clear curve or line, it means they are correlated. If required, more sophisticated correlation analyses can be continued.

Related Training: Excel Charting Basics - Produce Professional-Looking Excel Charts

6. Affinity Diagram

Also known as KJ Diagram, this model is used to represent the structure of big and complex factors that impact a problem or a situation. It divides these factors into small classifications according to their similarity to assist in identifying the major causes of the problem.

fault finding and problem solving

7. Fault Tree Analysis (FTA)

The Fault Tree Analysis uses Boolean logic to arrive at the cause of a problem. It begins with a defined problem and works backward to identify what factors contributed to the problem using a graphical representation called the Fault Tree. It takes a top-down approach starting with the problem and evaluating the factors that caused the problem.

fault finding and problem solving

Finding the root cause isn't an easy because there is not always one root cause. You may have to repeat your experiment several times to arrive at it to eliminate the encountered problem. Using a scientific approach to solving problem works. So, its important to learn the several problem-solving tools and techniques at your fingertips so you can use the ones appropriate for different situations.

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fault finding and problem solving

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Failure Analysis Tools: Choosing the Right One for the Job

There are a variety of failure analysis and problem-solving methods used to analyze equipment and process failures. The different methods are described and compared so maintenance and reliability professionals can select the right failure analysis or problem-solving tool to produce the best solution at the lowest cost.

Who would you want to work on your equipment? The person who selects the right tool(s) from a well-equipped toolbox and skillfully uses them to complete the job quickly without errors or one who has a few basic tools but struggles to complete the job on time and without errors.

What tool will work best, a micrometer or a clamp? A micrometer is required to measure a bearing fit, but a C clamp may be needed when welding two pieces of steel together.

Your mental toolbox should also contain a variety of analysis tools. You must select the analysis method best suited for solving the problem at hand. Remember, each tool has its own strengths, weaknesses and preferred area of application.

Problems and failures occur every day. Usually we only have the time and resources to provide relief. Not every problem warrants a root cause analysis.

Our job is to separate problems and failures that require relief from those where we need to prevent occurrence in the future. To help separate these, ask yourself a few questions:

What is the current actual impact of the problem?

What is the potential impact if the problem is not solved?

What level of risk can we live with that is supported from a moral/legal/contractual viewpoint?

What is an acceptable outcome that balances risk, cost and benefits?

When we focus on a response that provides needed relief and, as necessary, the discovery of root causes, we become more productive.

Let’s look at some of the root cause analysis tools available, including their strengths and weakness, so you can select and use the one to gain the insight you need to solve your problems.

Root cause analysis (RCA) is not a single well-defined method; there are many different processes and methods for performing RCA analysis that are defined by their approach or field of origin :

Safety – accident analysis, occupational safety and health

Production – quality control in industrial manufacturing

Process – the scope of production is expanded to include business practices

Equipment failure – inspired by the military then customized by industry and used in engineering and maintenance

Systems – incorporates all the above and adds management of change

A search of “root cause analysis” will produce dozens of results. Unfortunately, there are not uniform definitions, so a fundamental method or process may have several different names and descriptions. These methods vary in scope and complexity. It is as important to use the right analysis method, so it matches the scope and complexity of the problem.

Some of the common root cause analysis (RCA) techniques are:

Five why – Asks why, why, why until fundamental causes are identified.

Ishikawa/fishbone diagram – Causes and effects are listed in categories.

Cause and effect analysis/Causal factor tree – The causal factors are displayed on a tree so that cause-effect dependencies can be identified.

Failure modes and effects/criticality analysis – Possible failure modes are defined; the effects and probabilities of those failures are described to identify appropriate countermeasures beginning with the most critical equipment.

Fault or logic tree analysis – A failure is identified and the failure modes are described and tested until the roots are identified.

Barrier analysis – Examines pathways through which a hazard can affect a target and barriers in the pathways.

Change analysis/Kepner-Tregoe – Comparing a situation that does not exhibit a problem to one that does in order to identify the changes or differences that explain what happened.

Pareto chart – Shows the relative frequency of problems or failures in rank-order so that process improvement activities can be focused on the significant few.

Data analytics – Is a process of transforming and modeling data with the goal of discovering useful information.

Next, let’s describe each of these methods in more detail and explain their advantages and limitations.

Five whys is a questioning technique used to determine the cause and effects of a specific problem or failure. It asks why. The answer forms the basis for the next question. You keep going until you get to something fundamental or completely outside your control. The number five is based on the observation that asking “why” five times typically resolves the problem. It may take only three iterations, or you may still be asking “why” a month from now. It depends on the problem.

Five Whys Scenario

Not all failures have a single root cause. To determine additional causes, the questioning must be repeated beginning with a different observation.

Advantages It does not take a large group to complete the analysis. Frequently, one or two people are sufficient. For component failures, the mechanics, chemistry and physics are well-defined, so it works best at this level. It does not work as well for human and organizational causes.

The method is flexible without rules about what lines of questions to explore or how long to search for additional root causes. Consequently, the outcome depends upon the knowledge and persistence of the people involved.

Limitations This method is based on the concept that every effect has a single cause. If multiple causes can result in the same effect or a combination of causes are necessary to produce an effect, these may be overlooked. It’s rare that a single cause at each level of why is sufficient to explain the effect in question.

When multiple path five whys are used, there may be more than one answer to some of the whys, and it is very easy for the analysis to become too complex. To address this problem, causal factor tree analysis was developed. If one of your answers is wrong, it may have been possible, but was not an actual cause and was something else entirely.

Ishikawa/Fishbone Diagram

The Ishikawa/fishbone diagram (Figure 2) is a graphical tool used to identify potential root causes and what category of process inputs represents the greatest source of variability in the output. A completed fishbone diagram includes a central spine and branches resembling a fish skeleton. The branches are used to categorize the causes, either by process sequence or function. In each category, the potential causes are listed and then tested for validity using evidence or another analytical tool.

Fishbone Diagram

Advantages A fishbone diagram is useful in that it shows relationships between potential causes and is a good way to involve people in problem-solving. It is also effective when used by a single person.

Limitations Involving multiple people in a fishbone diagram can limit its effectiveness, because it encourages a divergent approach where the temptation to identify and fix everything that might cause the problem is strong. For a fishbone diagram to be successful, a ruthless culling of causes that are not sufficient, necessary or exist to result in the problem is required.

Cause-and-Effect Analysis/Causal Factor Tree

A cause-and-effect analysis combines the question used in five whys with the tree structure of a logic or fault tree. It helps to think of it as an expansion of the five whys method in a logic tree format. It can examine multiple causes on a single effect.

The problem, failure or deviation (the effect) is placed at the top of the tree or a single item at the left of a page. By asking “why,” factors that were immediate causes of this effect are displayed below it and linked using branches. These causes are tested for necessity, sufficiency and existence. Causes that do not meet this test are removed from the tree.

Next, immediate causes of each of these factors is added. Every cause added to the structure must meet the same requirements for necessity, sufficiency and existence.

Some analysts begin with a problem statement answering who, what, when and where and followed by a list of goals the event impacted. Then a causal factor tree is developed for each of the impacted goals. This simultaneous construction helps reveal gaps in knowledge.

Causal factor trees usually have many endpoints. Endpoints that require corrective action are root causes.

Several advantages result from constructing a causal factor tree:

Provides a structure for recording causes and evidence that is easy to follow.

Can handle multiple scenarios.

Works well as a master analysis technique.

Can incorporate results from other tools.

  Causal factor trees also have limitations:

It is difficult to handle and display time-dependent events.

Complexity makes it harder to treat sequence dependencies.

Will identify knowledge gaps, but does not have a means of filling them in.

Stopping points may be arbitrary.

In the causal factor tree example in Figure 3, there are multiple potential causes for a single effect. In the third row from the bottom, two causes were present which resulted in the endurance strength of the material being exceeded. First was a stress concentration caused by wear of a bearing fit on the shaft. Second was increased belt tension caused by increasing the speed of the machine several months prior to the failure. Although either one could have been a cause, the presence of both accelerated the fatigue fracture of the shaft. These resulted in a catastrophic failure of the drive when the shaft fractured.

Causal Factor Tree

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis

Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) is by far the most comprehensive and complex root cause analysis tool available. It may be combined with criticality analysis or fault tree analysis to further identify failure modes with the greatest probability severity of consequences . It is an inductive process that may be started at the component level (shaft, bearing gear, etc.) or at the functional level (charge pumps, press hydraulics, etc.).

FMEA is a high-level, detailed, “what if” analysis of a problem. A basic “what if” analysis is shown in Figure 4. It includes a brainstorming method using “what if” questions to identify possible variations and flaws in a system. Once identified, these concerns and their potential consequences are evaluated for risk.

What If Statement

It helps to think of the FMEA process as a very detailed and rigorous “what if” process.

FMEA analysis starts with a definition of the system to be studied and progresses through a series of steps until a correction is made and follow-up to assess its effectiveness is completed. FMEA was developed to evaluate the impact of component failures in a system. It is used to identify where a failure could occur (failure mode) and the impact of such a failure (effects).

Advantages FMEA is most useful in contingency planning where it is used to evaluate the impact of various possible failures (contingencies). The FMEA can be used in place of a “what if” analysis should greater detail be needed.

When combined with criticality analysis, the analysis will systematically establish relationships between failure causes and effects, as well as the probability of occurrence, and will point out individual failure modes for corrective action. When FMEA is used to complement fault tree analysis, more failure modes and causes may be identified.

Limitations FMEA is widely used in aviation and some industries, but it has the following limitations:

The time and effort required to complete the analysis

Dilution of the effort with inconsequential cases

Inability to deal with combined failure events

Does not typically include human interactions

It examines hazards associated with failures, not one during normal operation

Fault or Logic Tree Analysis

A fault or logic tree is a process to discover the physical, human and latent roots of a failure. It begins with a problem statement describing the failure. Accurate description of the failure is critical to the success of logic tree construction. Failure descriptions arefunctional orcomponent.

Functional failures describe a variation from a desired state, such as the pump does not supply the required pressure or is unable to maintain design speed without elevated vibration. They should be described quantitatively. The fault tree analysis in Figure 4 starts with a functional failure of a pump; there is no flow from the pump. If the pump was capable of producing some flow, the flow or pressure should be included.

Component failures describe the state of a specific component. In this case, the analysis would begin with a statement, such as the gearbox shaft fractured or the outboard conveyor bearing failed.

The second step lists failure modes just below the failure description. A common mistake is listing every possible failure mode. Discernment is needed to list those relevant to the failure. For example, fracture is a failure mode of a bearing, but if the bearing is not fractured, it will not be a failure mode. It is helpful to ask, “How can …?”

A hypothesis for each mode is made, and then each hypothesis is tested using the evidence. If the evidence cannot support the hypothesis, the hypothesis is not used.

This process is repeated until the physical roots are reached. Additional iterations will be required to arrive at the human and latent roots. One must ask, “How can….?” followed by “ What does the evidence confirm?” Remember, each hypothesis must be tested and verified with evidence. This is where many root cause analysis efforts get into trouble.

Advantages Fault tree analysis is very good at showing how resistant a system is to single or multiple initiating faults. It can start at a functional or component level. OSHA recognizes fault tree analysis as an acceptable method for process hazard analysis in its process safety management standard.

Limitations Fault and logic trees require careful problem definition. Depending on the problem definition, it does not always find all possible initiating faults. If the scope of the problem is too large, the process becomes bogged down in analysis of non-consequential elements, and it becomes a scatter gun approach to try and address roots that are not causal to the failure.

The example in Figure 5 is a logic tree for a pump that stopped pumping. Disassembly of the pump revealed a fractured shaft. The fatigue fracture causing the pump to fail started at a stress concentration. This was the physical root. Further investigation found the pump shaft had been made from a print that did not specify radii in critical locations. The omission of radii was the one of the human roots. The print of the pump shaft had been made as a cost-cutting measure, so pump shafts could be made by the lowest cost bidder. The effort to cut costs was one of the organizational or latent roots.

Fault Tree Analysis

Barrier Analysis

Barrier analysis examines the pathways through which a hazard can affect a target. It identifies the actual or potential barriers or controls used to protect the target. The target must exist within a specified set of conditions. The idea of a target means that most anything can be a target — a piece of equipment, data, building or person.

Next, the means by which a target is adversely affected is called a hazard. An adverse effect is anything that shifts a target outside its specified set of conditions. It then becomes possible to uniquely identify target and hazard pairs by the pathway through which hazards affect targets.

Once the hazards, targets and pathways through which hazards affect targets are identified, controls and barriers used to protect, mitigate damage to, and/or maintain a target within a specified set of conditions can be described.

Barriers and controls are usually designed into systems to protect people, equipment, data, etc. All hazards may not be identified during design or unrecognized pathways exist. The existing barriers and controls may not be present, or even if they are, they may not be as effective as originally intended. Consequently, targets may lack adequate protection.

The purpose of barrier analysis is to identify unprotected pathways or barriers and controls that are no longer effective. Historically, energy that can cause harm has been used to characterize pathways. Pathways can include electrical, mechanical, fluid, chemical, heat, radiation, etc. Consequently, barriers and controls have been physical or relate to physical harm.

The barrier analysis in Figure 6 is a typical lubrication monitoring system found on many turbines. The hazard is loss of a fluid film bearing from insufficient oil flow. Prevention barriers include instrumentation to monitor temperatures, flow and reservoir oil level. In addition to the monitoring, additional barriers of standby and emergency oil pumps are used. Mitigation begins when an alarm level is exceeded, requiring operator intervention. The final barrier would be an emergency turbine shutdown that could be triggered by bearing temperature and loss of oil flow.

Change in the target’s condition, physical or non-physical, could be detrimental or unwanted. Now, consideration of mechanisms other than the physical directs attention into areas that are more knowledge, software, policy or administrative-based.

Advantages Barrier analysis has the advantage of being conceptually simple, easy to use, requiring minimal resources and working well with other root cause analysis methods. Results of the analysis are readily translated into corrective actions.

Limitations However, barrier analysis is subjective in nature. No two analysts are the same and will not always reach the same or similar conclusions. It is also easy to confuse causes and countermeasures, so it should not be used as a single method for determining root causes.

Barrier Analysis Example

Change Analysis/Kepner-Tregoe

Change analysis compares a specification of a single problem or event to a desired situation so changes and/or differences may be found by comparing them. The desired situation may be a task or operation that had been done correctly before, a similar task or operation, or a detailed model or simulation of the task or operation.

The potential causes are studied, and those requiring the fewest additional assumptions or conditions are tested to verify which are the true cause(s). Success depends on the accuracy of the deviation specification and verification testing.

Advantages of change analysis are:

  • The ability to find important direct causes that are unclear or hidden.
  • Analysis results migrate easily into corrective actions.
  • It is complementary to other methods.
  • It works best for analyzing functional failures.

Limitations of change analysis are:

  • There must be a basis for comparison.
  • It works only for a single, specific deviation.
  • It only identifies direct causes for a deviation.
  • The results may not be conclusive, and testing will be required.

Kepner-Tregoe is an enhanced change analysis that uses four categories (who, where, when and extent) and two filters (is and is not) to develop a list of characteristics that describe the deviated condition. Each deviated characteristic or combination of them becomes a potential cause of the overall deviated condition. In the Kepner-Tregoe system, change analysis is called problem analysis. This is one of three tools used to evaluate a problem.

The Kepner-Tregoe process typically begins with a situation appraisal to clarify the problem situation (what happened) and then uses one of the following subsets to complete the analysis . The relationship of these methods is shown in Figure 7.

Problem analysis: Here the actual cause of the problem and the relationship between cause and result are searched for (why did it happen).

Decision analysis: Based on the decision-making criteria, choices are made to arrive at potential problem resolutions (how should we act).

Potential problem analysis: Potential future problems are anticipated, and preventative actions are developed (what will the result be).

Kepner-Tregoe Model

Statistical Tools

There are dozens of statistical methods and tools available. They are commonly used to describe process and product variations. Statistical information is useful to identify trends of equipment performance such as mean time between failure ( MTBF ), mean time to repair (MTTR), schedule compliance, work order backlog, work order age, etc. Statistical tools are typically not thought of as a failure analysis tool, but their importance in identifying trends and deviations from a desired outcome are critical for a successful maintenance effort. One important statistical tool that is frequently used in equipment failure analysis is the Pareto chart.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto theory was developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1897 to explain the uneven distribution of wealth. Dr. J.M. Juran started applying this principle to defect analysis, separating the "vital few" from the "trivial many," and called it the "Pareto chart.” This is often referred to as the 80-20 rule, as 20 percent of the issues cause 80 percent of the problems, or a relatively small number of issues account for an overwhelming share of the problems.

The Pareto chart shows the relative frequency of defects in rank order, allowing one to organize reliability efforts to "get the most bang for the buck" or "pick the low-hanging fruit."

You can generate a Pareto chart using virtually any spreadsheet or charting software. The chart in Figure 8 shows the results of an actual Pareto analysis . Fixing the first item in the chart decreased maintenance expenditures by more than $1 million per year and most importantly allowed maintenance resources to be used for other reliability work. The first five items in the chart resulted in $18 million in increased revenue per year.

The Pareto chart is a simple-to-use and powerful graphic to identify where most problems in a plant originated. It won’t help with catastrophic failures but is an extremely useful tool for finding the chronic problems that over time consume as much of reliability and maintenance resources as catastrophic failures.

Pareto Chart Example

Data Analytics

In manufacturing and process industries, the Internet of Things (IoT) or data analytics is an application of statistical methods to process data. Data analytics in failure analysis is typically confirmation or disproving of an existing hypothesis or discovering new information in the data.

Data analytics is a process of inspecting, cleansing, transforming and modeling data with the goal of discovering useful information, suggesting conclusions and supporting decision-making (Figure 9).

Data science process flow chart

When one hears about “big data,” Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other consumer companies come to mind, as organizations that gather enormous amounts of data about us and through data science use it to predict how we will behave in the future. Targeted ads are just one example.

In manufacturing and process industries, the situation is different. The development of wireless sensors has enabled us to inexpensively collect vast amounts of data. We can quickly gather process data and use statistical methods to confirm or discover new relationships in our factories and plants. A decade ago, monitoring a process variable, such as temperature, required installation and wiring a temperature RTD with power and a connection back to a PLC or DCS so data could be captured. Now, it is possible to install a self-powered RTD and transmitter with a wireless data link to the IoT.

A variety of statistical tools can be applied to the data to confirm or refute hypothesis or discover new relationships between process variables. This ability adds a powerful tool to a root cause analysis, particularly of functional failures. Depending on the data quality in maintenance history, it is also possible to discover hidden relationships within the maintenance data using text analytics.

The number of people employed in industry is shrinking. Experience and knowledge is walking out the door in the form of retiring baby boomers. Data analytics shows promise to help close the gap between a shrinking knowledge base and the need for better root cause analysis. In the world of mechanical failure analysis, a gap between the need for spectral vibration data and data analytics still exists. Overall vibration levels can be processed, but data analytics software has considerable room for improvement in the treatment of spectral vibration data.

In the next decade, you can expect to see an accelerating shift toward smart instruments, the IoT and data analytics. For example, think how a control valve positioner can automatically calibrate and configure itself, do diagnostics to maintain loop performance levels, improve control accuracy to reduce process variability, and tell you about it.

Pitfalls in Root Cause Analysis

There is a strong temptation to place blind faith in particular root cause analysis models. After all, they have been proven to work, and why reinvent the wheel? Predefined structured processes can save valuable time. However, it is important to remember that the answers may lie outside a chosen process. Models can be useful because they help strip away unimportant data. If we use models without knowledge of their assumptions and limitations, we may miss important facts and misdirect our analysis.

Do not try to include too much in your analysis. The temptation is strong to add in every possible cause even when they are not necessary, sufficient or present to cause an effect. Remember, inclusivity does not guarantee you are effective or correct.

Verify all the evidence and hypothesis. It is very easy to take the wrong path if a hypothesis is wrong. Be aware that just because the boss has a hypothesis, it isn’t necessarily correct.

Deciding where to start and how you describe the failure has an enormous impact on the time effort and outcome of your investigation. Starting with a functional failure when there has been environmental impact, injury or substantial cost helps with the discovery of the human and organizational root causes that with few exceptions are present and play significant roles in the failure. When a failure does not result in environmental, injury or significant expense, beginning at the component level helps streamline the analysis and typically makes identification of the physical roots easier. As the analysis progresses, the degree of investigation into human and organizational causes can be balanced against the level of risk and cost acceptable to you and the organization.

Making It Happen

Ideally, it would be nice to have a full complement of root cause analysis tools in your plant. Choices must be made because one doesn’t have unlimited time and money. The choices become easier to make if one takes a moment to consider where the need is, how often a root cause analysis will be needed, and what resources are available. If the need is greatest for functional failures or product quality and efficiency problems, the tools used will be different than those used for component failures. If you are reading this article, it is reasonable to conclude your focus will be on component failures. Table 1 summarizes the time required.

Resource Requirements

Identifying and understanding the root causes of component failures is best when started on the shop or production floor. Technicians and front-line supervisors who can identify physical failure modes and use basic but powerful analysis tools are often the best means to prevent failures from happening in the future. Technicians and front-line supervisors would have the following skills:

Five whys – Learning five why analysis can be done in less than a day. The CMMS must be able to support what is learned from a Five Why analysis either with failure modes or a means to capture causes.

Ishikawa/fishbone diagram – This also can be taught in less than a day. It introduces people to a broader cause and effect analysis to identify effects that may have multiple causes.

Barrier analysis – An introduction to barrier analysis helps shift culture from simplistic solutions to the concept of risk and risk reduction.

Causal factor tree or fault tree analysis – Not everyone needs to be able to construct a tree, but they should be able to participate in the development of one when led by a facilitator. People closest to the point of action have information and insights that are frequently vital to identify root causes and more importantly make changes to prevent future failures. Training to introduce people to either causal factor or fault trees typically takes one day to complete.

Failure mode identification – This is frequently considered as a subset of the root cause analysis methods. Frequently, incorrectly identified failure modes lead analysis efforts astray. Technicians, front-line supervisors and reliability engineers must be able to correctly identify physical failure modes. This training takes four days to complete. It also helps a Pareto analysis because failure modes are correctly identified.

In every plant, there should be at least one person who has received facilitator training on causal factor or fault tree analysis and change analysis. This helps ensure consistency and reinforces the use of root cause analysis. Vendors of these methods frequently tout their system as superior to others. They all have certain strengths and weaknesses. Causal factor and fault tree analysis are very similar, so having both may lead to confusion. It is important that one is selected and used. Training for each of these methods usually takes four or five days to complete.

Reliability engineers should receive training on the following:

Ishikawa/fishbone diagrams

Cause and effect/causal factor tree

Fault or logic tree

Pareto chart

Change analysis

Statistical methods - If they are involved in production issues, training on statistical methods including data analytics should be included.

Unless there is personal injury, an environmental accident or a large cost involved, don’t start every effort with an expensive analysis. You can often be more effective by using the five whys, Ishikawa/fishbone or a simple cause and effect analysis to solve many problems. A situation appraisal may help you select another method when it appears the problem can be solved with a simpler method. Causal factor trees, fault or logic trees can take a substantial amount of time to complete. This can range from a day to several weeks. Failure mode and effect analysis takes weeks or months to complete.

Additional Resource

A resource you may find useful for additional information on root cause analysis:

The Rootisserie t . This website has a wealth of articles on root cause analysis as well as links to additional resources.

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by Mike Sondalini Leave a Comment

A Fault Finding a Technique that Works

A Fault Finding a Technique that Works

What you will learn from this article.

  • Accurate findings from investigations require accurate knowledge.
  • Design extra equipment into a new plant for problem analysis.
  • On existing plant add-in the equipment you need for problem-solving.
  • Trace problems by going from plant to equipment item to sub-system.

Fixing plant and equipment about which you know little is daunting.

Here are a few ideas to help you successfully fault find failed equipment. 

When you don’t know the equipment

Your aim is to understand what you are trying to repair so you can make considered decisions as to what has gone wrong, and what has to be done to fix it.

You will need to educate yourself in its function and construction.

Read and understand the operating and maintenance manuals. Get hold of drawings. Talk to the manufacturer and supplier. Talk to others who have such equipment.

Talk to the people who operate and maintain it. If you can’t do the above, find a machine or item that does a similar function and learn how it operates.

The right person to do the repair

If you do not have the know-how or equipment to perform the maintenance it is faster and cheaper to get someone with the necessary specialist knowledge.

Here is an example of a car repair gone wrong.

The car was a 1993 Jeep Cherokee. It had lost ignition and would not start. The owner followed the repair manual instructions and spent an entire day stripping out the ignition system, component by component, only to give up in disgust and visit the local dealership the following morning.

The mechanic listened to the tale and advised of an ignition timer trigged from the flywheel rotation that occasionally caused a fault. The owner had not even known of its existence! Sure started the first time.

There are two morals here.

First – only attempt a repair if you understand the equipment you are working on. Second – when you can go no further, get expert help.

When you know the equipment

When you cannot locate a fault in plant or equipment of which you are familiar, you need to progressively trace the failure.

Commence by becoming familiarized with the designed operation of each subsystem of the larger item. Access to documentation is critical. Get all the information available from manuals, process and instrumentation diagrams, assembly and component drawings and the like.

Test that each sub-system functions as it ought.

Use ‘telltale’ indicators at selected points in the system to confirm its operation. ‘Telltales’ are such devices as pressure gauges, flow meters, sample points, ammeters, voltmeters, light emitting diodes, etc.

Their purpose is to indicate the function is present during normal operation. If necessary get them installed. As each subsystem is proven move to the next until the faulty subsystem is found.

With the faulty subsystem isolated, you need to locate the faulty component (maybe more) and replace it.

If the fault is not obvious it becomes necessary to trace the system through from beginning to end looking for a loss of function. Prove that each component in the system operates, as it should.

Again it may be necessary to install or locate ‘telltales’ for each component.

An example of the methodology

The best example of this approach that I have seen occurred in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. Our hire car stopped dead after cresting a rise.

The hire firm sent out the local roadside service repairman. Upon arrival, he lifted the bonnet and began his investigation.

First, he checked the electrical system by removing a spark plug and turning the ignition key. The car cranked over and the spark plug fired.

This test proved the electrical system functioned properly because a spark was evident at the spark plug.

He then checked the fuel supply. Here he removed the rubber fuel line into the carburetor and cranked over the engine.

However, in this case, no fuel was ejected where it should have been. Moving back along the fuel system, he removed the connection to the fuel pump outlet and cranked the motor. Again no fuel was evident.

He checked the fuel level in the fuel tank and it was plentiful. Removing the fuel line into the fuel pump resulted in fuel spilling out on the ground.

He had just proven that the fuel pump was broken because the fuel at the inlet was not ejected at the outlet.

Recommended approach to fault finding

The table below lists the recommended approach.

  • Divide the equipment into logical systems.
  • Test each system functions to specification.
  • Test each component in the failed system operates as it ought.
  • Use ‘telltale’ methods to prove the presence of the function at various parts of the system.

Fault finding practice

In the drawing below of a reticulated lawn, one portion has died due to a fault.

How could this have occurred? How could your suggestions be tested?


DISCLAIMER: Because the authors, publisher, and resellers do not know the context in which the information presented in the articles is to be used, they accept no responsibility for the consequences of using the information.

We (Accendo Reliability) published this article with the kind permission of Feed Forward Publishing, a subsidiary of

Web: E-mail:  [email protected]

If you found this interesting you may like the ebook Process Control Essentials .

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About Mike Sondalini

In engineering and maintenance since 1974, Mike’s career extends across original equipment manufacturing, beverage processing and packaging, steel fabrication, chemical processing and manufacturing, quality management, project management, enterprise asset management, plant and equipment maintenance, and maintenance training. His specialty is helping companies build highly effective operational risk management processes, develop enterprise asset management systems for ultra-high reliable assets, and instil the precision maintenance skills needed for world class equipment reliability.

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How to Do Root Cause Analysis

Conducting a root cause analysis ( RCA ) helps trace recurring problems to their source. It begins with identifying a problem. Next, data collection helps you to pinpoint the root cause and take corrective action . 

In healthcare , RCA ensures that doctors address the underlying causes of conditions instead of wasting their time on symptoms alone. The same principle applies in manufacturing, facilities maintenance, and any other industry. 

Businesses conduct RCA to find the causal factors behind their problems and eliminate them. Ultimately, RCA enables proactive maintenance and asset management . Instead of correcting issues after they occur, you’ll stop them from happening in the first place .

How to conduct an effective root cause analysis in 4 steps

You can conduct root cause analysis with the help of a range of different tools and techniques. Though these processes may look different, they all share a common goal: fixing the root cause of an issue. To do a root cause analysis the right way, you should follow four basic steps:

  • Define the problem
  • Collect data
  • Map out the events to identify root causes
  • Implement solutions to solve the problem

Step 1: Define the problem 

By defining the problem, its symptoms, and its consequences, you’ll set the scope and direction of the analysis.

Without a specific problem statement , you’ll struggle to create a path to a solution. A well-defined problem statement also helps determine the scale and scope of the solution you’ll ultimately implement. When you’re writing your problem statement , keep these three questions in mind: 

  • How would you describe the problem at hand?
  • What do you see happening?
  • What are the specific symptoms?

Step 2: Collect the data

Next, gather data related to your problem or incident. Record anything that might help you get to the source of your organization’s trouble.

Take, for example, a machine failure in a manufacturing plant. You’ll want to track data like: 

  • The age of your equipment
  • Your equipment’s operational time
  • Your equipment’s operating patterns
  • The typical maintenance schedule
  • Characteristics of the operating environment
  • The names of the operators who typically handle the machine
  • The technical specifications of the machine

Inspecting the machine in person provides plenty of information that could serve your root cause analysis . Facilities that run predictive maintenance need to take particular care to collate their data quickly.

Step 3: Map out the events

Then, establish a timeline of events. This will help you determine which factors among the data collected are most worth investigating. Putting events and data in chronological order helps to differentiate causal factors from non- causal factors . From the data collected, you can identify correlations between various events, their timing, and other data collected. Remember that correlation does not mean causation . 

causation vs correlation

Here’s the difference between causation and correlation in a maintenance context. 

Questions to ask yourself when looking for correlations: 

  • What sequence of events allowed this to happen? 
  • What conditions allowed this to happen? 
  • What additional problems result from the main problem? 

The next step is to employ additional root cause analysis tools to identify potential causes . 

For example, you might map out events with the help of a causal graph . These graphs represent the relationship between the events that happened and the data you’ve collected. The different paths are given different probability weights. They can serve as a visual tool to track down the root cause.

Step 4: Address the root of the problem

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can quickly determine the best solution to fix it. Map the solution against the scope defined in your initial problem statement . Do you have the resources you need? If so, it’s time to implement a solution. 

Once the problem is solved, you will need to take preventive steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If the symptoms occur again, it’s time to return to the drawing board and conduct RCA again.

The 3 Rs of Performing Root Cause Analysis

Another simple way of understanding root cause analysis focuses on the 3 Rs of RCA : recognize, rectify, replicate. 

  • Recognize : Taking corrective action begins with identifying the problem. With a detailed problem statement , you’ll have a dependable procedure for digging into the issue and finding the root cause.  
  • Rectify : Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If it reappears, you may have addressed symptoms alone.
  • Replicate : Attempting to recreate a problem helps you test whether you actually fixed the root issue. You might also try to replicate the conditions that led to a positive outcome.

Root cause analysis tools and techniques

There are many tried and trusted frameworks for executing RCA . Some offer a better fit for certain industries than for others or help to address specific types of problems. 

Your company should establish its own unique methodology for conducting RCA and always tailor its approach to the issue at hand. In some instances, you might bring in external consultants to guide your efforts or even execute the analysis. Let’s look at some of the different forms of root cause analyses . 

5 Why analysis

The 5 Whys technique for root cause analysis and problem solving was developed by Sakichi Toyoda. It is at the heart of the Toyota Motor Company’s lean manufacturing processes . 

Simply put, the process involves asking ‘why’ over and over again until you’ve reached the root cause of a problem . The goal is to ask why until you can’t anymore. A rule of thumb holds that 5 ‘whys’ is usually enough. 

5 Why analysis

Asking ‘why’ brings businesses closer to the root cause of their problems. 

Benefits of 5 Why analysis :

  • Quickly identifies the root cause of a problem
  • Illustrates how one process can cause a chain of problems
  • Helps determine the relationship between different root causes
  • No need for complicated evaluation techniques

When to use the 5 Whys : 

  • For simple to moderately complex problems
  • When human error has contributed to your problems

Fishbone diagram (a.k.a. Ishikawa diagram)

The Ishikawa method for root cause analysis emerged from quality control techniques employed in the Japanese shipbuilding industry by Kaoru Ishikawa. It results in a fishbone diagram (named for its resemblance to a fish skeleton ) that explores the various potential causes of one key problem. 

Typical fishbone diagrams break causes into six categories, the six Ms: 

  • Manpower (personnel) 
  • Measurement
  • Mother nature (environment)

Fishbone digram (Iskikawa method)

An Ishikawa diagram (also known as a fishbone diagram ) outlines the various causes of a key business problem. 

Teams explore potential contributing factors until they identify the root cause of the problem . Benefits of fishbone diagrams :

  • Provides a useful structure to guide brainstorming
  • Identifies potential bottlenecks
  • Explores the full scope of potential causes

When to use a fishbone diagram :

  • to analyze a complex problem with many potential causes
  • to identify bottlenecks and obstacles to process flow

Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)

FMEA is a proactive approach to root cause analysis , preventing potential machine or system failures. It combines reliability engineering , safety engineering, and quality control efforts. The process involves predicting future failures and defects by analyzing data. 


A diverse, cross-functional team is essential for performing effective FMEA . Make sure to clearly define and communicate the scope of the analysis to your team members . 

Your team will closely review each subsystem, design, and process to better understand their purposes and functions. Next, the seam should brainstorm potential failure modes based on data and past experiences. 

Then, the team can calculate the risk priority number (RPN) for each potential failure mode. The formula below shows how the severity, likelihood, and detectability of potential causes contribute to its RPN. 

(RPN) risk priority number formula

If the failure mode has a higher RPN than you’re comfortable with, you can begin planning out corrective actions . Benefits of FMEA :

  • Enables your team to identify failure points early
  • Takes advantage of your team’s collective knowledge
  • Improves the quality, reliability, and safety of corrective actions
  • Introduces a logical, structured approach for identifying process areas of concern
  • Documents and tracks risk reduction activities

When to use the FMEA methodologies :

  • When you’re designing new products, business processes , or service offerings ( DFMEA )
  • When you have a plan for quality improvement
  • When you need to understand the failures in a business process and improve upon them ( PFMEA )

Fault tree analysis (FTA)

Fault tree analysis is an RCA process that uses boolean logic to identify the cause of a fault or failure.The process involves mapping the logical relationships between faults and the subsystems of a machine. 

You first place the failure you’re analyzing at the top of the chart. If two causes have a logical or combination causing effect, they are combined with a logical or operator. For example, if a machine can fail while in operation or while under maintenance, it is a logical or relationship.

Fault tree analysis example

An example of a fault tree analysis Source: Six Sigma Study Guide

If two causes need to occur simultaneously for the fault to happen, the situation is represented with a logical and . For example, if a machine only fails when the operator pushes the wrong button and relay fails to activate, it is a logical and relationship. 

Your team can then analyze the fault tree to identify process improvements and risk management opportunities. It’s an especially effective tool for analyzing automated machines and systems. In the above example, and is in blue and or is in purple.  Benefits of using a fault tree analysis :

  • Deduces the cause of events
  • Highlights the critical elements related to system failure
  • Creates a visual representation to simplify failure analysis
  • Accounts for human error
  • Promotes effective communication between team members

When to use a fault tree analysis :

  • When you need to determined if a combination of contributing factors is causing a problem
  • When you are designing a solution and need to identify potential sources of failure to make the solution more robust 

To find issues that can cause fault-tolerant systems to experience total failure

Pareto charts

A Pareto chart indicates the frequency of defects and their cumulative effects. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto recognized a common theme across all the frequency distributions he could observe. He noticed a vast imbalance between the ratio of failures and the effects caused by them. In any system, he proposed that 80% of the results (or failures) are caused by 20% of all potential causes . This concept is known as the Pareto principle or the 80-20 rule. 

With the 80-20 principle in mind, you can use Pareto analysis to dig into failures and their possible causes . To start, draw a bar graph that includes the frequency of faults and causes. This graph will make it much easier to see the skewed relationship between causes and effects. Next, you’ll analyze the causes that contribute to the largest number of faults and take corrective action to eliminate the most common defects. Benefits of using pareto charts :

  • Defects are ranked in order of severity, making it simple to organize priorities
  • Helps cumulative the cumulative impact of defects

When to use a pareto chart :

  • To narrow down a list of problems and find the most significant
  • To analyze a problem with a broad list of causes and identify specific components

More root cause analysis methods and tools

The root cause analysis process looks different for different organizations and varies based on the problem you’re addressing. Here are some additional approaches:  

  • Cause and effect diagrams try to map the relationship between causes and effects in a system. 
  • Barrier analysis is an RCA technique commonly used for safety incidents. It is based on the idea that a barrier between personnel and potential hazards can prevent most safety incidents.
  • Change analysis is used when a potential incident occurs due to a single element or factor change.
  • A scatter diagram is a statistical tool that plots the relationship between two data points in a two-dimensional chart. 

Get started with maintenance management software

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. Whether you’re conducting a root cause analysis for the first time or looking to refine your existing processes, Limble’s computerized maintenance management solution (CMMS) can help. By enabling maintenance teams to say goodbye to pen, paper, and spreadsheets, it simplifies every aspect of asset management.

If you want to learn more about how Limble could make your job less stressful, get started with a free trial or set up a demo today.

CMMS Buyer's Guide

Learn the questions to ask and the features to look for during the cmms selection process - and find the right cmms for you..

fault finding and problem solving

Is there a list of RCA examples for IT environment such as Application, Database, Server, Network Device, Network. Also, please recommend insightful RCA resources for IT

Hey Kenny, I do not know any from the top of my head. Most guides we come across while writing this piece, even when they were for specific industries, still just focused on explaining the general concept.

I would have to google it the same as yourself. Good luck with the search!

These tools are not easy to use, espicallly in complex problems, but explanation is good.

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35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

fault finding and problem solving

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

fault finding and problem solving

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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fault finding and problem solving

Facilitation skills can be applied in a variety of contexts, such as meetings, events, or in the classroom. Arguably, the setting in which facilitation skills shine the most is the design and running of workshops.  Workshops are dedicated spaces for interaction and learning. They are generally very hands-on, including activities such as simulations or games designed to practice specific skills. Leading workshops is an exciting, rewarding experience! In this piece we will go through some of the essential elements of workshop facilitation: What are workshops? Workshops are a time set aside for a group of people to learn new skills, come up with the best ideas, and solve problems together.…

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So, you’ve decided to convene a workshop, a special time set aside to work with a team on a certain topic or project. You are looking for brilliant ideas, new solutions and, of course, great participation. To begin the process that will get you to workshop success, you’ll need three ingredients: participants willing to join, someone to facilitate and guide them through the process (aka, you) and a detailed agenda or schedule of the activities you’ve planned. In this article we will focus on that last point: what makes a good agenda design? Having a good agenda is essential to ensure your workshops are well prepared and you can lead…

fault finding and problem solving

What are facilitation skills and how to improve them?

Facilitation skills are the abilities you need in order to master working with a group. In essence, facilitation is about being aware of what happens when people get together to achieve a common goal, and directing their focus and attention in ways that serve the group itself.  When we work together at our best, we can achieve a lot more than anything we might attempt alone. Working with others is not always easy: teamwork is fraught with risks and pitfalls, but skilled facilitation can help navigate them with confidence. With the right approach, facilitation can be a workplace superpower.  Whatever your position, career path, or life story, you probably have…

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Modeling how, when, and what is learned in a simple fault-finding task

  • Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS)
  • Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences
  • College of Information Sciences and Technology
  • Penn State Neuroscience Institute

Research output : Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review

We have developed a process model that learns in multiple ways while finding faults in a simple control panel device. The model predicts human participants' learning through its own learning. The model's performance was systematically compared to human learning data, including the time course and specific sequence of learned behaviors. These comparisons show that the model accounts very well for measures such as problem-solving strategy, the relative difficulty of faults, and average fault-finding time. More important, because the model learns and transfers its learning across problems, it also accounts for the faster problem-solving times due to learning when examined across participants, across faults, and across the series of 20 trials on an individual participant basis. The model shows how learning while problem solving can lead to more recognition-based performance, and helps explain how the shape of the learning curve can arise through learning and be modified by differential transfer. Overall, the quality of the correspondence appears to have arisen from procedural, declarative, and episodic learning all taking place within individual problem-solving episodes.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

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  • 10.1080/03640210802221999

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  • Link to publication in Scopus
  • Link to the citations in Scopus


  • Learning Medicine & Life Sciences 100%
  • learning Social Sciences 46%
  • Transfer learning Engineering & Materials Science 26%
  • Psychology Transfer Medicine & Life Sciences 22%
  • Machine Learning Medicine & Life Sciences 22%
  • Psychology Recognition Medicine & Life Sciences 17%
  • time Social Sciences 15%
  • performance Social Sciences 13%

T1 - Modeling how, when, and what is learned in a simple fault-finding task

AU - Ritter, Frank E.

AU - Bibby, Peter A.

N1 - Copyright: Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

PY - 2008/7

Y1 - 2008/7

N2 - We have developed a process model that learns in multiple ways while finding faults in a simple control panel device. The model predicts human participants' learning through its own learning. The model's performance was systematically compared to human learning data, including the time course and specific sequence of learned behaviors. These comparisons show that the model accounts very well for measures such as problem-solving strategy, the relative difficulty of faults, and average fault-finding time. More important, because the model learns and transfers its learning across problems, it also accounts for the faster problem-solving times due to learning when examined across participants, across faults, and across the series of 20 trials on an individual participant basis. The model shows how learning while problem solving can lead to more recognition-based performance, and helps explain how the shape of the learning curve can arise through learning and be modified by differential transfer. Overall, the quality of the correspondence appears to have arisen from procedural, declarative, and episodic learning all taking place within individual problem-solving episodes.

AB - We have developed a process model that learns in multiple ways while finding faults in a simple control panel device. The model predicts human participants' learning through its own learning. The model's performance was systematically compared to human learning data, including the time course and specific sequence of learned behaviors. These comparisons show that the model accounts very well for measures such as problem-solving strategy, the relative difficulty of faults, and average fault-finding time. More important, because the model learns and transfers its learning across problems, it also accounts for the faster problem-solving times due to learning when examined across participants, across faults, and across the series of 20 trials on an individual participant basis. The model shows how learning while problem solving can lead to more recognition-based performance, and helps explain how the shape of the learning curve can arise through learning and be modified by differential transfer. Overall, the quality of the correspondence appears to have arisen from procedural, declarative, and episodic learning all taking place within individual problem-solving episodes.

UR -

UR -

U2 - 10.1080/03640210802221999

DO - 10.1080/03640210802221999

M3 - Article

C2 - 21635356

AN - SCOPUS:48349095268

SN - 0364-0213

JO - Cognitive Science

JF - Cognitive Science

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Electrician training - a systematic approach to trouble shooting and electrical fault finding.

By Warren Rhude, president of Simutech Multimedia Inc.

To expertly troubleshoot electrical equipment, problems must be solved by replacing only defective equipment or components in the least amount of time. One of the most important factors in doing this, is the approach used. An expert troubleshooter uses a system or approach that allows them to logically and systematically analyze a circuit and determine exactly what is wrong.

This approach differs from troubleshooting procedures in that it does not tell you step by step how to troubleshoot a particular kind of circuit. It is more of a thinking process that is used to analyze a circuit’s behavior and determine what component or components are responsible for the faulty operation. This approach is general in nature allowing it to be used on any type of electrical circuit.

In fact, the principles covered in this approach can be applied to many other types of problem solving scenarios, not just electrical circuits.

Electrical Troubleshooting Approach

The 5 Step Troubleshooting Approach consists of the following:

  • Preparation Step 1
  • Observation Step 2
  • Define Problem Area Step 3
  • Identify Possible Causes Step 4
  • Determine Most Probable Cause Step
  • 5 Test and Repair (then follow up)

Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

Preparation Before you begin to troubleshoot any piece of equipment, you must be familiar with your organization’s safety rules and procedures for working on electrical equipment. These rules and procedures govern the methods you can use to troubleshoot electrical equipment (including your lockout/tagout procedures, testing procedures etc.) and must be followed while troubleshooting.

Next, you need to gather information regarding the equipment and the problem. Be sure you understand how the equipment is designed to operate. It is much easier to analyze faulty operation when you know how it should operate. Operation or equipment manuals and drawings are great sources of information and are helpful to have available. If there are equipment history records, you should review them to see if there are any recurring problems. You should also have on-hand any documentation describing the problem. (i.e., a work order, trouble report, or even your notes taken from a discussion with a customer.)

Step 1 – Observe Most faults provide obvious clues as to their cause. Through careful observation and a little bit of reasoning, most faults can be identified as to the actual component with very little testing. When observing malfunctioning equipment, look for visual signs of mechanical damage such as indications of impact, chafed wires, loose components or parts laying in the bottom of the cabinet. Look for signs of overheating, especially on wiring, relay coils, and printed circuit boards.

Don't forget to use your other senses when inspecting equipment. The smell of burnt insulation is something you won't miss. Listening to the sound of the equipment operating may give you a clue to where the problem is located. Checking the temperature of components can also help find problems but be careful while doing this, some components may be alive or hot enough to burn you.

Pay particular attention to areas that were identified either by past history or by the person that reported the problem. A note of caution here! Do not let these mislead you, past problems are just that – past problems, they are not necessarily the problem you are looking for now. Also, do not take reported problems as fact, always check for yourself if possible. The person reporting the problem may not have described it properly or may have made their own incorrect assumptions.

When faced with equipment which is not functioning properly you should:

  • Be sure you understand how the equipment is designed to operate. It makes it much easier to analyze faulty operation when you know how it should operate;
  • Note the condition of the equipment as found. You should look at the state of the relays (energized or not), which lamps are lit, which auxiliary equipment is energized or running etc. This is the best time to give the equipment a thorough inspection (using all your senses). Look for signs of mechanical damage, overheating, unusual sounds, smells etc.;
  • Test the operation of the equipment including all of its features. Make note of any feature that is not operating properly. Make sure you observe these operations very carefully. This can give you a lot of valuable information regarding all parts of the equipment.

Step 2 – Define Problem Area It is at this stage that you apply logic and reasoning to your observations to determine the problem area of the malfunctioning equipment. Often times when equipment malfunctions, certain parts of the equipment will work properly while others not.

The key is to use your observations (from step 1) to rule out parts of the equipment or circuitry that are operating properly and not contributing to the cause of the malfunction. You should continue to do this until you are left with only the part(s) that if faulty, could cause the symptoms that the equipment is experiencing.

To help you define the problem area you should have a schematic diagram of the circuit in addition to your noted observations.

Starting with the whole circuit as the problem area, take each noted observation and ask yourself "what does this tell me about the circuit operation?" If an observation indicates that a section of the circuit appears to be operating properly, you can then eliminate it from the problem area. As you eliminate each part of the circuit from the problem area, make sure to identify them on your schematic. This will help you keep track of all your information.

Step 3 – Identify Possible Causes Once the problem area(s) have been defined, it is necessary to identify all the possible causes of the malfunction. This typically involves every component in the problem area(s). It is necessary to list (actually write down) every fault which could cause the problem no matter how remote the possibility of it occurring. Use your initial observations to help you do this. During the next step you will eliminate those which are not likely to happen.

Step 4 – Determine Most Probable Cause Once the list of possible causes has been made, it is then necessary to prioritize each item as to the probability of it being the cause of the malfunction. The following are some rules of thumb when prioritizing possible causes.

Although it could be possible for two components to fail at the same time, it is not very likely. Start by looking for one faulty component as the culprit. The following list shows the order in which you should check components based on the probability of them being defective:

  • First look for components which burn out or have a tendency to wear out, i.e. mechanical switches, fuses , relay contacts, or light bulbs. (Remember, that in the case of fuses, they burn out for a reason. You should find out why before replacing them.)
  • The next most likely cause of failure are coils, motors, transformers and other devices with windings. These usually generate heat and, with time, can malfunction.
  • Connections should be your third choice, especially screw type or bolted type. Over time these can loosen and cause a high resistance. In some cases this resistance will cause overheating and eventually will burn open. Connections on equipment that is subject to vibration are especially prone to coming loose.
  • Finally, you should look for is defective wiring. Pay particular attention to areas where the wire insulation could be damaged causing short circuits. Don't rule out incorrect wiring, especially on a new piece of equipment.

Step 5 – Test and Repair Testing electrical equipment can be hazardous. The electrical energy contained in many circuits can be enough to injure or kill. Make sure you follow all your companies safety precautions, rules and procedures while troubleshooting.

Once you have determined the most probable cause, you must either prove it to be the problem or rule it out. This can sometimes be done by careful inspection however, in many cases the fault will be such that you cannot identify the problem component by observation and analysis alone. In these circumstances, test instruments can be used to help narrow the problem area and identify the problem component.

There are many types of test instruments used for troubleshooting. Some are specialized instruments designed to measure various behaviors of specific equipment, while others like the multimeters are more general in nature and can be used on most electrical equipment. A typical multimeter can measure AC and DC Voltages, Resistance, and Current.

A very important rule when taking meter readings is to predict what the meter will read before taking the reading. Use the circuit schematic to determine what the meter will read if the circuit is operating normally. If the reading is anything other than your predicted value, you know that this part of the circuit is being affected by the fault.

Depending on the circuit and type of fault, the problem area as defined by your observations, can include a large area of the circuit creating a very large list of possible and probable causes. Under such circumstances, you could use a “divide and eliminate” testing approach to eliminate parts of the circuit from the problem area. The results of each test provides information to help you reduce the size of the problem area until the defective component is identified.

Once you have determined the cause of the faulty operation of the circuit you can proceed to replace the defective component. Be sure the circuit is locked out and you follow all safety procedures before disconnecting the component or any wires.

After replacing the component, you must test operate all features of the circuit to be sure you have replaced the proper component and that there are no other faults in the circuit. It can be very embarrassing to tell the customer that you have repaired the problem only to have him find another problem with the equipment just after you leave.

Please note, Testing is a large topic and this article has only touched on the highlights.

Follow up Although this is not an official step of the troubleshooting process it nevertheless should be done once the equipment has been repaired and put back in service. You should try to determine the reason for the malfunction.

  • Did the component fail due to age?
  • Did the environment the equipment operates in cause excessive corrosion?
  • Are there wear points that caused the wiring to short out?
  • Did it fail due to improper use?
  • Is there a design flaw that causes the same component to fail repeatedly?

Through this process further failures can be minimized. Many organizations have their own follow-up documentation and processes. Make sure you check your organization’s procedures. Adopting a logical and systematic approach such as the 5 Step Troubleshooting Approach can help you to troubleshoot like an expert!

About the Author: Warren Rhude is president of Simutech Multimedia Inc. an e-learning company that develops computer based training simulations for electrical troubleshooting. Warren has an electrical background and has taught troubleshooting for several years at a prominent electrical utility.

Publishers Note:

Simutech Multimedia has developed a series of award winning simulations for learning electrical troubleshooting skills. Click here for more information on these programs or to download a free demo.

Article reproduced with kind permission of the Business Industrial Network.

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Modeling how, when, and what is learned in a simple fault-finding task


  • 1 College of Information Sciences and Technology, The Pennsylvania State UniversitySchool of Psychology, University of Nottingham.
  • PMID: 21635356
  • DOI: 10.1080/03640210802221999

We have developed a process model that learns in multiple ways while finding faults in a simple control panel device. The model predicts human participants' learning through its own learning. The model's performance was systematically compared to human learning data, including the time course and specific sequence of learned behaviors. These comparisons show that the model accounts very well for measures such as problem-solving strategy, the relative difficulty of faults, and average fault-finding time. More important, because the model learns and transfers its learning across problems, it also accounts for the faster problem-solving times due to learning when examined across participants, across faults, and across the series of 20 trials on an individual participant basis. The model shows how learning while problem solving can lead to more recognition-based performance, and helps explain how the shape of the learning curve can arise through learning and be modified by differential transfer. Overall, the quality of the correspondence appears to have arisen from procedural, declarative, and episodic learning all taking place within individual problem-solving episodes.

2008 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.

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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

fault finding and problem solving

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

fault finding and problem solving

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can stop dwelling in a negative mindset.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Key Issues in Technical Problem Solving Leadership

fault finding and problem solving

Rebecca Silverman Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies

Abstract The problems facing society today have reached a level of complexity far beyond that faced by previous generations, such that it exceeds the ability of one person to solve the problems on their own, and it is becoming more common to see teams of people come together to solve problems. Before being able to understand problem solving leadership, first one must understand the factors that facilitate the problem solving process. Every human being uses the same basic problem solving process, and without this basic process, people would not have been able to recognize and solve the problems that have presented themselves throughout history. It is this cognitive process that drives humans to not only solve the current problems, but to recognize the new problems that are created by the solution of the previous problems. This paper utilizes a model of problem solving theory developed by M. J. Kirton called Adaption-Innovation (A-I) theory to explore and identify key issues in technical problem solving leadership. A-I theory relates to cognitive style, or thinking style, and describes the different preferred ways in which people solve problems. It places human beings on a spectrum ranging from highly adaptive to highly innovative and is founded on the assumption that all people solve problems and are creative. This paper examines and analyzes the observations of ten individuals from various levels of leadership, business units, and reporting structures within the Lockheed Martin organization in order to identify some of the key issues that face technical problem solving leaders in today’s corporate environment. Key concepts from A-I problem solving theory are integrated with the insights provided by these leaders.

Keywords Problem solving, adaption, innovation, leadership, diversity

1 Introduction Problem solving is defined by Wikipedia as a “higher-order cognitive process that requires the modulation and control of more routine or fundamental skills.” In other words, thinking is the means by which problems are solved. Every living organism has to learn to deal with problems on a day-to-day basis in order to survive and ensure the survival of its species. As mankind has evolved, so have the problems that it faces. As each problem is solved, it just leads to more complex problems to be solved by subsequent generations.

The problems that face society today are exponentially more difficult than those faced by previous generations. These problems have reached a level of complexity that exceeds the ability of one person to solve the problem on his or her own, and it is becoming more common to see teams of people come together to solve problems. Nowhere is this team problem solving approach more evident than in the workplace. According to Industrial Market Trends (2005), a recent trend, independent of industry and region, is that companies are focusing on hiring employees who are “team players” with “leadership qualities”. With this focus on team problem solving in the workplace comes a whole new perspective to problem solving – problem solving leadership.

Before being able to understand problem solving leadership, first one must understand the factors that facilitate the problem solving process. Jablokow (2005) in her review of A-I theory, states that the fundamental catalyst to scientific problem solving is the problem solving process of the human brain. Every human being uses the same basic problem solving process, and without this basic process people would not have been able to recognize and solve the problems that have presented themselves throughout history. It is this cognitive process that drives humans not only to solve the current problems, but to recognize the new problems that are created by the solution of the previous problems.

The problem solving process involves the following four key elements, shown below in Figure 1: the problem solver (or person), the process used to solve the problem, the outcome (or product), and the environment. According to Jablokow (2005), these key elements were formally identified by Rhodes (1961), but have not been focused on much in studies since then due to numerous reasons. The study of problem solving itself, while being a focus of investigation for quite some time, still has many gaps. Unlike chemistry and physics, the relationships between the elements of problem solving are not an exact science and therefore remain unclear. There are no set equations that can be used to describe problem solving. For example, person A in a given environment who employs a particular problem solving process will not necessarily produce the same product as person B in that same environment who employs a particular problem solving process. However, as the problems facing society become increasingly difficult and complex, it becomes more and more important to understand the problem solving process. This understanding will provide greater ability to predict the outcome of the problem solving process, which in turn will ensure continued technological development.


fault finding and problem solving

This paper utilizes a model of problem solving theory developed by M. J. Kirton (2003) called Adaption-Innovation (A-I) theory to explore and identify key issues in technical problem solving leadership. Jablokow (2005) states that A-I theory is “a significant, though less well-known, contribution from the field of psychology [that] combines breadth and precision to bridge the gap between person and process in highly practical and particularly insightful ways.” This theory, which is explored in greater depth in Section 2 of this paper, provides a greater insight into the links that connect the key elements of the problem solving process.

2 Problem Solving Theory Adaption-Innovation theory relates to cognitive style, or thinking style, and describes the different preferred ways in which people solve problems. It places human beings on a scale that ranges from highly adaptive to highly innovative. This theory is founded on the assumption that “all people solve problems and are creative – both are outcomes of the same brain function.” (Kirton 2003)

Inherent preferred strategy, or cognitive style, and inherent capacity, or cognitive level, are completely independent of one another and vary from person to person. Therefore, an individual’s preferred problem solving style cannot be determined based on how intelligent (s)he is, how much experience (s)he has, or how senior (s)he is within a company. Although cognitive level is much easier to identify within an individual than cognitive style, the cognitive styles of the individuals on a team can play a key role in the problem solving process.

Kirton does not quantify people as being simply “adaptors” or “innovators,” but qualifies them as being “more adaptive” or “more innovative” based on the individual’s preferred style of problem solving. Because of their preferred style, adaptors and innovators view problem solving differently. Kirton (2003) characterizes more adaptive individuals as preferring problems that have more structure than those who are more innovative. He describes the more innovative people as being more tolerant of less structure in the problem solving process. Jablokow (2005) adds to Kirton’s definition by explaining that, therefore, “adaptors and innovators view scientific domains, their core concepts, and their respective boundaries differently.” This concept is depicted below in Figures 2 and 3. In both of these figures, each x is an idea created during the problem solving process that is related to the scientific domain, which is represented by the rectangles. The circles within the rectangle stand for the basic concepts, theories, and assumptions on which the domain is based.

fault finding and problem solving

Both individuals who are more adaptive and those who are more innovative are aware of and agree on the core of the domain; however, they react to it in very different ways. As Figure 2 depicts, more adaptive people are generally attracted to the core and use it to come up with new ideas. Therefore, their ideas are generally closer to the core of the domain. Conversely, more innovative people tend to stay away from the core in an attempt to find a ‘different’ solution. Consequently, their ideas are usually farther away from the core, and, according to Jablokow (2005), they incorporate “elements from other parts of the scientific domain (or even outside of it) that may not be considered sound by their more adaptive counterparts.” However, looking at it from the point of view of a more innovative individual, ideas that are closer to the core of the domain may be considered to be boring and too close to existing solutions to be useful. Of course, whether or not an idea is within the boundary of the domain depends on where the boundary is defined. This boundary of a domain is much vaguer than the core, and as a result, more adaptive people have a tendency to define the boundaries differently than more innovative ones. More adaptive individuals see the domain boundary as being fixed and prefer to stay within that boundary. When a more adaptive person accidentally comes up with an idea that takes her outside of the domain boundary, she usually prefers to move to an idea that is back within the boundary of the domain, as shown by the arrows in Figure 2. On the contrary, more innovative individuals see the domain boundary as being more flexible, as indicated by the dashed line in Figure 3. They are usually not concerned about staying within the boundary, and may move outside of the boundary on purpose in an effort to come up with an idea that is completely unlike those that already exist.

According to Kirton (2003), another difference between more adaptive and more innovative people is “in the individual’s preferred direction of focus.” Individuals who are more adaptive more easily foresee threats and challenges that come from within the system, such as plans to downsize, whereas those who are more innovative more readily predict events that may threaten from the outside, such as early signs of changing markets or important advances in technology. Since more adaptive individuals tend to pick up signals that point to threats within the system, they tend to miss signals that point to threats from the outside, and the opposite is generally true for more innovative individuals. When signals that point to threats from the outside are missed by a more adaptive person and picked up by a more innovative person, it is human nature for the more adaptive individual to find warnings of these threats to be distracting and feel that the more innovative individual does not understand what is really important. The same is true when signals that point to threats from within the system are missed by more innovative people but picked up by the more adaptive people. It is important to remember the difference between level and style so that such predictions are not construed as higher intelligence, but rather a byproduct of an individual’s preferred style.

Jablokow (2005) summarized Kirton’s general characteristics of adaptive and innovative problem solvers, as shown below in Table 1.

fault finding and problem solving

The discussion of cognitive style up to this point has been based on an individual’s preferred problem solving style. However, there are situations where the behavior that best fits the problem is not aligned with an individual’s preferred problem solving style. When a person in this situation modifies his or her behavior to take on characteristics of another problem solving style, it is referred to as coping behavior. It is important to note that coping behavior is not a required behavior and therefore is not always used. As Kirton (2003) explains, “Coping behaviour, like the rest of cognitive resource, is available to cognitive effect when insight (or, better still, foresight) indicates that it is needed; the driving force behind execution, like all other executions, is motive.” Therefore, people utilize coping behavior much like they use their other experiences, knowledge, and skills. When an individual recognizes that there is a need for a different problem solving style than their preferred style, (s)he chooses whether or not to use it, like (s)he could also choose to use his or her experience or knowledge to help solve the problem. Motive is the driving force that determines whether or not (s)he chooses to make use of coping behavior.

So far this paper has examined problem solving level and style in terms of individuals being more or less experienced, more adaptive or more innovative, and individuals making use of coping behavior. But what happens when individuals come together to form teams? When people are formed into problem solving teams there are varying levels and styles that come into play during the problem solving process. Some teams are more diverse than others; however, even the most homogenous teams have individuals with some differences in level and style (as well as type, e.g., engineering, accountancy). It is human nature for the different characteristics of the problem solving styles, as discussed above, to cause frustration and conflict between team members. It is the job of the leader to deal with these differences. Kirton (2003) explains that “helping the team’s members to manage their diversity to common good, solving Problem A, is a prime task of the problem-solving leader.” This paper explores in greater detail how a problem-solving leader approaches this challenge.

3 Research Scope and Methods In order to obtain a better understanding of technical problem solving leadership, a group of ten people from within the Lockheed Martin organization were interviewed. The individuals within the group were selected from various levels of leadership within Lockheed Martin, from program managers to vice presidents. This group of leaders also represents a variety of departments, business areas, and reporting structures within the organization.

A structured set of open-ended questions was created prior to the interviews. This gave the participants the opportunity to interpret the questions based on their individual experiences, while maintaining consistency in the topics covered in the interviews. The interviews were not recorded due to restrictions imposed by the interview sites; however, thorough notes were taken by the interviewer based on the participants’ response to the questions. These interview questions focused on the following four areas: 1. Discussing the importance of level and style in individual interactions 2. Discussing the impact of level and style in teams 3. Describing how level and style affect the creation and management of teams 4. Identifying the influence of level and style in technical problem solving leadership

At the completion of the interviews, the participants’ responses were examined and analyzed in order to identify general themes and key issues. Several themes were readily identified as being a common thread throughout all of the interviews, and these are discussed below in Section 4.

An interesting side note is that the interviews themselves, while identifying several common threads, did so in very different ways. Each person’s experiences obviously influenced how (s)he answered each of the questions, but it was even more than that. Someone who does not know these individuals could read over each of the interviews and make an educated guess as to what position that person was in. Each of the interviews was strongly influenced by the level within the company that each person held. For example, the Vice President and Directors who were interviewed looked at each of the questions from a much different perspective than the functional managers.

4 Key Issues Although there were several themes identified as common threads throughout the interviews, there was one general idea that was expressed by every one of the individuals interviewed: that the success of a problem solving team is significantly influenced by its leader. While the team’s job is to focus on solving their particular technical problem, the leader needs to look at all aspects of the problem, including how the individuals on the team are working with each other and with their customer. Based on the interviews conducted for this paper, a successful leader takes into account each of the key issues identified below. 1. Understanding Individual Style 2. Ensuring Diversity of Level and Style Within Teams 3. Using Coping Behaviors to Effectively Manage Teams 4. Managing Teams that Do Not Match the Problem 5. Leading within Real World Limitations

The next five sections examine each of these issues in more detail using Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation theory discussed above to provide the basic framework for each of the discussions. It is important to keep in mind the distinction between level and style discussed in Section 2, as that distinction plays an important role in each of the key issues.

4.1 Understanding Individual Style Understanding individual style is much more important in the workplace today than it has ever been before. The days when everyone in the company had to wear the same color suit with the same color tie are gone and have been replaced by a corporate environment that focuses on and embraces the diversity of their workforce. Each individual is now encouraged to express his/her individuality instead of conforming to some corporate ‘cookie cutter’ image, and with this understanding of individuality comes the need to understand the differences in individual style and how those differences affect the team.

One of the key reasons for understanding the styles of each individual on the team, which was discussed in the Kendrick (2006), Lombardo (2006), and McKnight (2006), and Cornman (2006) interviews, is to be able effectively to manage each of the people on the team. All of the people on the team cannot be managed the same way; they each have different needs based on their style. People who are more adaptive tend to follow set processes, and when given a problem to solve, go about solving it in a more structured, step-by-step process. As a result, when more adaptive people have a problem to solve that requires that type of structured approach, they are within their comfort zone and tend to require less involvement from their manager while tackling that problem. However, when a more adaptive person has a more innovative problem to solve, (s)he may feel uncomfortable and require more ‘hand-holding’ from his manager to be able to solve the problem successfully.

Conversely, when more innovative individuals have a problem to solve that requires a more innovative approach, they can work very independently with very little manager involvement. However, when a more innovative person has an adaptive type of problem to solve (s)he will tend to need to be ‘reigned in’ by his manager and will require much closer manager supervision. It is important to keep in mind that whether or not someone needs more or less involvement from his manager on a particular problem is not a reflection of that person’s intelligence. It is simply a by product of his preferred cognitive style and the type of problem that (s)he is trying to solve. Everyone at some point needs more or less manager supervision, regardless of how intelligent or experienced (s)he may be; therefore, it is up to the managers to recognize this fact and understand the styles of all the individuals on their team so that they can provide the appropriate leadership when necessary for each person.

Another dimension of understanding style, which was discussed during the Graham (2006), DelBusso (2006), and Puy (2006) interviews, is the importance of understanding one’s own style in addition to understanding the styles of the other people on the team. As DelBusso (2006) so aptly put it, “if you can’t figure out what your style is, then others won’t either.” When an individual understands his or her own style, (s)he is better able to understand his or her strengths and weaknesses as well.

With this understanding of one’s own individual style, coupled with an awareness of the styles of the other members of his team, an individual can interact more successfully within that team by utilizing coping behaviors when necessary. When a team can work together effectively and minimize the interpersonal issues, both the team and the team leaders are able to focus on the primary (technical) problem instead of investing valuable time and resources to solve secondary (team) problems.

4.2 Ensuring Diversity of Level and Style within Teams Today’s corporate environment focuses on and embraces diversity in the workforce. In the past, diversity has traditionally been viewed as having people of different races, genders, and religions. As a part of a recent growing trend, Lockheed Martin now has training and initiatives in place that describe diversity as going beyond the traditional definition to include each individual’s experiences and background.

Kirton (2003) explained that solving “a diversity of problems requires a diverse team.” The problems that teams face in the workplace today are more complex than they have ever been, and they cover a much broader spectrum than they have in the past, as discussed above in Section 1. As the complexity of a problem increases, so does the value of having a variety of viewpoints. Each person looks at a problem in a different way based on his or her background and interprets it based on those unique experiences. Therefore, the more diverse a team is, the more diverse the backgrounds and experiences of the individuals on the team need to be.

At some point during every interview, the interviewee commented on the fact that level and style are another important aspect of diversity within the team. Mullins (2006) explained that in her experience “balancing styles and levels of experience brings the diversity that creates successful teams.” Although each of the leaders interviewed pointed out the importance of having a diversity of level and style within the team, they were also careful to make it clear that while having a diverse team could enhance the problem solution, it could also adversely affect it as well. DelBusso (2006) expressed that having a team of individuals of diverse levels and styles “could be really good and they could complement each other. They could come up with different things none of them would have thought of on their own. Or it could be bad, and they could struggle… Everyone has a different snippet of the picture. The challenge for us leaders is to pull that out and get the richest conversations that we can have around a problem.”

The key to successful problem solving is not just having a diverse team of problems solvers, although that is a significant part. Without having effective leaders in charge of that diverse team of problem solvers who can enable it to successfully generate a solution, the team may never reach its full problem solving potential.

4.3 Using Coping Behaviors to Manage Teams Effectively Coping behavior can be a very important aspect of the problem solving process, because the problem that a team is trying to solve is not always clear cut. There may be aspects of the problem that would best fit a more innovative approach and others that would best fit a more adaptive approach. In Myers (2006) experience, “Most people, when pushed, can get into another mode. You can’t grow experience instantaneously, but you can get into another problem solving style and they can support that when pushed to do so.” Coping behavior, as mentioned above in Section 2, is not a required behavior, and therefore, people need motivation to drive them to take on this behavior. A good leader recognizes that and is able to supply that motivation to his team. Another reason that coping behavior is a significant aspect of the problem solving process is due to the interpersonal interactions within the team. It is human nature to become frustrated or take offense when others suggest doing something a different way than what one is used to. Consequently, when a diverse team is created (as discussed in the previous section) to solve a particular problem, problems may arise between the more adaptive people and the more innovative individuals due to their different preferred approaches to problem solving. A difference in style between members of a team can be mitigated by having a person (or people as the case may be) make use of coping behaviors. When a leader is able to recognize that a problem is arising due to a difference in style, (s)he can motivate the necessary team members to use coping behavior in order to improve the interpersonal interactions within the team. This allows the team to focus on the primary (technical) problem instead of spending their time and resources on secondary (or interpersonal) problems.

A third aspect of how coping behaviors are an important part of the problem solving process has to do with how the leader interacts with his or her team. Fair (2006) explained it well when he said: “As a leader, you need to adapt styles based on the folks you have within the team.” A leader not only needs to recognize when individuals on his or her team need to utilize coping behaviors to improve the interpersonal interactions within the team, but (s)he also needs to identify when (s)he needs to make use of coping behaviors his or herself. The problem-solving leader should be able to motivate and guide his or her team, and in order to do so successfully, he or she must be able effectively to interact with the members of his or her team – including their needed diversity!

Recognizing the need to utilize coping behaviors is the first step. Effective leaders are able not only to recognize when coping behaviors are needed, but they also know what coping behaviors are necessary, who should be using them, and how they can motivate those individuals to take on the required behaviors. In short, they are able to identify the problem and supply their team with the tools to successfully solve that problem.

4.4 Managing Teams that Do Not Match the Problem In a perfect world, the team created to solve a particular problem would be able to do so without any issues. However, that is not always possible in the real world. Sometimes, the team does not match the problem, and it is up to the leaders to recognize this and find the most effective way to resolve the issue. All of the leaders interviewed expressed that there are many different causes for a team not matching the problem, and that the appropriate action for them to take as leaders depends on what that cause is.

The most common cause of a team not matching the problem, according to the people interviewed for this paper, is having members of the team whose personalities clash. In the previous section, Section 4.3, using coping behaviors to mitigate interpersonal problems due to differences in style was discussed. When facing a conflict between members of a team, the interviewees seemed willing to take the time to try to work out the problems utilizing coping behaviors, given enough time and resources. However, according to Lombardo (2006), due to the nature of the problems he faces on a regular basis, he does not usually “have the freedom to wait for people to work out their differences because of limited time and budget.” When it came right down to it, all of the leaders interviewed for this paper felt that enabling the team successfully solve the problem within the allotted time and budget was their primary goal, and if that meant removing or replacing members of the team to accomplish that, then they were willing to do that. Although removing people may sometimes be necessary due to schedule and budget constraints, the removal of a team member can negatively impact other members of the team. In fact, the removal of a teammate can sometimes have a more negative impact on the rest of the team than the conflict that caused that person to be removed in the first place.

There were several other reasons for a team and problem being mismatched that were also brought up during the interviews. Mullins (2006) explained, “If it’s a focus or an empowerment issue, I might spend time with the team myself to energize them to understand where they are struggling and fill some gaps in to help them. You don’t always swap the people out unless it’s a personality or a skill set issue.” Her point about it being her job as the leader to understand where the issue is and move the team towards the solution was reinforced by several of the other interviewees. Puy (2006) also explained, “Sometimes there is something missing from the team and giving them a few nuggets helps to move the problem solving process along. Occasionally, [a leader] can retrofit the team with additional knowledge to get them where they need to be… Sometimes you need to unlock an understanding or path to move a team forward.” When the leader does not understand what is keeping the team from being successful, there is no way that (s)he can help them to solve the problem. The leader’s job is to make sure that his team successfully solves the problem they are facing, and in order to do this, (s)he must be aware of all of the challenges the team is dealing with, get the diversities within the team collaborate not clash and do what is appropriate to these particular situations.

4.5 Leading within Real World Limitations The challenge of leading within the limitations of the real world is one that has been touched on by each of the previous key issues in this paper. In a perfect world, everyone would get along, there would be an unlimited amount of time and money to spend on solving a problem, and nobody would ever get frustrated or tired. Nevertheless, problem solving teams do live in the real world and are constrained by time, money, resources, and all of the characteristics of human nature. As Graham (2006) explained, “In a perfect world, you’d be able to take all the time to create a team with the perfect balance of style and level, but in the real world, you work with what you have. It’s understanding the different levels and styles of the people on the team that’s important.” The key is having leaders that know and understand the restrictions of the real world and are able to successfully lead a team of problem solvers while being constrained by these limitations.

There are many ways in which leaders try to mitigate problems that arise due to time, schedule, and resource constraints. One that was mentioned by Lombardo (2006) is trying to find roles for each person within the team that fit each person’s individual style and allow them to excel. Another that McKnight (2006) discussed is taking style and level into account before hiring an individual. He cannot always create his ideal team because he is constrained by who is available at that particular time, so knowing the levels and styles of the individuals who are available to create the team allows him to create the team best team possible given the circumstances.

There are always going to be constraints and limitations, no matter what problem a team is trying to solve. The leader’s responsibility, as Myers (2006) explained, is to “spend a lot of time evaluating tasks, evaluating the people on the staff and their abilities to accomplish those tasks, and then matching the right person to the right job.” Knowing the limitations and understanding the people on the team is what effective leaders do to ensure that their team is successful.

5 Conclusions and Recommendations This paper has examined and analyzed the observations of ten individuals from various levels of leadership within the Lockheed Martin organization in order to identify some of the key issues that face technical problem solving leaders today. These issues have been described in detail and related to level and style as defined by Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation theory.

Understanding the key issues identified in this paper can help individuals in leadership positions to become more effective leaders in several ways. First, an understanding of one’s own individual style coupled with an awareness of the styles of the other members of his team helps a leader to successfully interact with the members of the team. When a leader is able to successfully interact with the members of his team, (s)he is able to build trust and establish relationships with the individuals on the team. This trust helps the leader to motivate the team, resolve style conflict within the team, and to supply their team with the tools to successfully solve that problem. Without an understanding of the styles of each person on the team, the leader cannot as easily identify problems when they arise, or help to solve them.

Second, effective leaders are able to recognize when coping behaviors are needed, what coping behaviors are necessary, who should be using them, and how they can motivate those individuals to take on the required behaviors. Sometimes, it’s the leader that needs to use coping behaviors to successfully interact with members of his or her team. As DelBusso (2006) explained, “A successful leader is a good connector. They have to be able to learn what is effective and then apply that as long as it works, and when it doesn’t, adapt it until it becomes effective again.” Effective leaders are able to recognize this need and combine it with their knowledge of their team when necessary to deal with any issues that occur.

Third, having a team that is diverse in style and level coupled with a leader who is able to utilize this diverse team to its maximum potential allows the team to generate a much richer solution than any one individual. Lastly, effective leaders know and understand the restrictions of the real world and are able to successfully lead a team of problem solvers while being constrained by these limitations. There are always going to be constraints and limitations, no matter what problem a team is trying to solve, and when the leader is able to identify the constraints that effect the team, (s)he is able to mitigate the affect that these limitations have on the success of his team.

Even with the insights provided by the participants of this study, there is still a need for further research in the area of problem solving leadership. There is still a lot to learn about the interactions within problem solving teams and between problem solving teams and their leaders. This study has given leaders valuable information about the key issues in technical problem solving leadership, and what makes those leaders effective. There is still much more to be learned about how the individuals on the team interact, and how those interactions affect the problem solving process.

In conclusion, this paper has shown that problem solving leaders need to understand their own individual style and levels, in addition to those of the people on their team. They need to create a team that brings together a diverse group of levels and styles, know how to utilize coping behaviors in order to help their team successfully generate a solution, and be able to identify when the team does not match the problem. When the team does not match the problem, they should be able to recognize why it does not and what the best solution is to make sure that it does. Leaders must also recognize the real world limitations that their team is working within and how to mitigate them. All of these are key aspects of technical problem solving leadership, and knowing and understanding what they are will enable people to become more effective technical problem solving leaders.

6 Acknowledgements First and foremost I would like to thank Dr. Jablokow, my thesis advisor, who provided me with much needed knowledge, advice, and support. I would also like to thank all of the participants in this study for sharing their experiences and insights with me. They took time out of their busy schedules to help me, and without them, this paper would not have been possible. On a more personal note, I would also like to thank my husband, Mike, for helping me find the words when I needed them, and for understanding that writing this paper was more important than cooking him dinner some nights. Last, although certainly not least, I would like to thank my puppy, Buddy, for giving up his seat on my lap for 14 weeks so that I could have the laptop there instead.

7 References Cornman, Kathleen C., (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 20 November 2006. DelBusso, Steven F., (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 1 November 2006. Fair, Robert S., (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 11 October 2006. Graham, William L., (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 3 October 2006. Industrial Market Trends, (2005), Employees Needed: Make Money Spending Money,, (04 November 2005). Jablokow, Kathryn W., The catalytic nature of science: Implications for scientific problem solving in the 2st century, Technology in Society, 27, 2005. Kendrick, Jerri, (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 23 October 2006. Kirton, M.J., (2003), Adaption-Innovation In the Context of Diversity and Change, East Sussex: Routledge. Lombardo, John, (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 9 October 2006. McKnight, Balvin, (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 3 October 2006. Myers, JoDean K., (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 15 November 2006. Mullins, Anne, (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 31 October 2006. Puy, Allen S., (2006), Lockheed Martin, King of Prussia, PA, 14 November 2006. Rhodes M., An analysis of creativity, Phi Delta Kappan, 42, 305-10, 1961. Wikepedia, (2006), Problem Solving,, (10 November 2006).

© Rebecca Silverman, 2006: I grant the Pennsylvania State University the non exclusive right to use this work for the University’s own purposes and to make single copies of the work available to the public on a not-for-profit basis if copies are not otherwise available.

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The Morning

The debt matters again.

The changing economy has made federal debt a bigger problem.

People walking in front of the U.S. Capitol building.

By German Lopez

The federal debt starts the new year at a level that is hard to grasp: $34 trillion. That is 1.2 times the U.S.’s annual economic output. At the end of World War II, the ratio was only about 1.1.

Both parties have contributed to the situation. Republicans have passed large tax cuts. Democrats have enacted ambitious climate and health care initiatives. Both funneled money to Americans in response to the Covid pandemic.

For years, many economists believed the country’s debt was not a problem. Interest rates were low, which held down debt payments. Inflation was also low, which suggested the debt wasn’t hampering the economy. If anything, additional government spending helped create jobs when unemployment was elevated for much of the 2010s.

But times have changed, and federal deficits now look scarier.

In November, the financial firm Moody’s lowered its outlook on U.S. debt from “stable” to “negative.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that she disagreed with Moody’s decision, but she acknowledged that current economic circumstances could make the federal debt less sustainable. And Paul Krugman, the economist and Times columnist, wrote , “Serious deficit reduction, a bad idea a decade ago, is a good idea now.”

Federal debt as a share of gross domestic product

fault finding and problem solving

Debt equal to G.D.P.

fault finding and problem solving

Today’s newsletter will help you think about the new economics of debt.

A different situation

There are three big reasons to worry about the federal government’s finances.

First, interest rates have risen. A decade ago, the interest rate that the U.S. paid on inflation-protected bonds, which are used to finance debt, was near zero. Today, that rate is almost 2 percent.

This increase doesn’t change the cost of debt that the government has already accumulated. But it will have to pay more interest on future debt. So if the government does not hold down spending, debt payments will increasingly eat up money that could go to health care, the military and other programs.

Second, the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.7 percent. In the early 2010s, it was usually above 8 percent. Back then, government spending helped put people to work. Today, the private sector needs less help.

Third, inflation is a bigger problem than it used to be, and higher deficits could make it worse. When Congress spends more or cuts taxes, Americans have more money to spend. As they spend that extra cash, prices tend to increase. The reverse is true as well: A smaller deficit can ease inflation.

All of which means that the benefits of deficit spending are smaller than they were in the recent past and the costs are larger.

Risk of delay

Both parties have offered partial solutions to the growing debt. Democrats favor higher taxes on the rich, and Republicans favor cuts to Medicaid and some other federal programs. But each party has mostly blocked the other’s proposals, allowing deficits to add to the debt year after year.

Even if the preferred policies of each party eventually are enacted, they do not come close to solving the problem. Neither party is willing to cut the biggest government programs: Social Security, Medicare and the military. And both have ruled out tax increases on most households.

This dynamic — politicians criticizing deficits without offering a real solution — is not new. The shifting economic circumstances, however, could make the gridlock more damaging.

There is also a risk to procrastination: The longer the government puts off the issue, the harder it gets to solve. By acting sooner, officials could phase in higher taxes and lower spending over years to mitigate the downsides. Some experts argue that the country is already past that point. “We put off solutions for too long, and now we’ll have to take more drastic action,” Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told me.

The solution remains unclear. And the economy may be able to continue growing at a steady clip for years despite the debt. At some point, though, the federal government will likely need to raise taxes and cut spending in ways that many Americans will find unpleasant.

Related: “The Daily” explained why any political party will find it tough to tackle the federal debt. “The ideas that smart people have on the table are at best Hail Marys,” Jim Tankersley, an economic policy correspondent, said.


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Debates on A.I., gender and guns look likely to dominate state legislatures in 2024 .

As people watch the Israel-Hamas war unfold, they describe being empathetic to the point of exhaustion . What they’re actually feeling is helpless, Adam Grant writes.

Ruti Munder , a woman Hamas held hostage, will never return to Gaza , or have peace with Gazans, while Hamas remains in power.

The pandemic was expected to bring years of crime and high unemployment . Instead, we’re in pretty good shape, Paul Krugman writes.


Storage solution: They needed a home for 80,000 puzzles. They found an Italian castle .

“Holopoem”: An artwork that will orbit the sun .

They do: Read about a young couple married in a Russian prison .

Money: Now may be the time to lock in high interest rates on your savings.

A national institution: How a super-affordable bakery chain became a British culinary icon .

Lives Lived: Les McCann was a pianist and vocalist who was an early progenitor of the bluesy, crowd-pleasing style that came to be known as soul jazz. He died at 88 .

College football: Washington beat Texas, 37-31, to advance to the national championship game. Michael Penix Jr. was magnificent .

Rose Bowl: Michigan edged Alabama in overtime, 27-20, and will face Washington in the championship.

Wander Franco: The Rays’ star shortstop was detained in the Dominican Republic in connection with allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors.


The year in space: 2023 was an important year for space travel: India landed a robot on the moon and NASA brought pieces of an asteroid back to Earth to study. But 2024 has a packed calendar of celestial events, too.

The big spectacle will be the “Great North American Eclipse.” On April 8, the moon will get in the way of the sun, darkening the Earth during daytime. And four missions — perhaps more — will try to complete a lunar landing. Read more about the upcoming space calendar .

More on culture

Peter Magubane, a photographer who documented the cruelties of white South African rule and endured beatings and 586 consecutive days in solitary confinement, died at 91 .

Many people think they can’t afford to become a parent. The Cut outlines the short list of things you actually need.


Add shrimp to this tomato pasta .

Start the new year with a great blender .

Lug gear with a collapsible folding wagon .

Wear the best slippers to get through January .

Here is today’s Spelling Bee . Yesterday’s pangram was harmony .

And here are today’s Mini Crossword , Wordle , Sudoku and Connections .

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — German

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox . Reach our team at [email protected] .

German Lopez is a writer for The Morning, The Times’s flagship daily newsletter, where he covers major world events and how they affect people. More about German Lopez


  1. What Is Problem-Solving? Steps, Processes, Exercises to do it Right

    fault finding and problem solving

  2. Conceptual caption Root Cause Analysis. Business idea Method of Problem

    fault finding and problem solving

  3. Conceptual Display Root Cause Analysis. Business Concept Method of

    fault finding and problem solving

  4. Practical Application of Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) in Problem Solving

    fault finding and problem solving

  5. Fault Tree Analysis (FTA)

    fault finding and problem solving

  6. How To Solve Symmetrical Fault (Three Phase Fault) Analysis in MATLAB

    fault finding and problem solving


  1. Fault finding skills #Phonetech_education #smartphone

  2. Unsymmetrical faults p3

  3. PSA#11

  4. Solving the problem by finding the solution

  5. Defining the Problem

  6. Bridging the Gap


  1. 7 Powerful Problem-Solving Root Cause Analysis Tools

    It begins with a defined problem and works backward to identify what factors contributed to the problem using a graphical representation called the Fault Tree. It takes a top-down approach starting with the problem and evaluating the factors that caused the problem. Finding the root cause isn't an easy because there is not always one root cause.

  2. Six Step Approach to Fault Finding

    1. Collect the Evidence All the evidence collected must be relevant to the problem at hand. If one is in doubt as to whether anything is relevant, then include it. Reject it afterwards at the first opportunity if it clearly is not relevant.

  3. Embracing Solutions Over Blame: Exploring the Quote 'Don't Find Fault

    In a world full of complexity and challenges, one quote stands out as a beacon of wisdom and a guide for effective problem-solving: "Don't find fault, find a remedy." Originally...

  4. Failure Analysis Tools: Choosing the Right One for the Job

    FMEA is a high-level, detailed, "what if" analysis of a problem. A basic "what if" analysis is shown in Figure 4. It includes a brainstorming method using "what if" questions to identify possible variations and flaws in a system. Once identified, these concerns and their potential consequences are evaluated for risk.

  5. A Fault Finding a Technique that Works

    Here are a few ideas to help you successfully fault find failed equipment. When you don't know the equipment Your aim is to understand what you are trying to repair so you can make considered decisions as to what has gone wrong, and what has to be done to fix it. You will need to educate yourself in its function and construction.

  6. Conduct a Root Cause Analysis: Techniques & Tools

    The 5 Whys technique for root cause analysis and problem solving was developed by Sakichi Toyoda. ... To find issues that can cause fault-tolerant systems to experience total failure. Pareto charts. A Pareto chart indicates the frequency of defects and their cumulative effects. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto recognized a common theme across ...

  7. What is troubleshooting and why is it important?

    What is troubleshooting? Troubleshooting is a systematic approach to problem-solving that is often used to find and correct issues with complex machines, electronics, computers and software systems.

  8. 35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

    How do you identify problems? Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same.

  9. Understanding strategy differences in a fault-finding task

    Frank E. Ritter b Add to Mendeley Get rights and content Abstract This article examines strategy choices for how people find faults in a simple device by using models of several strategies and new data.

  10. Modeling how, when, and what is learned in a simple fault-finding task

    These comparisons show that the model accounts very well for measures such as problem-solving strategy, the relative difficulty of faults, and average fault-finding time. More important, because the model learns and transfers its learning across problems, it also accounts for the faster problem-solving times due to learning when examined across ...

  11. Modeling How, When, and What Is Learned in a Simple Fault‐Finding Task

    We have developed a process model that learns in multiple ways while finding faults in a simple control panel device. The model predicts human participants' learning through its own learning. The mod...

  12. Electrician Training: Troubleshooting and fault finding

    Step 1 - Observe Most faults provide obvious clues as to their cause. Through careful observation and a little bit of reasoning, most faults can be identified as to the actual component with very little testing.

  13. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    1. Define the problem Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes. The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps.

  14. PDF 'Fault Finding and Fixing' Tasks

    You might choose to introduce 'Fault finding and fixing' as a core element of mathematical thinking. Identifying and fixing mistakes early makes problem solving in mathematics far easier! The relevance of 'Fault finding and fixing' skills to everyday life is immediately obvious, and provides a clear justification for the use of these ...

  15. Troubleshooting Methodology

    The CompTIA troubleshooting methodology: Identify the problem. Establish a theory of probable cause. Test the theory to determine the cause. Establish a plan of action to resolve the problem and implement the solution. Verify full system functionality, and, if applicable, implement preventive measures. Document findings, actions and outcomes.

  16. Modeling how, when, and what is learned in a simple fault-finding task

    We have developed a process model that learns in multiple ways while finding faults in a simple control panel device. The model predicts human participants' learning through its own learning. The model's performance was systematically compared to human learning data, including the time course and specific sequence of learned behaviors.

  17. Do we do enough problem-finding before problem-solving?

    The answer is "no." They may be able to use better techniques, but we can observe a similar trend among them. Our education system instills in us the conventional wisdom of "thinking inside the box." One thing might also be another thing, but we approach it through the lens of "this is the only optimal way to solve this."

  18. The 6 Steps to Finding (and Solving) an Electrical Fault

    The six steps to electrical fault-finding 'Find the fault and fix it' is the short answer to most electrical problems. The slightly longer version is to use the 'six steps' approach, to make sure you're not missing a trick. 1. Collect the evidence: Get as much information as you can. Find out if there is a wiring diagram or other ...

  19. The Problem-Solving Process

    Frequently Asked Questions. Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation.

  20. 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving

    4. Implement the Solution. At this stage of problem solving, be prepared for feedback, and plan for this. When you roll out the solution, request feedback on the success of the change made. 5. Review, Iterate, and Improve. Making a change shouldn't be a one time action.

  21. Problem finding

    Problem discovery is an unconscious process which depends upon knowledge whereby an idea enters one's conscious awareness, problem formulation is the discovery of a goal; problem construction involves modifying a known problem or goal to another one; problem identification represents a problem that exists in reality but needs to be discovered (s...

  22. Key Issues in Technical Problem Solving Leadership

    The problem solving process involves the following four key elements, shown below in Figure 1: the problem solver (or person), the process used to solve the problem, the outcome (or product), and the environment. According to Jablokow (2005), these key elements were formally identified by Rhodes (1961), but have not been focused on much in ...

  23. The McKinsey Crossword: Whodunit?

    Sharpen your problem-solving skills the McKinsey way, with our weekly crossword. Each puzzle is created with the McKinsey audience in mind, and includes a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) business theme for you to find. Answers that are directionally correct may not cut it if you're looking for a quick win.

  24. The Debt Matters Again

    The changing economy has made federal debt a bigger problem. By German Lopez The federal debt starts the new year at a level that is hard to grasp: $34 trillion. That is 1.2 times the U.S.'s ...